Being two smart guys who studied at Rutgers, James Dean Wells and Quinn English are perfectly aware of how they come across as rock duo The Gay Blades, often labeled and described as sarcastic and sardonic. But that doesn’t make it right.
“It’s a matter of framing. When you name your band The Gay Blades and have songs like ‘Robots Can Fuck Your Shit Up,’ it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is or what you are playing or what you are saying — that’s what people are going to see, but I’m OK with that,” Wells said. “Our personalities are cheeky and sarcastic, but we are both very thoughtful and articulate as we can be. When people get into the records, they get past that bombastic forefront.”
The serious, honest tunes have sometimes gotten lost underneath the sassy song titles and theatrics, but they have been there since the pair’s unanticipated career in music first blossomed three years ago. Wells and English first met working at a traveling flea market and had given two previous bands a try before settling into The Gay Blades as a duo.
The intentions were different then; Wells admitted their shows were more about entertaining themselves than others, really, before it unexpectedly started catching on with crowds.
“It was a glorified art project. We dressed up, wore masks, didn’t speak at all during shows. We had given up on the other bands, and decided to go ahead and get real jobs and had this as a little gag, a sort of rock opera,” he said. “But it built up steam, and after a while and playing so much, the theatrics got difficult, and we brought it to a different level.”
The gimmicks gave way to more straightforward, accessible rock tracks, and high-energy performances followed. Borrowing from a spectrum broad enough to tie Adam Ant and Elvis Costello to Weezer and MGMT, a seriously good style was forged.
The Gay Blades toured about two full years behind their debut record, “Ghosts,” before taking a break to record a follow-up. A number of potentially sobering live events — exhaustion, family issues and Wells’ brother’s passing — gave the pair scope, but didn’t dampen the mood.
“It probably has that darker tone, but we tried to offset that with some different instrumentation: trumpets and stuff like that,” Wells said. “A lot of it had to do with personal experiences, but we were aware of all these things going on and how it could affect our music, so we were trying to sculpt it so that it still felt like a Gay Blades record.”
Besides changing the title from “Bastards” to “Savages,” little else changed. It’s since been praised as a mature, but still true sophomore effort. The two now play with honesty and perspective of profound loss at their backs, but fun, entertainment and a touch of sarcasm are there, too.
“You go with your gut; you write what you know,” Wells said. “We had a bigger production with this record, but it comes from the same place it ever has, those songs that never left you growing up. We don’t follow a trend; we just write what feels right, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.”