Every city has its own unique brand of loneliness. In New York, loneliness is embodied by long subway rides surrounded by strangers listening to sad music, avoiding eye contact. In Los Angeles, you don’t have to brush shoulders with strangers; you’re able to move from one part of town to the next in a car built for one. Los Angeles-based duo BABERS explore the cold nature of the city and the bravery of being yourself from day one on latest single “Something I Can Give.”
“It’s a lost cause / Maybe you’ll just write me off / when you find / that I’m not what you wanted,” Dana Cargiol and Lisa Haagen harmonize on the chorus, their voices combining to create a pulsating echo, sound bouncing off the back wall of a crowded room. It’s a wallflower’s lament, a song someone sings when they’re coming out of the shadows, ready to take the world by storm. BABERS walk the delicate tightrope that is harmony; two voices supporting each other, lifting each other up to crescendo. What begins as a quiet, plaintive plea ends as a full-bodied demand: see me for who I really am.
Listen to AudioFemme’s exclusive stream of “Something I Can Give” and read our interview with Dana and Lisa below.
AF: How was BABERS founded? Where did you initially cross paths?
DC: We initially crossed paths at our bassist’s birthday party where she asked everyone to come wearing a Canadian Tuxedo. Yvonne had asked both of us to play an acoustic set for our friends.
LH: We both got there early to help set up and so about five minutes after meeting we were asked to test the photo-booth. As brand new friends, we were posing back to back in our matching outfits with backwards hats, serving serious “it takes two” vibes. That comfortability was instant and our style really hasn’t evolved.
DC: BABERS was founded after we’d been friends for a couple of years. We had been doing separate music things and then Lisa asked if I could sing in her band.
LH: Dana started out jumping in for backing vocals in my project, but our voices had a sister-blend that surprised us both. I had never been able to convince my sisters to be in a band with me so that blend was really cool to find in a friend. Once we were singing together it was very clear to me that she could never leave the band.
At the beginning, we talked about changing the name but we didn’t have any other ideas that felt right. A while later we started saying ‘babers’ when talking about the band, but we thought we were past the point of being able to change it. After using it internally for about a year we were like, wait – I think this IS the band name. We ran it past our bassist Yvonne and a few people that had the right to veto it, but it felt like the right move for the band.
AF: Your vocals are incredibly tight. How do you decide when each member takes the lead, when you’ll harmonize, etc? Does it just come down to a lot of experimentation?
DC: Thank you! We’ve worked really hard at tightening our vocals and singing together. We often joke about how we decide the lead, and our general rule of thumb is: Lisa sings the saddest songs and Dana sings the happier (sounding) songs. When it comes to vocal parts and harmonizing, it’s definitely a lot of experimentation and trying different things. For “Something I Can Give” in particular, we can both remember sitting in Lisa’s apartment, playing acoustic guitar, and attempting new bends and blends through the main chorus lines. We have voice memos from that first test run that helped us check off the final product that we’re proud of and love.
AF: At what age did you start making music? Who were your early music influences?
DC: I’ve been a singer for most of my life and I’m a reformed theatre kid. When I got into high school, I’d been singing arias and opera and most of the music I’d been listening was Broadway cast recordings. I started to make music my senior year of high school, and it started with a ukulele. I was inspired by singer-songwriters like Ingrid Michaelson, Kate Nash, and Julia Nunes. I was attracted to their pleasant sadness that they all carried in their melodies and lyrics. Later in college, I started to get more into musicians like Joe Purdy, Eisley, and Florence & The Machine. When I started music it was a mix of goofy, joke songs and sad, unrequited love songs that felt more dramatic than they actually are. Since then, I’ve expanded my music taste a lot and love a large mix of things, but usually I’m looking to see and feel what emotions are evoked while listening. I’ve loved making music with Lisa and seeing how our styles and influences blend together.
LH: My parents introduced me to music really young – I started playing drums at age four and that was my main instrument while I was playing in the band in school. We also had a family band that played oldies for local talent shows. When I went to college, I decided to bring a guitar and actually figure out how to play it. It was when I started writing that I got hooked and I started singing, out of necessity. It took another few years before I acknowledged I was a singer at all. Being able to play a range of instruments has also had a big effect on how we write because we are considering everything from the beginning. Dana and I always demo out the full arrangement before going into the studio process… so even though we continue to workshop and test things we already know the vibe for how we want the parts to fit together.
AF: What artists have shaped BABERS as a band?
LH: I’ve always thought the range of what we listen to has been the bigger influence. Dana listens to a lot of hip-hop which I think you can hear in how she delivers phrases. Listening to Ben Howard encouraged me to try alternate tunings which is still very much a part of how I write on the guitar. Our sound now uses a lot of guitar pedals for creating moody soundscapes and that’s where we will draw some tonal comparisons to Daughter. More than anything I think we both attach to lyrics and artists that write in a stream of conscious way.
AF: Tell us about “Something I Can Give.” How did the song come about?
LH: This song was one of the hardest to write because I was trying to articulate this really big thing about believing that I am valuable regardless of receiving affirmation about it. When I moved to LA, it was the first time I ever had to really talk about myself because before that, there had always been context around me. I’m from a small/tight community so I am used to people knowing me. When I moved, suddenly I had no context around me so if I didn’t talk about myself, people would invent this version of me that I then had to work to undo. I was constantly being asked the same questions over and over… things I wasn’t used to having to explain about myself because I had always been familiar. I was having to defend my value across everything: as a band without trying to be cool, as a friend without feeling like I had to date any and everyone I connect with. I feel really sure why I do what I do, but not everyone will be on board with my reasoning. At the end of the day, of course I want to be liked but I don’t want that to be the reason I’m making decisions. This song is about trying to distance myself from the people pleaser in me.
AF: You’re based in Los Angeles. What are your favorite music venues in the city?
DC: The venues in LA are one of the huge benefits to being a Los Angeles-based band. We love the mid-sized venues like The Echo, The Fonda, and The Troubadour. There are so many amazing places to play and watch music.
LH: Hotel Cafe is still the best place to stumble into on any night. Whether it’s shows or showcases I think it’s a sure bet that you’ll walk out with a new songwriter that you’re in love with.
AF: Where do you see BABERS five years, ten years down the line?
DC: In five years, we’d love to have a couple albums out and to be actively touring. We’d be over the moon if we could be with the same bandmates we are now but they have their own big dreams so we’re just lucky as long as we can have them. It’ll definitely be Lisa and I still making music together.
LH: We love the community that music creates so when we talk about the far out future I think we want to have our own studio and be able to record and maybe even manage bands that we believe in.
Check out BABERS live in Los Angeles Thursday, August 22nd at The Satellite.