Babehoven Keeps Going When the Going is Tough on Nastavi, Calliope

How do we mourn the living? Maya Bon of Babehoven unpacks this strange, but not uncommon, phenomenon on her new EP, Nastavi, Calliope, out today. The record strings together Bon’s meandering streams of consciousness, connecting moments of apathy to deep swells of emotion. She navigates deeply fractured relationships and loss of loved ones while searching for a connection to Croatia, her birthplace (“Nastavi” means “keep going” in Croatian and “Calliope” is the name of her eccentric childhood dog who passed away this year).

Bon says these two words served as a compass for her this past year as she waded through pools of grief, uncertainty and loss. “[Nastavi] just really stuck with me because that felt so true for me this year,” says Bon. “I really just wanted to keep going and feel okay in myself. Recording became my avenue to do that.”

Bon explains that her reconnection to Croatia has been a way to form ties outside of a familial context. Her family left the country when she was five years old and her father stayed behind. She returned four years ago, at age 21, and saw her father for the first time in sixteen years. With this emotional reunion came a chance to connect not only to an estranged family member, but to her estranged culture. “My family is very painful for me,” says Bon, “so it feels very special to contain something that’s not family but is somewhere that I’m from.” This yearning to connect yielded Croatian classes and a seat in a Balkan choir, activities that have helped Bon root deeper into her identity. 

Though Bon doesn’t overtly say in our conversation who she’s grieving, album opener “Bad Week” outlines a heartbreaking fallout. “You were both a father and a brother to me/You were my whole family,” Bon sings well into the song, illustrating the crushing blow of losing someone extremely close to you. Her pleading vocals narrate the cyclical nature of grief and the way that it feels like it will never end; “It’s hard to talk about it/Been a bad week/It’s been a bad week for a long time.” Bon says that she uses her songwriting as a vessel to communicate about things that feel too intimate to share in conversation. 

“It’s weird that it comes out in my music because, at least in the beginning, I never talked about these things with people,” Bon muses. “Family, for me, always felt very private, because in a way, it was forced for me to be like that. There was always so much shame and layers of grief.”  

Instead of overtly talking about loss and trauma, these feelings come out in fragmented lyrics, scattering puzzle pieces for others – and herself – to put together. This is especially palpable in “Crossword,” a vivid description of Bon’s internal monologue. “Angus carried my bike up the stairs as I stood at the bottom/And I’m not sure if I just stared/Or if I thanked him/There’s a high chance that I’m feeling broken hearted,” she sings in the opening lines of the song, poignantly depicting a dissociative episode. Even her lyrical phrases run into each other like waves in a storm, mirroring her jumbled thoughts.

Between these moments of grieving and reflection, Bon leaves space for appreciating the loved ones around her. In “Alt. Lena,” she pays homage to a close friend and captures the familiarity and comfort we can find in our chosen family. She says that this is actually the only song she’s written that wasn’t from a stream of consciousness, but constructed from a laundry list of things her friend, Lena, likes. Sun-drenched guitars and Bon’s relaxed vocals paint a picture of a person who feels like being on vacation. Lena’s aura is so strong it reaches through the speakers and to the listener, generating memories of those people in our lives who seem too magical to be true.

Although Nastavi, Calliope doesn’t exactly offer a cure to grief, it offers a hand to hold through whatever loss you may be experiencing, a reminder that you’re not alone and that there are beautiful moments sprinkled in with the sad ones. And that sometimes writing a song about making out with your best friend is the form of healing you need.

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fanclubwallet Finds the Bright Side on Debut EP Hurt is Boring

Photo Credit: Ian Filipovic

Like the airbag that “popped and knocked sense into me” in her debut EP’s opener “Car Crash in G Major,” Ottawa’s fanclubwallet comes out swinging on Hurt is Boring. The punchy blend of indie rock and bedroom pop, helmed by Hannah Judge, brims with bouncy, high octave keys, asserting joy in a way that contrasts some of its darker subject matter. Hitting you with disaster from the get-go—a violent, traumatizing car crash that serves as a metaphor for a doomed relationship—is way of commanding attention, and Judge’s breezy delivery is a Trojan horse; worms nest so casually in your ears that you find yourself humming about your skin falling off as you brew your morning tea.

Fleshed out while a Crohn’s disease flare-up left Judge bedridden for ten months, Hurt is Boring touches on every emotion across an omnipresent spectrum of existential ennui. Lucky to have podded up with her producer (and grade school best friend) Michael Watson, just a few modifications were made for an adapted recording process in her childhood home that’s as literal as bedroom pop can get, with Judge tracking vocals while lying down as Watson set up shop “at a very tiny overcrowded desk in the corner.” “I’m really grateful that [Watson] was so accommodating and willing to help me find ways of recording that worked for me,” Judge says. “There’s a photo of me somewhere lying in bed with an overhead mic and holding a keyboard. It looks a little silly, but it got the job done!”

Hurt is Boring follows a steady stream of singles dropped throughout 2020 after finding success with her cover of the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.” The pandemic, coupled with her boredom in recovery, gave her the time and mental space to hone in on her first cohesive project. She fittingly describes this past year as “pretty bonkers…for everyone,” and though disability might not have been what did us all in, the sentiment is familiar: we’re all, categorically, tired; with her upbeat musings and a soft charm, Judge wakes us—and herself—up.

“I love music with a consistent beat, stuff you can dance to or at least bop your head to,” she says. “Whenever I sit down to actually produce things, they end up being a lot happier than they originally sounded just on guitar.” Recounting a relationship’s disintegration in the most brutal way over a bright, almost Sheryl Crow-like instrumental shouldn’t make as much sense as it does, but it’s liberating. 

“I’m never really intentionally trying to write really depressing lyrics, just kind of talking about what I know,” she says. “C’mon Be Cool” came of “overanalyzing how I thought people might feel about me,” she continues. “‘C’mon be cool, I’m not gonna be rude to you’ is just me being like, ‘Okay, let’s all just take a breather… it’s been a rough year.” She renders that misery in small details like a bandaid left on just a little too long, but also offers a little kindness: “I don’t see what you see in making all this fuss.”

Judge scatters these sharp and severe elements throughout the EP, from flying shrapnel to a cold bathroom floor, echoing the lyricism of Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, two songwriters she admires. Situating metaphors for bitterness and grief over easy pop beats normalizes them, breaks them down into something less cynical and more serene.

On maintaining mystery to her lyrics, she explains, “I don’t like to give too much away… I think life is really just built up of small moments that we think about over and over until they feel like big ones… It means what it means to me, and if it means something entirely different to you that’s cool too.”

“I would love to write a really happy song, but I’m just not quite sure how,” she confesses, but these tracks are happy, albeit in their own refreshing way. The abrupt fanclubwallet approach comes from Judge’s proclivity for “dwelling” (“I honestly never stop,” she admits), but by the time you reach the EP’s end, you realize that hints of optimism hide between the glittery synths and danceable beats of each track. It’s funny to think that “Hurt is Boring” was written about a year before the others, but makes for a rewarding end—it’s her admission that “Hey, it’s okay to feel like crap sometimes,” simply put. “Otherwise,” she reasons, “you won’t notice the good stuff.”

Follow fanclubwallet on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Anya Baghina Explores Non-Linear Stages of Grief with “To Be Alone”

With her last four singles, Brooklyn-based songwriter Anya Baghina (also of Soviet Girls) has uncoiled an intimate vignette into the past three years of her life. The songs encapsulate a time period characterized by grief, longing, change, and growth and are capped off with her recent video for the song “To Be Alone.” While Baghina’s music walks us through her journey with mourning and isolation, she manages to make her deeply personal experiences universally relatable, as though each story she tells can be molded to fit whatever trials the listener is currently going through.

The rest have been released via Bandcamp as stand-alone singles over the last year. Each is appropriately coupled with a photograph of her late mother, who passed away in January 2017. Baghina explains that the songs were written in the wake of her mother’s passing and evolved in meaning over time. “At the moment when I really needed to let them out, I wrote them,” says Baghina. “Then I sat on them a little bit and when I re-approached them I was able to finish them.” Although chronicling the emotional aftermath of a tragic loss is an undoubtedly painful and sometimes impossible process, Baghina says that revisiting these songs after a bit of time gave her a chance to reflect on her growth.

She remembers the day that she finished writing her latest single, “To Be Alone.” “It felt kind of special because it was almost a year after,” explains Baghina. “I remember feeling sad that I still felt this way, the lyrics were still very relevant, but I did acknowledge that there was some progress made in dealing with grief.” The song is an especially poignant portrait of wading through debilitating loss and depression.

“How are you doing, are you lonesome? / Did you forget to eat today?” Baghina asks herself in the opening lines of “To Be Alone,” devastatingly depicting a depressive internal dialogue. But while some of the questions Baghina poses in the song are hard to hear, she explains that they can be a segue into healing. “I think whenever you find yourself really alone with your thoughts, it can be a really scary thing. But it doesn’t have to be if you can start to process them,” Baghina says.

And that’s exactly what Baghina’s music does – heal. She recorded one of the songs in the basement of The Forge, an artist residency she founded in Detroit before moving to NYC, and the other three in Soviet Girls bandmate Devin Poisson’s bedroom, with just one take for each. That gave these songs a directness and honesty that almost forces the listener to look within. In fact, finishing and recording this body of work has been an integral part of Baghina’s own healing process. “Performing and working on them now comes from a very different place,” explains Baghina. “Before, I think these songs would put me back into that state of general depression and bring up feelings that I couldn’t yet handle. So yeah, when I approach them now it’s from a healing perspective.”

Part of this healing process was finding a way to stay connected to her mother in the wake of her absence. Baghina explains that the photos that accompany the songs aren’t solely an homage to her mom, but a way to tie together both of their lived experiences. “I inherited these photo albums and some of the more special ones include photographs of my mother when she was young and lived in the Soviet Union,” Baghina says. “She has a pretty powerful story about growing up in a small village and going to Moscow to study in a university and eventually moving to the US. I think during the Soviet era it was especially difficult to find your freedom and your voice and I think she represents a lot of that for me. So these photographs really belong with these songs.”

Baghina, who was born in Moscow and lived there until age ten, says that her roots have heavily influenced her simplistic and direct style of songwriting. She explains the importance of folk songs in Russian culture, songs that almost everyone she knew could sing every word of. “I think a lot of my song composition does come from that, how there’s a lot of repetition… that way that once you hear the melody you can start to sing along,” Baghina muses. She couples her infectious, folk song-inspired melodies with the romantically tragic darkness found in some of her Russian influences including authors Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and rock band Lumen to create her own brand of nostalgic melancholia.

“To Be Alone” finds Baghina in the same place as almost everybody else in the entire world right now: alone and continuously navigating the non-linear stages of grief. The video, recorded during this international quarantine, eerily mirrors the cyclical routine that many people have built around their new-found solitude – bed, outdoors, bathroom, couch, repeat. Baghina’s candidly universal lyrics and soothing voice reminds us now, more than ever, that we’re never really alone.

Follow Anya Baghina on Facebook for ongoing updates.