They've already caused a sensation overseas, and now the British trio BBMak are bringing their potent blend of pitch-perfect harmonies and guitar-fueled pop songs to U.S. shores with their self-titled Hollywood Records debut album. For Mark Barry, Christian Burns, and Ste McNally, taking their music across the Atlantic is the culmination of a dream that's been alive since the group first got together four years ago.
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They may be young, good-looking guys who play music, but in the true sense of the term, BBMak are far from a boy band. They write much of their own music, play instruments, produce their songs, and don't do any synchronized dancing. In fact, there's pretty much nothing about their career that BBMak aren't involved in. "When you hear BBMak, what you're hearing is actually our personalities. It's not a record company's ideas. It's actually us that comes out in the melodies, the lyrics, and the production," explains Christian.
That's not idle talk for the group, who met each other while playing with different bands on the Northwest England music circuit. What started as casual jamming together turned into the more serious thought of actually forming a band. "We thought each other's qualities were strong enough to take things to the next level," Christian recalls. "We started writing some songs and we were happy with how they were turning out. We thought, 'Let's just go for it.'"
Ste (short for Steven) adds that their "all-for-one" philosophy is what's always driven BBMak. "We wouldn't be BBMak if there were a leader," he explains. "That's how we work -- it's a three-way decision all the time. If one of us doesn't like it, we don't go with that decision unless it's unanimous. That's for anything -- whether it be writing songs or whatever."
One unanimous decision was how to go about getting a record deal. Rather than sitting around waiting to get discovered, they took their DIY attitude to the streets. First they pooled their resources together and recorded a demo. But rather than send out a slew of demos to random record companies who would heap them together with thousands of other CDs, they went straight to the source: Armed with a guitar and their voices, they traveled to London and sang outside a host of major record companies. "We busked until we got someone's attention. And we got enough attention to create a bit of a buzz in the industry," says Christian. "Then we put our own show on in Liverpool and we invited them up to see us. Just before we went onstage, we looked out and every single A&R guy from every record company in the country was at our gig."
After that, a bidding war for BBMak began. The group's sound, which seamlessly blends rock, pop, and soul, is unique. Rather than follow a strict formula of danceable pop or heart-wrenching R&B ballads, the lads set out to create their own style. "The influence for me is soul, Christian's more of the pop side, and Ste's got the rock side. So with the three of us together, you get the soul with the harmonies, the rock with the production, and the pop with the melodies," Mark explains. "It's a good mixture."
And it wasn't just the band who were confident about their talent. Instantly, BBMak were signing on the dotted line for a label deal. Before long, they were in the studio recording songs like "Back Here," a single that blew up on the U.K. charts and even went No. 1 in Japan. One listen to it and it's clear why it was an instant hit: It's about as catchy as they come. The acoustic guitar-laced ballad has a righteous fusion of soft rock and harmony-filled pop, a killer chorus, and a sweetly romantic vibe.
Much of BBMak's music revolves around the universal subject of love: Lost love, found love, and love that's out of reach. "I think love is a subject that everyone can relate to so that's what we write most about," Ste says. "Most of our songs are either happy love songs or sad love songs." From songs about holding on to those who are close to you ("Still on Your Side") to visceral tunes that express the feverish emotions love brings on ("Again"), BBMak have a knack for writing stories set to music that come straight from the heart. They've got soul (listen to the incredible soaring vocals on "I Can Tell") but they also rock, like on "I Can't Say," whose jangling countrified guitar licks bring the tune home.
It's no surprise to Christian, Mark, or Ste that they're making music their lives. Christian, for one, seems destined for it. His dad was a guitarist in a British band called the Signs who opened for the Beatles during their early years. When he was 14 years old, this native of Wigan, England, decided to follow in his father's footsteps and strapped on a guitar. "That was it," Christian says. "I never really put it down." As BBMak's rhythm guitarist, he brings influences as diverse as the Beatles, the Eagles, and Billy Joel to the mix.
The group member who would seem least likely to be singing for a living is Ste, who hails from the Fab Four's hometown of Liverpool. As a teen, he jammed on his guitar for a band that specialized in Guns 'n' Roses tunes. At home, he fantasized about music stardom while listening to classic rockers like Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. "I had no dreams of being a singer. I always wanted to be a guitarist," he recalls. "But when I met Mark and Christian, they were encouraging me to sing." Now, he sings and plays lead guitar for BBMak. And it's Ste who came up with the group's catchy name. "I just took the initials from our names and that's how I came up with it," he adds. "It's like, Burns, Barry, and McNally-you can't explain us any better."
Mark, who was born and raised in Manchester, got his musical start playing the bagpipes. When he was 10 years old he picked up the pipes and went on to become "four times English champion as a solo piper." And his love for the traditional instrument was matched by his passion for singing. "I've always sung -- ever since a young age I've always been singing in the house. To be in a band was a dream. I was just lucky to bump into Christian and Ste and form BBMak." The group's resident soul man, Mark cites musical idols like Donnie Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson 5 as inspirations. As for his musical contribution to BBMak, you can hear Mark playing the Irish whistle on the atmospheric ballad "Again." And who knows, the bagpipes might just get incorporated into their sound yet.
It seems like just a matter of time before BBMak makes their mark in the crowded pop field. The group has already established a solid fan base in all corners of the world. And with their debut album, they're on the cusp of earning a whole new legion of admirers. With solid talent, determination, and a lot of brotherly support in the band, BBMak is on their way. At the end of the day, what really matters to the guys is making things happen on their terms. "I just love the fact that I can write songs with the guys and go onstage and perform," says Ste. "To get the chance to do that as my job, it's the best thing in the world."
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