He's the type of guy who likes to shop at thrift stores, eat at "hole in the wall" restaurants that serve authentic ethnic cuisine, and he's got the coolest pair of sideburns since Elvis. He's the type of musician who knows that the easiest way to win over fans is to write lyrics that they can identify with and back them up with some down and dirty electric guitar licks. His real name is William James McAuley III and he's a Boston native, but prefers using the moniker Bleu in the context of his recording career. The 25-year-old singer/songwriter recently inked a spilt record deal between Chicago's very own Aware Records and major leaguers Columbia Records.
"It's like having the best of both worlds," notes Bleu during a relaxed afternoon conversation prior to his recent opening slot for Japanese rockers Puffy AmiYumi at the Park West. "Chicago is sort of like a second home since Aware is based here. They have such an easy going attitude and focus on individual attention for their artists. Columbia adds the power, money, and resources to the picture to complete the puzzle."
No doubt Chicago fans are already somewhat familiar with Bleu's live show since he's already opened for the likes of Train and John Mayer at the House of Blues, along with a recent headlining gig at Schuba's. It's been that non-stop work ethic and constant touring in support of his independent debut that led him to a series of label offers and a continually developing fan base. "Like every other artist out there, I wanted to get a record deal," admits Bleu. "But there's so much more than that in order to be a musician. You really have to give up yourself to make this a reality. I mean it really cuts into your personal life, but I don't wish it were any different."
From abandoning himself to meeting so many new people along the way, Bleu has etched out several different relationship based scenarios within his songs, first found on the 2000 independent recording Headroom, a project much different from the one he is currently recording. "The first release was very kitchen sinky," he laughs. "I didn't have any boundaries and I looked at each song as a separate entity. On the upcoming project, you'll see more of a sonic landscape, the ability for each song to unite and set a feeling for the record as a whole. I really like the first record because it has a lot of electronics and loops, but feel strongly about paring that down and focusing more on band driven sounds for this record."
Fans of Jellyfish and Semisonic can look forward to Bleu's co-writing time with each of their front men, Andy Sturmer and Dan Wilson respectively, while followers of Evan Dando (The Lemonheads), Ric Ocasek (The Cars) and Elvis Costello will also note the influential nods. Bleu's already featured some new arrangements in concert, like the infectious pop ditty "Could Be Worse," the anti-sellout anthem "Won't Go Hollywood" and a moody analysis of alcoholism "Where Do We Go When the Party Is Over." "My lyrics are generally straightforward because my whole idea with songwriting is to get the point across," he says. "Not many of my lyrics need to be explained and I suppose that's why so many people come up to me after a show and talk about how direct my words were from the stage."
Bleu is optimistic that such an approach, coupled with his onslaught of gritty guitars and his backing band's adrenalized rock and roll back soundscape will clean up the currently depressing state of mainstream pop/rock music. "I think it's pretty obvious that change is coming," Bleu insists. "There's a shift back to more original sounding material that there hasn't been for several years, and hopefully what we've done with this record is make it sound pretty different than the same old trash."