It may seem like The Blue Stones have had a short rise to the top, but the Windsor duo, comprised of Tarek Jafar and Justin Tessier, have been hard at work promoting their music for almost a decade.
The last few months have been an exciting time for the band, with their single Shakin’ Off The Rust reaching number one on the Canadian rock charts and a recent JUNO Awards nomination for Breakthrough Group of the Year.
The band is on the road in Canada throughout March and heads across the US for much of the summer – culminating with a show at RIFF Fest at the DTE Energry Music Theatre in Detroit on July 18 with Rob Zombie, Halestorm and other.
Tarek excitedly called into chat with 519 about everything that’s been going on.
This has been such an incredible journey for you guys over the last two years. A Canadian number one hit and a JUNO nomination for Breakout Group of the year. Now that’s not bad for a couple of guys from Windsor.
Not too shabby, that’s for sure. We’re obviously super honoured to even be nominated and it’s been a pretty crazy year. We’re just having fun enjoying the ride and very, very excited for what’s to come as well.
Last year, you guys were part of Juno Fest when the awards were here in London. Was that your first taste of what the awards and festivities are like?
We were a performer there at the Juno Fest. It’s nice to be in the city with all of these Canadian artists gathered around. A lot of the Canadian industry is in the same city as well, so it was a fun experience to be a part of.
This year you guys are going to be playing at Juno Fest again this year. I’m guessing that you’ll probably be staying in Saskatoon for the award show as well.
We’ll be there. We’re going to be hopping between the dinner and the show that we have to play, but the work never stops.
What does the Juno Awards mean to you?
It’s an amazing way to be recognized by your own country. For a long time, we didn’t think Canada was really into our stuff, even being Canadians. We are a little bit more well received in the States. It feels good though to finally have our home country give a little bit of recognition. We feel like we’re doing something for our country.
Is there a JUNO moment in the past that sticks out for you?
There’s always good performers. Even this year there’s some amazing performances that are going to be present. I know Glorious Sons are performing and they’re an absolutely amazing live band. I think that’s probably what sticks out to me, is the performers that have been at this award show. Daniel Caesar, I believe is one this year too, which is going to be great.
Shakin’ Off The Rust reached number one on the Canadian rock charts. Where were you when you first heard that it reached number one?
It’s funny because we were in Toronto and then we had just left the label’s office and they sent us a message saying, “Hey guys, guess what? You guys are number one on rock radio.” It was nice having just left the offices, and feel oh wow. They’re probably pretty happy about that one. Yeah, we were in Toronto. We were ecstatic. It’s like super exciting.
Tell me about the song and where did the idea come from?
It was actually one of our more recently written songs. I was just in my apartment and I had come off of like a stint into writing songs that I really didn’t like. Everything I was writing felt like it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t bashing the caliber that I thought we had set for Black Holes, the album previous. I just felt like I wasn’t doing it well anymore. Then I just took things back to the roots. I started with an easy four on the floor beat, nice stomp beat, and a cool riff that I was playing around with in my head. I wrote this song around the idea of not thinking that you’re good enough and not thinking that what you’re making is of a good quality, but sort of brushing your shoulders off and coming through with something that you’re confident in.
The video looked like a lot of fun too.
Yes it was. It was just a one day shoot. The director had this really quirky idea of playing with the idea of having a VR based concert, sort of like a funny black mirror vibe to it, but it was a lot of fun. It was like a lot of high spirits on the set. It was nice to have the fans as our extras because it felt like a family affair that way.
You have a new single called Grim.Tell me about that one. What inspired that song?
Grim is more of a representation of the sounds that are to come. I think it’s a good example of our wide influences. I listen to a lot of hip hop and R and B, and I feel that is injected into a rock which is the grim rift. That’s probably my favorite song that we have ever written. It’s just so much fun to play live too. It translates really, really well. Yeah, that’s got my hip hop and R and B influences in there for sure.
You captured a trip to Europe with the video for Grim. Canadian music is embraced quite well overseas. How has the worldwide audience reacted to Blue Stones compared to back here at home?
Honestly, shockingly well. It was amazing to have, but we had about 10 sold out shows on our European run. It was amazing to see people on the other side of the Atlantic, just absolutely loving the songs and knowing the lyrics through and through, and singing along to the music. I mean, we’re just a couple of guys from Windsor. We would’ve never expected that, but it was shockingly positive. I mean that goes to say for a lot of Canadian bands right now. I feel like Canadian music is really taking the world by storm. It’s funny how many people are at our shows reference other Canadian bans that were like, yeah, it’s just a movement right now and we’re just so happy to be a part of that.
The new songs sound a bit like a new step in your evolution. Did this happen organically or was there a little more effort to amp it up this time?
I think it is a mix of both. I mean definitely, organically, Black Holes was a great way to put our foot in the door of the public eye, but then after that album, we were feeling it was written a long time ago. Over time we changed as people, we changed as musicians. It’s organic in the sense that our natural evolution of influences over the past six years has now been ejected into the new music. It was purposeful in a way where we want to make sure we show people that we’re still the Blue Stones that you know and love, but there’s something more than just your standard rock duo to us.
The production of Shakin’ Off The Rust and Grim seems a bit more cleaner on the recordings. Has your production technique changed?
We started working with a new producer, Paul Meany, who’s been an absolute hero of ours since 2009. He was a front man of a band called Mutemath, which we both adore, but bringing his production mind to the whole project was amazing. He has such an awesome perspective on our music while still maintaining an anchor to who we are. He doesn’t want to change us. He just wants to amplify and show us as an evolved version of ourselves and he did an amazing job of that. He definitely has a slicker approach to production, but definitely in a way where you can still hear the grit. It’s just polished.
Are these songs more of a sample of what’s ahead for you guys, or are they just more of one off singles?
They’re definitely a sample of what’s to come. I think by listening to Shakin’ Off The Rust and Grim, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what kind of music that is in store for the next album.
You started nearly 10 years ago. How do you think the band and its sound, changed from those early days?
I guess that’s tough to say. I still think both Justin and myself play the music that we want to hear. That’s just always been our motto. I feel like over time we’ve become more experienced as far as musicians, just playing a lot of live shows and hitting the road so much.
You just have that knowledge and experience from that and then also playing with a bunch of different bands, you draw influences from them. I feel like there’s a little bit more of a purposeful angle to our studio time where we’re constantly thinking, how is this going to translate live, because our live show is so important to us.
When we are recording something in studio, we’re thinking, “Okay, how are we going to do this live?” In a way that could be limiting, but to us, we see it as a welcome challenge because it’s just a cool way to take a studio song that has more than just two instruments on it and trying to figure it out how we’re going to perform that one live, with just us two guys.
With the pressure surrounding a recording band with a number one hit, are things a bit more complicated now?
I guess there was an extent of pressure. We felt because of the relative success that we had with Black Holes, we had set a bar for ourselves that we wanted to exceed. There was always this looming idea of the sophomore album slump that we wanted to avoid as much as possible.
In a way, there were some times where we felt as if we didn’t know what we’re doing was good enough and are we doing anything better than what we used to do. I think that dissipated over time and we realized that we were comparing our demos for the new album to a completely mixed and mastered song that was on Black Holes.
When we went to visit the old demos of the Black Holes music, we realized they were in the same position as these ones were now. I think we got over that pressure pretty quick.