July 20, 2010
Bleeker Ridge set to hit the road
By -- For JAM! Music

(Handout)

The youngest members of Bleeker Ridge were 12 years old when they started filling all their spare time after school and on weekends practicing with their rock band. Now, seven years later, the two sets of brothers are signed to Roadrunner Records Canada and will head out on a national tour next week with Australian label mates Airbourne, July 27 in St. John, NB to Aug. 13 in Calgary, booked by The Agency Group.

The album, Small Town Dead, produced by Bob Marlette (Airbourne, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne), will be released in Canada September 21.

“They’re signed to Roadrunner internationally, but it’s going to come out of the home-base which is Canada,” says their New Jersey-based manager, Dave Taylor of Blood Company, who interned at Roadrunner New York in 2003 and 2004 for the head of A&R, Dave Rath.

Canadian A&R director Joe Kresta, who had to get the approval of Roadrunner president Jonas Nachsin and CEO Cees Wessels before signing the band, says a product manager, Elias Chios, has already been assigned for the U.S. but a release date has not been scheduled. They’re going to work Canada first.

“That’s been a label we’ve looked at ever since we were little kids listening to metal,” guitarist Dan Steinke tells Lowdown. “They have Slipnot and Killswitch Engage that [we all] liked to listen to, and then they have Stone Sour, Nickelback, Theory of a Deadman that you hear on the radio every 15 minutes here at Rock 95. It’s like, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to be on that label?’”

“It was more of a rock label, which we liked,” says frontman Taylor Perkins. “It’s huge, but it’s still an indie label and our managers had good ins with people there and everyone we met was awesome.”


The first Bleeker Ridge single is the title track, “Small Town Dead,” which Roadrunner’s national director, promotion and publicity, Dean Pogue reports was just serviced to rock radio and is “getting features at a handful of stations,” such as CFOX (Vancouver), Virgin (Ottawa), The Wolf (Regina) and The Bull (Wingham). Of all the songs on the album — most of which are big, hooky and radio-friendly — that one was picked as the single because the lyrics resonate with the band.

“They felt so strongly about it. I think everyone did,” says Kresta. “It’s just a good rocker song. It has a great groove and a great vibe to it. It’s almost the guys’ story — growing up in a small town and wanting to leave and they ultimately do and they’re on that path to their dream, being a bigger rock band.”

The guys’ story is one of dedication and determination. The Perkins brothers, Taylor, 21, and guitarist Cole, 19; and the Steinke brothers, Dan, 19; and drummer Dustin, 20; met in 2003 at their local musical instrument shop in Lagoon City (population 3000), which hosted jam nights. They went from playing Joe Walsh and Jimi Hendrix covers to writing originals, which they released on two independent CDs, 2004’s Undertow and 2007’s The Rain.

“We always wanted to go all the way with this,” says Taylor. “We did everything we could to improve our odds. I remember going to pick the younger ones up from public school and going to play a gig in Barrie, Ontario, and when we got into high school we’d be out every week day, practicing five nights, and we’d have to go play in Toronto and come back for school the next day.”

Members of the music industry took notice. A&R, producers, managers and publishers routinely came to their shows and showcases, but the guys were just too young, the songs “weren’t there,” as is commonly said in the biz. Kresta, then working in the marketing department at Universal Music Canada, saw them in 2005 at the Silver Dollar during Toronto’s North By Northeast music festival, at the insistence of Mike Fox, then at EMI Music Publishing Canada.

“I was totally amazed at what these 14-year-olds were doing,” remembers Kresta. “They had their shirts off, long hair and it was almost odd, these voices and that sound coming out of these little guys. There were guitar licks that you see guys three times their age doing, but I wasn’t in A&R at the time, so I walked away thinking, ‘Hey, that was really something special,’ but they still hadn’t found their own identity.”

Interestingly, Bob Marlette was at that same show. “We were talking with Island Def Jam at the time and he came up and watched us and said, ‘As much as I like this band, it has to wait until you guys are a little bit older, a little bit more mature,’ and we agreed,” says Dan. It would be years until they would meet again and ultimately work together.

At the time, one of the dads, Dean Steinke, was acting manager, but two and a half years ago Dave Taylor came on board after a friend who has a cottage on Sparrow Lake in Orillia told him about the band. Bleeker Ridge then drove down to New Jersey to play for him in a little studio.

“As far as what I saw, these kids, having played since they were so young, have this chemistry that you really don’t see [often],” says Dave. “Taylor’s the quintessential frontman. On top of that, they were still underage and such nice kids; they’d been brought up really well and there was this brotherhood, this bond. You could feel it on stage and off. It just felt really positive and you could see the raw talent that was there. It was a no brainer for me.

“And I got a really cool vibe off the father,” he adds. “You hear all those nightmare stories – momagers, dadagers, and all that — and the first conversation he said, ‘I love everything you’re saying. I don’t work in the music industry. I’m just trying to do what’s right for my kids. You’re the manager so I’m going to get out of the way and I’m going to let you do your job.’ I still talk to the dad multiple times a week and fill him in on what’s going down.”

Shortly after he started representing them, Dave got a call from Tim Borror at The Agency Group in New York looking for a Canadian act that wouldn’t demand a ton of money to open for Ace Frehley in Canada. “I thought, ‘This is a great way for them to get their feet wet,’ and they jumped on it and did the tour,’” says Dave. The father tour managed. “I was getting phone calls everyday saying they were selling thousands of dollars in merch — in places they’d never played.’”

Six months in, Dave brought in a partner, John Daley from Good Fight Entertainment, with whom he manages a band called Chiodos from Michigan. “We have a great working relationship and me talking about the band and playing the music, he really got it and loved it. I thought this makes complete sense for us to do this one together too.”

Bleeker Ridge continued to write and rehearse and management started shopping them to labels. One Day, Kresta was talking to Dave and Daley about another act they work with, Buffalo, NY’s Every Time I Die, and they brought up Bleeker Ridge. “That’s when I said, ‘Oh, wow, I know those guys,”” says Kresta. They gave him The Rain CD and he went to see them play again, this time at Black Betty’s in Toronto.

“That [show] was so polished, so on-point,” says Kresta. “After presenting to the New York office, we felt our next move was to do a showcase in New York City, which we did. I believe that would have been the fall of 2009 at Don Hill’s. That’s when everyone collectively agreed, ‘This band is really special.’ There was such a tremendous amount of raw talent. It’s rare that you have a band that can play all their instruments so well and everyone walked away agreeing this kid [Taylor] is a sure-fire star.”

The little matter of not having great songs wasn’t an issue, anymore, says Dave. “The songs were always kind of there. Because they’re so young, songwriting was something that was very new, but was something they were working on all the time and the guys, shortly after we’d been signed with Roadrunner, were working every day on songs. We were getting bits and pieces here and there, as opposed to an entire song from beginning to end, and a friend of mine manages a [songwriter] named Dave Bassett, so I reached out to him and sent him some songs and he saw, ‘Okay, I get what these guys are trying to do.’ I don’t want to call them songwriting lessons, but he helped them write better songs.”

All 12 songs that ended up on Small Town Dead were written by Bleeker Ridge, including the three that Bassett helped with, “In Our Hands;” “Pick Me Up;” and gentler “Still Standing,” and a southern-styled rocker, “Sick of You,” that Tyler Connolly of Theory of a Deadman co-wrote.

Meanwhile, Marlette was working on a California band called Beta Wolf that Dave was managing at the time and they mentioned Bleeker Ridge, as they are wont to do. Marlette told them he had seen them play years earlier in Toronto and expressed interest in doing the album. “When Bob came up to Toronto to do prepro, it was like, ‘Oh my god, this guy is a legend,’” says Dan. “He’s worked with Alice Cooper, worked on Ozzy records.”

Bleeker Ridge cut Small Town Dead at Henson Studios in Hollywood and Marlette’s home studio in Woodland Hills, California. “Just being around him makes you want to be a better musician,” says Dan Steinke. “He has these motivational speeches where you’ll sit for an hour and he’ll be telling you how to be better and you just can’t sleep the next night because you just want to listen to what he says — like on a [self-help] tape or something [laughs].”

With Canadian booking agents Ralph James and Zaed Maqbool onboard from The Agency Group (Nickelback, Theory of a Deadman, Three Days Grace), the next step says Dave Taylor is “We’re going to put these dudes on the road. These guys are going to get in a van and they’re not going to get out.”