Heavy music

Balkun Brothers play two Cisco shows

Appears in 11 July 2019 issue of Seacoast Scene

Fuhgeddabout Greta Van Fleet, veering from homage to pastiche as it attempts to be the next Zeppelin; the future of rock and roll past is Balkun Brothers. The Connecticut sibling duo’s sound is a molten melting pot of blues, punk, metal and psychedelic swamp boogie. It’s how the Black Keys with Johnny Winter and Lemmy Kilmister might have sounded.

Steve and Nick Balkun have lately stamped their passports at many key stops on the sonic highways. They jammed with Watermelon Slim in Clarksdale, Mississippi, visited Jim Morrison’s Paris grave, cut a live LP in Memphis at Sun Studio, and played the Mountain Jam Festival.

For the two, it’s a journey of both creation and experience.

“We’re fans first,” Nick said by telephone while driving to Summerfest in Milwaukee and a gig opening for Black Crowes front man Chris Robinson. “You just get a respect for what it is to be in an underground art form – rock and blues is very underground in my opinion. I like studying all about the old blues and rock guys. We’re huge fans of the genres that we’re in; we’re living it.”

Balkun Brothers are a two-man band for the same reason they’re rooted in the blues – necessity and sheer will. “The only club around us in Hartford that would let underage musicians into the open mics,” Nick said, was a blues joint. “If we wanted to play live and get our chops, we had to go there.”

The duo move happened after multiple tries to augment Steve’s guitar and Nick’s drums failed. Bass players either quit from exhaustion or got fired; different combos sputtered. “We had a horn section, other guitar players, we had a five-piece band for a while,” Nick said. “Then we had a bassist on a tour opening for Eric Sardinas, a huge influence of ours. He kept getting drunk every night, and we were like, ‘screw this – we’re just going to be a duo.’”

They’d just been signed to a French blues label, who loved the idea, “because it would be cheaper to put us on tour as a two piece,” Nick said, adding that they faced a few challenges in the new stripped down format. “We both have to play leads now. I have to play a lot more, do more double bass, more stuff that is really full sounding.”

His brother, a certified luthier, got to work. “Steve built himself two custom baritone guitars that have dual outputs so he goes to a bass amp and guitar amp and cranks them up to a million,” Nick said. “I have a drum machine too, so we have some crazy stuff going on onstage. It sounds like at least a three person band.”

Because they’re as honest as they are relentless, some gadgetry is verboten. “We improvise way too much to loop,” Nick said. “The most exciting part of a show for us can be writing songs on stage… we do it all the time, every night. Looping can be awesome, too but it’s just not our thing.”

A new studio album was just completed, produced by Steve Albini, who worked with Nirvana, Fugazi, The Breeders, Iggy and many more. Due for release early next year, it ups the ante for the already intense band. The title track, “Here Comes The End Of The World,” is jet-fueled punk fury at its finest. The other six songs don’t pull any punches either.  

The forthcoming disc was mastered at Third Man Records, and when the two arrived in Detroit to complete it, they were greeted with some news. “Jack White was at the studio, and the producer was like, ‘hey man, just wanted to let you know the boss is here,’” Nick recalled; they’d been double booked.

White  broke the ice by coming over to say hello. “He was super cool, and apologized about interrupting our session with his producer. So we got some magical rock and roll dust sprinkled on the album.”

Balkun Brothers

When: Friday and Saturday, July 12 & 13, 7 p.m.

Where: Cisco Brewers, 35 Corporate Dr, Pease International Tradeport, Portsmouth

More: balkunbrothers.com