Bleeker are steadily building a rock solid name for themselves in their native Canada. With an altered band name and a slightly revamped lineup, Bleeker's aesthetic and work ethic are as sturdy and as unshakable as ever. Musically cross-pollinating the swagger of The Rolling Stones with a psych-tinged groove, Bleeker fall amidst Jet, The Black Keys, and Royal Blood in the alt rock spectrum. What sets them apart is an ever-so-subtle current of loose cannon danger that courses through every riff, every note and every melody in their latest album Erase You.
Plus, they've got time on their side. They aren't a flash in the pain showing up today and lasting through tomorrow, at the latest, before fading into obscurity. No way. Bleeker have clawed their way to the top in their home country. Now, they are ready to sink their sonic hooks into both the ears and hearts of the rest of the world. Consider this your fair warning.
For the boys in Bleeker, there is a jones for writing music that they are compelled to satisfy. They have found the delicate balance that eludes so many musicians and bands. They wrote the entire album Erase You on their own, with the exception of lead single "Highway," which they co-wrote with Matt Squires.
Make no mistake — Bleeker live to play and play to live. But they don't take themselves too seriously and they don't try and force anything; instead, they still approach the art and craft of making music with the same unjaundiced eye as when they were first getting their legs under them. They refuse to get sucked into cynicism or any forced pressures. It's not do or die for them — it's just do! And those are the reasons why Bleeker will prosper as they storm the North American market.
Singer Taylor Perkins said, "If this all ended tomorrow, we'd still be stoked because we got to do so much as a band. Yes, we have other interests besides music. Our guitar player is a skydiving instructor and does extreme things. We all have our thing outside of this. But it's the songwriting that's the passion. My brother Cole and I get together and we write and see what happens."
He furthered, "You cannot let it become a job. You have to look it at the way you did when you started out when you were 13. We never thought of making money. We're were only about making music. We are still doing that. Anything else will make you miserable. If you cannot have fun in rock 'n' roll and music, where can you have fun?"
That is a universal truth.
The Bleeker boys love all the perks of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, from the touring to the partying to the good times. But they've gotten some of that ancillary stuff out of their system. "We went through the bullshit aspect of being in a band, since we've done it for so long," Perkins said. "You know, when we were younger, we were all about stealing booze and having sex with girls."
They've got the life lived, the experience, the know-how, and the fire. And their commitment to the band is 100 percent distraction-free. "We don't have kids and overhead," Perkins said. "There are no crazy ass commitments. We just get up and do our thing. Nothing else conflicts. We are on call all of the time. You can't have any other career if you are going on tour for months at a time."
With their mission firmly in place, the band decamped to producer James Michael's studio in Eagle Rock, California to record the majority of Erase You over the course of two months, only working with one outside producer Matt Squire on the track Highway. This album will define Bleeker's career. It's the album on the back of which they will truly arrive, thanks to songs like "Highway," which resonates with its handclaps and garage pop vibe. It's uptempo from stem to stern and "always in your face." Perkins noted that "it has that lo-fi, old school vibe, but it still has some hooky melodies."
Then there's "I'm Not Laughing Now," which has quite the backstory. Perkins remembers, "I had an old, shitty computer. Six years ago, I recorded it an empty bathtub and used a cereal box for a snare. I went into the bathtub because I had to stomp on the floor to get a bigger boom. It was the best kick I could find in the house. It was a terrible recording and I burned it on CD. It had been called 'Cereal Box.' It went through years of people not hearing it. We copied the demo as much as we could, since it was so simple with a huge, hooky chorus. It's the best song I've ever written."
It's that sort of ingenuity, improvisation, and by-any-means-necessary approach that make Bleeker so unlike their peers. Forget spending millions of dollars on equipment and software to make it sound like millions of dollars weren't spent on equipment and software during the making of this album! Bleeker don't need those sorts of tricks; it's all raw and it's all real on Erase You.
The title track is a riff-driven song and as Perkins says, "Everything drops out and sucks you in. It's a massive chorus that comes out of nowhere." You know, that pretty much describes the whole of Bleeker. Their music and their devil-may-care vibe pull you in, but you don't want to waste time planning an escape. You just… accept it and allow yourself to be further drawn in. That's why they are on a path to explode into worldwide consciousness.
Beware Of Darkness
"Muthafucka, I'm back from the dead, I'm about to raise hell. Out of my coma, I'm ready to show you that season of my life is done."
So taunts Kyle Nicolaides at the start of Are You Real?, the new Beware of Darkness album, and the frontman's biggest and boldest statement yet. As saw-toothed, satin guitar riffs slice into crunching grooves, the new album serves as an urgent call to arms for not only the singer, but for the band's sound as well. In an alternative lane that has lately been full of banjos and keyboards, this music ushers in a rebirth of a sound that is as refreshing as it is exciting, and goes much deeper than riffs. Nicolaides's journey, since the release of his band's debut album Orthodox in 2013, has come full circle. After trolling the depths and sludging through the bleak, Are You Real? is the story of how a rock star on the rise fought uncertainty and disillusionment to avoid flaming out. And, more importantly, how he has come through the other side revitalized and focused, and with the best songs of his young career.
Despite the highs that would come from Orthodox, including wildly popular shows, prominent synch placements, and critical favor, Nicolaides refers to his own personal psyche during that period of his career as significantly less than stellar. Lacking self-confidence in his ability to lead, soon anger, fear, and depression set in. Nicolaides was forced to look inside himself to try and rebuild what had been lost. He began to embrace challenges—to, as he says, and in the spirit of his band's name, "be aware of darkness"—and through reading and meditation found a harmony that had previously been lacking not just in his music but in all corners of his life.
"After the first album, I didn't think I was going to have a future in music at all, but ironically I realized the only power I really had to deal and cope with that was by writing more songs," he says. "This new record started from dealing with that uncertainty. Then it morphed into this idea that I wanted to make the best rock record of the past ten years, something original and fresh that has twelve songs all in one lane, with the feeling of overcoming something. Before we made the record I decided I wanted it to be the experience everyone working on it would ever have, including myself. In a way, I worked from outside in, and made sure that everyone else was taken care of and happy so that we could build some kind of creative sanctuary and make sure the vibe was right.
Before entering the studio, Nicolaides set a goal to write 100 new songs—and he did. The biggest difference between songwriting on the first record versus the second was the revision process. The LP first was very much first thought best thought, but this time, I'd write a song, took only the parts I loved, then either combined it with another song, or completely rewrite it, put everything together—seeing what fit, and experimented a lot. "Sometimes I had to write a song 4 different times before I got the final version. But I wanted to make a cohesive, monster of an LP and that's what it took.
Armed with demos of that slew of songs, Beware of Darkness headed into studios in the fall of 2015 to record with two producer-engineers, Jim Kaufmann and Catherine Marks "I realized that you have a choice between being depressed or working toward something while believing it's gonna get better," he says. "I think that was the shift as soon as I started writing the new record. I chose not to be depressed anymore and believe that it only gets better from here on."
It's clear from the opening squeal of "Muthafucka" that Beware of Darkness is on the up-and- up, and riding high on new wings while holding down that which endeared fans in the first place. That song's process—written by pairing a Tempest drum machine beat with a raw riff and bass line built from the bottom-end up—was a blueprint for much of the album, and finds Nicolaides at the peak of his return.
Elsewhere, tracks pulse and rage while soaring and chiming; all is perhaps a little less sinister this time around. Where earlier Beware of Darkness material may have fallen more on the side of leather and metal, these songs hearken to the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Royal Blood, The Struts, Wolf Alice, Cage the Elephant, Skaters, even Nirvana. Songs like "Dope," "Summerdaze," and "Sugar in the Raw" show their subtle hip-hop influence, and in fact the trio was co-written swiftly with the female hip-hop producer Trinity, a collaboration Nicolaides says was truly magic and inspiring.
The album's titular question is born of a decidedly less-heady space but one that represents two sides of Beware of Darkness's relationship with its Los Angeles home: encounters of art and artifice. Nicolaides says Are You Real? references both a graphic by the mid-century LA photographer Robert Heinecken he saw in a Pasadena art gallery, as well as less-specific meetings at parties with Angelenos whose elaborate personal sagas and vapid rationale could not be believed. "That's the thing about LA," he says, "I've never loved or hated anything about this city. There's so many great things about it but there's so many things that are just mind-blowingly soul-crushing."
And now, amid the excitement for the release of Are You Real? (including airplay on Beats 1 Radio and newly announced summer tour dates), Nicolaides has refocused his original band and recognizes the trio's innate cohesion, feeling fully fit to take charge in a mature and seasoned way. "The original band stayed together by the grace of god. I see myself now as a protector of the band." "No one appreciated what we had, including me," he says of the early days. "You look back and say, 'Wow, we were living the dream.' We all got in a room together a month ago and the vibe was there. We played all these new songs and it sounded like we'd been playing them for ten years. We played older songs and they sounded twenty times better than when we played them last tour. That's when I realized it's my job to be a protector of this. Chemistry like this is sacred."
As far as the future of Beware of Darkness is concerned, Nicolaides is setting his sights on the rafters. "This record for me is like a new start to a new chapter of my life," he says. "It's like the "Muthafucka" song: I'm a totally different person, confidence-wise, creatively, team-member wise, band-member wise. I hope this record is the start to the run of greatness that we're gonna have. With each step we make, we keep building and getting bigger on our own terms."
A predatory catcaller. A tortured, addicted lover. A jaded, blue-collar bar band singer. A cold-blooded killer. With characters like these, you may feel as though you're watching a film, not listening to a rock 'n' roll record. These are just some of the compelling characters from the debut EP from L.A.'s Badflower, a fledgling rock band of cinematic proportions. The EP's songs showcase an exciting young group of musicians and a star talent in frontman Josh Katz. Long fascinated with movie music, his dark lyrics reveal a storyteller sophisticated beyond his 24 years. "I enjoy putting myself in other people's shoes, and imagining their thoughts, expressing those hidden terrors and fears," explains Katz about the roleplaying nature of his lyric-writing. "By acting them out, I try to stress how wrong these attitudes can be, but still show how easy they are to adopt." Badflower's songs play like short-films, with Katz portraying the various characters. Some are sympathetic, and some are monsters. These moral contradictions create a tension supported and reinforced by the music beneath. As his chief collaborator, lead guitarist Joey Morrow is responsible for much of Badflower's signature sound: snaky, psychedelic guitar riffs, often building to powerful rock rhythms over the course of a song. Bassist Alex Espirtu and drummer Anthony Sonetti provide a strong backbone, and Katz's tenor regularly turns on a dime from world-weary clarity to a violent snarl. Despite the intricacies, this is music for large rooms and big crowds – a throwback to the days when rock music could reach the wide masses, shake up the status quo, even save souls. "I'd like to change the world," says Katz. "I still believe rock 'n' roll has the potential to do that. We are committed to building this into a mountain, a skyscraper. We've all pushed each other to get better." With their debut EP, Badflower seems up to the challenge.