From Frustration to Fuel:
How Various Blonde Fought Through Challenges to Become
the Midwest’s Go-To Electro Future Rockers
STORY: brian amick
PHOTOS: CORY WEAVER
During Black History Month in February, we celebrated the immeasurable contributions African Americans have made to society. One of the numerous fields that owes a great deal to this group is music. From Louis Armstrong and Chuck Berry to Prince and Beyonce, the impact Black music artists have made pushing the industry forward deserves much more recognition than it currently receives, but progress is being made thanks to the efforts of individuals across the country.
One of the many contemporary artists working toward a goal of progression and inclusion is Kansas City, Missouri’s Various Blonde. In fact, the name is a reference to a lack of inclusion in the music industry and other industries. Led by frontman Joshua Allen, the group has been recording and releasing music since 2009 and has opened for many noteworthy acts, such as Of Montreal, Spoon, De Lux, Free Moral Agents, Zechs Marquise, Dead Meadow, Small Talks, Triathalon, Thursday, Murder By Death, Sylvan Esso, Broncho and Nick Waterhouse. They deliver a unique show, influenced by electronica, pop, rock, soul, funk and psych.
Various Blonde has been described as, “Having all the sex appeal of The Weeknd and all the grit of Rage Against the Machine—the combination makes for a performance that is explosive.” On synth and bass-heavy tracks like “Love is How We Will Survive” and “Love Fool,” the band showcases its massive potential with songs that can bring people to the dance floor. Allen provides the vocals, guitar and synth, while members Mark Lomas (drums, keyboards), Jason Nash (bass) and Bryson Thomas (guitar) round out the lineup.
After grinding it out for years in the local circuit in Kansas City, Various Blonde was beginning to make some headway in the industry. They were seeing more radio play and more shows in the region. Unfortunately, like many artists, that momentum was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shutdowns meant to curb the spread of the virus led to canceled shows. Even after things opened back up, many of the popular venues in the area being mid-sized and compact made it difficult for bands to comfortably do what they love.
However, this provided an opportunity as well. Allen has used the frustrations of the pandemic to fuel his songwriting, leading to some exciting work that will be released when the time is right. In the meantime, with music venues becoming more accessible, Various Blonde is getting back to live performances in addition to expanding its presence abroad.
In the middle of preparation for some long-anticipated shows on both the Kansas and Missouri sides, Joshua Allen discussed with Bands Through Town his role as a Black musician, how he hopes to break out of labels placed on minorities, and the musical influences that have shaped him and his bandmates.
Various Blonde: Bryson Thomas, Joshua Allen, Mark Lomas & Jason Nash
How do you feel about being a minority in music and how you've been able to subvert expectations?
In my experience being a minority in music has honestly been challenging and a source of some anxiety. There’s so much to think about because people are constantly trying to place you and label you. When you don’t immediately fit into people’s idea of what they expect from you they usually don’t like it and want/need it to make sense to them. It’s confusing when you feel like neither side will fully embrace you because they don’t understand your “brand” of blackness. Though I feel like a lot has changed in recent years, knowing if it’s genuine is still a concern and still something that only time will tell. If the acceptance we’re creating is real, then we’ll reap its benefits well into the future, but if it’s disingenuous we’ll see things gradually revert to how they’ve been in the past.
Who are your musical influences and pop cultural influences?
This is a hard question to answer but I kinda break it down from what from my past has stuck with me the most and helped shaped my artistic voice. That said, Prince, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Radiohead and The Mars Volta are probably the biggest influences on a lot of what you hear out of me. I don’t speak for my mates though. They bring a whole other layer to the mix that you can hear live or on our recordings.
What is the songwriting process for you in terms of coming up with ideas for lyrics and melody?
I almost always write the music first and then write the vocals. When I was feeling a little uninspired on the guitar, I went through a phase mainly in the “All Bases Covered” sessions where I was writing the basslines first. That was really centric to the groovy nature of the songs. As I’ve grown to start feeling creative on the guitar again, the process has changed back to where I’m writing a lot of the song structures first and then adding the vocals last. That said, there are a few new tracks we are working on where I wrote the vocal hook first. I guess there's no wrong way to do it. In the words of Quincy Jones, “Explore all options. Yes, all of them.”
Where does the name Various Blonde come from and how/when did you start?
VB started in 2009. We were originally called the ‘68 comeback but were encouraged to change the name due to there already being another ‘68 comeback. The name came from us combining words we thought sounded mysterious, sexy, and cool. Various Blonde just kinda stuck after we landed on that, but we needed it to make sense. Seeing a lack of inclusion across the board for minorities the name really came out of feeling like the world isn’t built for me and some things are just out or reach and off limits unless you’re somewhat of a Various Blonde. In that case you get the other set of rules and “everything the light touches is your kingdom.”
How would you describe your sound to somebody who hasn’t heard it before?
I always describe our current sound as electro future rock.
Describe how you got involved with your current label and how it's helping you with Spotify and YouTube.
My late mentor Isaiah “Ikey” Owens played with a lot of well-known bands (Jack White, Mars Volta, Sublime) and therefore had met and knew a lot of people. A mutual friend of ours is a talent scout for our current label, Discos Amatista. When they were looking for new artists to sign in late 2020, they reached out to us and asked if we were interested in working together.
What intrigued us most is that they are a streaming label. Basically what that means is they are trying to help artists they believe in navigate the everchanging world of streaming and help artists intentionally increase the reach of their online presence, especially in Mexico and Latin America.