We had the chance to catch up with Jacquie, Stephen and Liam from The Balconies at Ottawa Bluesfest just before their second appearance at Bluesfest and ask a few questions about their music and what it’s like to play for the hometown crowd.
How did you guys get together, what’s the story behind the balconies?
J: “Well Steve and I were siblings (they still are)… we were always playing in bands as kids … then when I went off to university our high school band broke up and I really missed playing music with my brother and then when I met Liam when I was in university we were just like “wow” the chemistry was really nice and we wanna work together again and we’ve been together for over 4 years now and it’s been quite an adventure”
What are your influences musically and even theatrically?
S: “I think the first element would be the classic three piece rock bands like Cream, The Police, The Jimi Hendrix Experience… three piece outfits where every member is outputting as much energy as possible when on stage… we wanted to have pop songs played by the three of us that sound full and still aggressive.”
J: “As far as other influences grow, I mean growing up I was constantly surrounded by punk music. I love that raw, chaotic energy that a lot of punk bands have. I was a huge ska kid and I remember going to Warped Tour when i was 16 and i was like “WHOA, THIS IS AWESOME!” … everyone sweating like crazy and so into it. It’s not a violent aggression, its more like intense passionate aggression and i think that’s what drew me to wanting to be a performer. Also people like Joan Jett, Tina Turner and Michael jackson. Their dance moves. They were constantly dancing and singing. I really loved that quality about them. I know for me personally, just like to move as much as possible and kinda get lost in the moment.
L: “I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock and alternative rock in the 90’s. I was always drawn to really high energy groups. The whole 3 piece thing is something I’ve always been into. I was really into green day in high school … to me that was one of the bands that really inspired me to play music. I think the three piece is really great because you can’t really double anything, everything is very clean.
What’s the difference between playing for your hometown crowd versus an out of town crowd?
S: “I think the number one difference is that, for example today, we’re playing a longer set so playing to an ottawa crowd, we know this audience has heard our first record that a lot of people in Toronto and other places haven’t heard so we can get away with playing some of our classic tunes, which is fun. it reawakens our appreciation for the song and our energy…”
Because you guys came to Bluesfest when you were younger, do you guys feel that you have more of an appreciation when it comes to festivals?
J: “Yeah, absolutely. we realize that a lot of work goes into festivals… it’s just such a huge production. all the volunteers that are involved… like the stage crew it’s just crazy how big a production it is and how many stages there are and how long a festival it is. we did SXSW as well and i mean the entire city of Austin, TX just kinda shuts down and it’s like chaos everywhere… bands playing everywhere. we love festivals, that’s one of our favorite things to do.”
From when you guys first started writing, how do you feel that your music has evolved? What do you think some of the factors that contributed towards that evolution are?
J: “I think over the years we’ve definitely become a lot more collaborative. The three of us all know really where the band wants to go and what direction we see ourselves evolving to and it’s kinda nice because now I’ll bring a tiny little snippet of an idea to the band and all three of us will make that idea into a song, whereas before it’s like “I have this song, let’s make this a Balconies song, we’ll try to make it work” and that’s how the first record worked whereas now I feel that we’re writing a lot more together and working on structures together a lot more together and harmonies and lyrics and we’re all very open to that songwriting process. So in that sense we’ve definitely grown. I feel like i’m getting a lot more comfortable playing guitar so I’m writing different guitar parts. I want to challenge myself a lot more”
S: “I think now we have a better idea of which direction we want to focus in on whereas before we were kinda all over the place and there was a broader spectrum. Now we still like dabble in things a little more left field but we’re also aware of what we want to accomplish, what kind of energy the song should have.”
You guys have some pretty unique relationships. Do you feel that that contributes to your music?
J: “I think it’s pretty obvious to our audience that we’re all very close and we spend a lot of time together. We get along very well and we work very well together. The chemistry works. I feel like that definitely shines through because we’re very aware of each other, especially when we’re performing on stage. I feel them when i’m performing with them, it’s not an individual experience, I feel like we’re a machine. without one part of the machine, it would just fall apart. If one of us wasn’t here, it would be hard to make it work.”
Do you find there’s a difference touring the United States versus Canada?
S: “It’s hard to compare them because we’ve had a couple very big American shows and we’ve also had some very small ones, so it’s hard to compare when the audiences we’re playing to are not packed. People who have never heard our music before. It’s hard to gauge their reaction to it.
Do you prefer festivals? Or do you like the smaller venues?
J: “They’re good for different reasons. I think in the summer, because the summer’s so short, it’s really exciting to play summer festivals because we get to play outside to huge audiences. As Canadians, we don’t get to experience beautiful weather constantly.
S: “It’s also more stressful, depending on the setting of the festival. You could be overshadowed by a headlining act for example, where at a club it’s more intimate and more regular paced. At festivals there’s like 3 or 4 bands playing on one stage, in one night, so the audience can just plant themselves there.”
Would you say that you attribute a lot of your fan base to festivals?
J: “Yeah, especially for demographics that don’t get to see us. We play to alot of college kids cause we’re doing a lot of the university routes and playing 19+ shows so we can’t get a lot of the pre teens and teenagers. These are audiences that wouldn’t necessarily go to Zaphods in Ottawa to come check us out cause they’re kinda like “it’s a young crowd, I don’t feel like doing that”.
S: “For example we just played Summerfest in Milwaukee, two weeks ago and that was the day that Foo Fighters were headlining at the festival so there was a huge crowd moving in and out of the stages and it was an amazing show for us and since then we’ve seen on our social media tons of people saying “I saw you at at Summerfest, we loved it. New fan!” so we see a huge response that way. Like from an Ottawa standpoint, last time we did WestFest we played for thousands of people because we opened for Sloan so like, still today I have people coming up to me at shows being like “I discovered you at WestFest”
You guys had a video our for “Serious Bedtime” a few years ago and you just released the video for “Kill Count”. How was the experience different this time?
J: “It was a really amazing experience. I mean with “Serious Bedtime” we just kinda… we didn’t do it on a whim… but we didn’t plan it fully. It was very low budget.
L: “The thing about that too was the guy who directed was a very new director. He was like “I wanna get into video directing, I wanna try this out”
J: “He was a fan of the band and really wanted to help us out. It was really awesome working with him but surprises always come your way and it throws you a little off track… It was a definite learning experience and we’re really grateful for it.”
S: “The second video for “Kill Count” was a greater budget, we did it properly with a professional company, Reactive Pictures, and it seemed very smooth. The direction and the production was very together… It was also a lot more exciting because there were wrestlers!”
How do you feel that your first release being self-recorded helped prepare you for “Kill Count”?
J: “Recording our first record was a crazy learning experience. We recorded with the guys from Zeus… and they offered us their studio for a really nice price for 5 days so we recorded everything off the floor except the vocals.
S: “We did all the the bed tracks in the studio in 5 days. We did all the vocals and overdubs at the apartment in Ottawa. All the vocal tracks spanned about 5 months. We would get time between university classes to do like 3 hours of vocals for one song, which is really hard when you’re working on one song and you have to stop halfway through the song because you’ve run out of time, it’s really frustrating.”
J: “I feel like recording that record taught us to be extremely well rehearsed for the studio, especially if you’re on such a low budget, you don’t have time to like do retakes over and over. Not that we need to (laughs)! Working with John Drew for KIll Count was a very different Experience because he’s a very experienced producer and recording engineer and he had a lot of direction for us. He wasn’t the kind of producer that was like “We’re changing the song completely!” he just provided a lot more insight as he had a fresh pair of ears and we had been playing these songs forever. It was really nice working with a producer who has the experience.”
S: “And he could execute anything we wanted to achieve. With the last record, we probably had some ideas that didn’t work out the way we wanted them to so we would scrap it or try it again, but with this record we were on a more clear path because of John.”
What inspired you to release a french version of Kill Count on the website? Was it growing up in a bilingual city?
J: “Yeah, I think it was because I was in french immersion growing up and french culture is very important to me. A lot of our family lives in Montreal and growing up in a bilingual community like Ottawa plays a huge role in who I am and I though “Why not reach out to those markets where our background is from?”
S: “A big inspiration for that was bands like The Beatles and Abba. They would translate their songs to Spanish and Japanese and German.”
J: “And then when we play Montreal everyone gets super excited!”
Most and Least favorite parts about touring?
S: “No access to showers”
J: “Sleeping on floors”
L: “Being sore all the time”
S: “My most favorite thing is listening to a lot of music on the road.”
J: “My favorite thing is the fact that we get to see so many awesome cities and meet so many amazing people almost every night. And we get to play music every night.”
L: “Seeing all these places, playing music.”
My last question is “What’s next for the Balconies?”
J: “Short term at least for the rest of 2012 is gonna be purely focused on touring. We’re all about our live show so we’re gonna be doing a cross-Canada tour in October and then we’re heading down to the States. We’re doing a festival in LA in the fall so we’re looking forward to that. Hopefully we’re gonna release our new record, it’s all finished. Still to be determined when (despite my swearing secrecy, I couldn’t get an exact date). Shoot another music video… and just keep writing new music and touring the crap outta the world.”
The Balconies will be back in Ottawa on August 2 with The Aggrolites at Mavericks along with a few more festival shows in Montreal and Ottawa. Look for them this fall on their cross Canada tour!