Bluphoria Is Doing Rock Music On Its Own Terms
Photo by Jena Yannone
Rock n’ roll has gone through many iterations over the past few decades, and Bluphoria is taking this back to the roots. The Nashville-based band—comprised of Reign LaFreniere (lead vocalist/lead guitarist), Dakota Landrum (rhythm guitar, background vocals), Rex Wolf (bassist and background vocalist), and Dani Janae (drums and background vocals)—was formed in 2019 in Eugene, Oregon. The Gen Z band (whose members are all under age 25) plan to shake up the whitewashed definition of rock with its debut album, out May 5 via EDGEOUT/UME/UMG. Famed producer/mixer Mark Needham ( whose work includes albums and singles for Dolly Parton, Imagine Dragons, The Killers, Walk The Moon, Fleetwood Mac, Pink, Elton John and Stevie Nicks) helped bring their vision to life.
Singles like “Ain't Got Me”, “Walk Through Fire” and “Set Me Up” showcase Bluphoria’s vibrant fusion of ‘60s-born psychedelic rock, ‘00s alternative and purely heartfelt emotion that weaves through impassioned guitar riffs. Ahead of the album release, Bluphoria’s Reign LaFreniere and Dakota Landrum speak to EDITION on the band’s formation, the album recording process and reclaiming rock music as Black music.
How did you all meet each other while in college?
Reign: It was all outside of school. Very, very coincidental. I ran into Dakota at a house show. We were in Oregon so there are not a lot of Black people out there. Like 5% of the entire state. He comes into the party and goes, “Hey, another Black guy!” and that was the introduction. That’s how we started talking and jamming and all that. And then with Rex, I was bored in French class, and he followed me. I was literally just thinking that we need another bassist, like Dakota was playing bass, even though he was a guitarist at the time. Then opened his Instagram, and it was all these Instagram-filtered basses and prom photos. He joined the same day when we asked him to jam. Then Dani interviewed me for a podcast and then joined a band in Oregon. About a year or two later, she joined us.
When you all first decided that you wanted to be a band, was it a seamless transition?
Reign: There was about a good month or so when we were trying to figure it out. I had originally been doing this project, and it was more of a jam, psych-rock, Hendrix-style band. I had to clean it up a little bit. There was a long period of us figuring out what we were gonna sound like. We didn't really get that chance until COVID hit to actually flesh it out, figure out who we were and what kind of music we were gonna make. Once Dani joined the band, I think it took us a month until it seemed seamless and things were rolling.
Dakota: All of our writing was pretty similar. We started pitching new songs, and everybody knew what they would do in it. That was nice.
I would love to know about the band's name. How did you land on Bluphoria?
Reign: I know my bandmates are probably sick of hearing this story. I was with a friend of mine. We had been hanging out, just doing what high school kids do. 18-year-olds experimenting, not diving too deep into what it was. We're hanging out all day, we got back to the house, and he was telling me that he had this crazy name for a band and he’d seen it somewhere. Then, he just said “Bluphoria,” and I thought that’s cool. We had been in a band together and we just couldn't come up with a cool name. He and I were talking about it and I was like “Oh maybe it’ll be good, I don’t know.” Then, I had a dream that night of seeing a billboard that said Bluphoria on it with silhouettes. Then I decided to trust that dream. I woke up that morning and asked him if I could use the band name, and he told me that he wasn't really interested in being in a band much longer, so he agreed.
When I got to Oregon, I first started jamming with people and before they even started playing the instrument, I made it clear that it was not up for discussion. I was going with the name Bluphoria. I gotta make this premonition come true. I'm not taking any chances here. Everyone was, for the most part, down but most people would ask what it meant. Then I'd have to tell him the story.It started carrying a meaning with our songwriting as well. It sounds cheesy, but the feeling of “Bluphoria” is the feeling of being depressed at a party. You're having fun, but you're not happy.
Dakota: Hard to stay present.
Reign: Our songs follow that with very major, upbeat chords, but the lyrics are not as happy as their counterpart.
Photo by Jena Yannone
I mentioned earlier that I thought your music was so nostalgic. You mentioned Jimi Hendrix earlier. I first discovered him when I was in ninth grade when I had this big musical epiphany. I would love to know how you balance paying homage to the inspirations that you really enjoy while not being gimmicky.
Reign: I don't feel like we set out to do anything in particular. My whole thing is I just write the music that comes out.
Dakota: I feel like it's such an ingrained part of us that it's not an homage necessarily, it's more just our personalities coming out into it.
Reign: We definitely were both raised on classic rock. For me, it was Bob Marley, CCR, and Sam Cooke. I have tried so many times to make other genres of music. Trust me, I tried to rap for a little bit, and it was so unnatural. I just couldn't do it. Every time I would sit down and try to write a different genre of music, it just wouldn't come out. It would always end up doing what we're doing now. I just decided that I'm gonna lean into it, and I feel like because of those influences being so prevalent in my life, it’s secondhand too.
This is your debut album, and I know you worked with the incredible Mark Needham. What were some of your favorite moments recording this project?
Reign: Mark is just great, we have a lot of stories. When we first got in, we'd never played to a metronome. There was a whole week of figuring that out. I played Jimi Hendrix's guitar on this recent song that came out, “Columbia.” It was his first guitar and it was crazy. I didn’t mess up once on that. [laughs] I was like, “I gotta be flawless!”
Dakota: Even just getting out here. The driving process, that was a really fun time. Nashville, when we first got here, was such an amazing community. So it really brought it all together.
Reign: The whole feeling of the album was amplified by the fact that we had to cross-country all the way out here.
Dakota: We all bonded off of that.
Reign: Yeah, we had a spiritual experience in Sedona, Arizona. Danny and I got our Tarot read, and this tarot reader flipped out. Both of us were in separate rooms, and both our cards said pretty much the exact same thing. Then, they were like “I’m so excited for you guys. Go make this music, you guys are going to do great.” We didn't even tell them we were musicians. Bringing that energy, I feel like a lot of our songs are road trip music. It's very car-oriented.
If I was on a road trip, it would be the perfect soundtrack music.
Reign: Yeah, and that's when I listen to most of my music, too. Naturally, I’m like, “What would sound good in the car?” Mark also brought this level of wisdom to us in terms of songwriting.
Dakota: He really influenced us creatively. “Set Me Up” was completely changed because he was like, “You got to try as much as you can,” and it came out so much better.
Reign: If we ever started arguing about something, he was like, “Just try it.” If it's bad, it's bad. If it's good, or if it's genius, let's go for it. Being young and inexperienced in a recording studio, it really helped to have a producer that wanted to try everything and go with the best.
How did recording in Nashville inspire the recording of the album?
Reign: I felt pretty inspired all the time. We hung around East Iris Studios most of the time, but all the history there was insane. Prince had recorded there, and there's his soundboard. Classic blues artists had been there. All around it felt like a retreat. It felt like it had the same energy as us going into a cabin and writing an album We were in this entirely new environment.
Dakota: It felt like the only focus was music; everyone was into it.
Reign: Everyone was so supportive.
Dakota: That's what I learned from Nashville, which was nice.
Reign: You don't really get that in Oregon. Even recording in LA, it's a much different energy than being a musician out here. It's not a competition. It's a collaboration.
Dakota: Everybody wants to see everybody get better.
I'm sure you've all heard the phrase “Rock and roll is dying.” What are your thoughts on the current state of rock right now?
Reign: It’s probably because there is a lot of rock music that people just aren't able to hear. It's so underground. The issue is that there's some really good rock music, and if it had the same amount of push that it did back then, they would be classics now. It's a lot about exposure. There are also so many Black rock artists that are coming up right now. It’s not that it’s dead, it’s just sleeping, and we're waking up. We've been to so many cities, just in the last couple of years, and everywhere we go, there's a rock band. There's like a big scene, and something's happening there. I think what we hear on the radio for rock music is pretty good, I just think that it just needs to get its soul back. It needs to take the energy of its roots, in the underground, in the nonpopular rock scene. It needs to get that personality. That’s why I think the genres that are popular right now are doing well, they have personalities behind them. I feel like rock is so tailored right now because it has so much history, and people expect it to carry that history with it. With us, we're not too worried about that. We're just gonna do what’s natural to us.
How would you say Bluphoria is reclaiming rock music as Black music?
Reign: I'd say just by being us. Being a Black man, growing up liking and making rock music, it's a little bit isolating. It’s not expected of you. Most of the time, when you meet somebody and tell them you’re a musician, they instantly assume you’re a rapper or something like that. It's expected from your community as well. I feel that my reclaiming is just by being present, making the music and being proud that I'm doing it. I know that other Black men and women probably see that and get inspired to make that music as well. I've met some people at our shows who have told me they think it's cool that we're doing that. Like I said, we've tried to make rap music. It’s not because that's what came from us, but because that's what was expected of us to make. I also didn't have a lot of people that are alive today, musicians to look up to that make rock music that looked like me. It was only very recently, like Gary Clark, Jr. and Lenny Kravitz, but that's two guys out of so many artists.When I say I just write what comes to me, I feel like that in itself is reclaiming the genre as a whole, as a part of the culture, as part of my identity. I feel like it means something.