[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ave you ever seen a life-changing rock and roll show? It’s the type of concert where you feel the adrenaline coursing through your veins as the house lights come down. The anticipation in the crowded room grows so thick that you find yourself lost in it. Every passing second seems like hours as you wait for that first note to light the match and ignite a room full of strangers into a swirling inferno of energy. And as quickly as it started, the last note fades away and the room clears as you snap back to reality and call your closest friends to try and put the experience into words. If this sounds familiar, chances are you’ve just seen The Balconies.
The Toronto rock-and-roll juggernaut has been roaring across the country for the past six years, building a rabid fanbase and giving people faith in rock music again. The band plays an energy-soaked blend of indie-pop and rock-and-roll, brought to life between a strong rhythm section and front-woman Jacquie Neville’s exhausting stage presence. In the past year, they’ve toured Europe and Iceland, added a new band member and are ready to unleash their new album Fast Motions on the world. We caught up with drummer-turned-lead-guitarist Liam Jaeger before their highly-anticipated return to Windsor to talk about the new album and the road they took to get there.
How did the band get started?
We played our first show in February 2008 and we haven’t stopped touring since. Jacquie and I met while we were both studying at the University of Ottawa, and we brought her brother Stephen into the fold. It just kind of clicked from there. We’ve since moved to Toronto, but it really feels like Toronto, Ottawa and even Montreal have become our hometowns. For the entirety of the band’s history, we’ve been playing shows in those three cities several times a year. We try not to play them too often – spending ten months on the road touring makes that a bit easier. Right now, there’s lots of hometown support, but we need to make sure that there’s always demand.
You’ve recently moved to a four-piece after a few years as a band – what inspired that move?
When we first started writing songs, the three of us would write them together and I’d play guitar which is my main instrument. We had to try and keep the noise level to a point where we could hear the songs as we wrote them, and drums get kind of noisy. I ended up playing drums because I didn’t want to hire a drummer who didn’t get us as a band. When we went into the studio, we only had two weeks to write and record the whole album, which was a little daunting. While we were hashing out the songs in the studio, we ended up putting the sound engineer Steve on drums so that Jacquie didn’t have to focus on all of the guitars and pedals. We wanted all of her energy in the vocals. It was a chance that came up for the sake of efficiency and maximizing talents, and it worked.
The sound of this record is really different than your other releases – where did that inspiration come from?
We’ve had these incredible opportunities to tour the world, and we’ve been put head-to-head with these high-calibre artists like Rival Sons and Big Sugar. When you get to see those bands perform every night, it’s incredible and you can learn a lot from how professional and polished they are consistently. Inspiration is what has to drive your art, no matter what you’re doing. The more we toured, the more into playing live shows we got. Over the years, our amps and drums got louder, and we finally added a fourth member to make that sound even bigger.
Was your choice of producer a big part of the sound change?
We recorded our Kill Count [EP] with Jon Drew – and it was great but it was really punk-rock. We didn’t have much of a recording budget, so we picked the songs as we played them and put together the EP. We ended up working with Arnold Lanni (Our Lady Peace, Finger Eleven) on the full-length album, and it became a lot more thorough. He works a lot more as a songwriter and really helped us add to the songs. He gets into every nitty-gritty detail of the song – how things interact, grow and change.
[pullquote]”Inspiration is what has to drive your art, no matter what you’re doing.”[/pullquote]
Tell us all about touring the world – how does it feel to be able to break out of Canada?
We haven’t stopped touring since we started, but we only really started reaching out to other countries in the past year. We waited a long time to establish ourselves into something we feel we can present on a global and international scale. We see our touring across Canada over the past five years as a growth period, and we’re excited to bring our music to new audiences. Touring with Rival Sons across Europe was really exciting for us, especially since it was our first time there. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience – we went out and played incredible places that we’d never been before, in front of packed audiences of a few thousand people every night.
How does it feel to finally have the album released after having to push it back a few times?
It’s surreal. We initially planned to have the album out in late 2013, but you know how these things go. We played a small release party in Toronto in November for a bunch of friends and had press copies of the album there, so it feels like it’s been out for a long time, but now everyone else gets to hear it. You never really know how an album’s going to turn out when you release it, but we’ve already had all of this awesome support online. Someone actually just sent us a picture of our albums arriving at record stores, and seeing us marked as ‘New & Noteworthy’ next to all of these bands we love is super cool. It seems that people don’t think about physical copies that much anymore, so it’s nice to see that there are people who are still into that.
So what can people expect when they see The Balconies live?
We try to go for this really old-school classic rock show feel. We’re inspired by bands like Led Zeppelin, Heart, Black Sabbath – bands that go beyond just playing great music and create a real rock spectacle on stage. At the core, it’s a rock show, not a pop show. There are no dance routines. We’re not an electro band getting the crowd up to a 120-bpm pulse. We’re all about putting on a good show full of heart and doing what a rock band is supposed to do. We want people to be sucked in by the emotion.
[pullquote align=”right”]”There’s a light-hearted darkness to the theatrics of being in a rock band that we all love.”[/pullquote]
Do you feel like there’s any pressure to compete with Jacquie for attention in the band?
We feel like we fit really well together because we all know our roles. Jacquie has such charisma as a frontwoman, with a wild set of pipes and that Joan Jett / Debbie Wilson rockstar snarl. The rest of us put out a lot of energy and create a memorable night for everybody, but there’s no competing for attention because that’s what 99% of the show is. She’s the feature. The band is really there for those moments where people need to take a step back and see what the rest of the show is. There’s never a dull moment, and we help provide that. In terms of dressing to impress, rock and roll itself is our dress code. There’s a light-hearted darkness to the theatrics of being in a rock band that we all love.
Are you selling copies of the new record on vinyl?
We’ve got a really limited number of purple ones that we’re bringing out on tour with us, but we’ve got plenty of the plain black to go around. You can buy the record online as well and we’ll ship it your way. We hope that people that the time to check out the record on vinyl – it’s such a pure listening experience. You’re listening to impulses and vibrations through a needle, which gives you the closest reproduction of hearing the songs played live. Listening to the songs digitally, you lose some of that texture.
You heard him, folks. You can pick up a copy of that limited-edition Fast Motions vinyl when the band comes back through Windsor for the first time since late 2012. They’ll be headlining the Dominion House Tavern on February 21st with their pals in Say Yes! and The Blue Stones. Make sure you buy your tickets before they sell out, and request the band’s new single “Boys & Girls” on any local radio station you can find that still plays real music.