Toronto-based garage rock/synth-pop quartet Neon Bloom is a unique blending of musical styles, creative influences and wonderfully diverse personalities. Combining the talents of veteran musicians/recording artists Jen Simpson (lead vocals), bassist/guitarist Fred Yurichuk, guitarist/keyboardist Simon Chow and drummer/keyboardist Chris Romano, Neon Bloom has already staked a claim as one of the most innovative and energetic live bands on the Toronto scene, by invoking their collective experience as live performers, and a dedicated sense of professionalism and passion for their craft.
Formed three years ago, the story behind their origin may not seem to be out of the ordinary on first examination. But dig a little deeper and you realize that the back story gives great meaning to so many aspects of the band, from their energetic stage shows, to their overall look and creative aesthetic, their dedication to their craft, and especially Simpson’s powerful lyrical creations. More importantly, the story behind the story is why each band member is so committed to one another, and to their collective musical enterprise, and why they approach life and music with such joyful abandon.
Simpson and Yurichuk met through a musicians’ ‘matchmaking’ website and began jamming together in 2017. Realizing they had a lot on common career-wise, and in the sort of music they wished to create, the pair sought out players to round out the lineup, eventually landing upon Chow and then Romano. Simpson had spent time playing with Toronto-based all-girl punk band Machetes in the first decade of the new millennium. That band was managed by Roger O’Donnell, the Cure’s keyboard player, and toured North America and the U.K. before breaking up in 2009. She then moved on to a project with her then-husband based out of New York City. Yurichuk toured Canada, Asia and South America with the band Girl + The Machine, one of many bands that he has toiled with over more than two decades in the music business. These two experienced and savvy musicians knew what they were looking for in bandmates and found them in both Chow and Romano, who were also experienced players on the local scene.
“It just felt natural. And we actually wrote a song that would appear on our first EP pretty quickly because we connected so well. We had auditioned other people and considered other people, but Simon and Chris were the right fit. You just know. It’s like any sort of relationship, you just know if it’s going to work,” said Yurichuk.
So far, a pretty normal story of a band coming together. But there is so much more of a compelling and inspirational tale to tell. A little over a decade ago, Simpson was suddenly struck down with epilepsy. At its worst in the early days, she was bed-ridden, needing constant care, enduring six major seizures a day. It meant giving up everything, including her modelling and music careers. After years of searching for help, she was finally able to have a treatment plan put in place, and by her own reckoning, has 90 percent fewer seizures than she had at the worst stages of the illness.
Even though she still struggles with her health, and has had seizures both in rehearsals and onstage during shows, she is undaunted in her commitment to Neon Bloom, to creating and performing music and entertaining audiences. The audience often knows this back story and Simpson said she sometimes speaks with people after shows who say they feel inspired by her bold and badass approach to life – not letting her chronic condition impinge on her zest for life or creative spark.
“At the time, when I got sick, it was super strange to be an adult and be that debilitated and go through something like that. But, for me, it’s a big part of how I write lyrics, and why I write lyrics and how I see the world. And it impacts the performances. Every show for me is a celebration. There was a time when I was scared, and sick and penniless. I lost my husband and had to move back to Toronto and now I just want to celebrate how far I have come and how amazing it is to be in this band with these guys. Every show is the best feeling ever” said Simpson,
who credits her experience in modelling for her command of stages and ability to connect with audiences.
“I think it’s cool for people to be aware of because I think it can be encouraging for people with an illness or something extra that they have to deal with to see me doing all that I do and enjoying life so much. After 10 years of trying to figure it out, I now have it pretty much under control, and that’s why I have been able to have a band again, and even go back to school in my 30s and have a full life again.”
Her bandmates have learned how to help her through her seizures and are continually amazed at Simpson’s courage, resolve and unwavering commitment to do what she loves – to sing, to write and to perform music with pure joy and an almost reckless abandon.
Neon Bloom’s first official release, and EP called First Fever, was produced by Rob Sanzo and came out in late 2018. Both it, and newer material the band is working on demonstrate an excellence in composition and a wonderful blending of the band’s influences. Lighten Up, the first single Neon Bloom released (August 16, 2019) highlights the more alternative, garage-rock feel of the band. The song itself is indicative of Neon Bloom’s style of melding upbeat, rockin’ rythyms with lyrics that have depth of meaning and which are definitely thought provoking.
“Lyrically, I tend to write songs that are very emotional or very sarcastic. I range anywhere from pure emotion about bad experiences in life as a kind of therapy, to bratty, punky lyrics. Lighten Up sounds like this almost silly, fun song, but it’s actually about sexual assault and unwanted advances. It’s from thinking about the women in my life and the different situations we’re in and having to be cognizant of your surroundings and what’s going on, and the things you have to deal with in interactions with men and all the creepy things guys say. And then when you get offended or whatever you’re told to ‘lighten up‘” Simpson explained.
Footage for the video for Lighten Up was shot during the band’s tour of Taiwan and meshes live performance clips, with shots of scenery and the band members cavorting around for the camera. “We were travelling on a shoestring budget, and I brought one of my cameras along” said Yurichuk, who is a video producer and media arts teacher by day.
“We shot everything: when we were on the train, when we hired a driver, when we were in our backpackers’ hostel the camera was rolling all the time. At shows, we would find someone to hold the camera or put it on a tripod. When we got home, we had this whole mountain of footage and just sifted through it and thought it was a great idea.”
The experience and drive of the members of Neon Bloom has meant they have taken pretty much every aspect of their career as a band and brought it in-house. With experience in booking and arranging the logistics of travel, Neon Bloom has book three significant tours on their own: one of Canada, one in Taiwan (where they also played at the prestigious Spring Scream Festival), and more recently a tour of the Czech Republic and neighbouring European countries.
The video for “It’s A Crime” was shot while Neon Bloom was on tour in Prague in the Spring of 2019. Says bassist Fred Yurichuk,
“We spent several days running around the city and sight-seeing, while simultaneously choreographing fight scenes and filming them. Since the scenes were shot in public, many concerned onlookers would stop as soon as they saw three men fighting one woman in a frenzied fashion. There were some concerns expressed, but once they saw the camera, people would get into it and start clapping at the end when Jen would beat everyone up”.
To the band’s delight, the singles and videos for Neon Bloom’s last two releases, “Lighten Up” and “It’s A Crime”, were well received by media and radio alike. Alan Cross picked both songs as his Undiscovered Gem of the Week, featuring them on his Edge 102 Radio Show. The songs have also been featured on Sirius XM Radio’s The Verge on their “One’s To Watch” playlist, as well as being added to CBC Radio 3, 91XFM Alternative Radio (Indie Song of the Day), 94.9 The Rock, Stingray Rock Alternative, and Indie 88, with a live performance on CHCH TV’s “Music Friday”. Their music videos have been featured on both Stingray Digital’s LOUD and NOW 4K video channels. The band also received positive reviews and features by Global News (Alan Cross’ Weekly Picks: August 23, 2019 & January 17,2020), Montreal Rocks, Disarm Magazine, some party.ca, FYI Music News Digest, tinnitist.com, Canadian Beats, Dropout Entertainment, Addicted Magazine, Music Life Magazine, From The Strait, The Reviews Are In, The Rock Source Magazine, Bucketlist Music Reviews, and more. In 2020, the band also partnered with Epilepsy Toronto (https://epilepsytoronto.org/) for an awareness campaign, and continues to bring awareness to this often misunderstood neurological condition. The band is now set to release Still Life, a 4 song EP that was conceived, written, and recorded during the initial COVID19 Quarantine period. With Simpson’s fortitude as a shining example of passion and drive overcoming great obstacles, Neon Bloom is a band that has a profound and deep appreciation for the opportunity they have to write, record, perform, and bring their potently positive energy to audiences. The purity of their motivations as artists is as inspiring as the story. But it’s the output of their effort and dedication that is most compelling.