Platinum Blonde say world needs rock stars
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TORONTO - Platinum Blonde frontman Mark Holmes doesn't have much time for false modesty.
He's not shy about pointing out the multitude of modern bands he feels share DNA with his new-wave outfit, including Phoenix, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Killers. He also isn't afraid of boasting about the state of the newly reformed Platinum Blonde — back with a new album and live dates after a two-decade layoff — as not only still relevant, but in fact "vital."
And as the band begins returning to stages across Canada, he's certainly not going to apologize for summoning the same rock-star swagger that helped his Toronto band pack arenas in its '80s heyday. Holmes, who owns Toronto's trendy Mod Club, says that attitude is all too absent from most modern rock.
"A little while ago, I commented on a show I'd seen at the club, that the band looks like the audience and the audience looks like the band — checkered shirts, beards. I thought, really, no one's getting bored of this yet?" Holmes said in a recent interview in the office of his club.
"I thought, where are the rock stars? We need some rock stars.... We're rock stars. We're not the people next door, or down the street, or off the block.
"We're rock stars. The people coming to see us deserve to see something that is not part of their general life."
On this day, Holmes certainly looks the part. Clad in a sleeveless hoodie, jeans and flip flops, his hair dark but strategically dishevelled with sunglasses fastened to his face even inside his darkened club, Holmes is friendly and serene as a team furiously prepares his venue for an evening concert.
Yet as he celebrates his group's penchant for rock-star excess, he also says it was a major cause of their breakup. To hear Holmes tell it, during the band's 1984-88 peak — when they piled up platinum trophies like empty hair-dye bottles thanks to hits including "Crying Over You," "Not in Love" and "Situation Critical" — they also managed to amass a formidable group of enemies.
"When we went on a bit of a holiday ... the climate around the band wasn't the most healthy one," he said. "The industry was fed up with our hijinks. The thing is, Canada sometimes, especially back then, wasn't exactly accepting of people who actually were rock stars and did follow that mantra.
"We had a lot of enemies. People in the industry didn't like us. They thought we were just spoiled brats... 'They're not brilliant. They don't deserve what they have.'
"Time goes by and people get different opinions, of course," he added. "I disliked disco when it was out and then after giving it a little listen, say, 'Oh, it was kind of fun.'"
A Platinum Blonde reunion has actually been a long time in the making. It was an idea floated between the principal members of the group throughout the last decade, but Holmes was wary.
It was the band's bassist, Kenny MacLean, who changed his mind. Holmes says MacLean had been adamant about the potential of a reunion for a long time, and Holmes gradually warmed to the idea.
The reformation was really gaining steam in November 2008 when MacLean asked Holmes to attend the release party for a new solo disc he was putting out. He was hoping the pair would sing a few classic tracks together. Holmes agreed, and said MacLean was thrilled by the collaboration.
"He was full of beans that night. He was so excited. We shook hands afterwards, said goodbye, and I said I'll see you on Monday."
Just hours later, MacLean died from a heart issue.
"It took a while to recover from that," Holmes said softly. "But once the clouds started dissipating slightly, in the clear blue sky was the satellite, and it said: 'Carry on. You've gotta keep this going.'"
"His fingerprints are all over this," he added of MacLean. "He may not have been writing or doing those backing vocals, but when I think of backing vocals, I think of him. Close my eyes, think what would he do? I try to do it."
The band's new lineup, in fact, only features two original members — Holmes with guitarist Sergio Galli — because former drummer Chris Steffler, who joined the group for a reunion gig in June, suffers from the chronic ear condition tinnitus and couldn't continue playing live.
Their new album, "Now & Never," drops Tuesday — Holmes, in fact, says he wouldn't have brought the band back together without accompanying new material. And he's not sure the appetite for new Platinum Blonde music would exist if the band hadn't gone away in the first place.
"So many bands fight the fact that their popularity's waning, and the musical climate isn't right for them," he said. "Instead of us being stuck doing that, we said, that's it. We'll go on holiday. Come back when things are nicer. Hopefully a nicer climate, less cold, less frigid.
"And a lot of bands don't realize that. And they flog it to death and all of a sudden their worth, it just goes down. It's tough to see."
The new record finds the group grafting electronic textures to their familiar blend of dancefloor-friendly new wave.
Holmes, who has spent Platinum Blonde's break building his bona fides as a DJ, didn't feel much change was needed to bring Platinum Blonde's sound into the 21st century.
"Due to the musical climate of the day, it's already relevant," he said.
"Whenever you take indie rock and dance music, electronics, and you put it together, more than likely the results will be something similar to Platinum Blonde. Every time. It just is."
As evidence of the band's enduring relevance, he points to the remix of "Not in Love" performed by Toronto electronic duo Crystal Castles and Cure frontman Robert Smith, a critically acclaimed hit that introduced many younger fans to the group.
"It was just such a big hit, and for all around the world, people are just asking questions about Platinum Blonde," he said.
"This generation deserves their own version of Platinum Blonde, just as other generations deserved their version."
So far, Holmes is ecstatic about how the reunion has progressed. As he describes the thrill of hearing a young crowd echo his lyrics back to him at a recent gig, he shivers and points out the "goosepimples" running down his tanned forearm.
While he's rarely at a loss for ambition, he says "Now & Never" won't need to break sales records to become a success in his eyes.
"Last week when I watched everybody singing (along)? I don't know what more I could ask for."
In Focus: Richard Crouse