Windsor’s The Blue Stones Reflect on Their Career
Story by Cameron Chappus
Photography by Sameer Jafar
It’s never been harder to be a band. In an era where so many musical acts are postponing live shows into the mid-2020s, Tarek Jafar and Justin Tessier of Windsor’s The Blue Stones have had a surprisingly busy year and a half. “It’s funny, because compared to a lot of bands, we’ve had it pretty good…” Justin, the band’s drummer, continues, “…We were on tour as everything was closing down but then we came back pretty soon .” The Blue Stones, a rough and raw alt-rock duo known for their energetic live shows and bluesy hooks, reflect on their journey as a band.
For Tarek, the direction of going into a career of music was set from a young age. “Music was sort of embedded in my family from an early age.” The singer and guitarist goes on to credit his family further, “[My mom] loved music, she loved classical music and jazz music and she would teach piano, so I guess that was my first experience with music.” Tarek eventually moved from the piano to the guitar but still valued those formative days with more classical instruments. “I started to play [and learn] guitar on my own and that musical foundation. I guess it blossomed to the point where I wanted to show Justin what I was writing.” From Justin’s perspective, a better musical counterpart couldn’t have approached him. “I grew up in a rock’n roll family,” he says. “No one played music, but I was always surrounded by it.” Like Tarek, Justin also found lessons were not for him, and eventually learned the drums on his own. “Being a drummer is like being a goalie on a hockey team, everyone needs you for their band. So, I played in a bunch of different bands in grade school and high school.”
Breaking into Windsor’s music scene is no simple feat for any local act but as Tarek and Justin recall, their early experiences were positive. “We were kind of lucky… At our very first show, we had a lot of close friends and family come out. Partly because they wanted to come out and support us, but also partly because they were like, ‘Tarek and Justin are playing a show?!’” Apparently, it was more curiosity and confusion that garnered the band’s first crowd than genuine interest but the duo was not planning to disappoint. “Everybody really enjoyed it, and that was a huge ego boost.” Tarek cites their shows at Windsor’s own Phog Lounge as a pivotal moment in their upbringing. “One of the cool things about Phog is that it’s a very well-known venue. They really look at bands that are trying to make a name for themselves in Ontario,” Justin adds, “It’s a small room that has a lot of notoriety at the same time.”
After landing a string of successful local shows, Tarek and Justin finally had the opportunity to record their first EP in 2011. Tarek recalls “it was so fun and exciting because at that point we recorded everything on our own from Justin’s garage.” Although they were proud of what they had made, they soon found they wanted more. “[We] were sitting in my car outside a McDonalds one night and we were listening back to the album. We were like, ‘there’s something missing on this album.’ We didn’t know how to communicate what we thought was the issue, but we just felt that there wasn’t enough space.”
Luckily, The Blue Stones found a direction they could thrive in with 2015’s Black Holes. “It’s one of our proudest releases,” Tarek says. “I think that learning experience from the first EP really helped us hone into what we wanted to be as a band.” The title track of the album, “Black Holes (Solid Ground)”, is a song that millions of people continue to connect with. “That song was written while [Justin] and I were living together in Windsor. We were working full-time but also pursuing music,” Tarek recalls “that song is about that choice; choosing between the steady and secure life, versus that risky, ambitious choice.”
In 2020, the band was nominated at the Juno Awards for Best Breakthrough Artist, and in 2021, they released their sophomore album, Hidden Gems. Coming off the heels of Black Holes’ re-release in 2018 and years of touring, Tarek and Justin felt intimidated by the prospect of a new al-bum. “We didn’t want to go through the sophomore slump, where everyone compares it to the debut,” Tarek notes. “It was so amazing to work with Mutemath’s Paul [Meany] on this album and it was a mix of that, plus a drive to top our debut album that produced this really great album that we can be proud of.”
For a band that has toured so extensively and, especially through the global pandemic, it’s important to have a sense of home. “I live in Windsor; I do love living here. It is nice to come back to where we came up as a band and to go back to the places where we started… being in touch with our roots keeps us grounded,” says Tarek. “Justin and I share a good group of friends, they have that sort of Windsor grit—they’re definitely the kind of guys who will make fun of you and tease you… In a way, I enjoy that because it keeps your ego in check.” Justin, a Kingston resident, has always known himself as a Windsorite. “Every time I plan a visit to Windsor, I say, ‘I’m going home,’” he says, “We’re both very grateful to have had such a great city and group of people to help us come up.”
The Blue Stones are embarking on Hidden Gems World Tour in 2022, and say they’ll be hitting the studio soon to work on new material. Make sure to follow their social pages to stay up to date on all their new music and tour dates or visit their website at thebluestonesmusic.com.