I know from experience (I have two brothers AND two sisters!) that family is a complex little beast, so, I was in awe when I heard tell of three siblings who, not only agreed to be in the same room as each other for longer than the time it takes to play a record, but made the ultimate commitment, to join a band. I caught up with BAILEN as they kicked off their 2019 Tour at St Pancras Old Church with the release of their anticipated debut album, “Thrilled To Be Here.
BAILEN’s other worldly musicality springs from a very deep well, in fact, it’s in their DNA. Raised in New York City by their classically trained parents, siblings Daniel, David, and Julia Bailen (twins and a kid sister) immersed themselves in a record collection that included Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Carole King and The Band.
Even though they finish each other’s sentences, dissolve into laughter and tell hilarious contradicting childhood stories, BAILEN’s highly collaborative songs and visceral harmonies are formed by three very different individuals. They’re inspired not only by literature and a love of language, but also myriad classical and pop influences.
First records are special because you’ve spent your whole life writing them. There are a lot of new songs on this album, but there are also a couple that have been around for a long time.” BAILEN had, in fact, 40 songs in contention for their debut. Julia describes how the album coalesced: “Producing our own demos, we’d think ‘Oh, this song could use strings, but this one needs something else,’ so each song had its own distinct color palette. Recording our album in a month at the same studio with one producer meant that we kept the creativity, but also found the cohesiveness.” All of the strings on the album, recorded in their living room when the band was finishing up Thrilled To Be Here in New York, were played by the BAILEN parents’ chamber group—with mom also playing flute on “Something Tells Me” and “Stand Me Up.”
“Something Tells Me” was the first true full-band effort. It began life with David, writing on piano in his grandfather’s Connecticut basement. He was giddy over a new romance and had the song’s unforgettable chorus, then Daniel stepped in and gave it a solid foundation, helping to bring the wistful tune down to earth. “Daniel wrote the verse melody and more lyrics, and then we massaged it,” Julia remembers. “I felt it should be really slow with lots of space.” The lyrics were partially inspired by a character in John Steinbeck’s East Of Eden, one of the groups’ favorite books, so the song became “more about two kindred spirits who have both been broken,” Daniel recalls.
The siblings’ musical proficiency started at a young age: Julia began guitar at 7, with her dad teaching her Appalachian-style fingerpicking. Her brothers started on violin at age 4. “I had a lot of pent-up energy as a kid and I needed something to bang on, so I switched to drums when I was 7,” David says. “Daniel stayed on violin, then he started on guitar when he was 8, and then, eventually, bass.”
Quick fire questions thrown at Julia, leading lady of New York’s latest export, Bailen… with a few thoughts from her brothers!
When and why did you start playing/performing?
Our parents are both professional classical musicians. And our house has always been a port for all kinds of musicians coming through. Playing music and performing just feels like a natural thing to do when you grow up surrounded by it. Also listening to the Beatles and Stones as a 5 year old is pretty persuasive.
What’s it like working so close with each other?
Sometimes it’s really smooth and we’re pretty much telepathic— like when we all do the same kind of dynamics in a concert even though we’ve never discussed it. We all have complimentary strengths… basically, together we make one complete person. Sometimes that works to our advantage and sometimes it just causes massive arguments. We’re verrrryy honest with one another too so that is also a double edged sword. But at the end of the day it’s nice to have family on the road.
What band name alter egos have to tried out on your musical journey?
Quire Boys, Gemini 2, Dead End, The Bailen Brothers, The Bailen Brothers…….. (and sister?) and eventually BAILEN! Daniel and David have always played together in bands, with names including Gemini II — an ode to their birth sign. “Then we went through our punk stage at 12 and changed the name to Dead End… that band went nowhere.” Ultimately, they decided, “Let’s just call ourselves The Bailen Brothers.” As the duo grew creatively, they realized they needed a third harmony for the types of songs they were writing. They’d joked with Julia that she would join the band once her braces were off, and, at last, that time had come.
London or New York?
Don’t make me choose!!! I think daniel might say London… they’re good for different things 🙂
What was the first tune(s) you learned?
J: Mr. Tamborine man by bob Dylan. My dad taught me how to play guitar and I think I still have the piece of paper with lyrics and the chords written above them.
What is the most embarrassing song in your music library?
J: Cold hearted snake by Paula Abdul
How do you handle a fuck up on stage?
Same way you handle a fart.
Who or what is your ultimate influence, musical or otherwise?
J: Joni Mitchell and my parents. My parents are so creative and never stop teaching me more about musicality and how to play dynamically with other musicians.
What scares you most in the world?
Which Spice Girl would you be?
J: Scary spice
Where and when would you travel back in time to perform?
The last waltz?
If I gave you an elephant where would you hide it?
If you could choose one song that you wish that you had written, what would it be?
Something by George Harrison… or Coyote by Joni Mitchell.
Which instruments do you play?
Julia: guitar and piano
David: drums, harmonica, piano and a little guitar— if you give anything to him he can figure something out
Daniel: can play pretty much anything with strings.
If you could have anyone locked in a room so that you could torment them for a day, whom would you choose and how would you torment them?
Oy I’m too afraid of the government to answer this question honestly…
Who wins in a fight, a grizzly bear or a giant squid?
Are we on land or in water? How big a giant squid are we talking? There are a lot of variables to consider here… Prolly the squid… right?
What is your greatest vice?
Having a good cry on public transportation.
If music is the answer, what is the question?
What can you not rely on to pay your rent?
Daisy Sells | WRITER