By Ann Driscoll
While experts will tell you that there isn’t one, single formula to being a successful rock band, The Blue Pages have certainly covered their bases in the two years they’ve been together. Indie label deal? Check. Incessant touring? Check. Opening spots for huge bands like Panic! at the Disco? Check.
The band explains how they’ve gotten to where they are today and makes it sound pretty simple. “We work our asses off,” said drummer, Matt Sanchez.
Based in Allston, the pop/rock quartet formed in 2007 and consists of Berklee alums, Zac Barnett, James Shelley, and Sanchez (the former two dropped out this year, the latter graduated in 2009) and current student, Dave Rublin.
They released their debut EP, Surrounded by Wolves in 2007, and a big break followed when they opened for Parker House and the Theory at a sold-out show at The Paradise. The Boston-based indie label, Walking City Records signed them quickly thereafter. In spring 2009, they released their second EP, Bear Fight (which The Groove reviewed favorably). Mike Poorman, who produced albums for Piebald and Therefore I Am produced Bear Fight at his studio in Providence, RI.
This past summer, The Blue Pages toured nonstop, playing some very high profile gigs. In July, they performed at the Warped Tour in Hartford, CT. “Warped Tour was really awesome, but you have to work and be on your game, nonstop,” said guitarist James Shelley. They had to set up their own tent and try to persuade some of the thousands of festival-goers to check out their show and then, if they did come, sign up for their email list afterwards. “You’re basically hustling from 8am to 8pm.”
Their friendships with bands already booked and their victories playing several Boston-area battle of the bands competitions ensured their spot on the tour, which last year, grossed 13.2 million dollars and attracted almost a half million fans to 34 concerts nationwide.
During the month of August, The Blue Pages toured from Massachusetts to Minnesota and performed in many Midwestern cities in between. During the day, they performed acoustic sets at Hot Topic stores in shopping malls by day and venues by night. The acoustic sets at Hot Topic were promotion for the night shows, and according to the band, they were sometimes very helpful in drawing fans in new markets to a here-to-fore unknown band.
“Some of the shows were packed. We played in Minneapolis, and it was crazy. The whole store was packed with kids. Some other stores, there were maybe 15 kids. It all depends,” said Shelley. Their friendship with Boston band, Lannen Fall, who plays Hot Topic stores frequently, connected them to the Hot Topic daytime gigs.
On August 12, The Blue Pages opened for Panic! at the Disco at a secret acoustic show at the New York bar, Angels and Kings, which is co-owned by Pete Wentz. The Fall Out Boy bassist, Mark Hoppus of Blink 182, and other members of the pop-punkerati were in attendance.
Their music is characterized by some of the pop-punk staples: in-your-face, frequently harmonized vocals, crunchy guitars, choppy rhythmic feels, and an overall pleasant but edgy sensibility to the songwriting. Vocalist Zac Barnett bears a strong resemblance to both Jeff Buckley and Brandon Flowers. The Boston Globe compared them to Fall Out Boy, but the band currently cites Radiohead, Bat for Lashes, Phoenix, and Passion Pit as major influences, which is indicative of their evolution towards a more synth-heavy 80’s revivalist sound.
The Blue Pages have cleverly developed three different kinds of live shows, which enable them to cater their act to different contexts. They play full rock sets as well as acoustic shows. They also perform synth shows wherein Rublin and Barnett man keyboards instead of bass and guitar, respectively, while a mix of programmed beats and live drums provide the danceable grooves.
They partially credit their musicality and versatility as a band with their education at Berklee. Rublin, a professional music major, has taken music synth courses, which has helped the band integrate programming and keyboards into their sound. Sanchez, who just graduated this past May with a degree in composition, is enthusiastic. “From when I started Berklee to right now, I can just see how much I’ve grown as a musician. My understanding of music and theory, and in general, has grown so much. I love Berklee.” Barnett and Shelley both wanted to graduate, but financial impediments combined with the demands of the band required that they leave. “The band requires just as much work if not more work than school,” said Sanchez. “Spring semester, we were gone every single weekend.”
The Blue Pages mostly play gigs in the northeast outside of Boston. “We play Boston once every month and a half unless we’re doing a favor for a friend who asks us last minute…Most of our shows are out of town in New Hampshire, New York, Maine, New Jersey.”
To commute, the band travels with their 12-seater van, a vehicle that has made all the difference- in comfort and opportunity. The band used to drive a sedan, and consequently, rely heavily on sharing equipment with other bands on the bill. The van is large enough to for each member to have his own row, and ensures that they can tour whenever they want and use all of their own equipment.
Frequent gigs outside the city have helped The Blue Pages solidify a regional fan-base, and building a strong rapport with their fans is a vital aspect of their strategy in both business and life. “Our street teams in Connecticut and New Hampshire have been really effective and have made our fan-base in those areas increase by 1000 percent,” said Sanchez. He went on, “They’re more than just fans. You’re forming real relationships with your fans. It’s more than just getting people to listen to your music.”
Shelley chimed in, “The whole thing is, when you make these friends who are your fans, it means that after shows, now we have people to hang out with. They take us to do really cool local things- and stuff you could never get to do if you just show up in the town. Things like local hiking trails and local restaurants. It’s a really cool experience.”
When one of their fans asked The Blue Pages to play her sweet sixteen-birthday party in Connecticut, they jumped at the opportunity. The band played on her back-porch, and let her sing lead on their catchy pop song, “Loverboy.” A charming YouTube video documents the moment. Said Sanchez, “It’s really important to be a decent human being- you’re representing yourself. It’s also important to realize, and we all have realized this, sometimes they look up to us, and we have to be role models.”
In 2010, The Blue Pages hope to build upon their successes of the past year. Rublin puts it one way (“get drunk and dance!”) Shelley and Sanchez elaborated. “We’ll be touring full-time and would like to maybe move to a major label or a new indie label. We’d also like to have a new CD by this time next year.”