I first saw Ryan Alim – front man for local rock act Blind Box – perform this past summer, at Legends in Strathmore. It was an acoustic night, and Ryan just happened to be at the pub, enjoying a drink, when a number of patrons cajoled him into taking the stage. As he reluctantly agreed and made his way up to the front, the crowd erupted in cheers – they’d seen him sing before, and knew what to expect. I, on the other hand, wasn’t quite sure what was in store. After adjusting the mic stand down to suit his shorter frame, Alim – accompanied by nothing but an acoustic guitar – belted out one of the most amazing covers of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” that I’ve ever heard, and completely brought the house down. He only sang one other tune after that, before quickly and shyly bowing his thanks and stepping off the stage to cheers and applause. Don’t ever judge a book by its cover: the small-statured Alim packs one of the biggest voices I’ve ever heard, recorded or live.
Getting the chance to sit down with him almost a month later, Alim gave me some history on Blind Box, and how the band came to be. Moving to Canada from the Philippines in 1998 during his late teens, Alim’s childhood was often tough, and occasionally downright tragic. The youngest in a large family by 10 years, Alim lost his mother to cancer when he was only 9. By the time he was 15, Alim’s next-nearest sibling was 25, and he was pretty much left to his own devices. It was then that he met Harold, a close friend and partner-in-crime who saw in Alim the potential for great things. Together, the two of them pushed each other to embrace their creative artistry, with Harold encouraging Alim to work on his drawing, practice tattooing – starting out with a homemade tattoo gun on his own thumb! – and play music. Sadly, Harold struggled with circulatory issues his whole life, and passed away in 2006, before he was able to join Alim in Canada. However, he had made a deep mark on Alim’s life, who honours his memory today by embracing Harold’s encouragement to follow his passion and pursue music.
Enter Blind Box: a ragtag group of musicians with an uncharacteristic look and talent for days. Why Blind Box? “Because you never what you’re going to get” quips Alim when asked, and it’s true, considering they play a huge range of music varying from heavy metal to rock n’ roll to pretty much anything else you could think of. The band’s lineup has changed a few times, but the current iteration features Alim on vocals; Eric Mendoza – a friend of Alim’s from the Philippines – on guitar; Christian Dallaire – a straight-laced office worker – on drums; and “The Rev” Mike Kruse – who looks as metal as his name implies – on bass. When they all get up on stage, you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next – but, that might just be the point. Catch their show on Oct 14 at Legends Strathmore, and get ready to expect the unexpected with Blind Box.