“34 Bliss! 34 Bliss! 34 Bliss!” the crowd chanted, charged with anticipation. As the band took the stage, fans erupted with cheers and applause and local favorites 34 Bliss opened their eight song set with a wildly intense original called “Scream 2.” The pure raw energy of this talented young band, combined with their natural and commanding stage presence and the hypnotic vocals of lead singer Rocquel, had the crowd on their feet non-stop for the next forty-five minutes. They delivered an inspired, hard-rocking performance that often had me wondering if I wasn’t watching a road-seasoned band playing for thousands of their die-hard fans.
The Emerald Theater in Mount Clemens hosted a free showcase of Michigan rock and roll talent Saturday, Dec. 17. Sponsored by Metro 37 Recording Studios of Rochester Hills, Detroit rock radio station WRIF, and with support from record label Tate Music Group, 34 Bliss celebrated the official release of their debut self-titled CD with other Michigan bands Discrete Heat, Switchline, No Quarter, Through Your Eyes and Citizen Zero, and headliners Pop Evil, a band from Grand Rapids that is enjoying national success.
The show was a strong testament to the fact that Michigan’s long musical legacy is alive and well in many up and coming bands from around the state. I had the opportunity to talk with the members of 34 Bliss before the show and find out just where they get their talent and inspiration.
The current line-up has been practicing and performing together for three years, although several members have known each other much longer and have shared the stage with each other before 34 Bliss.
Lead singer Rocquel, of Metamora, has been singing since she was six years old and began vocal training in seventh grade, spending several years studying opera. But with personal hero Aretha Franklin and influences from Stevie Nicks to Kid Rock, it’s no surprise that she soon lent her considerable talent and range to the rock and roll music that she loves. She gained experience through several sessions of Lapeer’s Riverstreet Music & Café’s School of Rock, and is planning to begin giving lessons through her own “Rocky’s Vocal Academy” this spring. On stage, Rocquel is a powerful, riveting frontwoman and focal point of 34 Bliss’s performance.
Jonny Guitar on lead guitar brings his influences from 80’s rock like Eddie Van Halen, Mick Mars (Motley Crue) and George Lynch (Dokken). He says he became interested in music at a young age and “began listening to old Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, and Alice Cooper before he even knew who they were.” After hearing Van Halen’s “Eruption,” for the first time, he knew that was what he wanted to do. Equally proficient with furious shredding and emotive melody, his leads often sound like a second voice intertwined with Rocquels vocals. He has also been busy building custom guitars with his dad.
Also on guitar, Phil Blunt adds his own blend of punk and grunge influenced rhythms. With his distinctive ‘fro and retro stage attire he looks like a throwback to the psychedelic bands of the 60’s, but his aggressive sound is all rock and roll. On stage he’s a fireball, never in one place for very long, and often with both feet off the ground. He cites Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue) and Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave) as influences and says his approach to the band’s music is carefree fun and high energy.
Palmer Krehel is the foundation of the band’s rhythm section on drums. The youngest member of 34 Bliss at 15, Palmer has been anchoring bands for years. Like Rocquel, he’s also an alumnus of the Riverstreet Music Café’s School of Rock as well as the Lapeer-based Young Musician’s Community’s “Third Degree Burns” project, a non-profit organization that teaches kids the ins-and-outs of playing in a rock and roll band for free and performs at several mid-Michigan events throughout the year. Palmer lists Neil Peart (Rush) and Travis Barker (Blink 182) among his influences, and you can hear them in his performance – a high energy punk drive tempered with economy and precision.
Spider rounds out the band’s lineup on bass. Before 34 Bliss, Spider also spent time with Lapeer’s School of Rock and Third Degree Burns. He takes his cues from the likes of Geddy Lee (Rush) and Steve Harris (Iron Maiden). His aggressive bass lines rumble through the mix, combining with Palmer’s drum engine to propel the band’s songs forward through their set, while on stage he alternates engaging with other members of the band and the fans in the first few rows, never missing a beat.
While 34 Bliss is a young band, it’s apparent that their musical roots run deep. Their original songs combine the sounds of rock and roll from the last forty years, the soulful sound of the blues from even longer ago, and the fresh energy and edge of current alternative rock. At its heart, it’s just plain rock or as Spider describes it, “rock of ages.”
Several of their songs contrast slower, softer verses built around Rocquel’s expert control of dynamics and nuance with powerhouse choruses and razor-sharp guitar breaks.
A crowd favorite at the Emerald was their cover of Heart’s “Crazy On You.” It may be a rock and roll standard, but 34 Bliss made the song their own, incorporating a delicate interlude with Phil’s acoustic picking and Rocquel’s vocal improvisation. While their sound is heavy, their message is positive and they strive to provide an uplifting and inspiring experience for their listeners. Their songwriting is collaborative and comes from their own life experiences. Rocquel says “our music is very personal, passionate, and projects momentum.
And momentum is certainly something that 34 Bliss has experienced as a band this year, from winning a WRIF contest this spring to open for Eddie Money at DTE, to signing with Tate Music Group, to recording their first full-length CD with Metro 37.
Rocquel’s mom and band manager Jackie Wallace says she’s become fully immersed in promoting and supporting the band. “I never imagined I’d be doing this,” she said. “It’s a full time job,” added Rocquel.
As 34 Bliss wrapped up their set with “Give In,” they once again had the audience eating out of their hand as Rocquel sang “I won’t give in” and the crowd sang back “I won’t give up.” The evening was a chance to see that despite the tough times Michigan has faced in recent years, there is still a never-ending well of talented young musicians pursuing their dreams laying here, continuing our state’s legacy of creating music that will be playing for the ages.
—- Jill Fleisher
34 Bliss’s debut CD, “34 Bliss” will be available on iTunes and Amazon mid January 2012, and you’ll also be able to grab a copy at The Parlour in Hadley. For more info or to keep up with the band’s schedule of live performances you can check outhttp://www.34bliss.com/ and www.facebook.com/thirtyfourbliss
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Watch the Official Music Video for “Learn to Fly”:
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Listen to “I Know That You Can Hear Me” here!
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