As some of you already know, I love any excuse to catch Toronto's latest indie music live and in person. So when my friends Stephane and Brendan formed the band Dress Black last year and released their first EP in August 2014 I was eager to know when I could see them perform. I finally got the chance a couple weeks ago at The Gladstone Hotel where Dress Black played their very first live show.
After the gig, I sat down with Stephane and Brendan to chat about the band, the music, and the road from the studio to the stage.
Originally from opposite corners of the globe, Vancouver-born Brendan Johnson and New Zealander Stephane Garneau-Monten connected in Toronto over their shared passion for music and songwriting.
Dress Black got a spontaneous start last year when these two friends decided to start a collaboration. "We thought: 'Let's just write together and see what happens'," said Brendan.
"We didn't decide on any specific genre for the band," added Stephane, "We wrote our first song 'Money' and thought we'd struck a chord, no pun intended!"
Brendan and Stephane played their first track for friends and family in the music industry, and the positive feedback they received got them motivated to keep writing and produce their debut EP "Black Dress".
"We didn't know what to compare [our music] to," said Stephane. "But we wanted to keep going in that direction. We would start by presenting an idea, and if we enjoyed it and thought it was surprising we would decide to write it. We've developed a specific sound that way; it's music we like and think is catchy."
"Whatever hits us when we're writing the song is what we draw on," he continued. "It's not necessarily about being influenced by other bands as it is about being influenced by an era or style of music."
"There's some throwback from the 1950s/60s world," Brendan said. "The Beach Boys, Frankie Valens, Marvin Gaye, Motown... these are shades of what we sound like."
But Dress Black has also got plenty of contrasting contemporary influences that contribute to their unique sound. Brendan and Stephane both mention Daft Punk's latest album and bands like Foster the People as sources of inspiration.
"Stephane leans more toward eclectic, dissonant chord structures and I lean more toward a melodic, indie sound." Brendan continued. "When we started writing together we figured out each other's sound and met in the middle."
Brendan has been writing and producing music since he was 21, and has developed a strong songwriting philosophy over the years.
"We write music that we like, but we write it for other people," he said. "So you have to know what works for people and why they like certain songs. There's no reason why something can't be new, fresh, and indie, but also popular and easy to like. It's important to put feelings aside and think about why the elements of a song are there. Are they necessary? Are they pleasing to listeners? Is the whole song strengthened by each individual element? Sometimes you may have to cut your favourite part of the song, but then you'll end up replacing it with something better."
Although they released their first EP almost nine months ago, fans of Dress Black have had to wait until now for the chance to hear the band live. The boys have spent the winter perfecting their set with bassist Colin Mercer and drummer Justin Ross to make sure that when they decided take the stage their performance would be nothing short of amazing.
"We were originally scheduled to play our first show on June 16th, but then this show [at the Gladstone in May] came out of nowhere," said Stephane. "And nothing gets you more prepared for a show than a deadline."
"I'm a perfectionist," Brendan said, "And I was a little apprehensive because we only had two days notice, but at a certain point you just need to jump in."
With their first live appearance bumped up by several weeks and with just 48 hours to prepare, the boys of Dress Black really knocked it out of the park. The crowd was on their feet and dancing right from the start, and the end of their set had the audience begging for "ONE! MORE! SONG!". It looks like Brendan and Stephane will have to write a few more because their unique sound was an instant hit, and there aren't a lot of bands creative enough to successfully marry The Beach Boys with Daft Punk.
"The show went beyond our wildest expectations," said Brendan. "It was such a good vibe."
"It felt fantastic," added Stephane. "There's no better way to get our feet wet on the Toronto music scene."
For your next chance to catch Dress Black live, head to the Tennessee on June 16th and get ready to dance!
For more info vist www.dressblack.ca