by Dan Barry
10:27 AM EDT, July 25, 2011
Sully’s Pub in Hartford has long been a hotspot for central Connecticut’s musically-inclined. In particular, the mid- and late-‘00s gave rise to a wave of insanely talented musicians. André Balazs may be the hardest one to pin down. Equally comfortable with a croon or a throaty growl, Balazs has made it his trademark to dance through as many genres as possible. The singer/songwriter plays piano as his primary instrument, and that gives him the flexibility to access a variety of styles. He’ll go from a tender ballad to a filthy blues, and then, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, land in the thick of a Russian folk romp.
If Balazs’ name doesn’t ring a bell, you’ll almost certainly be familiar with some of his peers. Kate Callahan is a singer/songwriter (and frequent collaborator with Balazs) who puts a jazzy twist on traditional folk rock. And members of erstwhile hip-hop group the Silent Groove have moved on to form new groups, such as Stalactite Party and the Sweet Ones. “It’s a very strong group of contemporaries,” says Balazs. “Matt Zeiner’s still chewing it. Randy Collins, I’ve talked to him and hopefully he’ll be out again soon. Chuck Warda recently sent me a version of my tune, ‘Modern Day Disease.’ He does the solo on the record, but here he does the whole song, and it’s a wild version.”
For his part, Balazs and his band, Bipolar Jukebox, have been taking their time following up 2008’s self-titled debut CD. They’ve just completed recording their new album, A Museum of Sorts, and they’re in the process of mixing and mastering it for an August release. According to Balazs, it’s just as much of a melting pot as his previous effort, featuring “Americana, rock, blues, some jazz, some ballads, stuff like Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake. There’s another Russian folk kind of tune that’s the title track — it’s kind of a commentary on the fact that Americans don’t read much anymore. The bookstore is becoming a museum of sorts.”
The core trio of Bipolar Jukebox features Balazs on keys and vocals, David Shuman on bass, and Marc Balling on drums. The three recorded the main tracks for their album in the Collinsville Factory (that’s Balazs’ hometown), and were particular about recording all those tracks live. (Normal studio procedure would have each musician record their tracks separately, in isolation.) “We really wanted to keep that part sounding together,” says Balazs. “We did some overdubs afterwards. We have some accordion and a little violin, but it’s mostly piano, bass, drums, vocals.”
It’s touches like that which anchor Balazs’ wild array of genres. In less-skilled hands, such an all-encompassing approach could come off as scattershot. “Making a record itself is such an antiquated thing, unfortunately. [Nowadays] it’s like singles being beamed and shot everywhere. We tried to build a record where you wanna sit down and listen to the whole record, like the ones I liked.”
I asked Balazs about the name of the band. Was he bipolar, or was it just a reference to their multi-genre style? Balazs opened up, big time. “I’ve had all kinds of challenges. I sought help just about everywhere, from drug dealers to the legit guys at the Institute of Living. You get diagnoses all over the place, and when you’re feeling down you’ll take advice from everyone. So yeah, that came up as a possible diagnosis.
“The name actually came from the title track of the first record. It was about a band that couldn’t play what the crowd needed. Billy Megofna actually said when he heard the song that that would be a good band name, and it kind of stuck. Instead of just the André Balazs band, it lets me share credit with the guys who work with you, who put in years of time. I think that’s important.
“And it’s interesting, I have gotten emails from people who, with search engines, come up with all kinds of stuff. I’ve definitely had some interesting conversations with people — some very angry, thinking I’m making fun of it, and that’s not the case at all. I certainly understand mental illness. If people wanna know what it means or are offended, I refer them back to the song.”
If you miss Bipolar Jukebox’s upcoming show at Bridge Street Live, you can catch them on August 6th, when they play a music festival at the fairgrounds in Terryville. Joining them are LittleHouse and the Carrie Johnson Band. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door, and they’re available at thesummermusicfest.com.