S/T 011: Bloom Is For The Youth

Young people will always dictate what’s cool. That’s been a tried-and-true statement for decades; since there were things to be talked about, the age fifteen-to-twenty-five demographic has controlled how ad executives, industry plants, and past-their-prime influencers make every decision. It was the youth who made The Beatles and Michael Jackson godlike figures, and young people were at the center of all great musical countercultures: whether it was hippies, punks, or hip-hop heads. Even the ways that we find new music are decided upon by the kids: Older people listen to the radio, and the radio plays songs that are popular on TikTok and streaming services’ editorial playlists.

A big part of the reason that young people have assumed control of pop culture is their attraction to two things: music that’s forward thinking, and music that emphasizes raw emotion over traditional skill. These are two things that don’t always match up with the tastes of listeners who consider themselves real music heads, which is why there’s a disparity between what we’re told is cool and what we’re told is good. Often, though, the kids are right. Chief Keef was panned by fans of older rap, people who had educated themselves on all the classics- yet you couldn’t walk by a middle school without hearing “Love Sosa’’ playing off the speakers of someone’s iPod Touch, becuase Keef’s music was aggressive in a way hip-hop had never been before, and presented a new emotional experience for the youth of that era. Now, a decade after Keef emerged from Chicago, he’s considered one of the five most influential artists of his generation, and Finally Rich has gained the status of a landmark album.

In the last fifteen years, the artists that have most consistently been championed by the youth are those who have combined hip-hop with more melodic, ballad-like genres. Hip-hop itself is forward thinking enough to be the dominant genre of the present, and it’s probably just because kids’ parents don’t like it. That makes it cool to them, something only they’d get. Throw in tales of partying, heartbreak, and angst, and you’ve got a recipe for being the coolest artist alive. It all started with the first and second installments of Kid Cudi’s Man On The Moon series, in which Cudi presented himself as a troubled cool kid who didn’t feel understood. That’s something that resonates with the youth, because youth is often a directionless experience in which many things are felt for the first time, often without understanding what they mean. Kids flocked to Cudi because they related to his feelings, just like they felt drawn to the music of Because the Internet-era Childish Gambino, Tyler, The Creator, and the late Juice WRLD.

The music of Toronto-based band Bloom fits perfectly into that subsection of music. While the band (comprised of vocalist-producer Jackson Courtnall, guitarist Chris Giannaris, and vocalist Noah Levine) doesn’t fit into hip-hop as much as they do alternative R&B and pop, the unfiltered emotion that made artists like Cudi and Juice so beloved among young people is clearly there, mixed in with a healthy dose of Trilogy-style hedonism, EDM bass-drop catharsis, and pop-punk riffing. Giannaris’s guitar is endlessly versatile, serving as the backbone of some tracks and a complementary piece to Courtnall’s anthemic production on others. Courtnall and Levine’s vocalizations complement each other perfectly, their tones bringing the best out of one another. It’s a melting pot of the most energetic, powerful music of the last two decades, compacted into a sleek, modern package.

For this week’s installment of Sound Over Time’s interview series, we sat down with Bloom to discuss their creative process, branching out into making music videos, their ideas for performances in the future, and more. Read the interview and listen to the band’s new single “Bad Night” below.

Which artist or album that came from your hometown do you feel influenced your own music the most?

Chris: House of Balloons, or anything else by the Weeknd.

Noah: Yeah, The Weeknd as well. For sure.

Jackson: I’m from Victoria, [British Columbia], and nobody I’ve heard making music from there really excites me.But I’ve been living in Toronto for a while now, and in that case, it’s either Perfect Timing by NAV or House of Balloons.

What is the album or artist that you think would most surprise people to hear you are influenced by?

Chris: Queens of the Stone Age.

Noah: I think a random one could be Illangelo. The guy is a legend, and is The Weeknd’s producer and audio engineer. Illangelo definitely made us want to sound as crazy (in a good way) as The Weeknd.

Jackson: Definitely Illangelo.

All three of you said the Weeknd, and House of Balloons in particular. Two of you just mentioned Illangelo as well. I’d say that the mood of that mixtape and a lot of what you guys have put out is very similar. Is H.O.B., and Illangelo’s work in general, a primary source of inspiration?

Jackson: It clear he had a pretty big influence on us, and I think it’s because of how versatile and genre-bending that project and all of The Weeknd’s other albums are. House of Balloons itself didn’t specifically inspire anything that we’ve made, but the dynamic between Abel and Illangelo and how they combine genres is very inspirational. They’ve been working together since the very beginning, and Illangelo has made a lot of different music for Abel, but there’s always some form of melodic synths and really cool breaks and percussive stuff.

Chris: A lot of live instrumentation, too.

Jackson: That too. There’s a huge mix of things that they do together that we’ve all fucked with since the beginning, and there’s just something to do with the way that [Illangelo] produces. He mixes all of his songs too, which is something I’ve always been attached to. Producing your song is one thing, but mixing it is a completely different thing. When we’re making music, I’m making a rough mix as we go along; which is exactly what Illangelo does as well.

A lot of great producers now come from engineering first. Pi’erre Bourne started out as Young Nudy’s engineer.

Jackson: Pi’erre is crazy. Going back to Illangelo, what’s crazy to me is that he’s not even from Toronto like Abel- he’s from Alberta. I was talking to [Bloom manager] Shan about this the other day. For them to work together without having the funds and other stuff that they have now, it’s crazy to think that those guys were just on Skype every day, making amazing music. It’s very inspiring to see.

Sound Over Time: What was the process of arriving at your current sound, and how did each of your individual tastes contribute to it?

Chris: Our sound really just came from us making music, fucking around. We all have different backgrounds musically- I came from listening to a lot of alternative rock and punk, and that’s the primary influence for my riffs. But Jackson, for example, was an EDM guy before we started working.

Jackson: The reason I got into producing was because of EDM, near the end of high school. It was a big moment in terms of how it shifted my life’s trajectory.

Chris: I don’t even know if we took into consideration our individual tastes that much. We just kind of make whatever we feel like making. It definitely stems from stuff that we’ve listened to our past, but we don’t go into making a song thinking, “we should try and do something like this artist did”.

Noah: Yeah. Our taste inherently comes out when we’re making music, whether it’s how Chris plays guitar, or I sing, or how Jackson produces. It’s not really on purpose or conscious, but it plays a part.

Do you think that the accessibility of music software nowadays compared to what it was in previous decades helped you guys be more creative and less dependent on your influences? You have a guitarist, but outside of that, everything’s made on a laptop, I’d assume.

Chris: Guitar is only really an element. We do everything else in Ableton, and you can do pretty much whatever you want. If we wanna make a beat, we don’t need a drummer; we can just lay down a guitar and work from there.

Jackson: You can also recreate pretty much any sound you want.

Chris: Yeah. If you want live drums, you can just use a sample. You can make whatever genre you want on your laptop.

Jackson: Yeah. You can design any sound you want if you know how. Every instrument and software is available.

Chris: I think that’s why music now encompasses everything. Our generation came up listening to so many different genres of music, and now we can make it all. I grew up listening to Green Day, but I don’t think our music sounds like Green Day- there’s definitely traces of it, but there’s also traces of hip-hop, R&B, soft and hard rock, any kind of music we grew up listening to. We’re not restricted to making one type of sound.

Jackson: That’s the great part of software. You can virtually get anything you want now, and it gives you so many options in terms of synths and plugins. As long as it’s not a physical piece of hardware, you can do virtually anything.

Do you think having no limits sonically has helped you guys grow as musicians?

Jackson: One-hundred percent. I don’t need to go out and buy a violin or anything [laughs]. I can make that. You can basically do that with any instrument. In our situation as independent artists, we don’t have infinite funds to just get that stuff. If we find ourselves in a situation where we can afford to get physical tools like that, I’d love to. But in the moment, the Internet is so amazing for creating whatever you want.

That freedom is probably why we’ve seen so many amazing artists come out of nowhere lately.

Jackson: All you need is a laptop, man.

Was there a live performance that you saw early on that helped you shape what you believe music should inspire within people? If so, what was it?

Chris: I saw a local band called Goodbye Honolulu when I was 16 at some bar.

Noah: In 2018, I saw blackbear live and it was crazy. The way they used live instruments made me realize how a concert can be a completely different experience than what you hear in studio recordings.

Jackson: My first real concert experience was Pemberton Music Festival, when I was sixteen. I saw Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi and Billy Talent perform. At that time I was really into EDM, but these 3 sets surprised me the most because of the artists’ crowd control and the energy they displayed.

If you were given a blank check to set up any performance at any venue, what would you do? What does the ideal Bloom show experience look and feel like?

Chris: Pyrotechnics! Explosions! [laughing]. Nah. I’ve always really liked intimate performances- seeing acts at smaller spots with no seating. Stadiums and arenas are cool, but for me, it’s always been a lot cooler to see an artist perform at an intimate venue, where you’re basically face to face with them. When we perform, hopefully sometime in the near future, we won’t be able to sell out Scotiabank [Arena], but it would be really cool to be in a small venue and see how the fans react to our music in real time. Seeing smaller acts is what got me into music, because I feel like it’s more inspirational to see someone who’s not untouchable-levels of famous.

Jackson: You can get so close you can see the sweat on their faces.

Chris: Yeah! Exactly. It’s more personal that way.

Noah: If I could think of one place to start performing at, it would be The Velvet Underground in downtown Toronto. It’s very intimate, and there’s a ton of smaller artists who perform there as well.

Jackson: Another thing I think we can all agree on is that we want our first show, and all the shows after it, to have crazy energy. All of the artists we mentioned above, they had such a way of influencing the crowd, and that’s something that we wanna bring. For our first show, we just wanna bring a fuck-ton of energy, and really engage with the crowd. A small setting could definitely help with that, since there’s such a close proximity between us and the fans.

Has there ever been a studio session where you guys felt like everything came together perfectly in a “lightning-in-a-bottle” fashion, and if so, what song that you made came from a session like that?

Noah: Honestly, that’s most of the time [laughs]. A lot of our best songs, we come up with them in just a few hours. Making our music isn’t a super long and arduous process. It kinda just happens, organically. That “lightning-in-a-bottle” moment where everything flows together, that’s usually what happens.

Chris: I feel like if you have to struggle a lot in order to make a song, it’s probably not gonna come out that great. The best songs always sort of pour out of you. Once we start working on something, we normally know within an hour if we have something or not.

Is there a moment in the studio where you guys all get a similar feeling without even talking, and just know you’ve got something good?

Jackson, Chris and Noah: Yeah. [laughing]

Jackson: I’ll be sitting, and kind of just look at Chris and Noah like, “yeah, this is a banger”. We usually know it’s a hit before it’s even done. We’ll be working on a song, and then one of us will change just one thing on the track, and it’ll shift the entire vibe of the song. We’ll all get super fired up, and things will just flow smoothly from there.

A lot of people say they’ve only felt that once or twice, so it’s pretty impressive that you guys find that groove so often.

Chris: Anything that we’ve put out, it’s a song that resulted from a process that went perfectly. We wouldn’t put something out if we finished a track and thought it was just OK. I think the reason why we realize it early is because once you have a solid foundation, everything else just comes naturally. It’s much harder to produce something great if the base elements aren’t really good.

Jackson: The first year that we were making music, we were really just trying to find our sound. There were a lot of songs that we put out, we really liked them when we released them- but even more so now, I think we’ve honed into something special. All the new shit that we’re coming out with, I’ve never felt that way about our songs before.

Chris: That feeling you talk about has come a lot fewer and further between since we started making music. Back then, almost everything we made got us super hyped up, but a few months later, we’d realize it wasn’t that good. Now, we’re a lot pickier, which is good. We have a better idea of exactly what we want to make.

Is there a song you have, released or unreleased, that you feel like set the standard for what you do or don’t put out to the public?

Chris: Probably the next song we’re about to put out, “Bad Night”. And then it’ll most likely be the song we put out after that [all three members laugh]

Jackson: Literally. Every song that we make and release now, we feel like that’s the bar. Every song after that, it’s like, this is the new bar. We just keep improving and raising our standards.

Noah: It’s gotten to the point where songs that we made even six months ago will get forgotten, and even though it’s really good, we’ll have to remind ourselves to release it because we’ll have already made four or five songs that are way better.

Chris: Usually, when we want to release something, it’ll take a few months because we have to get artwork and get it mixed and all that. But with “Bad Night”, it’s been different; we knew it was special, and we had to put it out ASAP. It’s only a month or so old.

Noah: It’s fresh.

Do you guys have any influences when it comes to music videos and general visual aesthetics?

Noah: I’d say that the general glitchiness and trippy effects of rap videos now is something we like to incorporate into our own visuals. It compliments the music we make well. As far as specific artists, Lil Peep is one, and the Weeknd as well. I think what The Weeknd did with his music videos this year, where it was almost like a movie split into different parts, raised the standard for music videos everywhere. We wanna do similar things with our videos, creating experiences instead of just adding visuals to songs. We want viewers to think, not just watch.

Jackson: Aries is another one, because he directs his own videos on top of singing, rapping, and producing his own tracks. And our songs themselves serve as inspiration for our music videos. We wanna envision our own stories to go along with the songs as videos like [Aries] does, as opposed to someone else trying to tell us about a song we wrote.

So you’d rather work with directors than have them work for you.

Chris: Yeah. We’re a lot more comfortable with our own ideas now. When we first started, we’d work with some very talented people, but we’d always come to them like, “We don’t know what to do, you tell us”. And they did a good job- but now that we’re more confident with ourselves as artists, we have a clearer vision of what we want visually.

Do you guys picture the music video for certain songs while you’re making them?

Jackson: Definitely. Especially because we’re writing the lyrics ourselves. We’re telling a story or sharing experiences and emotions that are important to us, and with every song we release, it’s getting more and more intimate. While we were making “Bad Night”, I stopped at one point because I had so many ideas for a video that I had to grab my phone just to get them written down. That was before we even finished the song. It’s becoming more and more like that, like Chris said.

Chris: Yeah. We think about visuals a lot more now, since COVID has put us in a position where we have to do everything ourselves. The last couple of videos we’ve done have literally been in our basement. We’ve had to make sets, film everything, figure out the angles and lighting. That’s something we’ve never had to do before.

That probably pushes you guys to be better. Less-is-more type thing.

Noah: Yeah. Almost everything we do is in-house, and it’s almost less about getting someone else to do it who has more experience and skills and more about getting our vision realized exactly, and it’s a lot easier for us to do that ourselves than to get someone else to do it.

Chris: It also feels way more relatable to produce visuals that are lower-budget.

It’s way more raw.

Chris: Yeah! If I’m into a smaller artist, and I see that their video looks homemade, it adds to their identity.

A lot of people feel that way. It’s why these huge artists will pay tens of thousands of dollars for their videos to look like VHS recordings.

Chris: One of my favourite videos is the one Lil Peep and Lil Tracy did for “Switchblades”. It’s literally just them in the middle of the street, vibing, at three in the morning. And it looks sick! Because it’s super raw. All of [Peep’s] videos were like that. The budget obviously went up when he started to blow up, but I think that’s why people related to him so much. His visuals were really lowkey, but they still told a story.

If someone was to do this interview fifteen years from now and they mentioned you as an influence, how would you want them to describe how you inspired them?

Chris: I just want people to say that we were real. The biggest insult to me would be if someone called us phonies.

You want to be known as authentic.

Noah: I’d hope that they say we inspired them to take risks, and think a little bit outside of the box. But I’m not totally sure; I think I’ll know better in time.

Chris: Yeah. All the artists I grew up listening to, I loved them because they were genuine, real artists. They came from modest means and built something out of it. Their lyrics and their music were authentic to who they were, and they weren’t trying to play into any type of image. We play up certain aspects of our image to be theatrical, but we’re not pretending to be any certain way just to follow trends. I hope people see that in our music

Jackson: I’d really want people to say that our music either helped them or resonated with them in some way. I think a lot of the lyrics and emotions behind our songs are an opportunity for us to vent, and there’s a lot of emotional things that come out of the tracks we make. We get messages a lot, people thanking us for our music because it got them through a tough time.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Follow Bloom on Instagram and Twitter @itsbloommusic.

Follow Sound Over Time on Instagram @soundover.time and on Twitter @soundover_time.

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Dedicated to learning about the music that inspires the musicians.