I first met Stefanie of blue number nine via New England-based Mixx Magazine's music list. Over the last few years, weíve shared musical, industry, and band horror stories, and encouraged each other through a couple of "Why-am-I-putting-myself-through-this-and-for-what?" times of self-doubt and bumpy trials.
In May of this year, blue number nine came into bloom with a debut album that will knock your socks off and charm you blind. I remembered the pain and sacrifice that went into making the album, so I was overjoyed for Stefanie and the band when I heard their top-of-the-line accomplishment. I have to agree with a reviewer the UKís Music Industry Connections magazine: "On a rating scale of M to MMMMM, MMMM--Itís amazing! We Love it! blue number nine is a gorgeous funky bunch with an extraordinarily rich overtone. Take a bit of funk, jazz, pop and 70ís soul and you have the beginning of their sound."
So I recently chatted with Stefanie over email, and hereís the scoop behind some of Jersey Cityís hottest talent.
PW: How did blue number nine come to be?
Stefanie: Iíve been writing songs since a young age. Most of them werenít any good, but as I kept doing it, I noticed that they were starting to get good and I wanted to perform them live. Iíve been educating myself in the ways of the business for some time now. At one point, I was taking a songwriting class and singing at open mics in NYC where the house band reads charts provided by the singer. Every other singer was doing cover tunes, but I brought my own original charts. I liked it! I had made a demo of 3 songs, which were recorded using all drum loops and synths. I would also use those tracks to sing at open mics that didnít have a house band. This was all happening in the early 90s. At the suggestion of my songwriting class teacher and the other students, I decided to start my own band. I never wanted to do it before because I really wanted to avoid certain challenges that come with being a band leader.. namely, being an arbitrator/diplomat/human resources manager. But my desire to perform and play my music won out over my fear!
PW: How long has each member been with the band?
Stefanie: Minoru Kikuchi (guitar) has been with the band since day one. Jack Gourdine (drums) was our second drummer. Marco Accattatis (bass) has been with us since August 1999. The back up singers have changed over the years, and our keyboard player, who was there since the beginning, left the state shortly after our CD was released due to personal issues. So weíve got a potential replacement and have been playing with our original bass player, Lloyd Nilsen, on keys.
Live, we use two back up singers (right now, weíve got Shiela Connors, Kristy Cates, and Doreen Younglove), myself on lead vocals and flute (and slowly adding sax), sometimes a horn section and when we have room, a percussionist who also sings (Joel Hirsch who I love working with! What a vocal range and heís an awesome percussionist.) I like a full band sound!
PW: How have you developed and polished your sound over the last few years?
Stefanie: Iíve grown up as a singer and I have much more confidence, for one. I think Iíve really learned how to use what I have and not try to use what I donít have! The band as a whole is incredibly tight now, because weíve played so much together. Marco and Jack really clicked right away. Weíd never had that before between the bassist and drummer and the difference is incredible. Also, I have diverse and eclectic taste in music and influences. So for a while, I was writing songs in styles all over the genre map. But lately, weíve seemed to find our own unique style... weíve gravitated more towards a funk/pop hybrid thing... but Iím still interested in playing around with other styles like odd meters and Latin grooves.
PW: You have some great songs-many with really positive lyrics, yet practical, real-life messages communicated in a way all your own. What inspires your songwriting and who in the band primarily writes?
Stefanie: Iíve written many myself. Our old keyboardist and I used to collaborate. Iíve written with just the guitarist and with the drummer and bassist. I write all the lyrics and co-write or write the music solo.
Basically, I talk about stuff that happens to me, and my writing style is heavily influenced by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, i.e., I tend to take real life stuff and exaggerate! Itís almost comical in a way, and nothing pleases me more than to see people in the audience "getting it." Weíve got a couple of "heavy" or "serious" songs, but most of it is pretty light. And even the heavy stuff is usually permeated with humor.
I do tend towards throwing away negative messages and dwelling on the positive, which is odd because Iím generally a glass half empty type of person. A realist!! I think I write the positive stuff to cheer myself up, and also to confirm my Buddhist beliefs (I practice Nichiren Daishoninís Buddhism, which consists of chanting the words "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.") A lot of stuff about cause and effect, the benefit of being a human being, how you can change your life in an instant, stuff like that. But also fluffy love songs, pissed off ex-love songs. Thinking about it, I realize weíre really across the board, topic-wise.
PW: Being the international group of individuals you are, have you tried a world market? Any response or success from overseas?
Stefanie: We havenít done any kind of overseas campaign. My uncle in Germanyís kids love it. Marcoís Italian friends love it. A radio station in Brazil is playing it and Minoru & Jackís friends in Japan have it and like it. Our management company feels as though a European tour would be a great idea and though I donít want to "jinx" it, we are working on one for the near future as of this writing... but I canít say any more about it!
PW: Where would you like to see your band 3 years from now?
Stefanie: Ok, now I feel like this is a job interview. Itís tough to think in these terms when managing such a large group of people, all with their own lives and agendas. I would like to have my sanity intact in 3 years. As far as blue number nine goes, in an ideal world I would say at least one more CD released and selling well. Profit from the first CD. A European tour and a US regional tour under our belts.
But if things worked out as they do in my head and my dreams, whatís most important to me is even stronger bonds of friendship formed between the members. I want all of us to grow and be happy and enjoy the music we make together and continue to share that joy with other people - this is the other reason I started a band. I feel like audiences respond to music not just because they like the music, but because the people making it are expressing something from their lives.
Also, I would love for myself and the musicians to be able to earn our livings playing music. Iíd also like the see the band collaborating more on music as a unit. And Iíd like to see the band as a cohesive team really working together. In most band situations, there are one or two people who do the majority of the grunt work. Iíd be thrilled if blue number nine achieved success in this area - a real team. That to me would be a success greater than any record deal or recognition!
PW: Any special awards, recognition, reviews, showcases? Upcoming important shows?
Stefanie: Yea. We recently won the World Music Award for most drama in an unsigned pop band. Oh wait... there is no such thing. There should be.
PW: Any regular gigs where people can check you out live?
Stefanie: Our schedule is on our website: http://www.bluenumbernine.com. But we do play monthly at OíDonnellís Pub, 233 Harrison Ave, Harrison NJ.
PW: Best of luck blue number nine! I look forward to hearing more from
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