By Ray Shasho
Boston-based Blue Moon Harem is driven by the artistic duo of singer/songwriter/acoustic guitarist Jonathan Bix and lead guitarist/songwriter Demetri Joannou. Their latest album, 'Finland' is a truly amazing compilation emphasizing awe-inspiring verse, breathtaking intonation, and ingenious melody. The album is an incredible selection of GREAT music.
The album’s first track is a feel good, trendy, upbeat melody called, “Stay.” After listening to it, you just knew the rest of the album would be significant. “Give and Take,” the second track, features an amazing blend of Joannou’s sensational riffs and Jonathan Bix’s commanding vocals. “Give and Take” could easily be a soundtrack to an upcoming motion picture. Some of the most impressive lyrics on the album were featured on the very next track called, “Here I am.” A beautiful and surreal arrangement. “Inside Out” is an animated tune that should be enjoying plenty of commercial success. “Shadows,” another song featuring incredible lyrics, powerful vocalization, and plenty of six string action. “Wild Winds” is a 52 second psychedelic intro to their title track, “Finland.” The effect is reminiscent to Jimmy Page bowing his Les Paul. “Finland” is an unbelievable composition. It’s my pick for their biggest hit and the band shines from every direction. “I See Red,” is another lyrically brilliant tune with Train-like overtones.
The band is ultra - talented, yet they still wait for a chance to make their splash on the music scene. Its bands like Blue Moon Harem that should be immediately signed to a recording contract and showcased over the airwaves. Unfortunately multitalented musicians are not being discovered these days because of the dreadful condition of the music business. I’m not sure you can even call it a business anymore. Because record companies aren’t actively seeking great new talent and commercial radio deejays aren’t actively playing great new music.
Blue Moon Harem’s debut self-titled album created Harem-mania with their hit single, “Addiction”gaining airplay over alternative rock stations across New England. Their “Addiction” music video should have been a huge hit… if the real MTV were still around.
Lead singer Jonathan Bix has an incredible voice. Imagine endearing hints of Brian Vander Ark (The Verve Pipe) and Darius Rucker (Hootie & the Blowfish) while poetically strumming acoustically. Drummer Stephen Hart and bassist Jose Hernandez complete a line-up of accomplished musicians.
Guitarist Demetri Joannou shares the acoustic duets and songwriting duties with Jonathan Bix, but shines brightly electrically. His passion for classic rock and roll is prominent on their tune, And after all, Joannou’s influences were Hendrix, Gilmour and Page.
“I’ve got to see this dream through, we’ve just got to get to that next step”… says, Joannou, founding member/guitarist/songwriter of Blue Moon Harem.
Here's a chat with Demetri Joannou.
Ray: Demetri thanks for chatting with me today, do you still live in the Boston area?
Demetri: “I live in a suburb west of Boston, a town called Spencer Massachusetts.”
Ray: Boston has always had an incredible music scene, and of course launched the careers of legendary classic rockers, Boston, The J. Geils Band, The Cars, and Aerosmith to name just a few.
Demetri: “Actually our drummer Steve Hart did some recording sessions with Joe Perry (Aerosmith) not too long ago.”
Ray: So tell me how you and your songwriting partner Jonathan Bix first met?
Demetri:“Well, it’s been a hell of a journey, a fun one; we’ve traveled a lot of road together. I started playing guitar as a kid and fell in love with the instrument when I was probably 7 years old. From there I took a few lessons, practiced, some more lessons… on and on. Then I went through high school and really wasn’t involved in many high school bands, I was pretty much a reclusive and just practiced all the time. Learned all the Led Zeppelin albums, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and what was hot back in the 70’s. Then Eddie Van Halen came along and that took about a year out of my time.”
“I was probably around 18 when I decided that I wanted to get a band together and make an album. So I started recording at the local music store, they had a basement downstairs with a recording studio, and I had a friend that was a drummer, and another who was a bass player, and another friend of mine who could sing a little bit. So we started dabbling and writing some songs and recording. Eventually the owner of the music store told me, “There’s a guy from your home town that opened a professional recording studio and maybe you should start talking to him about recording.” When they brought me over to his house, it dawned on me that this was a childhood friend back in junior high school.”
“Anyway, we began to work together and when he heard the music he said, “You’ve got some good ideas here but you really need to find a better singer.” Well, I was still taking guitar lessons at the time and my teacher also agreed that we needed a better singer. He said, “You know… I have a friend of mine who is really down and out right now, he’s a great singer, but he’s down on his luck and needs a job, and he’s living out of his car. Is there anything at your company?” Coincidentally we needed a shipping and receiving manager and so that’s how Bix and I met. We hired him and then we started working on projects together.”
“Our first record that we did together was more of a heavy metal project, the band was called ‘Requiem’ and we put a CD out and the first song on the CD got some local airplay. We got some good reviews on that first song, but on the rest of the album we were getting panned. The writers were saying it sounded too reminiscent of early heavy metal.”
Ray: Heavy metal is definitely not the forte for Blue Moon Harem.
Demetri: “Our producer said, “We’ve got to come up with a way to record the next album so people can’t say that. Come down to the studio and just bring your guitar, I don’t want you to come in with any songs, ideas, or anything, and that through me for a loop, and I was a little worried about that.”
“I got there and we plugged in, then he put a quick track down and said, “Just play anything that comes off the top of your head for three minutes.” So we just played anything. Then he said, “Okay, here’s another track, play something at the top of your head.” After about ten tracks we went back and listened to each track and I expected about 80% of what was down to be not usable. But there were these little pieces that he would grab and throw it on a fresh track and then loop it, so it would repeat itself, and then changed the pitch…and all of a sudden there’s this big thing happening with that one little piece. And then we’d find another little piece and do the same thing. The song was creating itself.”
“Then he said, “Bring the singer in now and we’ll see if he can write some words.” So, Bix came in and wrote some words, recorded them, and we did every song that way. So when that first Blue Moon Harem album came out we got much better feedback and write-ups because clearly our influences weren’t able to be determined, there were no preconceived notions, because we didn’t even know what we were writing."
Ray: Man, that’s a great story. There’s nothing like having a great producer in the studio with you and making all the pieces fit. Was that first tune you were working on in the studio called, “Addiction?”
Demetri: “Yes it was. (“Addiction” was the biggest hit from their debut release)
Ray: Was the band’s latest release ‘Finland’ put together like your debut album?
Demetri: “Finland was done differently than our first album where we were cutting and pasting loops and things. This was more of an album where Jonathan Bix wrote a lot with his acoustic guitar, then came into the studio and laid it down, then Steve Hart, and then we all came in and did our part. So that was more of a deliberate focus. We didn’t realize how unbelievable of a songwriter Jonathan was until the last couple years, because before he went with the flow and basically just took on the lead singer role. But Jonathan became our main writer. I just don’t have the songwriting down like Jonathan does; he just does it so much better than me. I communicate through the guitar, that’s my vehicle.”
Ray: I enjoyed every track on the new album. But the title track “Finland” has all the makings of a hit song.
Demetri:“When I first heard it mastered, I probably listened to it a hundred times. To me...it’s a quintessential rock song.”
Ray: Yea, there should be tons of college kids rockin’ out to that tune.
Demetri: “I think so too, it has all the elements of a good rock song…it’s powerful, it’s strong, it’s eerie, there’s a cool guitar solo happening there, it has everything.”
Ray: What’s the origin of ‘Finland’?
Demetri: “Our singer at the time was going through a depression. And that’s where; “Here I Am” came from… the same depression. I think he was strumming his guitar and ‘Finland’ just reminded him of a cold climate, kind of a place where you’re crossing a lot of terrain and trying to survive, and that’s where the name came. But it’s about a race against time and trying to bring your dreams into fruition."
Ray: I watched a really awesome Blue Moon Harem tune on You Tube. The song was “Lies” Live at the Magic Room, and I noticed the tune wasn’t on your first two releases. “Lies” features some great solo work by you, reminiscent to the psychedelic days.
Demetri: “I’m not afraid to risk being technically perfect. Being technically perfect is not as important to me as creating something that’s kind of intriguing, or gets you to say, "What the hell was that?" That song, “Lies” is going to be on our next album. We’re working on an album now and we have 23 solid tracks in the studio and we’re going to decide which 10 we’re going to use. Like our producer says, “The ‘Finland’ album is more of a serious album and the next album we’re working on is going to be more fun. You’re going to like this next record; it’s pretty fun and cool stuff. We’re going to try and do our first tour this early spring, hitting the east coast, probably Western Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington DC. What’s so cool about this band is that we can break down and also do acoustic. So we can do an acoustic show during the day and the full band at night.”
Ray: What was the origin of the band name Blue Moon Harem?
Demetri: “We had our first album done and then we had a gig that came up. We didn’t have a name for the band. Jonathan and I were feverishly trying to come up with something and he said, “Well…I like the name Blue (once in a blue moon something good comes along).” And I said, “I like that name Blue Moon but we need something else that sounds kind of inclusive of a family of band members joining together. I was trying to think of an esoteric name for a family. He said, “Tribe?” and I said, “Harem?” We both laughed and thought that’s got a good ring to it, let’s go with that.”
Ray: Demetri, any final thoughts?
Demetri: “I think this could be the band to bring rock back into some visibility. We have a lot of versatility and write good stuff that makes sense. We’re just putting down what we think are great songs… simple, rich, robust and powerful. What people liked in a rock band back in the day… and we’re trying to revive the genre, or at least do our part in reviving the genre.”
Ray: Demetri, thank you so much for chatting with me today. Blue Moon Harem is such a talented band and ‘FINLAND’ is such a great album. I can’t wait for Harem’s upcoming release. You guys deserve great success in 2012.
Demetri: “Okay brother, Bye!”
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