By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Gladly Going to Heller
Ex-Ruthless Records boss backs On Blast's 'magical' dance rock
The term "local band" often smacks of a backhanded compliment. It's like saying, "Yeah, they're good, but not that good." Generally speaking, local bands are watered-down carbon copies of other, more notable outfits from other regions. They don't have good material, know the right people or possess the "it" factor that turns garage-bound hobbies into legitimate careers. For every 45-minute set performed by a local band, audiences usually are treated to two pretty good songs, three that ain't half-bad and five that straight-up suck. Rarely do a group break free from the local-band category, the one that says no matter how hard these musicians try, opening-act status is the best they'll ever achieve.
Long Beach's On Blast appear to be an exception to all that. Formed in 2005 by producers Tone Blair and Andy Kiddoo, On Blast were never meant to be a band. In fact, Blair says his résumé as a behind-the-scenes guy left him thinking he'd never perform onstage. The duo's original plan was to form a hip-hop production team that would sell beats to aspiring MCs, but things changed when Kiddoo's friend Josh Brown moved in with Blair and was singing around the house so often they couldn't help but include him in their project. The addition of Brown helped shift On Blast's focus from studio-shackled producers to a live band.
"I'm tired of rap," Kiddoo says. "I'm so done with that. I want to sing. With Josh, we know we could be a super-team because we wouldn't be shit without his voice."
"We found more joy doing what we do," Blair says. "Once we started playing shows, we forgot about the production thing."
Musicians pontificating about their vast knowledge of records is enough to make listeners put down the headphones and pick up a book, but Kiddoo and Blair speak the truth when they say On Blast is a true mish-mash of many otherwise-conflicting sounds. Hip-hop is the foundation of every On Blast track, thanks to Blair, a Dr. Dre-influenced beat maker whom Kiddoo calls "a master drum programmer." Layered atop Blair's grooves is guitarist Steve M.'s post-punk playing, Kiddoo's melodic chord progressions and Brown's smooth, Deftones-meets-Perry-Farrell voice. The result is an ethereal, Portishead-esque sound unlike anything currently heard in the local scene. Throwing a bunch of mostly dissimilar influences into a pot is the first sign of a local band with no clue what they want to be, but surprisingly, this is what makes On Blast so damned interesting.
"It's totally natural," Blair says. "We don't set out to make any kind of song, and we've never tried to sound like anything. We just make songs. It's a magical thing more than anything."
"When we made music individually," Kiddoo says, "we both used samples and put it to a drum loop. And that's hip-hop. Now we're kind of sampling ourselves. Our sound was never discussed. That freedom is so open. I'm not one person; he's not one person. We're a group that can play to a dance crowd, at hip-hop shows or indie-rock shows."
On Blast's debut is scheduled for a summer release on Streetlife Records, the company owned by well-known music manager/Ruthless Records co-founder Jerry Heller. When local bands get some sort of hook-up beyond their means, there's usually an older sibling, parent or rich kid behind it, but not so with this quartet. Along with the Heller association, On Blast had their demo played on KROQ and shared a New Year's Eve show with Steve Aoki, Justice and Peaches. All this success snowballed from one show at Long Beach's Rhythm Lounge.
"This dude came up to us afterward and asked if we needed representation," Kiddoo says. "Then someone he knew was playing our music at a studio, and [Streetlife co-founder] Pablito Vasquez heard it and offered a $100 bill to buy the CD right there."
"It trips us out," Blair says. "Millions of people would love to be in our situation. It's funny because other bands actively go out and try to find these people and send out demos, but we were found."
On Blast perform with Look Daggers, Pop Noir, Repeater and Sparrow Love Crew at Vault 350, 350 Pine Ave., Long Beach, (562) 590-5566; www.vault350.com. Sat., 7 p.m. $6.50. All ages.