BABY + THE BRUTES
On a Sunday afternoon in early April, I had the pleasure of hanging out with three cool kids that make up the dreamy yet gritty Baby + The Brutes. We laughed, played with my cat, smoked Arturo's organic herbal cigarettes and frolicked in a neaRby dog park, because, well it all just felt right.
Z: First and foremost, please introduce yourselves!
M: Hi, I’m Matt, I sing lead and play guitar in Baby + The Brutes
A: I’m Arturo, I play Bass and do backup vocals
D: And I’m Dave and I play the drums
Z: Okay, what got you into music individually and what brought you guys together?
D: Right, starting with music in general - I've been playing in bands since I was like 14/15. I don’t know, I've always just played drums and I met Matt two years ago, and just hit it off and he was like “hey I have this project” and yeah I loved it. I loved the songs, the chemistry. So yeah…
A: Uh, I started off as a guitar player and I was like 15 playing guitar. I've only played the bass for like three years now and I started playing bass specifically with Matt. Um, yeah, I guess my background is kind of like a classic Punk Rock, you know?
D: …like we each come from varying backgrounds, musical styles. I've always played like punk and hardcore for bands…
A: It’s a nice coming together, yeah
M: I grew up in a pretty non-musical household. There was a piano in my grandmother's house that I was obsessed with as a kid. I also grew up kind of going to church and was more interested in the music than the religion. Then I guess like around like 8 or 9 maybe 10, I discovered that I could sing mostly via just like singing along to Lauryn Hill’s ‘Miseducation’. And then I started taking some piano lessons here and there and then I switched to guitar after seeing a video of India Arie! And it's just been going up and up since then. I started writing songs in high school. We didn't have art or music or even gym at my high school, I went to the science and technical high school, but my teacher, one of my teachers set up a little studio in a free little classroom space and put guitars and a piano and things like that in there. And that really saved me in school having an outlet especially, you know, like realizing more and more than that I was gay and like what that meant, you know, in the world and like what that meant to my family and.. just being in the closet. To know, having that, that little, room where I can go and just kind of play out all my frustrations, that helped me a lot in becoming who I am and developing a musical ear.
A: Wait, I have a question for Matt! Are you trained as a singer?
M: Not as a singer, but I've taken piano lessons for a short time and I took guitar lessons for a short time as well. I'm not really musically trained at all.
Z: So you're like self taught from guitar and everything?
M: So I would take piano lessons for a week every summer at my grandma's house. Then I took guitar lessons for maybe six or eight months before I got really frustrated with the pace and said f’this I’ll do this myself. Um, and then singing is just me trying to emulate the voices I love, like Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone and others like that…
Z: It's funny you mentioned that, and you’ve each actually touched on it a little bit, but I heard the demos that you sent (which are great btw) and it’s very clear you all have such different styles/sounds. It makes sense that those are your vocal inspirations because you definitely have a very theatrical or delicate voice! Was there an active decision that this would be the band’s sound or was it something that just happened?
M: So Arturo and I met- we met at a wedding through mutual friends. Um, and then we decided that we would try to play music together. Um, and up until I met Arturo I would just kind of play like soft bedroom-y things and things like that, you know. Um, I grew up singing and when I would sing, I would do like showcases and they would be like jazz, very soft things, but I met Arturo and we were playing a Nina Simone cover and he was like, “what do you think about, like dirtying this up a little bit?” you know, and “like singing or playing it a little harder and faster.” And at first I was like, I don't know, it's like out of my comfort zone and trying to sing loud. (laugher) Um, but over time, you know, like just knowing Arturo and slowly exposing myself to more- like more rough and more aggressive music, um, I've just developed like a taste for it. Arturo is already kind of like that's his realm and stuff he loves. So yeah, it developed pretty organically. And then we were looking for a drummer for a long time and played with a bunch of people who were really hard to get along with, then I asked Dave if he would play. And initially we were just kind of like, let's just, uh, you know, see if they will record some demos but now it's stuck. Like we’re not letting him go. (laughter)
D: It’s wonderful! I mean, I went to their apartment one night and they were like, just come over and listen to the songs and they were so cohesive like it sounded like they had been working together for a long time! I mean the base aligns with your voice and the guitar and everything is still unique and I've told you this how many times, that bass is so important for drums and I've never played with a bassist that was that in line with what I do. I liked the abrasiveness mixed with his angelic voice. It’s beautiful, and um, yeah, it was just the first night and it was very comfortable.
Z: This sounds almost like a love story… (laughter)
D: It was the easiest thing to get together in years since I first started at my old band and stuff with like friends, you know, at 15 years old or whatever. So yeah, it was the first time walking into something where it was that simple, it was just like natural.
Z: So do you think you're going to stick with that sound then?
M: We were talking about bringing in a keyboard and we're still thinking about bringing on another person because I play guitar now, which is fun, but I also like the idea of someone else being there, that will free me up a little bit to cut up more on stage, you know? Um, so there's definitely more like iterations of the band that are possible. And musically I think we're all really open minded. We all kind of like have a sound that we’re attracted to, we started out being inspired by but what we listened to and we’d trade music back and forth. We have like an email chain going, you know, like “listen to this album”, you know, so I think the three of us are open to trying out anything.
Z: And that leads me to my next question, how would you describe your sound? If you could put it into a genre or style?
A: Rock ‘n’ Roll haha
M: It’s uhh really cool (more laughter)
D: Garage, uh garage power punk? Yeah, I mean all the songs are, are written in like a format, you know, like three minutes and get out, you know. Um, but we play them aggressively. We play them, you know, kind of like scuzzy. .
M: Usually if I write a song it starts out like on Acoustic Guitar and just me singing to myself in my bedroom and then eventually it goes through like this meat grinder when it gets to Arturo’s bass, that has distortion on it and of like pounding away.
D: With Arturo saying faster, faster (laughter)
M: So we negotiate it
Z: I know some people are super strict about needing to sound the same every time - do you feel that way too or is it always going to sound different?
D: Like every song is pop, formulaic. I mean I think you can't go wrong with that.
M: We usually establish like a general arrangement so that we've little checkpoints in a song so that we all know where we're headed. Um, but things can go in a different direction and we all just kind of find each other. So that's nice.
D: Like sometimes we play a song cycle a lot faster or slower.. I think I choose with the energy that's there. M: Well, and the nice thing about the pop format is that it's restrictive, but it's also very freeing because once you actually write the thing you can take it and shape it however you want. You know, we could kind of kind of change the songs to fit whatever we want them to be. Like if we’re feeling more like new wave.
D: We’ve talked about that in practice, we do that. I want to try something different. I'm down for whatever. And also not limiting his voice because it's really important to have a strong singer that completely stands out. Yeah.
A: Yeah because you do exercises and stuff
M: Okay. Yeah but that’s more like because I smoked too much last night… (laughter)
Z: So maybe it’s too early to ask this question, but do you guys have or will you take on like stage personas or like an alter ego? Or are you like comfortable enough in your own skin to best be up on stage and it's just like an extension of your actual self?
A: Yeah, I feel like for me it's more of an extension of myself. Like when I'm playing it just comes out naturally.
D: Like I played very hard, you know.Yeah, it just comes out. It was a part of you, like whatever's there anyway, even if it is altered, you know…
M: I love the idea of developing a new self for this. And when I think about the stage performance, who I am like really inspired by, it’s Grace Jones, it's like Freddie Mercury, Karen O, oh you know, all of these people have a kind of bombastic presence. And I think, right now while I'm still getting comfortable performing in front of people also like playing a guitar and trying to sing the right notes. I'm just kind of like, just let me do this. Let me get through the song, (laughter) but I think as we perform more, I'm gonna uh, I'm gonna try to let my inner, you know, my inner Grace Jones out a little more...
A: …when you don't play guitar and are just singing, you are more like theatrical and it works. So the format of just bass and drums. That works too.
D: It does because, we said this at our last practice, your voice is an instrument and it just works and it doesn't sound empty at all. And that's what's interesting about it.
Z: Do you all collaborate on writing or do you (Matt) kind of take the lead?
A: Matt definitely takes the lead
D: Yeahh but we still collaborate
M: It’s collaborative, I mean I get them to like 80 percent done. I'm, I'm like a terrible perfectionist, which is not a humble brag.
A: and I'm just like, get it out of your system! (laughter)
M: I’m like super annoying about writing songs and I sit on them for so long and it sounds like crunchy and new agey, but a lot of times it's like a song has to arrive to you somehow. And sometimes there’s just not time for that shit, you know? Like we are working on this song called “Be My Own Baby” um, and the words haven't been done and the show is approaching, you know, and usually when that happens Arturo and I will sit down and like play this riff over and over and then I'll just keep trying to fill it in. Arturo is really good at like motivating me to get over myself…
D: …then it comes together. I mean with that song. The lyrics, everything at the last practice just kind of happened and came together though. Sometimes it works best that way.
Z: Just hearing this makes me want to ask, do you find that writing is like a journal for you or is it more of like just a poetic/artistic practice or is it a little bit of both?
M: Well, it’s interesting because when I first started writing songs, I was trying too hard to make them good. I was trying too hard to make them like referential and like super like original. And I still have those kinds of hang ups about rhymes being correct and things. But with this project I've kind of allowed myself to write almost like a monologue. And it doesn't have to be this super like opaque thing that people have to parse. In “Be My Own Baby” we're just talking about not forcing yourself to try to love someone when you know inside that you're meant to be by yourself. Um, and then one of our earliest tracks, “Wasted Youth,” is basically about being a queer kid and missing your childhood, you know, being an adult now and having to contend with this inner teenager who wasn’t able to do all these things as a closeted gay teenager, but now you also have to deal with your adult self, your responsibilities. Um, so it, it is in a way kind of journalistic or at least some of the songs are autobiographical.
Z: How does that change things for you guys (Arturo and Dave) coming in then? I mean, do you interpret it or do you kind of try and play to match his mood or the tone he's setting or do you kind of take it and interpret it for yourselves?
A: Yeah, I mean, I don't know. I feel like when I'm working on a song with you I'll just like be minimal in the things that I do …
D: I just played my part because I think music should always be driven by emotion, not about always pleasing others, it’s about getting out what you need to say and that's when it's so genuine because the words, and I said this before, when I first started their songs, was the words also match your tone of your voice. Perfect. That emotion, like if there's distress or anything, that's the most genuine form of expression. That is what makes it, it's emotionally driven music. So yeah, I mean I just go with the flow and fill in where I'm supposed to …
M:….whether you guys realize it or not, if you take a skeleton of a song, you do put your lens on it. Because like I said, all these songs start out with just me kind of like cooing in my bedroom. Um, and you guys come in and push and push the song to be bigger and impose your will on it a little bit in-in a way that I think is, is really motivating and good.
Z: Yeah, hearing you talk about how it's more important to focus on the emotions of a song than just doing something that's going to sound good, has that ever been a challenge? Earlier on, I guess for your writing when you started to put stuff out out there?
M: Um, you mean like…
Z: …I mean do you ever feel like you needed to check your emotions at the door to fit something that might be more popular or easily digested?
M: Uh, no, because the thing is that all of these songs are kind of sad. The sentiment of all these songs is somewhat melancholy and something that I find really pleasing about our sound is that it's so bright and kind of like caustic, you know? Um, so there's, there's a contrast there that I think is really like, delicious. (laughter) It's kind of like, like sad boy tunes, but ones that you can dance to. Um, and when you kind of find that spot you can write about any experience good or bad, you know, like to me it's about creating a point of access for people, you know?If I played all the songs the way that I wrote them, kind of like in a bedroom-y kind of way,they would be fine.. But I think making the songs bigger and dancier and maybe even more aggressive gives people a way to be like, oh this isn't bringing me down, but I also feel that there's a sadness. Yeah.
Z: I'm thinking back to when I was listening to the demos when you sent them, and this actually ties back into the theme because it's about gender and sexuality because your voice is so delicate and the sound is so aggressive. It kind of strips any type of pseudo gender association with the sound. I feel like a lot of people kind of say, “Oh, rock and roll is like really masculine and scary men like throwing arms”. Whereas the more theatrical voice is a little softer and more like going to go sit in the grass and drink some wine kind of thing. So what does your audience looks like? Do you know who your target audience is or are you leaving it open?
D: I mean if you get it, you get it and you enjoy it. Yeah. I mean, not everyone's going to get it or understand it, but yeah.
A: I don't know. It's very open ended. It's like a cross section of Indie rock people and then pop people, and then artsy kids, like punk rockers.We just make stuff that pleases us and then hope that others like it too.
M: Being it’s so early on it's a lot of our friends, you know, they seem to like it and if your friends like it, that can’t be too bad. (laughter)
D: I was kinda shocked by certain people that enjoyed it, because it is a throwback to like just garage, like early eighties. Um, I always think of Slaughter and The Dogs, you know?
Z: And on that note, since you guys have only played one show so far, which is kind of crazy because even watching you guys interact, it feels like you've been doing this together for many years, which is great to see! So let's tell the people about your future plans. Is there a CD release or an EP coming out?
M: We’re still kind of mulling it over. We recorded a couple of demos which should be out before this interview goes out (laughter), um, but we are currently looking into doing some more serious recording in the summer. Uh, crossing fingers. We'll have something out before the fall. I would love to do merch like a t-shirt or something like that. But yeah the hope is that we’ll cut an EP of like 5 to 8 songs…
Z: And y’all are performing for Caldera at the end of August!
D: Yeah we gotta practice! (laughter)