This interview originally featured in The Skinny.
We meet up with Gerard Black at Glasgow’s Art School, to talk about the evolution of Babe and to find out more about latest LP, Kiss & Tell
On the surface Babe seem standard fare – four lads on vocals, synths, drums, guitar and bass. But the masses of collective musical experience, tastes and influence that filter through the quartet have seen the pieces fall properly into place on their forthcoming second album, with Babe having refocused and refined their sound. Kiss & Tell proves the four-piece are more united as a group than ever, with a clearer musical aesthetic.
While the unequivocally talented Gerard Black remains front and centre in both songwriting and performing terms, the original line-up has been altered and the live set-up bolstered with the addition of John Baillie Jnr, ex-Dananananaykroyd and now of Bossy Love, on drums. Completing the line-up are London-based Thomas Ogden on guitar and Frenchman Amaury Ranger of François & the Atlas Mountains on bass.
Difficult to categorise but easy to be energised by, the band’s sophomore effort is an addictive mix of electro-pop, synths, offbeat R’n’B and Eurodisco awash with the impeccable falsetto-tinged melodies of Black, a singer and songwriter with an effortless star quality that few possess. Where their 2014 debut Volery Flighty flitted between styles and genres like an overexcited puppy, Kiss & Tell retains the group’s eclecticism but in a more measured manner.
The first album was pieced together over a few years, combining countless instruments and guests, including CHVRCHES‘ Lauren Mayberry. “All the songs were different from one another, but these ones we demoed as a band in the same room with the same set-up [which] made it sound more cohesive,” Black begins. “[Kiss & Tell] was all written in the same six months and all recorded in the same three weeks, and then produced and mixed in about a month.”
Self-produced by Black and Baillie Jnr, the record goes some of the way to recreating Babe’s thrilling full-band incarnation, despite its lack of live drums. Baillie Jnr’s input is a massive part of the energy of the live performance, and his production abilities steered the sound of the new record. This and his percussive skills were largely the reasons he was invited to properly join the band.
“I had a new tune that was more R’n’B,” Black begins. “[I asked John to] do a remix and he sent it back and it was like, ‘This is how it should sound.’ [We] had a three-day session and did every single song and we were like, ‘This is amazing’. We listened back and it was a bit too hyped up, we’d lost our little soft outer edge, so we went back in and eased up the compressors and turned everything down.” Then the band’s drummer at the time couldn’t make a gig – Baillie Jnr stepped in, and stayed. “I always knew he was a good drummer. He’s a total beast!” exclaims Black.
Black had stints living in France and Belgium, moving to London at the start of 2015 and returning to Glasgow a year later. The band is now split between London, Brussels and Glasgow but despite this they feel polished and united. “Sometimes we get together and write together. We do that more than we rehearse,” says Black. “Everyone is quite on it in our band, everyone has kind of written their own parts too which I think helps so they remember it and turn up. They’re the sort of guys that can improvise too.”
Lyrics don’t seem to take centre stage for Black. “I often feel lyrics get in the way of a good melody,” he suggests. “I hate it when you hear someone whining about something or being emotional about something. Who the fuck wants to listen to me? I try to make it as weird as possible but I also try to keep it poppy as well.
“Sometimes when I do songs I do it in the [Cocteau Twins vocalist] Elizabeth Fraser style, I sort of go for it and make up words and stuff and then I’m like, ‘I really like the way those vowel sounds go with that melody’, so I try to shoehorn words into it,” Black continues. “I do spend enough time on them to be proud of them, but it never starts with the lyrics. If I really want to get an idea into a song it’s more about the music first and the feeling of the song, and the words come last in terms of the structure.”
Babe reflects Glasgow’s diversity and acceptance of space for all styles in the music community. “It’s always been the way in Glasgow,” suggests Black, positive about the collective feel of the city’s music scene. “I’ve always felt like I haven’t really been part of a scene or anything but then I feel like the scene is more about everyone chipping in and sharing resources and ideas, inviting other people onto bills and so on.”
Their DIY approach is largely out of financial necessity, and technological availability. “I would love to go and work with a big hotshot producer but who’s going to pay for that? Not me, I don’t have any money!” Black admits. “I can’t really complain because I am getting by… but I don’t know how anyone else would do it. I certainly don’t know how anyone from Shettleston or whatever would be able to start up a band and think they might be able to take it seriously.”
With album three already written, Black hints at further reinvention of Babe. It will be self-produced again and hopefully with more of a live feel including live drums rather than programmed beats. “I think if anything it’s going to get smoother, if the demos are anything to go by it’s going to sound more like Sade,” he grins. But for now they’re ready to let Kiss & Tell into the world, and it’s bound to win hearts.