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Interview with the Belle Brigade

October 4, 2011
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California-based sibling duo The Belle Brigade are currently touring behind their self-titled debut album, with a stop Wednesday, Oct. 5 at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. Girl Germs The Belle Brigadeintern Emma caught up with drummer/singer/guitarist Barbara Gruska (who backed artists like Jenny Lewis and Inara George before forming The Belle Brigade) as she and her brother, Ethan, drove into the Twin Cities. Read on for Barbara’s thoughts on working with her brother, what’s in store for the band and, um…the Twilight movies.

Girl Germs: I wanted to start off talking about your work as a drummer before you and Ethan started collaborating. I know music is really deeply entrenched in your family, so what was it like growing up in that kind of household?

Barbara Gruska: It definitely was influential to grow up with a lot of music in the house. My dad’s studio was in the backyard and all of his musician friends and studio musicians were walking in and out of the house, and I’d come home from school and go and sit in the studio and hear people play. But I don’t know, I think when I was a teenager I loved playing the drums and listening to music, but I didn’t know that that’s what I wanted to do until I was 18.

How did you decide that’s what you wanted to do?

I went to college and then I just pretty much ditched all of classes to practice drums, and I was like, “Okay! I’m going to do this!”

So you toured quite a bit as a drummer…what is it’s like being a female drummer, given that it’s such a male-dominated field?

You know, I guess I’m just kind of used to it because it doesn’t feel…it’s never felt strange to be the only girl around. I mean, it’s always kind of been this way, so it’s not weird.

So the two of you started collaborating when you came back from touring, right?

Let’s see…Ethan graduated from high school three years ago. I was still on the road with Jenny Lewis, and I was home for a break. I had been writing songs just for myself and had been wanting to record a little album of all of the tunes that I’d been writing and so I went to this [studio] called The Hangar in Sacramento, and I brought Ethan. When we were up there I was like, “Hey, would you sing this part?” And then after we did that, I was like, “Let’s join forces, because this is really fun and awesome and you’re amazing, so let’s do this.”

What’s the best thing about working with your sibling?

The best thing about collaborating with Ethan…it’s hard to say, because the whole thing is great, from when we first start with a tiny little idea about a song and write the song together, and then we get to record it, and then we get to perform it live, it’s just…everything is awesome. I love it.

Do you write all your songs together?

Yeah, we do. There’s a couple that I wrote without him and that he wrote without me, but most of our songs are 50-50, and even the ones that we wrote ourselves are pretty much collaborative and 50-50. We both have to both put our hands on them and agree on them and mess with them and have it be collaborative, because that’s the sound.

Is it ever difficult if one of you really wants something in a song and the other one is opposed to it?

So far, we haven’t run into any of that because we have very, very similar tastes and visions of where we want the music to go, and we are constantly talking about it, and talking about the future and everything like that. So when we do have a disagreement about something, we never huff and puff and stomp our feet because we have to agree. Something’s not going to fly if the other person isn’t down with it.

Your album is super-catchy and fun to listen to, but I’ve noticed that when you really tune into the lyrics, there’s this layer of vulnerability. In particular, “Losers” and “Lucky Guy,” because you’re dancing to it and then you think, “Wait a second…”

Yeah, totally. “Wait a second, this is sad!”

How did you decide to blend the really catchy melodies with much sadder lyrics?

That’s the thing that we like to do…it’s kind of going overboard if you have sad lyrics and put it to sad music, or if you put happy lyrics to happy music. That’s just not something that we want to do. We both like having that juxtaposition.

Are you guys working on any new projects now?

Well, we’re always writing and thinking about our next album, even though in reality, when we will get to record the next album is probably a year away or something—which sucks, because we always want to be recording and stuff. At this point, we pretty much have enough new material for the next record.

I was looking at your website, and I saw that one of your songs is going to be on the next Twilight soundtrack?

Yeah, it is!

I’m sort of fascinated by the Twilight soundtracks, because even people who don’t necessarily see the movies still listen to the soundtracks and really love them.

Oh really? I didn’t know that; that’s awesome!

You’re also joining a really great lineup of artists, like Iron & Wine, Death Cab and Florence & the Machine. How are you feeling about joining them and being on that same plane?

It feels really good. I feel like it’s just a great opportunity for us, in terms of exposure and just being a part of something like that. It’s really, really cool and we really, truly lucked out on this.

How were you chosen to do it?

Well, actually, the last song on our record is called “Fasten You to Me,” and before our record was out, originally they wanted to submit that song for Twilight. If we would’ve done that, it wouldn’t have been able to be on our record, and we really wanted that to be on our record, so we didn’t let them use that. They asked if there were any other songs that we could submit, and so we gave them “I Didn’t Mean It” and they wanted to use it, so we really lucked out.

So, I have to ask – do you guys watch the movies or read the books?

I haven’t really – I’ve watched the movies when they’re on TV, but I’m definitely going to watch them now. I don’t want to walk into the theater for this last one and not know the backstory.

–Emma Nelson

 

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