A different kind of ‘Blues Brothers’

Steve and Nick Balkun never intended to be a music industry sibling act. “We were always in other bands when we were teenagers, but we never really expected to be in a band together,” Nick says. 

But as they transitioned into young adulthood, older brother and guitarist Steve and younger brother and drummer Nick found themselves working together as part of collaborative music efforts with other liked-minded rockers from their hometown of Hartford. Fellow bandmates came and went, and by 2010 the brothers became the last men standing in their group.

“That’s when we became a full-time power duo,” Nick adds.

Today, the Balkun Brothers are one of the most corybantic forces of energy in the indie music scene, offering an innovative blast of classic psychedelic rock, old-school blues and a contemporary riff on jam-funk. Regionally, they earned the Best Rock Band in New England honors at the 2017 New England Music Awards and snagged the Best Blues Band in Connecticut title from 2013 through 2016 in the Connecticut Music Awards. 

And it would not be an exaggeration to anoint them as the hardest working men in today’s music industry, headlining concerts that have been known to last up to five hours at venues across North America and Europe. “We do more than 200 shows a year,” Nick says during a telephone interview conducted with WAG while the pair were in transit to a North Carolina engagement. “We are pretty much traveling all the time.”

Unlike contemporary rock music that often seems too safe and bland for its own good, the Balkun Brothers get their inspiration from a wild gumbo of barrier-shattering music genres. Their formative years were spent listening to records featuring blues icons Son House, Johnny Winter, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, but they also found time to plug into the different planes of the rock experience, absorbing the 1960s artistry of The Doors and the 1980s energy that emerged with the heavy metal bad boys of Mötley Crüe and the funk-fused sounds of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. 

With such eclectic musical cross-pollination feeding their inspiration, who is the audience for a Balkun Brothers show?

“We have wide range of fans,” says Steve, taking the phone from his brother while the duo was on the road in North Carolina. “Little kids who are 2 years old and 90-year-old grandmothers who love our stuff. The teens and college crowd like us. We came up in the blues scene, so that tends to bring in an older crowd. And old school rock ’n’ roll fans are with us.”

The brothers’ fans cross borders, too. The pair played gigs to enthusiastic crowds in France, Germany and the Netherlands last year and Belgium this year, and they’ve received fan mail and record sales from countries where they’ve never set foot, including Australia and Japan. Nick credits social media with connecting their music to far-flung audiences.

“I don’t know how they know about us, but the internet is a crazy place,” Nick says with a laugh.

Traditionally, sibling acts in the music world have been known to experience seismic ups and downs: The Everly Brothers famously split up for a decade after Phil Everly walked offstage during a concert saying, “I’m tired of being an Everly brother,” and the Jacksons dealt with internal difficulties after Michael Jackson’s solo endeavors took him to superstardom. More recently, the Jonas Brothers eagerly parted company after eight successful years together in order to pursue individual career identities.

But that has not been the case with the Balkun Brothers. Their musical odyssey often takes on a family dimension.

“Sometimes our dad is a roadie for us,” Nick says. “And our mom sometimes makes our onstage attire or will check out what we are wearing.”

Also on the road with the brothers is Steve’s wife, Sara, with whom he is celebrating his second anniversary. “She’s been a supporter since day one,” Steve says. “It definitely wouldn’t work out if she did not approve. She loves rock ’n’ roll and I definitely would not have married a woman who was not down with rock ’n’ roll.”

To date, the Balkun Brothers have released two albums — their independently produced 2015 offering “ReDrova,” which charted at number one on the Roots Music Report Blues-Rock album charts and was number five on the Roots Music Report overall Blues charts, and the 2017 “Devil on TV,” released on the Dixiefrog label. As their 2018 touring slate begins to wind down, the brothers are planning to spend more time in the recording studio.

“We have a lot of new material,” Nick says, adding that they have booked the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis and the Electrical Audio studios in Chicago for recording their yet-to-be-titled 2019 album.

Still, the lure of the road and the adulation from live audiences will ensure the Balkun Brothers will stay front and center in the coming year.

“Playing live is the name of the game,” Nick says.

Adds Steve, “We try to connect with people on a real, organic basis. We try and at every show, we give 110 percent.”

For more, visit balkunbrothers.com.

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