Q&A with The Blithedale Romance
Dating back to the 1970s, New Brunswick has been a reliable platform for bands to showcase their music and unique sound. Even today, musicians and music lovers still manage to keep the underground basement shows thriving.
This Saturday, New Brunswick is welcoming back The Blithedale Romance, a modern rock band, with open arms as they perform a preview of songs from their new EP “Wanderer” at The Bomb Shelter before its release on October 14th.
The Daily Targum sat down with two members of The Blithedale Romance: Rob Graham, vocalist and guitar, and Jason Renna, bass and vocals, to talk more about the history of the band, their upcoming music release and future plans as musicians.
Daily Targum: I just wanted to start with your backgrounds in music. How did you get interested in the music scene?
Jason: I started playing music because my dad used to play bass in an old rock band. He had his old bass and stuff in the basement of our house and when I was younger I found them, and initially my sister was trying to learn how to play it and she kind of gave up, so I picked it up. And then from there, I kind of got addicted to it.
Rob: My dad also was a musician so that was definitely the start. I guess just always my whole life I was interested in music and I just started playing it. … But Jason and I were actually in another band in high school together that was like a pop rock band that didn’t go very far outside of the local scene. But that’s how we initially met and started writing songs together for that band, but then ended up using them for the first incarnation of an acoustic collab project.
DT: Where does the inspiration stem for writing songs, and how do you write them so that they’re relatable to your specific audience?
Jason: I think that most of the inspiration for the lyrics comes from going around the world and my everyday life and doing stuff. … I’ll just observe a thing and kind of start writing from there, and my emotional state. Every sort of emotion I could be feeling at any time could be related to my grand audience. I’m not thinking about how I can get people to relate as opposed to, how can I make it honest and real?
DT: When it comes to your sound in general, as a band, how would you describe it?
Rob: It’s really hard to say. We’ve drawn from so many different influences. I’m going to say that when we started, back when we were 17 [or] 18 years old, we listened to a lot of alternative rock and post-rock kind of stuff. Taking Back Sunday was up there, but also really technical and mass rock bands. But I’d say we’ve been getting into more experimental stuff, like Weatherbox. People are pushing the boundaries in the modern rock genre, and we’re trying to follow in their foot steps … [we’re trying to] create something new just like they are.
DT: How did you guys even start The Blithedale Romance to begin with?
Jason: In my freshman year of high school, I was in a band with two friends of mine, and we needed a guitar player because we were about to start playing shows. I knew Rob played guitar and I asked him if he’d be interested. He came out and played a few shows with us, and that band eventually went to nothing. Rob and me weren’t really writing songs or playing shows. So we decided that, Rob could sing, Rob could play guitar, [so] we just needed to find a drummer. [After that] we started this band and then since then, we’ve just kind of been doing it.
Rob: It’s definitely hard, because it’s all do-it-yourself — it’s all out of pocket and kind of just by the sweat of our own brow. [We have to use] all of our own personal time and resources. There have been some lineup changes … we’ve added numbers, we’ve lost numbers. But our lineup right now is really strong. We’re really happy with the way it’s going right now.
DT: How would you distinguish your particular band from other bands?
Jason: I think the most obvious one for me would be our live show. There are a lot of bands that write cool songs and do everything really well musically. But then when you go see them live, and it kind of just is … in my opinion, boring. We try to always give people all of everything we have for every show we play. [We try to] give them an actual show, not so much just pieces of songs we wrote.
Rob: We understand that being in a band isn’t just about writing music: It’s a performance. It’s definitely theatrical in a lot of aspects and we try to bring that to the stage. Right now, it’s all that we could do just because we’re limited financially, but we definitely have plans to make the live show even crazier and more engaging in terms of the audience and having them experience more than just watching a band play songs on a stage.
DT: You guys have a show coming up this Wednesday, the CBGB Festival. That’s insane. Are you excited for that?
Rob: Yeah, it’s really awesome and [we were] really excited to find out that we were going to be in the festival. We’re playing at Coco 66, in Brooklyn. We go on at 7:45 p.m.
DT: Did you guys have to audition for CBGB Fest?
Rob: No. We actually teamed up with some friends who are also in the industry and kind of created a little management promotions team between us. One of them just happened to have a connection with CBGB Fest, and we were able to hook up that show.
DT: How do you think you guys have changed, either performance wise, or regarding song content? How do you think Blithedale Romance has grown as a band since first starting out?
Jason: I can speak from the lyrical point of the band most strongly because that’s where I’ve been best rooted. I’d say that a lot of the things that are coming out, like the meaning behind the songs and the content, is a little more mature now. I’ve experienced some actual things in my life, not just childhood. I think that there’s a little bit more openness on the new record also. I think we’re just headed in the direction of doing more of what we want and giving it to people in a way that they can either accept it or [not], as opposed to how we used to go about it in a way that we were trying to get people to like us.
Rob: Speaking from the music standpoint, I feel like the very first incarnation of the band, I was doing most of the songwriting in the beginning stages. But recently, everybody’s been throwing in a lot of really good ideas and I’m really happy with the way that everyone’s matured over the years just from playing together. Jason and I have been in bands for five or six years now, Brian’s been part of the band, our lead guitarist for three [or] four years. Our drummers [have] only been with us for a year [or] two, but everyone’s grown so much, just by taking it a little more seriously, doing a lot of homework, which helps the band learn a lot of new things.
DT: What would you say has been your most memorable moment so far as a band?
Rob: I think for me, it was when we played for the Goo Goo Dolls last spring at Stockton. We had won a Battle of the Bands at the university, which allowed us to play the opening spot for the Goo Goo Dolls concert. We also played with River Run North; they’re a California band, which was also pretty awesome. There were, like, 2,000 people in the crowd. It was a pretty surreal experience. I have not played a show that big before. It was a really good time.
Jason: There are lots of cool moments. Our first show ever we opened up for the Wonder Years, and that was before they were pretty huge, at Hangar 84. There were a lot of startup bands that played there before they got big.
DT: For your EP coming out, “Wanderer,” what was your inspiration and goal with this EP in terms of sound and content?
Rob: As far as sound goes, I can say that the evolution from the first album, I thought our first album was … clean, and a little bit more produced than what we had originally intended. I felt with “Wanderer,” we went for a more raw sound but at the same time experimented with different forms of song writing. We still have some sort of traditional song writing style in our verses and choruses, but from the beginning to the end of the album, I think that the structure of the songs evolve in different ways. They all kind of have their own character, and something we strive for is to try and be different and unique, and explore different genres in interesting ways.
DT: What about the title? How did you guys decide on “Wanderer?”
Jason: I had written the majority of the lyrics on the record, during a time where I was just moving into college and New Brunswick, away from home and stuff, and finding an interesting dynamic of what home actually is. Most of these songs have some sort of feeling [about] finding your place almost, and so “Wanderer” was an overarching theme.
DT: What do you hope that listeners get out of the EP?
Rob: I mean, coming from someone who has to put a voice to the lyrics, and having a different understanding about it because I was the one who wrote them, I kind of have my own interpretation. But the biggest thing to take away, from the messages that the songs could be sending is that if you feel lost, you’re not alone. There are plenty of people who don’t know what the hell is going on, and it’s okay to wander around until you find the thing you’re passionate about, [that] will steer you in the right direction or whatever direction you want to head in life.
DT: How did you guys come up with the name The Blithedale Romance?
Jason: I was doing my homework, surprisingly, and I was reading this thing out of this history textbook, back in high school when I was 16 or 17 years old. … I was reading my history textbook and Rob’s sitting next to me, I just read out the name “The Blithedale Romance” and we were stupid, and we did it. There’s always been talk about like trying to change the name at a certain point to whatever else we came up with.
DT: What are your future plans as a band, and what do you guys still want to accomplish?
Rob: With the EP, we just want to push it as far as we can, get a bunch of people to come into it. We’ve been writing for a really long time while the album was being mixed and mastered, so we have the material and the band that we definitely want to put down. We just don’t know when or how right now.
Jason: We definitely plan on playing a lot of shows, too, and getting out over the course of the next few months.
DT: With your shows, do you guys mostly play basement shows? Was it where you guys first started out?
Rob: It’s really weird, growing up in South Jersey, where we’re from originally. It’s more of a farm town down the turnpike. We always had to drive pretty far … 30 to 35 minutes to get to anywhere substantial. So, we actually started playing venues. But when we started playing shows last year, we just found that the basement scene was so inviting and the fans are crazy up here. They really have a great time at the shows and really make you feel welcomed, [so] we just decided to stick around because people were enjoying it, and we enjoyed them.
DT: As a band, how do you guys overcome disagreements or hardships to stay tightly knit?
Jason: We usually just yell at each other and then while we yell, we yell some more and then eventually it stops and then we keep going.
Rob: The [arguments] tend to just work themselves out. Most of the disagreements that we have are either like, song writing disagreements or managing disagreements. These are all disagreements that bands could have at this stage of the game. It’s usually just because we’re so passionate about whatever we believe in. But we understand that, and we usually just come to a compromise. We’re just comfortable yelling at each other.
Jason: If we’re yelling, it’s for the betterment of the band.
DT: As an independent band, are you guys focused on staying independent or do you hope to get signed? Is it something that you guys all want to make a legitimate career out of?
Jason: I’d say that we definitely don’t have any strong desire to stay independent. I feel like we don’t have any reason to. We all want to do this with our lives. I think it’s a matter of waiting for the right person to work with, and the right group of people to work with. We don’t want to take just anything that comes to us.
Rob: We understand that the industry is like, pretty crazy right now just in the amount [of] content and the amount of channels that people can access. So it really depends on who’s going to get us to the right audience and what pocket we’re going to fit in to make the most out of our music career.
DT: New Brunswick has a very strong independent music scene, so with your experience, what advice would you give to people that are in college right now that are hoping to go down the same direction in an attempt to make a career out of it?
Rob: It’s definitely not easy. It takes a lot of dedication, [and] it’s not just about being in a band and having the image of being a rock star — whatever that means these days. You actually have to sit down and do the work. You have to practice your instrument, you have to try and get better. You have to see what new things are going on in the world and try and build a meaningful musical existence out of that. You also have to understand the industry too, because a lot that goes into it. Just don’t rush and make calculated decisions because you don’t want to run into anything that you’re not prepared for. But at the same time, I totally support anybody who wants to go into the field because it’s an amazing thing, and the world would be lost without artists. It’s hard to live without any emotional expression and I think a lot of people find that in music when they can’t create it themselves.
DT: What would probably be your dream band to open up for? What is it about those bands in particular?
Rob: Jason says Brand New, and I say Arch Bandits. They just have balls. They’re not afraid to invent. They are constantly pushing boundaries. Not one album sounds like any other. They’re constantly trying new things in terms of song writing, engineering [and] production. I love both of them.
DT: What was the motive behind the artistic construction of your EP “Wanderer” when it came to the visuals?
Rob: We actually have a music video that is coming out on Tuesday, that will be exclusively themed on AbsolutePunk.net. It’ll all make sense with that. There’s kind of an overarching theme to the album that we’re playing around with so hopefully people enjoy it, and catch on.