Though the San Francisco-based band The Bruises has had a few lineup changes over their existence, the core members of the group are Jen Black (lead guitar, vocals) and Aja Blue (lead vocals, guitar). Yes, those are their real names. It is fitting that Black and Blue are the heartbeat of The Bruises, since they have been playing together for over a decade.
“We’ve definitely had our moments in the past where we’ve questioned whether or not to go on as ‘The Bruises,’ but never whether or not Jen and I would continue writing songs as a team,” Aja Blue said. “We just work really well together and understand each other. At the end of the day, I think what keeps us going is a love for what we do and the songs we write when we get together.”
Coming off their brilliant 2011 EP Motion Light and a third place finish out of 250 bands in the Pop-Up Live Competition sponsored by SPIN Magazine and PopChips, the Bruises are a solid quartet now with the addition of Clayton Vorheis (bass) and Tamara Waite (drums). They have recently released their long player, Never Be the Same, and sound brash, seductive and musically tight as they have ever been.
“Clayton and Tamara joining the Bruises have definitely brought a rebirth to the band, and it’s the first time that all four members are on the same page,” Jen Black said. “They are amazing musicians, and a lot of times it’s their work as the rhythm section that guides our songs to where they need to be and gives a solid direction.”
Blue added, “We can’t give enough praise to them. On top of being phenomenal players, they are just great people, and we are all really close friends and trust each other completely.”
On Never Be the Same the quartet cements their classic rock sound (and when I say “classic, I mean circa 1990s) with pop powered hooks. With a driving rhythm section behind them, Black and Blue trade some of their best guitar licks to date, and the songwriting is strong for the cohesiveness. But there is one player which was omitted from the recording studio that made all the difference this time around.
“Well, first of all, we learned not to drink so much, if at all, in the studio! We were kind of partying down during the recording of Motion Light,” Black said. “While we really love those songs, we let some sloppy takes slide, and we just didn’t have the focus that we had recording Never Be the Same. With Motion Light we really just wanted to get something out quickly, and we didn’t have a lot of studio time, so when it came time to do this full length, we knew from the get-go that we wanted to take our time, especially in pre-production, and make sure that we got everything right.”
For the new album The Bruises enlisted producer extraordinaire Michael Eisenstein (Letters to Cleo, Nina Gordon, Lisa Loeb and Juliana Hatfield) who not only produced Never Be the Same, but also mixed the album.
“Working with Michael was so great! I’ve been a fan of his since I was a teenager listening to Letters to Cleo. He is such a great guitar player and really helped us get great tones for every song,” Black said. “We had never worked with a producer before either, and it was great to have someone kind of steering the album. He pushed us to our full potential.”
Blue added, “He brought in his experience, not only as a musician but as a producer and really fine-tuned us as a band. We would play a song for him during pre-production, and he would have feedback on the arrangement or song in general that we never would have thought of on our own. He helped us lock in as a band and listen with new ears.”
Working with Einstein at several different studios – The End Of The World, The Deathstar and Sharkbite Studios – allowed more benefits than just pushing their talents and finding the right sound for their songs. Black and Blue had some impressive instruments at their fingertips which they have never had the opportunity to use in the past.
“Surprisingly enough, I did not use my prized Gibson SG on any songs because we found out that the intonation was completely screwed up beyond what we could fix quickly in the studio,” Black said. “Luckily Michael had an arsenal of really amazing guitars at our disposal: a ’71 Les Paul Deluxe, a ’59 Les Paul Junior, an Ibanez Artist re-issue, a Guild, and a Gretsch Electromatic. Aja also had her trusty Telecaster Deluxe re-issue which was used on almost all the songs.”
Lyrically the new album is an open book of emotions covering a break up, the aftermath and surviving the tough experience many know all too well. Music is said to be therapeutic, and if that fit any record it would be Never Be the Same.
“I always use songwriting as a form of therapy I suppose, because I like to write about what I’m going through at the time,” Blue said. “A lot of the songs on NBTS were about a new relationship I was in and the ups and downs that went along with it. It was also around that time that I quit drinking and was attempting for the first time to be in a relationship, be in a band, and write songs as a sober adult. I’m glad that you can hear how personal the lyrics are, because it really is all me, with total clarity. Writing these songs helped me a lot.”
With their strongest release to date, Black and Blue, along with the rest of the Bruises have had some life changing events personally and musically and have come out the other side maybe a little scared, but continue pushing forward as a band. And for that, like many bands in this day and age of an upside down music industry and a horrible economy, the Bruises simply want what every band wants.
“We want this album to be heard by as many people as possible,” Blue said. “We are hoping to tour this fall/winter and continue playing local venues as well to keep the momentum. We are really proud of this record, and are going to be giving it a hard push for the foreseeable future.”
Read the CD review of the Bruises Never Be the Same here