The siblings David, Daniel and Julia form dancea New York trio that is configured as an answer from the east coast to what would be HAIM or any other of those young sunny pop bands that have Fleetwood Mac and the tradition of sunshine pop and west coast pop from the sixties and seventies as referents.
In his case, through beautiful vocal harmonies and a proposal that navigates between folk, r’n’b or soft rock; between the acoustic and the subtly electronic. Also with bitter lyrics that contrast with their sound because they deal with insecurities, depression and family illnesses.
They are around thirty years old and have been raised in a family of musicians: their parents are, although attached to the world of classical: Eliot Bailen and Susan Rothorst are distinguished instrumentalists and university professors. My chat with them by zoom to the thread of “Tired Hearts” (Fantasy Records/Music As Usual, 2023), their second album, helps me to certify that they are also charming guys. They will tour the UK in October. At the moment, without dates in Spain, a country that only David knows personally (his wife was born in Madrid, he tells me) and in which they have never played.
I have to confess that I didn’t know anything about you until a few months ago, and if someone had played me any of your two albums without telling me where they came from, I would have bet because you were Californians, and not New Yorkers.
Julia: Well, I guess that’s true: I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell a lot, for example, who I know is Canadian, but she spent a lot of time there. We recorded our first record in Los Angeles, but this second one is a totally East Coast record. I don’t know.
David: The three-vocal harmonies sound we have may be more West Coast, but our skepticism and bitterness are very East Coast (laughs).
Julia: Yeah, the Beach Boys style harmonies…
“We can dedicate a whole day to a single song, just because of that perfectionist obsession with details”
You have been compared more than once with Fleetwood Mac and HAIM, who are also a trio formed, in their case, by three sisters.
David: I think we are the HAIM of the east coast (laughs).
That seems to me a good definition for those who don’t know you. What role did your parents, Eliot Bailen and Susan Rotholz, play in your musical upbringing? They are from the field of classical music, right?
Julia: Yes, they play classical music freelance here in New York. Maybe you can hear here behind me, in the background, in the living room, a chamber group rehearsing. Well, there’s a piano concert right there. We have always had a lot of classical and chamber music at home, we have been to many concerts with them since we were kids, we have seen them collaborate with their professional colleagues and always talk about music throughout their lives. They have been a great influence. Our father has been a songwriter in different bands, he still writes a lot. He taught me to play the guitar. We have grown up playing and singing together, and listening to a lot of vinyl from the 70s and 80s, which has been a great source of inspiration.
It’s nice to hear people under thirty listening to vinyl.
Julia: Well, we already did it before it was cool again (laughs).
David: The world in which our parents live and ours are very different, classical music doesn’t usually mix with what we could call the pop industry. But they have been a good example of how to be a good person in life, and so we try to be the best possible person in any of our interactions with others. I believe that this has been the clearest and most practical influence on our careers.
Daniel: Well, the simple answer to your question would be yes, that’s why we’re also crazy, you have to be crazy to dedicate yourself to this (laughs).
Julia: I think there’s a strong work ethic that they’ve instilled in us, just from watching them work as freelance musicians. It is something that drives you to be as creative as possible to make a living in this world. You can’t afford to stop.
Daniel: The fact that they were always involved with rehearsals at home influenced us to pay a lot of attention to small details, and that, like it or not, rubs off on you. We can dedicate a whole day to a single song, just because of that perfectionist obsession with details. And I think that sets us apart from other bands around us, which are more clumsy or rough. We are very particular with arrangements. It is what it means to have parents who are dedicated to classical music.
Your first album was produced by John Congleton, and this one has been produced by Brad Cook. What is the difference between them?
Julia: We spent a lot of time doing pre-production, making sure the lyrics reflected what we wanted to say and finding the thread that tied the songs together musically. Brad (Cook) helped us choose from the seventy we had written. To distill all that material into a coherent bunch of songs. It was important in that process, because we hardly had time to shoot these songs live as a trio, due to the covid. It was all very different from the first album, because on that one we did have plenty of time to play all the songs together live before recording them, the arrangements were already solidified when we entered the studio, but the focus on this one was completely different. We had to build everything from scratch, blindly, with Pro Tools. There was a lot of prior exploration.
With the publication of the first album you were barely known. Things are very different with this one, you have almost 400,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Did you feel pressure?
David: The second album is always difficult, because for the first one you’ve always had a lot of time to write it, you’re still getting to know each other and it comes out of nowhere, but our second one also had the added difficulty of the pandemic, which delayed everything. We had these songs, but the hard part was finding the time to release them. The pandemic cut our pace, it was a difficult stage for us to navigate. It had been so long that we kind of felt like this was our first record, all over again (laughs). We have two debuts (laughs).
This album is quite varied in registers and styles. Is it the product of the sum of your different tastes?
David: What I love about our music is that the three of us write and sing, each with their own voice, different from the others, and all our influences blend in a unique way. The differences end up fitting together, in a way that’s cool. That’s what makes us special, to me.
Can we say that Bailen is a democracy?
David: It is a democracy, without a doubt. But we function as poorly as American democracy (laughter).
What a danger. And how do you maintain family harmony while being part of the same group?
Julia: Well, that forces us to be very good at conflict resolution. It’s the best way I can describe it (laughs). Working with your brothers makes you have no filter. You don’t talk to them like friends or colleagues. It’s a different social contract. Being so honest with them is very useful, but at the same time it can generate friction and fights, so you have to be very skilled at handling moments of tension and learn to accept and understand everything, be generous with each other, and I think that’s very important for our working method, which is always collaborative. There is always going to be conflict, but I think we are good at managing it and finding solutions.
Daniel: We have fights that would be the end of any normal band. But we manage to appear normal the next day (laughs). By the way, I wanted to add something about your question about the pressure of the second album, because I think that in the first one we had a lot to prove, and listening to it now I realize that we sang some choruses like there was no tomorrow, almost with the guts, screaming, but in this one, with an already established fan base and ourselves more focused, I think we have been able to find our voice, in terms of lyrics and sound. We don’t overact. We use a softer part of our voices. And the songs also have more honest and personal lyrics. I don’t want to say that the first one didn’t have them, but I think that in this second we have found our voice. I don’t know if you think the same.
David: Yes, yes.
“Working with your siblings means you don’t have a filter. You don’t talk to them like friends or colleagues”
How are your concerts? The three of them alone or with more supporting musicians?
Daniel: The cheapest thing is for the three of us to play alone, without the arrangements. There are six hands, six feet and three noses (laughs).
David: I use both hands and both feet, as a drummer. Julia too, like guitar. But Daniel, as a bassist, only uses his two hands, he doesn’t do anything with his feet (laughs).
Daniel: Well, I use a pedal sometimes (laughs).
Julia: David has it complicated because in addition to the drums he is in charge of our sampler pad. There are things from the album that we want to transfer to live.
David: It’s great because using the sampler pad allows you to get a bigger sound as just a trio, there’s a video, the one for “Call It Like It Is”, which is a good example of what our live performance is like. Soon we will release the one from Nothing Left To Prove.
Daniel: Many times we forget about the microphones and we do vocal harmonies with just a guitar, and for many people it is the highlight of the show. We try to do very dynamic concerts. Don’t you think, David?
Julia: I think we are a very dynamic band. There is a lot of pressure right now to fit into a very specific audience niche, but I think that what we bring is a lot of dynamism, I like that you think that there are different styles within what we do, I think we are eclectic musicians.
Have you toured Europe?
Julia: Yes, in 2019. Not for Spain, unfortunately. We were in Germany, Holland, France, United Kingdom…
How do you receive the European public?
David: We like people in Europe more than in our country (laughs).
Daniel: Are you kidding?
David: Nope. In fact, we are going to be Portuguese citizens, and Daniel already is, because our family was thrown out of Portugal in 1492, we had to flee from the Spanish Inquisition, and now we are going back (laughs).
Is your last name Portuguese?
Julia: No, that’s the other family branch.
David: It’s funny, because in Spain there are many streets that are called like that, like our last name. But no, that’s not the Portuguese branch of the family. We love playing in Europe, you feel a different energy, the people who come to see us are very grateful, and you can tell they really like music. It is very rewarding. All the concerts we have given in Europe have been wonderful.
Daniel: I think they take art more seriously in Europe.
Julia: People care less about musical genres.
David: There is a different respect for art, it is less associated with capitalism and more with life experience. I think that Europeans are more aware that culture is part of their lifestyle and enjoyment. The flavors, the smells, the food, are different. It shows in the way you consume the culture. In North America you are more associated with money.
Julia: There are also more public funds for culture from governments. At least in many European countries. That speaks for itself.
Do you know the meaning of Bailen in Spanish?
Julia: The imperative to “dance”, right? It’s funny, because we realized that when googling our name, a lot of content related to bachata and that kind of music appeared. It’s a bit of a tough google search if you’re Spanish (laughs).
David: Maybe we should do a bachata record.
Daniel: It was not premeditated. Maybe we should have thought that we would be mistaken for a Spanish dance music band (laughs).