The Blue Stones are an alt-rock duo consisting of Tarek Jafar and Justin Tessier from Windsor, Ontario. They just released the album Black Holes on Oct. 26th, and you can check it out on Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube. We talked with Tarek on the album, influences, and sticking to the grind.
So where are you right now?
Right now, in Toronto, Ontario. We just finished a live studio recording at one of the SiriusXM stations here. Super fun.
You guys have an album, Black Holes, coming out tomorrow. How does that feel?
It feels pretty exciting. We released a couple of EPs on our own, independently, but this is our first feature, full-length album with a label, so it definitely feels different from before. We’re both very excited to finally put these songs out there for everybody to stream and listen to.
How did you get from independently releasing your EPs to having such a huge following on Spotify and now releasing with eOne?
It’s a lot of things. We’re been together for about seven years now, and we’ve just been playing a lot of shows, making a lot of music. We just stuck to the grind over the years. I think that’s really important. But there’s also a couple of huge placements for TV shows–Suits, Shameless, Monday night football–and those really helped just get the sound out there and eventually built it to the point that we can release something with a label.
What do you think about the music landscape right now for up-and-coming artists?
There’s just so much. There’s so much music, and that’s good and bad, right? Anybody who has a passion for music can record something and put it out there to be streamed instantly, and you’re on the same platform as other huge acts. But at the same time, everyone can record and everyone can release, so it’s a bit of a different landscape. I think a lot of people now are just trying to, number one: stay current with changing trends but also, number two: stand out and be unique. And that’s what helps you cut through the masses of music that’s out there.
So, I think for bands, everybody’s put on this level playing field now, whereas before it was that if you make it through the whole label thing then you’re far ahead of everybody else. Now I honestly don’t think it matters that much. Obviously, it’s amazing to be with the label, but if you want to do it independently, there’s ways that you can.
I’d love to talk about Black Holes, the album that came out on Friday. I know you’ve said that thematically it’s about becoming an adult and about pursuing what you love. Is that kind of where you were when you wrote most of the songs?
Yeah, 100%. Both Justin and I had just finished our university degrees and we were kind of put out in the real world for the first time, having to make decisions as adults about where we wanted our lives to go. That can be a pretty daunting task. I’m sure a lot of students feel the same way when they finally finish their degrees. It’s like, okay, what do I do now? So that music was born in that feeling where you’re uncertain about things.
It’s almost as if you’re lost in space, you know–you have this endless list of opportunities. Some people may see it as a gift but it’s actually pretty tough to have to decide between. I think a lot of people want to pick something that they want to stick with their whole lives, but I don’t really see that as a reality anymore. This album’s all about making the tough decisions for yourself–trying to figure out who you are, and who you want to be.
What is your favorite song on the album?
It’s funny because this changes all the time. Currently, my favorite song is “Magic.” It’s a little bit different for us. I know a lot of people know us as alternative, blues rockers but this showcases a different side of us that I really want people to know about. It’s a lot more chill, a lot more vibey. That’s a song that I really enjoy listening to and playing live.
I know the big song on the album is still “Black Holes (Solid Ground).” Do you have a favorite thing about it or something you want listeners to notice about it?
I like “Black Holes” because it’s like, “Ok, you want to hear the Blue Stones? Boom. There you go.” That’s us at our most raw and our most energetic. That’s us. That’s when we finally settled on the sound that we have now, and I feel like it’s a really good representation of who we are as musicians. It goes deeper than that, but that’s a great place to launch from.
“Rolling With the Punches” is also really strong. Would you say it’s autobiographical with respect to your experience releasing music?
It’s the whole grind. We’ve been together for about seven years now and it’s been an uphill battle for a majority of those years. You’re going to have people who make promises to you and who don’t follow through. You’re going to have people who try to cut you down in certain ways. Whether it’s music or whatever else, like any relationship you may be in, it’s about keeping going, and staying on your two feet and pushing through everything. Because the grind is well worth it if you can just last. So that’s what “Rolling” is about–it’s kind of about the hardships that we went through but it also has a bit of a positive feel to it.
One more song I want to ask about is “The Hard Part” because this song just drives me crazy. What was your writing process for this one?
Usually, when we write I’ll just be messing around on my guitar and I’ll find a riff or a guitar lick that I really enjoy. From there, I kind of build a skeleton of a song. That was just a riff I was messing around with at home–I started playing it and it just stuck with me.
I built a song around it and I sent it to Justin, and right after that he was like, “I feel a real hip-hop beat for this one.” So he threw something down and sent it back, fell in love with it and that’s how we built “The Hard Part.” It kind of has that edge to it, a little bit of swagger, and we tried to keep that in theme for when we finally recorded in studio.
Speaking more generally, your music stands out to us in that’s it’s really melodic and exact, but also has a lot of heavy elements. How did you develop that style and why is it important to you to have that? Is this one of those things that helps you stand out as a band?
I think so. I think as a two-piece it has a tendency to be very simple. But we are not simple players. We like a lot of dynamic music, and music that can change with moods and vibes and different arrangements. It has been years in the making, Justin and I just playing together.
We’ve been good friends for over twelve years, thirteen years now, so the chemistry that we have outside of music helps to play into the way that we play off of each other on stage and how we record together. We can come off beat just in touch because I know where Justin’s going to go with it next. I know him. I think that’s where you get a little bit of the looseness. We can tend to play a little bit more casually, but when we want it to be tight we’ll both come in together at the same time.
I think you guys get this question every time, but with just two people, how are you so loud?
Okay, let me tell you something. Justin is loud. He rips it on stage. In part, I obviously want to match it with the guitar, but along with him being loud he’s also really dynamic. We have a good push and pull between each other and that accounts for there being no spaces, no emptiness or feeling lost in the music. Because when somebody’s pushing the other one’s pulling.
So what do you like to listen to? Is it different from what you write?
It can be. I listen to a lot of different music. It’s so hard to pinpoint one specific artist who’s influential on us. I listen to a lot of hip-hop myself, a lot of R&B. I also like to listen to a lot of instrumental music just because it’s different from listening to vocals–you really appreciate the music itself. We used to listen to a lot of jazz when we were first coming together. Acid Jazz by Medeski Martin & Wood was a huge influence on us. We have our blues roots too.
And we used to listen to a lot of The Black Keys. We get that comparison from time to time, and it’s not that I like to shy away from it, but I do feel like we are different from The Black Keys. That being said, as an influence they’ve been here from the start, and they really sparked a passion for music and live performance for both of us. Another band that I used to listen to religiously is MUTEMATH. They were just such amazing live performers. I remember watching a lot of their live DVDs. Just the way that they record their music was a big influence on me.
It’s all over the map, really. I’ll listen to a pop song that I’ll really, really enjoy, say it’s Drake or something like that, and then I’ll dig a little bit deeper into an indie band that maybe nobody’s heard of, but I really like this one part of the verse, and I’ll put it on repeat.
You have to keep a diverse set of influences.
Especially now, too. I’m sure you know, but with Spotify and Apple Music you can just find anything these days. These playlists will come up and say “Hey, have you heard of this band? Have you heard this song?” It’s crazy how much variety there is. People can draw influence from everywhere.
Why are you called The Blue Stones? How did you get your name?
It’s kind of a funny story. I’ll leave the names out of it, but basically it was sent to us. We were playing around with a bunch of band names and nothing seemed to really fit. Either it sounded too metal or it sounded too pop-y, and somebody was like, “Hey, how about The Blue Stones?” And we were like, “You know what? That works.” So that’s pretty much it. That’s how everything came together. We regret it at times because I think when a lot of people write our name on a bill it’s “The” and then “Blues Tones,” so we kind of kicked ourselves with that one. But we are like, “no, no, no–it’s The Blue Stones.”
Last question. Why is rock music important, in general, and how does that fit into your mission as a band and what you’re doing?
I think now more and more you’ll see bands, artists, and whatever, just sort of recording music and when they go to play it live they throw it all in the background and they sing on top of it. I think rock music is all about authenticity. Whether or not you like it–whether or not you like to listen to it–there’s really nothing like going to a live show and watching a group of people just play music from instruments, and actually play the songs that you hear recorded, in front of your eyes, on their instruments.
I think there’s an element of authenticity to it that you just don’t really find a lot now with mainstream music. Not to say that it’s bad. You still have a lot of good music out there that might not be on live instruments, but there’s something about watching people put it together in front of your eyes that I really love. And that’s why I think it’s important.
To go to a show and see that these people put their heart and soul into this and they are physically exerting themselves to make it sound good for you–I think that’s something to be in awe of. At least it is for me.