Frankly, it’s rare that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When those parts contain members of Woods and Vivian Girls, your expectations are high. But the newest record from The Babies, easily made our Top Ten Albums of 2012, because it’s “parts” created a record that exceeded the lofty expectations that had been placed upon it. After their first full length album on Shrimper Records, a demos EP on New Images, and scores of singles on U.S. and international record labels, The Babies second album, Our House On The Hill is their Woodsist Records debut and the first with new bassist, Brian Schleyer.
While the band was originally conceived as a side-project outlet for Kevin Morby (Woods) and Cassie Ramone (Vivian Girls) to trade song ideas and play house parties, 2011 saw the project grow into a full time affair. The band spent much of the year touring the U.S. and abroad, all the while writing new material, both in their home of Brooklyn and during a two-month break in Los Angeles.
In February 2012, the band swapped their usual environs of Brooklyn’s Rear House recording studio and spent two weeks in Los Angeles working with Producer Rob Barbato (Darker My Love, The Fall, Cass McCombs). The increased time and focus allowed them to explore musical directions only hinted at on their first album. Thus, Our House On The Hill features hushed dirges, melancholic traveling odes and squealing rave-ups, all made cohesive by Kevin and Cassie’s captivating songwriting and lyrical themes. The album embodies what was great about 60′s surf/garage rock, while adding a complexity and depth that would make Steve Malkmus (or John Waite) drool.
Todd talked to Cassie about the evolution of the bands sound and the travails of touring endlessly.
Todd: Alright, you’re four years into this band now. How has the process of writing and recording changed for you, as a group?
Cassie: At first our whole thing was really casual, an excuse to hang out and jam and play some shows. It’s a little more serious now.
Todd: Were there things that you were trying to achieve artistically or sonically that were different than the first album?
Cassie: Generally I think we wanted an album that was more cohesive. Our first record was recorded over two years in little spurts, and we wanted to do basically the opposite – get it done in a few weeks and spend all our time there working on it.
Todd: How much did working with Rob Barbato impact the sound of the record? Did he get involved in song structure, which amps you were using or was he there purely to record the music?
Cassie: He definitely filled the “producer” role. We did all the song structuring ourselves, but he had a lot of ideas that ended up strengthening the songs – like tweaking a bass line, adding a harmony or a piano flourish. Without his help I don’t think the songs would have been as good on record. He also had a lot to do with the amps and effects pedals we used, but ultimately it was up to our own tastes whether we liked it or not. For example, I wanted my guitar tone to sound very similar to the way it is live, and I think Rob made it sound that way but better.
Todd: I heard an interview where you suggested that the media needs to stop referring to The Babies as a “side-project”. Does this mean, this is your “full-time” band now or will you all go back to your other bands at some point next year?
Cassie: That’s not really how either me or Kevin see it. It’s like, the priority is what’s in the present, so right now it is the Babies because we have just released our album and are touring, but the priority could shift at any time, and then shift back again. I don’t like to publicly project too much into the future because plans change. Essentially what I’m saying is that anything could happen, but for the time being The Babies is what we’re spending our time focusing on.
Todd: Is there any friendly competition between yourselves and the members of the other bands you’ve played in? Trash talking on the road?
Cassie: Haha, that is a loaded question!
Todd: I’m always interested by bands that have different people sharing lead vocal duties. Do you and Kevin generally write separately and then decide what to use for the album?
Cassie: It really depends. Kevin writes more than I do, but we also collaborate a lot. Before we started recording this album we had a ton of songs we were working on, and then it got narrowed down to like 17 that we recorded, and then 12 of them made the cut for the LP. We made that decision after everything was recorded though, seeing what sounded good next to each other and which recordings did the songs the most justice.
Todd: I love the My Name single. How did that song come to be and why not include it on Our House on the Hill?
Cassie: “My Name” is one of our earliest songs – we recorded it with the same sessions as our first album. It came to be released because our friend in England really liked it and made the offer to do a 7″. We didn’t include it on Our House On The Hill because it was recorded so long ago and we wanted the record to be a whole new thing.
Todd: I was reviewing your tour schedule and you haven’t had a day off since Thanksgiving! Yikes? You ok? What do you need your fans to bring to the shows, to help combat road fatigue?
Cassie: Thanks for asking! I generally do well on the road. I consider myself somewhat of a “road warrior.” On this tour I got really sick right around Thanksgiving, though. I think it was these vitamins I took that made my insides feel like they were covered in moss, and I was sick for a few days. That was pretty bad. But usually I’m very adaptable to the circumstances and just feel lucky that I get to travel so much!
Todd: Seriously, how do you motivate yourself to put on a good show, after playing so many dates in a row? And is it hard to go from playing sets in front of bigger crowds and then have those occasional nights where there aren’t a ton of people there?
Cassie: I have a little routine that I do before each set. It’s mostly mental, though. And it doesn’t really matter to me how many people are or aren’t there, as long as the vibes in the crowd are good!
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