Bleu: The Interview

On March 30, I sat down with singer-songwriter Bleu before his show at Eddie’s Attic (Read the review). Here’s the conversation.

My hmphs: This is kind of a short tour, isn’t it?

Bleu: Yeah. I don’t usually tour for huge runs – ever, you know? I like to keep it pretty mellow. It was basically just time. Scott [Simons] and I had talked about doing stuff for forever. I used to do this duo thing for a long time with this buddy of mine, Joe Seiders, who played drums with me for quite a while. He’s a multi-instrumentalist. He used to play in a band type of setting with other people. And we used to do a duo thing where sometimes he’d play drums, and sometimes he’d play other stuff, and he’s a great singer. We had been wanting to get that back together for a while, so it was like an excuse to be back as well, and so it all just came together.

We’re just doing a few shows. I’m hoping to put out a new record in the fall and then do a tour to support that. I’m trying to get out more. It’s just a few years of not playing much outside of Boston and Los Angeles. This year the big goal is to make sure I got out there a few times.

MH: What did you learn from the whole restructuring at Sony? Are you happy now being more independent?

B: Yeah. The smaller label that I was on, Aware – we always had a pretty good relationship. I feel like in general they made a real effort to promote my music and get it out there. So it was really more like the corporate partner that held up the record for so long. And a lot of that was because they were going through so many crazy changes, firing presidents every few months, getting new CEOs. So it was just hard to get a single person’s attention long enough to get through the process of trying to get my record back. But once we finally found somebody who would pay attention, the process actually wasn’t that painful of getting it back. It just took a long time.

Mostly, I’m just glad I got to put the record out finally. It was four years almost to the day after I finished the record. But I did a lot of stuff in between. It wasn’t like I didn’t keep busy. I put out the LEO record, I put out the Major Labels album, I had plenty to keep me busy.

It also gave me an opportunity to get my thing going in L.A. and get my songwriting for other people off the ground, and delve into my production career. So in the end … I don’t know. I definitely always look back at things with rose-colored glasses in general. But I’m happy where I’m at now. There was definitely some very sad times. But in general, I think it’s all worked out okay.

MH: Some of my favorite songs of yours – “We’ll Do It All Again,” “Somebody Else,” have these soaring choruses, where everything seems to be built up for that. Is that intentional, something you just learned way back from listening to 70s music?

B: I don’t know. I think it’s something I’ve kind of always done. I don’t think it’s necessarily unique to me. To me, it’s – I don’t know – that’s a cool chorus.

MH: I’ve always been a big fan of power pop. I don’t know – Is that what you call your style?

B: Not so much anymore, I think. The latest record is maybe the least power pop thing I’ve done. I’d almost say it’s more like singer-songwriter, if anything. Obviously, I always have at least one foot in the power pop world, and I’m pretty happy to embrace that. I like other power pop bands.

MH: There seems to be some mutual admiration society going on with you, Mike Viola, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Kelly Jones – all music that I love, and you all seem to have somehow found each other and are working together. Did that come about by accident?

B: I guess you could look at it that way, but no, not really. We all recognize that we’re all doing similar things and have all been fans of each other to some respect. I think those kind of connections come about pretty naturally – it’s a pretty small little world, the kind of power pop singer songwriter camp. (Laughs) It’s not like there are thousands of us. We definitely gravitate toward each other, and we all kind of speak the same language, I think. We all like working together because it’s easy, and fun.

MH: What do you learn from them usually? Since you all have the same background, is there some time when you’re working, and somebody hits a chord …

B: Well, I think everybody obviously has their own unique take on it and their own strengths and that kind of thing. Viola is just one of my favorite songwriters and easily one of my favorite performers of all time. He has just been anenormous influence on me. The way that he goes about shows as a sort of a conversation with the audience as opposed to a performance had a huge effect on me. Also the ability to let go and just let it be what it is rather than trying to make it into something – that was definitely something I learned from him and something that meant a lot to me.

Obviously, in terms of Andy Sturmer and Roger Joseph Manning Jr. [Jellyfish], they were one of my earliest, big, big bands that I was into. Probably I would still put them as my favorite band of all time. They were seminal for me. They were like what I learned how to write songs on.

MH: I call Redhead the third lost Jellyfish album.

B: Well, that’s nice. Obviously, Andy contributed a lot on the record, so it definitely has that. I hope it has its own unique charms. But obviously their influence was worn on my sleeve, as it were. And I’ve  been doing a lot of stuff with Roger lately which has been really cool. I think a song that we did together is going to be on my next record in the fall.

And we sort of have this little band – Mogul – we’ve only played once. It’s the rhythm section from Rooney – the guitar player, the bass player and the drummer, me, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., and Mike Viola, and then sometimes Chris Price.  Taylor Locke, the guitar player from Rooney, has this solo project with Chris Price, so we did this – we call it a  “Mini Mogul” show where Chris was sort of the Roger character in the show. I hope we get a chance to do a couple more of those this year, because it’s really fun. We jokingly say that we’re a cover band of our own music. (Laughs) We’re like a big cover band, but we only cover each other’s songs.

MH: My blog focuses on what’s wrong with today’s music in terms of style over substance, and I try to bring artists like you to light and show people that there still is melody in music. What do you think of today’s music?

B: Well, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, to be perfectly honest. First of all, I have to tread kind of lightly here, because I make my living writing songs for top 40 radio. Even in the Disney/pop circle that I’ve had my biggest success in – the Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, and a lot of those groups –

MH: But that’s almost like a resurgence, though. I like that.

B: That stuff is power pop. I mean, it’s kids doing it, but it’s John Fields producing the record, the same guy who produced my record and other great power pop records, is producing that stuff, that’s the guy I’m working with to make that music. I’m playing on it, all these other power pop guys are playing on it, they’re power pop records. Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus? The band is a ton of power pop people from Boston – Kay Hanley from Letters to Cleo and the guys from American Hi-Fi. Obviously she’s done some more contemporary urban music lately, but a lot of it is basically power pop, especially her earlier stuff.

Also I think that because of the way the Internet has changed music and file sharing, people have more opportunities to seek out and find more good music than ever. I told somebody this recently and i think it’s a perfect illustration of this point: Five or six years ago, if you looked in Entertainment Weekly at the 10 to 15 albums that they reviewed, 80 percent of them would be on major labels and 20 percent of them would be on independent labels. Five years later, 80 percent of the records that they review in Entertainment Weekly every week are independent records, sometimes tiny labels operated by one or two people, and sometimes larger labels –  and probably 20 percent of the records that they review are on major labels. So that’s how much it’s flipped just in that short of period of time. So I think people’s opportunity to listen to great stuff is greater than it’s ever been.

That may be the exact opposite answer of the point of your blog, but I think it’s all out there. and I think that people who make great power pop have more of an opportunity to get it out to the small army of popheads that are out there.

MH: I think we’re just frustrated. And I’m speaking more from a hip-hop standpoint – you see that doing so well, and then you hear a Bleu record or Mike Viola record and you go, why isn’t that doing better?

B: Yeah, the music landscape is so fractured now, which is a good thing and a bad thing. It allows everybody to focus on just what they like, but it also means that … it’s the death of the rock star basically, the rise of the many independent smaller stars. To me, that’s a positive, but I’m glass half full today. (Laughs)

MH: I saw you mentioned Jon Brion in an interview. any chance of working with him in the future?

B: I’ve never worked with Jon. It would be probably number one on my list of things that I’d like to do before I die. We obviously have some mutual friends. I hope I just get a chance to meet him someday and pick his brain. I’d be happy with that.

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