When interacting with power-pop artist/in-demand songwriter/mutton-chop maestro William “Bleu” McAuley, one thing comes into crisp, refreshing focus: Bleu is one nice dude. You see, a few weeks ago, Bleu was nice enough to set some time aside to talk to us; when a technological failure resulted in an entire, story-packed interview getting lost in space, I was awfully glum. As an avowed and longtime fan, it was disheartening to lose so much interesting material, and to waste a favorite artist’s time; the good news is, you wouldn’t know any of that to talk to him. An engaging and generous interviewee, Bleu (take two) proved delightfully ego-free, willing to laugh at our little hiccups, and eager to inform. It’s a fitting demeanor for a guy who’s made some of the most eminently likable music of the past ten years or so.
Now, one thing that I wanted to ask of you – back in the “lost interview”, you told me a great story about going to a Poison concert that sort of cemented your desire to be a performer. Any chance I can ask you to repeat that one more time?
Sure! … I was a big Poison fan in high school – I was a fan of hair metal in general. That was kind of my, you know, pop/rock music of the day. Their big record, the Open Up and Say…Aah! record, with all the biggest hits on it… Warrant was opening up, and I liked them pretty good at the time too. [Laughs.] I was definitely already into music… I’d already written some songs, and had some songs performed, and that sort of thing, but I was still into a lot of other things, and I didn’t know yet, I guess, what I really wanted to do with my life. Anyway. I went to the Poison concert, and I was really enjoying the heck out of it for sure, but I had this sort of “a-ha!”, lightbulb-type moment about halfway through the show. I don’t remember if this is exactly what it was, but I think it was while “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” was playing. If not, that would’ve been the perfect song. [Laughs.]
It literally was almost like the top of the arena opened up, and a light shown down from heaven, or God, or whatever. It really was like that – I was kinda high on the music, and I’m sure the secondary marijuana fumes and whatnot. [Laughs.] And this voice, from inside my head, or my inner self, or my past self, or maybe God, or whatever, said to me this phrase: “If these jokers can do it, so can you.” [Laughter.] And it wasn’t that I wasn’t enjoying the show or anything like that, but there was something about it – I realized at that moment that, you know, it wasn’t rocket science. And even though I loved what was happening, something inside me said “you can do this, too.” And I know it sounds silly, but I never really looked back from that moment. I just knew that I wanted to be a musician, and I knew I wasn’t gonna be doing anything else besides that from then on. I’m sure my grades suffered after that point. Was that as good as the first time?
It was! It may have even been a little more detailed, which was awesome.
So you told me before that you’re working on a new studio album.
Yeah, and actually, since I spoke to you last, I’ve actually worked on it some more. I had… not quite a week, but almost a week in Boston to mess around with it, and it’s coming together! I’m pretty happy with the direction it’s taking so far. It was cool – I got to work with my live musical partner Joe Seiders, who’s been playing mostly drums and accordion, but some keyboards, and he sings and stuff like that. We’ve been performing as a duo for several years now. He has played drums on, like, two songs – he plays drums on “How Blue”, which was kind of the single from the last record [2010’s Four], and he played drums on a song called “Mailman’s Son”, which is gonna be on the b-sides record [the forthcoming Besides], which we hope is gonna come out next month… but other than that, we have not done too much in the studio, so the main purpose of recording in Boston recently was to get a chance to work with him. So he was there the whole time with me, and he played drums on several things, and sang a bunch of background vocals, and played some accordion – he did like an accordion solo on something… anyway, it was really, really cool, it was great to get to work with him finally, and we just have a fun time hanging out. The whole thing was cool.
I feel like the record’s, you know, starting to really take shape. Now, there’s a lot of electronic stuff on it – I sorta started out my solo career doing a lot of electronic stuff. My first album, my independent release Headroom, had tons of electronic stuff on it, and a little bit of that carried over to [2003 album] Redhead, but not much, and then I basically abandoned that for A Watched Pot and Four. And I sort of made a conscious effort to get back to that. A lot of the stuff that I’m doing producing and writing for other artists is super heavy on the electronic side of things – you know, samples and electronic drumbeats and that sort of thing, so I wanted to incorporate that into my own stuff. And it’s been really fun – I’m hoping it’s gonna be a good mix of stuff. There’s definitely some Bjork, and some of the pop artists that I really like, like Britney Spears and Robyn, but the songwriting is still my kind of songwriting, power-pop and classic songwriting type of stuff. One of the songs I got to do with Joe is a good kind of primer for the album. It’s a song I wrote with Jez [Ashurst] from the band Farrah – they’re a big U.K. power-pop band, I’m on their label in the U.K. – and it’s a real classic, modern power-pop type of song, very… I don’t know, Jellyfish-y, I guess. [Laughs.] But the underpinnings are very modern electro-pop kind of stuff. So I’m thinking that’s kind of where it’s going, [chuckles] and I hope it’s cool. I hope people like it, and don’t say “what the hell is all this weird drumbeat stuff?” [Laughs.]
That’s what I’ve heard about Headroom; that it’s a lot more electronic-oriented record than your later work.
You know, I made that record like ten years ago, so it’s a different kind of electronic-y. It’s more sort of in the Beck vein, it’s much more like breakbeats and stuff like that on that particular record. And the stuff I’m doing now is not so much like that… it’s more in the modern beat realm, I hope, if I even know what that is. [Laughs.] So yeah, I’m excited about it because it’s something new and fresh for me, that I feel like is really moving things forward in terms of my music. I didn’t wanna just make another Four, another Watched Pot, or another Redhead or whatever. I really wanted to move it forward. But I played it for some of my good friends who are fans as well, and they’re all saying that, songwriting-wise, it’s more like the classic power-pop stuff – at least on some of the songs – that they remember from my pre-A Watched Pot writing. So I’m hoping it has a good mix of the two, and that some of the sort of classic power-pop songwriting can mesh well with some of this new production. Obviously, I wanna do something that’s unique, and not quite anything that anybody’s done, you know? That’s the goal.
And you’re releasing a vinyl pretty soon, correct?
Yeah! It’s my first vinyl. We’re just doing a limited run, it’s really just for the hardcore fans, but I’m genuinely excited about it. It’s not a throwaway b-sides kinda thing. All the songs on it… in fact, I even took some songs off because I really wanted it to hold up as a real piece of work. And I think it does… I mean, these are all songs that I really wanted to put on records, but I sort of have this thing where I won’t put more than eleven songs on a record now, but I’m really shooting for ten or nine, even. When I record more songs than that, I have to inevitably take songs off, and this is kind of my opportunity to give these songs a real home. And there’s some really interesting stuff on there – like, I had recorded “No Such Thing As Love” [from 2009’s A Watched Pot], I had done like a whole recording of it that I thought at the time was going to be the recording. But then I ended up rethinking it and changing the key and doing all this other stuff, and I love the version that ended up on A Watched Pot, but there’s this other version that’s fully realized and sort of completely different, you know? So there’s some interesting things like that. And obviously, there’s a lot of songs that I just couldn’t find a home for in the tracklisting for the last two records. And there’s some demos, and stuff that I did after the last two records – song pitches for other people that I thought turned out particularly good in terms of the recording, and stuff like that. So there’s some cool stuff on there. I hope people will enjoy the vinyl – they’re all gonna be hand-signed and hand-numbered, and we’re doing a very limited edition of color disc, in blue, and those are all gonna be hand-numbered and signed, with an individual message for whoever purchases those. This fan of mine who’s given me some cool art over the years did the artwork, and it’s really cool… it’s gonna be a cool-looking package. It’s actually a takeoff on the Xanadu front and back cover, but with me as Olivia Newton-John. So it’s cool, and fun, and funny. Yeah, I’m psyched about. Hopefully it’ll tide people over until I can get the next thing out. [Laughs.]
And you’re also doing a lot writing for other artists these days – what have you been up to lately on that front? I know last time we discussed a couple of artists that you’ve written for recently.
Well, I got a couple of big cuts that I’m excited about coming out before the end of the year… one is Meat Loaf on his new record. I actually haven’t heard his recording of it yet, so I’m pretty excited to check it out. I wrote that with a good friend, Grant Becker… I was a big Meat Loaf fan in high school, a big Bat Out of Hell fan, and I had a certain group of friends that we’d all listened to that record a lot and memorized all of the parts [laughs], as I think a lot of people probably did, so that’s exciting. And the other big one is Demi Lovato. I also produced that song [“In Real Life”] and co-wrote it with another good friend who’s also an amazing artist – Lindsey Ray is her name. It’s a song that I’m personally really proud of – I think it’s a good song, I really like the production on it, and I just think she’s gonna have a great record [Unbroken, releasing September 20]. She already has the number one iTunes single with “Skyscraper”, the first single, and people just love that song… I’ve heard a bunch of the other songs from the record, I think they’re fantastic, and it’s a real record. I think it’s gonna be one of the best pop records of the year. I really do. So yeah, I’m super excited about that. Those are the two things of note coming out before the end of the year.
I can only hope we’ll be able to describe the Meat Loaf track as “epic”, the most appropriate adjective for Meat Loaf songs.
So in addition to all this songwriting, as well as your own albums, I know you’ve got a couple of side projects going on. We touched upon this last time, but you described to me this series of homage records that you started with the L.E.O. project [L.E.O.’s 2006 Jeff Lynne homage Alpacas Orgling]…
Exactly! Yeah, I’m hoping to finish up the LoudLion project, which is an homage – really to Mutt Lange, but more specifically to Def Leppard. I’m hoping that’s gonna get finished before the end of the year – my main partner in it, Taylor Locke, from Rooney and Taylor Locke and the Roughs, is leaving for tour tomorrow, so I’m gonna have to wait for him to get back. But we’re basically one song away from finishing up on that. And eventually – I’d always conceived it as a trilogy, so eventually, I’m hoping to do a third homage record, which would be an homage to Prince. I think the Prince one will be really fun, and more like the L.E.O. record, in that it’ll be very, very collaborative – a lot of different people sort of working on their own, with me as the executive producer. A lot of other songwriters, a lot of other lead singers – I mean, there’s really just one lead singer in LoudLion, although there are a lot of guests… Allison [Robertson] from The Donnas, John Fields, Adam Ross from Rihanna, and there’s a LOT of guest guitarists. [Laughs.] My buddy Pat Badger – bass player from Extreme – plays on that one. L.E.O. had multiple lead singers on different songs, and the Prince project will be much more like that – it’ll feel like a real collective, rather than a band. Which, the LoudLion thing – it’s ultimately supposed to sound like a band, and I think it does.
Yeah, I’m excited to start that, but first things first – gotta get this LoudLion record finished, finally. [Laughs.] Hopefully we can really do something with it – it’s really cool, because it has its fans, and they’re not my fans, and they’re not Taylor Locke and the Roughs fans, or Rooney fans. People sort of discover it and talk about it on their own. I’m not saying that there aren’t any fans from my fanbase, or Taylor’s fanbase, but I actually think the majority of our fans are people who sort of found out about it through word of mouth, and didn’t necessarily know us before, and wouldn’t necessarily be into our music! [Laughs.] I think it has it’s own weird kind of fanbase of people who are really into it – obviously, it’s a very odd little project. I mean, it’s meant to sound EXACTLY like Def Leppard – even more so than the L.E.O. record. It’s not “inspired by”, it IS Def Leppard. [Laughs.] And who knows? Our ultimate goal is to maybe get to meet some of the guys in Def Leppard, or do something with them for their new record or something… you never know what’s gonna happen. The project has a lot of weird fans and a lot of weird connections to Def Leppard.
You mentioned earlier that you were doing some recording in Boston. Is that typically where you go to record, or is that just how it worked out this time?
I mean, that’s where I like to work – I have a longtime recording partner there, Ducky Carlisle at Ice Station Zebra, and we’ve just been working together for years and years and years. Even a lot of the projects that I produce – bands from L.A., or New York, or whatever – whenever possible, I still try to bring them to Boston. That’s not to say that I don’t work here in L.A., because I do work here occasionally, but a lot of the stuff that I do here is just stuff that I do out of my own studio. Although I have a studio here, The Hobby Shop, that I work at occasionally with a buddy of mine, David [Fren], and I work with the Section Quartet here a lot, they’re sort of my go-to string people that I like to have on songs, and their studio is here in California. But yeah, I mean, Ducky’s just kind of my guy. Although I made a concerted effort to do something different for my new record.
I don’t know if I told you this last time or not, but I actually worked on the record for about a week in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. I really wanted to get away, have a real change of scenery, and also just to have some dedicated time to work on the record in a place where there, ostensibly, wasn’t anything else to do. And it was a great experience – I actually invited Ducky to come for a few days, and he helped me out with a few things, and Taylor… it’s actually his parent’s place down there that I stayed at, so he came down for a few days, and his parents were down, so I had company here and there. But I had some time completely to myself as well, and I got a lot of work done. I did some writing – I wrote two songs from scratch, and I finished another two songs that I had started. And I worked on some other songs – I’m doing a cover of Owsley’s “Oh No the Radio” for the record, and I worked on that quite a bit. So, yeah – I got a lot of work done, and it was cool to kind of do something different, and get away, and not be in my normal, familiar surroundings of the Ice Station Zebra in Medford, although I do love the Ice Station Zebra in Medford. But I worked on a lot of other projects there as well, so sometimes it gets to be that I’m spending an inordinate amount of time there every year, so it’s nice to… I dunno, get away, I guess. [Chuckles.]
Absolutely! And do you think that spending this time down in Mexico has influenced the direction the songs have taken in any way?
Definitely on the two songs that I wrote down there, you’ll notice the Mexican influence. I actually worked with a couple of local musicians on those two songs – at least one of the two, I worked with a local percussionist and a local saxophone player, so yeah… you’ll definitely hear it on there, for sure. [Laughs.]
One thing I wanted to talk about, since we talked last time – we discussed how utilizing social media as a way of both promoting and getting in touch with fans was kind of the new model. And I’ve noticed that, via Twitter and Facebook, you seem to be very interactive with your fanbase.
Well, I don’t know – obviously, I’m doing things on a pretty small scale. I would describe my artist career as sort of a “mom and pop” type of business. [Laughs.] And like any other mom and pop business, I think it’s important to stay in touch with and have a good relationship with the people who, to put it crudely, [affects mock snooty tone] “purchase my product”. [Laughs.] And I like it, and it’s also what sort of helps to grow the thing, and also… I mean, I think a lot of the stuff I’ve done through Kickstarter, and just through the social media stuff that I do in general sort of solidifies the relationship and the goodwill that I have with people, and that’s something that’s important to me. I’m a regular guy, just like everybody else – I dunno, I was just never into the whole “mystery” thing, [chuckles] that’s just not me.
And, yeah – the other thing is that my manager is really, really into – and so am I, but she really sort of drives the ship in this area – she’s really into doing new stuff and pushing things forward. Since I talked to you last, I had this StageIt concert, and we had this goal of trying to have the best sound that had ever been done for a StageIt concert, and we spent all day setting up for it. Most of the StageIt concerts are just done with the external mic and the computer, but we did a whole thing where we had multiple instruments and stuff like that. And we did it at Ice Station Zebra with Duffy, who’s a Grammy-winning mix engineer, and he mixed us live as we were performing, so… it’s that kind of a thing where, when we’re doing an online concert, we want it to be the best online concert that it can be. We wanna create a new experience for people who can’t come to see me play because they live in far-flung places or whatever. And I think those sort of things are important, especially for someone like me, who’s sort of on the periphery, or a cult type of a thing. I wanna do stuff that’s exciting and new. And we have a lot of those types of things planned for the future and for the new record, and I’m excited about just sort of continuing to, hopefully, push the envelope in small ways here and there. The StageIt thing has been really cool, and that’s definitely something that we’re going to continue to experiment with. We’re talking about maybe doing a seminar series coming up, where I would do a series of songwriting lectures, using StageIt as the platform, which hasn’t been done before. It’s just kind of another way we’re trying to do new, fun, exciting stuff with technologies.
And you mentioned being a “mom and pop” sort of enterprise – do you have designs on gaining a more large-scale type of success? Or for you, is this the ideal?
Well, it certainly wouldn’t hurt my feelings. [Laughs.] But I’m gonna do what I wanna do with my artist career. I always have, and I’m always going to. So if there’s some sort of magic formula for becoming the type of artist that gains a much larger audience – well, first of all, I don’t know what it is, I don’t think that anybody knows what it is – but if there were that magic formula, I wouldn’t be subscribing to it. I mean, even with this new record, I think I’m taking some risks that my fanbase in particular is not necessarily gonna… “get”. But it’s important for me that I’m making music that I’m really proud of, and that I think is moving my songwriting and my production forward, and is just moving myself forward as an artist. And I just have to keep my fingers crossed, and hope that people appreciate that. And if an opportunity presents itself to reach a wider audience, like I said, it’s certainly not gonna bum me out. [Chuckles.] But in the meantime, I’m just gonna be making the kind of music that I feel is important to me.
Well, Bleu, thanks for doing this, and for being so accommodating. Do you have any final words for our readers?
I’d just like to say thanks to the people who support my music, and who listen to me… I really appreciate the people that follow my crazy twists and turns, and all the trials and tribulations I’ve had over the years. So that’s it, pretty much – thanks to those people for taking the ride with me!
Many thanks to Bleu for sitting down with us for this interview, as plagued with hiccups as the process may have been. You can follow Bleu on Twitter at @bleutopia, or swing over to his official website at www.bleutopia.com. There you can order albums, check out Bleu’s extensive songwriting resume, and listen to a few of his songs.
Spoiler alert – you’ll like them. A lot.