LA based brother/sister pair The Belle Brigade (Barbara and Ethan Gruska) return this week with their anticipated sophomore release, Just Because. Growing up with a musical composer father and grandfather, the duo followed a clear path into music. But they blaze a new trail, with songs that blend delightful modern harmonies with ’70s and ’80s sensibilities. Receiving acclaim for their self-titled debut, their second album, led by its strong single “Ashes,” naturally reflects personal progression and further establishes their dual identities. Offering fans a preview of the album on YouTube prior to its release, it seems that their fans would agree.
mxdwn visited Barbara and Ethan during their LA residency (they are great live) recently to chat about their musical childhoods, the new album, RuPaul, shakuhachi music and food poisoning embarrassing stage moments. Visit The Belle Brigade’s site for more album info!
Because you come from a musical family, is there pressure every time you release an album?
Barbara: There is pressure but just in a general way. We want to do a good job. Our family is very supportive of us and they want us to do a good job but there’s no “my back is going to break from my family’s pressure.” It’s all positive stuff and constructive.
Ethan: I feel the same way. I don’t really think about it too much. There’s more pressure from everyone else. In fact, I feel more pressure from myself than anyone else.
What’s the best advice you’ve received from your father and grandfather?
Barbara: Practice. I play the drums and I was 18 when I really started practicing. That just opened up my mind. And don’t quit!
Ethan: From my dad: when you have writer’s block, that’s part of the process. When it happens, don’t freak out. You’ll write again. From my grandpa, I remember him saying once that all of his musical inspiration was not from other music but from other endeavors of learning. Poetry and nature. Don’t just look at what you’re doing. Try to learn from everything else and that will inform your music.
What was the coolest experience having your dad’s studio in the backyard?
Barbara: My dad had an engineer that could jump over our couch without a running start. When his studio was in the backyard, they would come into the house to use the bathroom, so every time this guy would come into the house, I‘d be sitting in the den watching cartoons and I’d be like, “Todd, please jump over the couch right now!” And he would just leap over the couch and it was incredible.
What can we expect to hear on the new album “Just Because”, releasing on March 25th?
Barbara: More experimentation with sounds. Harmonies are still there. It’s not like a million of us singing. Hopefully you’ll experience fun.
Ethan: Less of a throwback feel, more modern.
Barbara, what were your favorite touring moments with Fiona Apple and Jenny Lewis?
Barbara: With Fiona, literally every single show was a different fulfilling experience. She just blew my mind EVERY single night. I’m being dead honest about that. With Jenny, it was incredibly fun but I toured with her for two years so I can’t say every single show, since there were so many shows. We went to so many awesome countries. I’d say going to Japan with Jenny was my favorite thing. She took me so many weird places. I love them both.
How crazy was the “Twilight” experience, with your song being featured in the third film?
Barbara: Not that crazy. I’m really happy our song was put on the soundtrack. We’ve gotten more YouTube hits and Spotify plays than any of our other stuff, so it’s nice. I appreciate it and we’re glad it was on there but it wasn’t really a game-changer. We were behind the scenes enough not to be associated directly with it. We were asked to do a video with half images of us and half movie images and we declined but I’m still incredibly grateful.
Ethan: It kind of passed us by. We didn’t have much going on when it happened so it kept a little bit of something going for us. It’s been so long since we’ve been putting out music and playing shows but I’m grateful for that.
If you could listen to five albums from the ’60s and ’70s for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Barbara: Probably all Beatles albums. That’s the safest thing to say. There’s so much in there, you find new things all the time. I’ve already listened to all those albums as if I were on a deserted island so maybe Nilsson Schmilsson (by Harry Nilsson), Led Zeppelin III, Prince’s self-titled that came out in 79, Off the Wall by Michael Jackson and a Queen record.
Ethan: I like Still Crazy After All These Years ( by Paul Simon), Ry Cooder’s Paradise and Lunch and all the rest Beatles records. What’s funny is that on our first record, this maybe might have been an influence; we were listening to that era. That’s not what we listen to now. I love it still but we moved onto the ’80s and ’90s.
Barb: Yeah, next record, we’ll be in our time! (Laughing)
What’s your favorite song you wished you’d written but didn’t?
Barbara: “Rocket Love” by Stevie Wonder.
Ethan: Yeah, I wish I’d written that song because it’d be so weird for me to write something like that. It’s such an incredible song. “Graceland” by Paul Simon is my favorite song.
Barbara: “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé. (Laughing) For a number of reasons, I wish I‘d written that song.
What would someone be surprised to find in your music collection?
Barbara: I have a RuPaul record. People might not be surprised to know about that. (Laughing) I also have a really great compilation of Bollywood music from 1985-1989.
Ethan: Yeah, Barb has a very eclectic collection. I just bought a solo record of 48 minutes of shakuhachi/Japanese flute music. It’s very strange and I’m very surprised that I have it but I love it. It’s one of my favorite things to put on and be weird to.
What’s your creative process like when you’re working on a song?
Barbara: It happens every which way. It varies. Sometimes we get the melody, sometimes the lyrics, sometimes the groove. Sometimes he starts it, sometimes I start it, sometimes we start it together. It depends.
What’s your biggest WTF moment where you couldn’t believe you were somewhere doing something?
Ethan: Tonight, we’re playing at The Echo and while we were soundchecking earlier, both of our favorite musicians and guitar players, Ry Cooder, walks in. I’m just starting to feel comfortable playing live on guitar. It was one of the scariest things ever to play in front of him. But it was so cool meeting your idol and completely not being let down.
Barbara: It was a WTF half- hour.
What’s been your most embarrassing moment onstage?
Barbara: I had to leave in the middle of our last song “Losers” because I had a really stomach bug or food poisoning. From the “down there” it was an EMERGENCY and I had to run off and it was horrible. (Laughing) It wasn’t even embarrassing at the time because I was in such horrible pain but afterwards it was embarrassing.
Ethan: Someone came back out at the end because it was our last song and we didn’t do any encore and said “Uh, Barb has food poisoning so they’re going to be done now.”
What are your plans for the rest of 2014?
Ethan: More shows. More trying to make the live show different and exciting. Evolving the show and changing it up.