On June 1, 2019, Canadian blues-rock duo The Blue Stones performed at Bunbury Music Festival here in Cincinnati, Ohio. The duo, comprised of Tarek Jafar and Justin Tessier, just finished their first international Be My Fire Tour. Before their intensely electrifying performance, the two took some time to sit with Alex Macon and discuss their inspirations and their influences.
In five words, describe your music and style?
Tarek: Energetic, Swagger, Fun…
Justin: All that from two guys.
T: Yea, that one.
What sets you apart from other duos and groups out there?
T: When people think of duos, they naturally think of The Black Keys, White Stripes…but I think now the idea of a duo has really expanded because there are a lot of duos who do more than just your “blues-rock” and that’s where we came up. That is our influence. And what really sets us apart is that we draw influence from a lot of different types of music and I feel like that comes out through our music as well. We’re drawing into hip-hop, drawing into ambient music, jazz; these are things that we listen to and will come out in our music. You’re gonna see more than a blues/rock show.
Speaking of inspirations, who really inspires you guys musically?
J: We have a lot of inspirations. We used to listen to a lot of acid jazz music, a lot of [Jimi] Hendrix, bands like My Morning Jacket, Mutemath, and The Fools…
T: [referring] back to hip-hop, for me, JAY-Z, Kanye West,… J. Cole, we listen to Bas a lot, and I mean…Drake. [chuckles] Not necessarily that they are influences from the start, but they are as you go along and that’s important. You’re always influenced by music. It’s not just what we start with, it’s what we keep going with.
Do you ever find yourselves comparing your work with your peers or other groups?
J: Not really. We really like to keep the blinders on and just do our thing. Stay in our lane and just pay attention to what we’re doing. How we compare ourselves is to what we were doing a year ago or six months ago. That’s how we measure our progress. We don’t really compare to other bands. We pay attention to what other people are doing, but we don’t really put ourselves against what other groups have done. Everyone’s story is so different, and we just feel that the only thing we can do is be better than ourselves and that’s what we focus on.
How do you guys feel about the state of Rock music right now? It’s kind of in a weird limbo where things are evolving while referencing the past…
T: It’s exciting to be honest. I feel like we’re on this big wave that is really about to hit. All these new Rock artists who are bringing a big flavor to rock and roll…and they are drawing influences from other places but really funneling into what’s Rock now. There are a lot of young acts right now that are Rock-and-Roll music and it’s something to be super excited about and we’re just excited to be a part of that.
J: Honestly, the last time there was this weird, sort of state of the genre was like right before the early 1990s when Grunge really hit. There was glam and that was sort of weird and it got away from what Rock was in the beginning. And there was this totally new flavor of music that they literally had to redefine; now this is “Alternative Rock. We have to label this.” I think that’s where we’re at right now and we’re just a couple of years away from being right in the middle of the next [group] of artists who are really doing something different and doing something huge; taking over a cultural perspective.
Speaking of cultures, you are from Canada; In your experience after embarking on your first international tour, how you compare the Canadian Rock scene to America’s? If there is a difference.
J: The first thing we have to say is that… we’re almost like Canada’s rejects.
T: When we were grinding it out as an Indie band in Canada, the industry didn’t pay us any mind. We tried for years and years and years to try and break through on a Canadian scene, but they just didn’t want us. Once we started on the American side of things, we were embraced almost immediately. We’ve always seen ourselves—even our hometown of Windsor, Ontario, which we love so much, even Windsor is not seen as a part of Canada. People are like “You’re so close to Detroit.” We got the cold shoulder from Canada. The States is really where we’ve come up. That’s where we feel we owe the most to.
As far as Canadian Rock bands, there are still some cool bands. I find that Canadian Alternative does have a sound to it. It’s almost like a “Canadiana” …country-ish vibe to it.
Like Folk music?
T: Yeah. There are some cool sounding bands like METRIC, July Talk, BADBADNOTGOOD; they have this international sound to them, but you can kind of tell what community they come from. American bands have an edge to them, they have this swagger in their music, they’re really upfront about what they are…and that’s kind of been us anyway.
J: We’ve always leaned into that for sure. It’s important where we come from. Cincinnati is just as close as Toronto. There are no other big Canadian cities around us. We’re in a weird place geographically…America is not south of us, it’s north of us. We’re [surrounded] by the states…we’re in this weird middle ground where we’re not quite Canadian, but we’re not American. We’re just doing our own thing.
It sounds like you see yourselves as a fusion between Canada and America.
T: Yea, I agree with that.
J: Growing up, we always spent more time in the States, than Canada
T: because we’re so close.
As I said before, you started your first International tour this year. What was your favorite part of it?
J: For me, it was our first headlining tour—we had done support tours and it was cool that every night we were walking into a crowd that was buying tickets to see us. Whereas every other time, I’m sure some people were there to see us, but for the most part, they are there to see the headliner. So, it was cool for us to finally be the headliner, go to a city we have never been to before, like Seattle, to see that there were over 200 people there. It’s like, “Where did you guys come from?” It’s overwhelming support from people you didn’t even know existed that are really into your music and lyrics. That was probably the best part of doing the first headlining tour: that there are people out there to acknowledge us.
What are excited about for your performance today?
T: The last time we played in Cincinnati, we played at Bogart’s around Christmastime. We had a lot of fans in the audience that were really interacting and enjoying the music. It’s worth mentioning that both our American numbers just happen to have a 513-area code. We just happened to get our SIM [cards] in Cincinnati, so we’ve been repping 513.
So you have a soft spot for Cincinnati.
J: Yes, we do.
T: Skyline Chili! Bengals!
J: That’s funny because people will see our phone numbers are 513 and go “What high school did you go to?” “No, no, no!”
T: But Cincinnati is a great crowd and we’re excited to see them again.
Last question: What does the future look like for The Blue Stones?
T: Lots of new music. We’re working with a dream producer—I can’t really say who—but for us, I think that’s really going to push the boundary on our music and we’re just really looking forward to getting back into the studio.
J: It’s been so long since we’ve recorded new music. So, the future looks like it’s filled with a lot of new music. We’re recording this summer and we’re hoping to have something done mid-Fall.