Lead singer/guitarist Joshua Allen and his Various Blonde bandmates are riding a Summer High with their psychedelic-progressive 2014 album — and a new album in the works.
Josh Allen (far right) and band members of Various Blonde
They say all the best musicians get their start in church. Naturally, so did singer and guitarist Joshua Allen. A born performer, the Kansas City native, 32, has been performing since he was a kid, entertaining his parents by putting on shows with his play guitar and microphone set.
Nowadays, he performs for crowds of entranced fans as the lead singer and proprietor of the local experimental band Various Blonde. His soulful, distant voice is distinct, beckoning listeners to the psychedelic melodies produced by him and his band.
Founded in 2008, Various Blonde began as a post-hardcore, noise-driven trio with Allen, Luis Arana and Nick Organ. As of late, it consists of band members Evanjohn McIntosh, formerly of Cherokee Rock Rifle, on bass; Mark Lomas on drums; accomplished jazz pianist Eddie Moore, of Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle and Diverse, on keyboards; and Allen, who previously played with Lomas in the band Black President, providing guitar and vocals.
Allen says their sound is open to interpretation. Though they’re not trying to be compared to anyone, people have likened them to Black Sabbath, Radiohead, The Mars Volta and even progressive rock band Coheed and Cambria.
“I got called the post-punk Michael Jackson,” he says with a smile. “I think it’s a huge compliment, but it seemed funny to me also. That kind of fits us, though. We’re a pretty random band.”
The “various” in Various Blonde can be interpreted as a nod to the various genres the band’s sound transcends. It is also a result of the many different artists and genres Allen listened to while growing up — Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Motown favorites.
From the conception of the band, Allen knew he wanted to experiment with the band’s sound and not have every album sound the same. “No offense to AC/DC, but all of their music sounds exactly the same. KISS, every song sounds exactly the same. It’s not a right or wrong thing; it’s just not a good fit for the way I choose to create. I mean, look at Prince. He’s released rock albums, R&B albums and mostly electronic albums. He can do it all. And as long as you’re doing it well, I don’t think you should put limits on yourself.”
This belief is evident in Various Blonde’s 2014 release, Summer High, a dark, 10-track epic of psychedelic experience that blends genres from progressive rock to electronic jazz. The album was recorded partly in Kansas City, partly in Denver, and partly in Long Beach, Calif.
Standout tracks include “Big City Girl,” a two-part track that starts as a lamenting, slow saunter and features a keyboard solo by Owens laced with impressive falsetto by Allen; and “Downtown Frown,” an upbeat surf rock-esque vignette that Allen wrote as a jokey counterpoint to the unhappy people caught in the hustle and bustle of downtown KC.
A collaborative effort, the full-length album recruits the talents of the late Grammy Award-winning keyboardist and producer Isaiah “Ikey” Owens of The Mars Volta and Jack White’s all-male group The Buzzards. An opportunity that almost didn’t happen, Allen says the encounter was a result of the randomness of life. The pair became friends when Owens proposed the idea of teaming up together to create an album. Allen didn’t believe he was ready or that the timing was right.
The two lost touch until fate brought them back to Long Beach a few years later, and the opportunity arose again. “I honestly was about to be chicken again,” he confesses. “You know, he passed away last October unfortunately, and if I hadn’t taken the chance I would have missed it because of his tour schedule.”
During the second half of recording, Moore joined the band by way of another chance meeting at a commercial casting call. “He’s a super talent and he’s changed the live show for sure,” Allen says. “The textures of the record, he just made it amazing….The whole band is on fire right now.”
Various blonde performance at recordbar
Earlier this year Various Blonde embarked on a 10-city mini tour that ventured to favorite locations and cities they’d never been to before. A series of performances in smaller venues made for a more intimate experience for the fans. “It’s encouraging when you sell merch, especially records,” says Allen. “If people are giving you that kind of money, that means they believe in you. When they’re disappointed that you don’t have the shirt in their size, it’s like these people actually care and want to take a piece of you home. And that is amazing. And that’s basically the quest that the band is on: rallying our fan base and finding people who are like, ‘Hey, this is some good stuff.’”
“We played four shows in three days in LA and by the end of it, there were people in traffic shouting at us,” Allen says. “I have a distinct hairstyle most of the time and people call out, ‘Various Blonde!’ Between bartending and playing in the band a lot of people recognize me from somewhere.”
In his spare time you can find him at The Union of Westport, mixing up his signature drink, “The Night Rider.” Also known as “The Night Ruiner,” the libation is a lethal concoction of whiskey, tequila, orange juice and cranberry juice.
Though some of his favorite haunts include well-known Westport hangouts like Buzzard Beach, miniBar, and Harry’s Bar & Tables (when he can afford it), Allen doesn’t do too much hanging out these days. He’d rather put the money he makes from bartending into his band. He pays for 90 percent of the equipment the band uses, the artist who designs their artwork, the merchandise, pressing the vinyl, vans rentals, and booking the tours and shows. The only thing Allen doesn’t have a hand in, when it comes to the band, is what they wear. In terms of his own performance wear, Allen is as stylish as they come with his furs, jewelry, impressive collection of novelty T-shirts, and penchant for the color red. “I’m a fashion over function kind of guy. That’s why I’m so bitchy during the winters here,” he jokes. “’Cause I still want to look cool. Wait, North Face doesn’t have a tiger jacket that has stripes or red pants? Then I don’t want it.”
He is equally committed to his band’s success as he is to his closet. “I know people who would rather buy a 70-inch TV than put money toward their band,” he says in disbelief. “My band is my baby, so I would rather feed my baby than buy a television. It’s weird, but I think putting your money into it as if it’s a child — something that you’re really trying to cultivate — you start to see results. I’m living proof of that.”
On the horizon for the band: “I’ve been demoing a lot of new songs with [longtime friend and co-founder and former member of The Republic Tigers] Adam McGill at my apartment and kind of figuring out what approach I want to take. Summer High kind of built itself, but now there’s a monster, and you have to feed the monster. I just don’t know what I want to make yet. I have a lot of instrumental ideas, but I don’t know what I want to say right now. Definitely another full-length album is in the works, some Midwest touring this summer and pretty much some more of the same but better.”
Catch Various Blonde with fellow KC band My Brothers & Sisters on May 29 at the recordBar. For more information, visit variousblonde.bandcamp.com.