Azalea

Benjamin and Mia, otherwise known as the Hamilton, Ontario, Canadaduo Azalea, came together in fairytale fashion – the sort of romantic tale you only hear about in song. Songs like the ones you can hear on their latest collection, the “Coffee & Kisses EP”. The two came together (and married) over a song, a song they wrote. While I can’t say for sure, a tune resembling this one may reside on “Coffee & Kisses” – a record the twosome call “home grown”.

The couple continued, describing the making of the album: “Most of it was written, recorded and mixed in our home studio. We feel very close to this album as we played every instrument on it except for the drums. This allowed us to have complete creative control over each song and really capture the vision we had for the album.” As stated before, Azalea has knack for capturing romanticism in their music. They say “We like to think of our sound as romantic, young and fresh with whimsical elements throughout... Part of what we believe makes our sound unique is our love for constant harmony.  Vocal harmonies are prevalent in all our songs; it's a feature we won’t go without.”

If you’re up north in Canada, keep an eye out for a live Azalea show, and sample “Coffee & Kisses” for yourself, no matter where you’re sitting right now. There’s a whole bunch more to get into, so keep reading for all the answers to the XXQ’s.          

XXQs: Azalea - Benjamin and Mia

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you stand out over the others in your genre?

Azalea: We like to think of our sound as romantic, young and fresh with whimsical elements throughout. While we may get grouped into the genre of folk/pop and feel we fit there quite nicely, we also feel that we don't sound exactly like any other band. Part of what we believe makes our sound unique is our love for constant harmony.  Vocal harmonies are prevalent in all our songs, it's a feature we wont go without.

PEV: What kind of music where the members of the band into growing up? Do you remember your first concert?

Azalea: Although we didn't grow up together we listened to a lot of the same music. It was the Pop hits of 90's, especially the late 90's that really made an impact on us. Bands and artists such as Goo Goo Dolls, Sarah McLachlan, Bare Naked Ladies, Alanis Morissette, Counting Crows, Sister Hazel, Sheryl Crow, Jann Arden, Amanda Marshall Gin Blossomswere the bands we listened to growing up. As we entered our college years it was bands like Coldplay, Caedmon's Call, The Weepies  Mandy Moore's two releases that continued to inspire us and push us to do what we do today.

Mia: My first concert was a Backstreet Boys concert at the Toronto SkyDome (Rogers Centre). “Oh come on stop laughing, Everyone is allowed to be thirteen once”.

Benjamin: Mine was at Paramount Canada's Wonderland to see Third Day. “I had no one to go with so I went alone. Sad but true, I know.”

PEV: Tell us your take on the music scene in your hometown and what was it like trying to break into it?

Azalea: That's kind of a hard question to answer seeing as we don't originally come from the same home town. Growing up Benjamin moved around a lot and I lived in a suburb west of Toronto. When we started making music together we lived quite far away from each other, so our efforts were focused on getting a gig anywhere we could within the Golden Horseshoe in Southern Ontario. The Golden Horseshoe includes a few major cities, at least a dozen other small, but growing cities and dozens of small towns, so we really had a lot of ground to cover. With so many locations to cover, breaking into one particular music scene was kind of impossible. We learned that every city, suburb, and even community deals with musicians in a really different way. This has totally broadened our knowledge in booking gigs and has been a huge learning experience. Now that we are married and are firmly rooted in Hamilton Ontario, we are now going to focus on creating some local buzz. We are currently getting some air play on CFMU 93.3 FM, a local Hamilton radio station which we feel is definitely a step in the right direction. Hamilton is a city with a diverse and multicultural population. We are still getting to know the music scene, but based on some of the local artists we follow, we are thinking that breaking into this new scene shouldn't be too hard.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Azalea show?

Azalea: We understand that it is a great privilege to have someone take the time to come out to a show, so we always try to provide the most entertaining and interesting show we can. Whether we are working with a full band configuration or we are performing as a duo, we always strive to maintain the integrity of our recorded art. That is why at a live show you can expect to hear a lot of vocal harmonies, live looping, and extended versions of our songs.

PEV: There is an interesting and lovely story about how you came together as a group – a collaboration of dreamers – and what that meeting was like.

Mia: Yes, there is. We actually met at a church we were attending at the time. Before attending this church, I was at another church where there weren't any people my age. So, when I saw Benjamin, I thought “ Finally, a friend!” (later I found out he was thinking the same thing). So one day, at the end of a service I approached him, which is something I would never do. I just never approached guys. But for some reason, I felt relaxed. At that time, I was in my first year at York University in the music program and I had just seen him perform a few songs with his guitar. So, I think having that musical link is what made me able to approach him. Anyway, we chatted for a while that day, and over time, week and after, we got to know each other. We became really good, no, best friends, in a matter of months. We hung out together a lot, we went to movies, theme parks, shared musical interests, the whole thing. One day, a friend asked us to sing a song for an event, and instead of learning a cover, we decided to write a song together. The funny thing is, neither of us were ever able to write a complete a song on our own. We both tried starting but never could finish. Then one fateful day in Benjamin's basement, after 14 hours of work, tears and laughter...there it was...our first song!

Azalea: From then on, our love for music grew together. The more we got to know each other, the more we saw we had the same dreams and ideals for life. As our songs grew, so did our love. It was at this point, we knew making music together would be our life path. We wrote and recorded our first album under the name Benjamin & Mia, and every step of that project showed both of us how much we loved making music together and how much we truly love each other.  Since then, we changed our band name to Azalea, got married, and have put our entire heart & soul into nurturing the craft that that allows us to communicate our heart and vision to the world.

PEV: Having both been in other bands before how is playing with Azalea different then those other people you may have played with?

Azalea: Nothing really compares to writing, recording, and performing with your spouse. How could it? We have so much history and depth, from which to stand on and draw from when it comes to writing a song or performing a tight set. Our lives are connected on every level so our art and performances just become an extension of who we are and how we view life together. When we were playing with other bands, it was always a fun and useful experience but we never had that same connection, and that makes the biggest difference.

PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your music? Where do get your best ideas for songs?

Azalea: For lack of a better answer, life. Everything we write about is taken from something that has either happened to us or someone we know. So much happens from one day to the next and we learn from every experience. So that's what we do! We write about life, from our perspective, whether it is how we see things, do things or wish things could be. We are optimistic, we are dreamers and we think no dream or battle should go down without a fight. Life isn't always easy, but it also doesn't have to be so hard. This is why we often find ourselves writing about overcoming fear, or an obstacle, or just following your dreams no matter the cost. A lot of the music we listen to has inspired us to live this way. We hope to continue making music with the same objectives, so we too can be an inspiration. Our ideas for songs come from the desire to influence others. One day we may encounter something that sparks an interesting conversation, and the next day we write a song about it, hoping to shed some light in that direction.

PEV: Thinking back to when you first started out do you ever look back at your career and think about your earlier days and how you’ve arrived where you are today?

Azalea: Yes we do. All the time! But we are definitely not stopping here. It is quite amazing to see how far we  have come and how much we have learned along the way. However, we know there is more to learn and so much more waiting for us around the corner. Every day brings an exiting new challenge and we hope to complete each one successfully. The most important thing we know, is that we want to do this forever.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of Azalea?

Benjamin: I have always been very athletic and in grade nine I took a class called, “Circus”. It involved everything from acrobatics and stilt walking to creating human pyramids. Anyway, as it turns out I can walk on my hands for pretty much as long as I want, or until my arms get too tired to hold me.

Mia: I am a pretty good cook. My mom is Serbian and my dad is Italian and food is a big part of both of those cultures. I grew up eating great food and I always wanted to learn to cook. Ever since I have started cooking, I have been  getting a lot of compliments which encourages me to keep cooking. I truly do love making good food!

PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a goal for you?

Azalea: Towards the end of our high school years we both came to realize that our biggest motivator and inspiration in life was the music we listened to. Being creative people at heart, we developed the desire to create music that would inspire and impact the lives of others the same way our musical heroes did for us.

PEV: Tell us about your debut release, “Coffee & Kisses EP”. What can fans expect from this?

Azalea: I guess you could call Coffee & Kisses EP a home grown album. Most of it was written, recorded and mixed in our home studio. We feel very close to this album as we played every instrument on it except for the drums. This allowed us to have complete creative control over each song and really capture the vision we had for the album. Fans can expect to hear playful arrangements, thoughtful lyrics, and artsy harmonies.  

PEV: How is life on the road for you in the music world? Best and worst parts?

Azalea: Best part: Most musicians aren't in a band with their spouse and they have to take road trips and do tours without their family. That isn't the case for us. We get to be together all the time. That is truly what we love the most. We never have to be apart.

Worst part: We really haven't encountered too much “bad stuff”. But if there is one thing we could pick out, it would have to be packing, unpacking, setting up, and breaking down all our gear for our shows. We have a system, and it works, but it can be really exhausting.

PEV: Is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?

Azalea: Nashville, Tennessee. That would be our biggest dream come true.

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career? What’s it like when you get to play at your hometown?

Azalea: We live relatively close to our families so they often get the opportunity to come to our shows. They are very supportive of our career and are always looking for ways to help us do what we do. We also have the greatest group of close friends. As it turns out, most of them are musicians themselves and this has proved to be a great asset when booking shows. We often do double or even triple billings with our friends.

PEV: What can we find each of you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?

Azalea: We enjoy watching Grey's Anatomy, Castle, Fringe, and countless re-runs of That 70's Show. Also, we are both homebodies. So we take any chance we get to have our friends or family over for a meal or to just hang out over coffee. We also like to see live music every so often because it keeps us motivated and inspires us to continue doing what we do.  

PEV: Name one present and past artist or group that would be your dream collaboration? Why?

Azalea: Ever since we discovered Caedmon's Call they have been the band we look to for musical and life inspiration. They are constantly surprising us musically and lyrically. We would love to sit down with them and see just how they get things done. If we could travel back in time we would most certainly love to sit in on a song-writing session with The Beatles.

PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?

Azalea: We have been following Jacob Moon (a Hamilton local) for quite a few years now. Since seeing him for the first time in 2005 he has made quite a name for himself. He is extremely creative, immensely talented, and from what we can see very hard working. His recordings keep getting better and his live shows are nothing short of entertaining.

PEV: If you weren’t playing music now what do you think each of your careers would be?

Azalea: Despite the fact that both of us can't really imagine doing anything else, we can tell you some other career paths we once considered.

Mia: I think I could have gone into acting as I was very involved in drama and theatre when I was high-school and I do enjoy being on stage.  The only other profession I can possibly think of would be make-up artistry. I had a part time job in high-school working for the boutique part of a drug store and it totally turned me into a make-up and skin care junkie.

Benjamin: Before going to college to study music I considered the possibility of becoming a doctor, teacher, or working in the film industry. The one thing I knew was that I had to do something that would impact the lives of others.

PEV: So, what is next for Azalea?

Azalea: Right now, we are focused on continuing to perform and spread the news about our album Coffee & Kisses EP.  This definitely means more shows to come for Azalea. You can also catch our songs on CFMU 93.3 in Hamilton, Ontario. Plus, there are also so many new musical opportunities for us to explore so hopefully you will hear us at your local music festival, in a quirky commercial or on your favorite TV show. You can also find out more about us and hear some of our music at these websites.

For information on Azalea, check out www.AzaleaMusic.net and www.myspace.com/AzaleaMusic

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