Analogue Music | The Blue Stones

The Blue Stones

By Matt Conner

It's the third voice that helps make each album distinct for Justin Tessler and Tarek Jafar.

Jafar and Tessler are the only official members of The Blue Stones, but the pair of songwriters have never been precious about their sorgcraft. Instead of keeping the doors closed and blinds shut on their creative process, they've actually been quite happy to allow other voices into the mix to help bring a new influence and interest to each album.

Whether it was working with Paul Meany (Twenty One Pilots, MuteMath) on Hidden Gems or Joe Chiccarelli (Jason Mraz, Morrissey, Spoon) on an unnamed and unannounced upcoming full-length, the Blue Stones are always up for some creative interaction and the infectious results speak for themselves. Jafar and Tessler have undeniable chemistry but the band's music is also always fresh and captivating for the ways in which they remain open in community.

We recently sat down with the duo to hear more about their creative process and what's coming up for them in the near future.

Analogue: You have tour dates coming up but I wanted to start with the recordings in recent years. How did this latest session compare with previous rounds of writing and recording?

Justin Tessler: When we were doing a press run for the last record, I would tell people it was the first time we’d made a record in a “professional” way. We’d done a couple of independent releases before and we were always working other jobs or going to school, so we’d carve out time over a weekend to go into a studio and lay some tracks down. We’d go in for a couple of weekend warrior gigs and then go back into the studio. It was very fragmented.

Hidden Gems was the first time we’d set aside three weeks at a time and just went into the studio every day to work on songs. The songs weren’t entirely finished and we could just figure it out as we went along. It was refreshing. It was great to just have the sole focus of trying to determine what the sound should be as opposed to figuring them all out in a garage and then just getting into a studio to record as quickly as possible to save money.

This record was the same in that regard as last time. I think Tarek was up here at the studio for five weeks.

Tarek Jafar: Yeah, I think it was a total of five.

Justin: Yeah, so it was definitely a continuation of how we’d worked on Hidden Gems, although it ended up being a different record.

Analogue: Can you tell a difference in chemistry from one album to the next?

Tarek: It’s funny because when you’re recording an album, it works in two different ways. Justin and I have been playing for a very long time. We work off of each other pretty seamlessly now. He knows what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from him. That’s nice because, with that capsule, you put it into a situation where you’re meeting a new producer for the first time—this time it was Joe Chiccarelli—and you take these two guys who are used to writing with each other and bring in a new influence with the producer for this short period of time and you get a cool hybrid of what the sound becomes.

So that’s what I really like about working with producers is that they almost become a third member of the band. Just naturally, each album sounds different because it was a different person.

Back to your original comment, I feel like having the chemistry we do does lend to a better sound—more so live because we’re working together in tandem live, whereas on the record we might be a little bit segmented. But we still toss notes back and forth to each other. We’re on the same wavelength in how we want the drums to sound or the guitars to sound. I feel that chemistry does benefit everything.

"Because there are only two of us, it’s welcome to have a third voice. In fact, I think we actually look for it, just so it’s not so insulated."

Analogue: How do you land on the producers you’ve worked with? Joe’s work speaks for itself, but I’m a big fan of Paul Meany’s work, too.

Tarek: For Hidden Gems, it was a case of our manager asking us for a dream producer. We both said we wanted to work with Paul Meany. He’s been an idol of ours since the 2000s. We said it’d be great to work with them and they went and put our music in front of him and he ended up really liking it. That was more of a wish list ask that ended up working out.

For Joe, I think he approached our team early on after he heard one of our earlier tracks, “Black Holes.” Way, way back, he’d reached out through his manager to our manager about working together. As things go, that didn’t make its way to us and we didn’t even get that request until years later. We hopped on a Zoom call with him and he expressed an interest in working and he obviously had an awesome repertoire of credits that speak for itself. It felt like we could make some pretty great music together and we did.

Analogue: Is it hard to know how protective or precious to be about your own work when you involve a new voice as you mentioned?

Tarek: I think we’re both good about allowing new people to have their input on the music. The nice thing is that who we end up working with, they’re usually open to the idea of preserving who we are as live musicians, as studio musicians—not trying to change us too much. We’ve been lucky to work with people who have allowed us to be ourselves. I don’t want to say more about that, because I think we just lucked out in that regard. Even as something as high level as management or our label, they haven’t tried to interfere in the creative process. It’s great because they just let us be us.

Justin: Because there are only two of us, it’s welcome to have a third voice. In fact, I think we actually look for it, just so it’s not so insulated. We don’t have a principle behind just having two people. It just happened that way on accident. We never sought to be like, ‘This is only going to be guitar, drum and vocals.’ So we actually welcome having outside voices and learning how we can expand.

Analogue: Was working with Paul what you thought it might be?

Tarek: I’d argue it was even better. We obviously knew that he was going to add such a great element to the music, but we weren’t sure what he was going to be like as a person. You hear all these quotes about not meeting your heroes because they will disappoint you but he’s the exact opposite of that. He was a great dude, a very good coach, and so humble. He also pushed the envelope in ways that worked for us—not in an authoritative way but in a way that made us better. It exceeded our expectations.

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