The minute you lay your eyes on Blondfire vocalist Erica Driscoll and she opens her mouth to sing, the band’s name begins to make perfect sense. The now L.A.-based singer/songwriter/ guitarist is both blonde and on fire, capable of a sensuous purr one moment, and a full-throated rock ‘n’ roll roar the next. A collaboration with her brother Bruce—the two have been playing together since they were kids growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan—Blondfire’s new album, Young Heart, on INgrooves/Fontana, channels the irresistible synth-pop feel of British new wave bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, OMD and Pet Shop Boys (“Where the Kids Are,” “Walking with the Giants”) as well as the larger-than-life arena-rock ambitions of U2 (“Kites”), Coldplay (“We Are One”) and even Arcade Fire (“Dear in Your Headlights”).
Young Heart touches on the exhilarating innocence of youth on songs like the title track, “Wild and Wanted” and “Where the Kids Are”—the surprise summer of 2012 hit that was championed by such gatekeepers as Sirius XM’s Alt. Nation (who remain a strong supporter), Austin’s KROX and Seattle’s KNDD as well as being tapped as the soundtrack for a national Honda Civic spot. At the same time, Blondfire also expresses a bittersweet melancholy over the inevitable disillusion that can set in along the way when dreams turn into harsh reality (“Right Gone Wrong,” “Life of the Party”), with songs about the ups and downs of the artistic life, expressing the physical sensations of flight (“Kites”) and surfing the ocean (“Waves”) or simply the vagaries of following your muse (“Hide and Seek”).
“When we started writing for this album, it’s not like we had this distinct vision,” explains Erica about the process, with recording taking place both at brother Bruce’s L.A. home and engineer/mixer/producer/co-writer Wally (Family of the Year, Best Coast) Gagel’s Wax Studios. “But they all seemed to have this underlying theme of things being magical when you’re young, seeing all these bands which inspired you in concert. Maybe it was a subconscious reflection on how, as time passes, that can fade, but you still have to find ways to enjoy your life and savor the moment, not letting it pass you by. All you can ever hope for is to be able to do something you love.”
The offspring of an American father and Brazilian mom, Erica and Bruce were both classically trained on piano, then taught themselves to play guitar, with Erica eventually picking up violin and Bruce learning to play drums. They spent summers in their mother’s home of Belem in tropical north Brazil, a fairly large town on a tributary of the Amazon, where they frequented the local dance club scene, and picked up on native musicians such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caetano Veloso and Astrud Gilberto, elements of which you can still hear in Blondfire’s music.
“We try to incorporate that happy/sad bossa nova longing in our songs,” explains Erica. “I love that ethereal, dreamy kind of vibe of bands like Cocteau Twins, The Sundays’ Harriest Wheeler or even Jesus and Mary Chain.”
Early on, Erica and Bruce formed a family band named Nectar with older sister Monica, even leaving school to embark on a national tour, before the duo launched their own band, sending a self-produced demo to Ivy guitarist Andy Chase, who invited them to come to New York and record at Stratosphere Studios, a facility he shared with bandmate, Fountain of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, and former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha. The results were released as an EP, Don’t Whisper Lies, on the pair’s own Wax Divine label, featuring the single, “L-L-Love,” attracting the attention of iTunes, who made it a “Free Single of the Week,” becoming one of the band’s chief supporters, recording and releasing several live sessions and a subsequent Christmas EP.
The band then embarked on a U.S. tour with Ivy, Robbers on High Street and Stars, naming themselves Blondfire, a made-up word that came from someone mispronouncing “bonfire.” A trip to London, where they recorded “All in My Mind” with songwriter/producer Dave McCracken (Stone Roses’ Ian Brown) at U2 producer Flood’s studio, resulted in them getting signed to EMI U.K.’s Parlophone label. Blondfire’s debut album, My Someday, came out shortly afterwards, once again on their own Wax Divine, but soon Erica had relocated to L.A., followed by Bruce, where she began to collaborate as a songwriter, landing a track on Jessica Simpson’s album, among others.
Recording in L.A., they came up with “Where the Kids Are,” Erica taking matters into her own hands, e-mailing the song to various blog sites, where the buzz quickly led to Blondfire landing a new manager and a publishing deal with Primary Wave, who helped place the song on that national Honda Civic TV campaign. The band then embarked on national tours supporting AWOLNATION and U.K. buzz band Foals, gradually building a following, releasing a four-track digital EP including four of the songs that would eventually find their way onto the new album, including “Where the Kids Are.”
Young Heart is the culmination of those 10,000 hours spent in the trenches, and it’s a fine overview of Blondfire’s penchant for gloriously melodic pop hooks and a wide-screen canvas that approximates the circuitous journey that has them finally poised to make their mark. With brother Bruce choosing not to go on the road, but rather devote himself to writing and producing (shades of Brian Wilson), Erica has seized the opportunity, and recently finished a tour with the Mowgli’s and Hunter Hunted, supported by guitarist Steve Stout (whom they discovered on Craigslist), bassist Nathan Beale and alternating drummers Kiel Feher and Kevin Rice.
“Bruce’s decision not to tour has forced me to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily do,” she admits. “I tend to be shy, but this has been good for my confidence. I’ve really had to step up to the plate.”
It’s been an interesting ride so far, but Erica wouldn’t have it any other way. “Everything seems to happen for a reason,” she says. “When stuff doesn’t turn out the way you planned, something even better might come along. I just have to trust the universe. We’re really proud of the songs we’ve written.”
On Young Heart, the very last thing you hear is Erica chanting, “It’s not over/It’s not over/It’s not over,” which, since the album is also being released on vinyl, means you can flip the disc and start it again, just like Blondfire has done.
“I just feel so fortunate to be doing this, with a team of people that believe in us, and are helping us achieve our goals,” she concludes. “I’m excited that people are coming to the shows, care about the music and want to talk about it. I’m looking forward to touring on this album, just seeing how far we can take it. I guess it’s all about enjoying the ride rather than worrying about the destination.”
Blondfire is prepared to soar.