Analogue Music | Bailen


By Matt Conner

If every album is a series of snapshots, then Bailen's latest charts a significant learning curve for the band.

For the three Bailen siblings—Julia, Daniel, and David—the global pandemic gave way to a long season in which momentum was paused, approaches were questioned, and uncertainty took over. Within this space, Bailen's members kept writing but toward unknown ends. Songs piled up from each individual and co-writing sessions to fill the time only added more. All the while, the band was asking the same existential questions faced by most during a trying time.

On the other side, Bailen is back with Tired Hearts, a new album steeped in restraint that features a more mature trio on the other side. Working with Grammy-winning producer Brad Cook (Nathaniel Rateliff, Bon Iver), the trio found new levels of freedom in their craft even if some of the lessons were painful.

We recently sat down with all three Bailen members to hear more about the writing process behind Tired Hearts and what comes next when there are so many songs still sitting around.

Analogue: There’s a really expansive sound on the new album. Places I love, like on “Tired Hearts”, where there’s more production and a bigger sound for the band and yet there’s also a lot of fragility and restraint. I’d love to start with the sonic vision and whether you were wanting a wider range going in?

Julia Bailen: Daniel, you wanna take that? I feel you did a lot of soul-searching and production work on the front end of it.

Daniel Bailen: Yeah, that song “Tired Hearts,” we kept calling it the overture of the album. It encompasses a lot of the album all at once. It starts intimate and sparse and opens up to the most produced or it goes from minimalist to maximalist in that song. It foreshadows what the rest of the album is going to be. We do express the really quiet parts and the really loud parts of the record.

We grew up singing in the opera when we were kids growing up in New York City and we always loved the concept of an overture. This is our ode to that.

Analogue: Did you bring that in as a cornerstone track? Or did Brad point to that one or others?

Daniel: I think Brad wanted that one and “These Bones” were the songs that he wanted to work the album around.

David Bailen: I like that you used the word fragile because it was pretty intentional—the fragility of the record—in terms of how we used our voices. As a trio, it’s hard to create a singular narrative voice especially when there are three lead singers. So we talked to Brad a lot about our desire to create a singular narrative as opposed to an album who has three people on it who each take a song. We wanted this almost androgynous kind of voice throughout the record where you almost don’t know who is singing at what point. What we landed on was inspired of Daniel’s demo of “These Bones”…

Daniel: Yeah, Brad thought it was Julia singing.

David: He heard that and asked, ‘Why don’t we try to go for that this whole record?’ Instead of making big moments where we belt it out, why don’t we go for big moments that draw you in? People are listening on headphones, it's a more intimate experience listening to music now in a way. So there was a lot of talk about how we can be big in the smallest way possible. There were a lot of fragile moments, honestly, when recording the vocals. So we did think a lot about that.

Julia: Yeah, we thought about a lot about restraint and when to belt things out and what was creating more tension by not belting. And also it was written in a time where we were all experiencing a lot of solitude, so I think it’s reflected in a lot of the choices we made.

David: During the first year of the pandemic, Julia hadn’t sung loudly. We’d all been very quiet. [Laughs]

Julia: Yeah I got really good at singing while sitting down, which had never been a thing for me before.

Daniel: It also felt wrong to sing so loud. It felt weird and then Brad was like, ‘Well then why do you guys feel like you need to? Let’s just do it this way, you idiots.’ [All laugh]

Analogue: I spoke with the Lone Bellow not that long ago and they described wanting to do away with the big emotional vocal swell they were known for on their latest album. It was an exercise in exploring new interests and seeing what they can do. Was this about exploration at all?

Julia: I think a lot of these songs were coming off pretty saccharine on the recordings. They just felt overly emotional in a way that wasn’t really getting the song across as well. And also, we wrote a lot of these songs separately at first and subsequently edited them together and finished them together.

Because of that, a lot of them in ProTools or Logic and fleshed out that way. I think that had a big impact because we were standing around demoing out stuff in a room. We were just making rough drafts and I think a lot of these songs stayed in that world on the recording.

When we do them live, they’re a lot bigger and it’s really fun. It’s been a really fun journey to organize them for a power trio because sometimes they come out really differently and other times really faithful. I’m really happy that they landed in a different place on the recording so that we can do something different with them live.

David: Yeah, the last record we did, we’d played those songs live for two years before we went into the studio. Then when we went in, we knew how the songs were arranged and so we just captured them. That was great, but it also made them hard to change them.

"People are going to come to the shows and hear them in a totally different way. I love that when I go to see a band. I think that’s fun. Otherwise, just play the track."

Julia: Or to tailor them for a recording.

David: Yeah, they worked live, but that doesn’t mean the emotion will come across in the microphone or in the room. But on these songs, we had a clear palette or page to work on, so we focused on making the record version of these songs. We didn’t think whether they would translate live or whether we were recording it the way we’d do it live.

That’s been great because we’ve been given freedom to do whatever we want with them live. People are going to come to the shows and hear them in a totally different way. I love that when I go to see a band. I think that’s fun. Otherwise, just play the track. [Laughs]

Analogue: Julia mentioned the different ways of writing on this album and it just made me wonder how collaborative the final product is here compared to previous albums.

David: Ultimately I think the collaboration is pretty even for this record and the last record. We all end up getting our hands pretty dirty on all of the songs. We take on different roles, depending on who starts the song. Where the impetus comes from dictates the other two people’s roles in the process. If the idea comes from Julia, per se, it’s a lot of Daniel and me trying to help her actualize her voice in the song. It’s similar when the song starts from Daniel or me.

Julia: We’re pretty big editors. We edit songs judiciously. If there is a song where the majority comes from one of us, we spend a lot of time hashing out lines or editing lyrics or editing form together. That being said, we have written songs in many different ways. It just germinates in different ways. Sometimes we’ll come with a very fully-formed song to the table and sometimes it will be one line or half of a chorus.

David: I’d say if there’s any moment where we’re writing at the same time and an idea germinates from all of us at the same moment, it’s usually the melodic part. We’ll be jamming and have the melody come and we’ll throw the ball around to create the melody that way. But lyrics are a much more personal process, so it’s harder to do that together.

Analogue: So what was the cutting room floor like? Did you have more because you were writing during the pandemic?

Julia: Yeah I think we chose from like 65 or 70 songs.

Daniel: Not like complete songs. Some were half songs.

David: But there were a lot of complete songs.

Daniel: But that’s not that many. That’s like 20 songs each over the course of two years.

Julia: Our label also posted a lot of writing sessions as well because that was all you could do with the pandemic for a while. So we wrote for ages. We wrote for another year after we felt ready to go in and record, so when we got in there, we felt confused and got all angsty about the songs we’d choose and what sort of album we were going to make.

We could have made three different records with the other 30 songs or whatever, but Brad was very adamant that we just choose the songs that we felt the most for. There were definitely some co-writes on the record we all love a lot, but most of the songs were written by just the three of us. Ultimately I think we chose the songs we really cared about.

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