Broken Baby Will Fix Your Post Punk Cravings Blurred Culture Talks To Alex Dezen & Amber Bollinger About Band's Music and Plans for 2019
LOS ANGELES, CA- Late last year, I saw a band open for Dead Sara at the Teragram Ballroom that knocked my sock off: Broken Baby. The Los Angeles based band if formed around singer Amber and rock veteran/producer Alex Dezen (The Damnwells). With a fantastic post-punk sound and an undeniable charisma during their live performance, I became an instant fan.
On December 8th, 2018, Blurred Culture and no season was able to host this upstart group at Madame Siam in Hollywood for a performance celebrating the video release of their song “In Through The Output” and I was catch up with them for some photos and later talk with Amber and Alex about their music and what’s in store for 2019.
Hey guys. Just letting you know that pursuant to California law I’m obligated to tell you that I’m recording this conversation.
Alex: Pursuant to the laws of rock and roll, I’m obligated to tell you that I’m not wearing any pants.
That’s cool with me.
So, based on what I read online, Broken Baby kind of evolved out of broken relationships. Mind getting into that? Is that true?
Amber: And just failure in general. The feeling of failure. I had been an actor for years, and was getting pretty bored and disheartened. I was getting angry about it because it just wasn’t going the way I maybe thought it would go. I lost a huge amount of love and respect for the whole “craft.” I didn’t know where I wanted to go next. The band kind of saved me creatively.
How did you pair up with Alex?
Amber: We’d been dating for years, and he had his own things going on like The Damnwells and his own solo stuff and other stuff.
So Alex … was this your way of making your girlfriend happy?
Amber: I was actually opposed to it!
Alex: That’s actually true. I was always the front man of the bands that I was in and that was getting to be little overwhelming. It’s a lot to write the music, and front the band and to have to put the whole thing together. I just wanted to be secondary part of a project for a change. The impetus for the band was that we were on the road together for one of my solo records and she a backup singer with another friend of ours. Amber and I just got to talking and I got into how disillusioned in my own way with how the tour was going. I think that’s a constant in any artist’s life. The balance of disillusionment and excitement. Then I just thought, well, why don’t we just start a band where Amber’s the singer. And I thought we’d do something that was closer to what I guess would be more singer-songwriter stuff cause that was more of the world that I come from.
The Broken Baby music is a lot different from your other projects.
Alex: Yeah, for sure … but I’ve always wanted to play Broken Baby music, but I found myself following the trajectory of what was successful, I guess? I was really in one band my whole life. I’d been in The Damnwells for 16 years. It was a great time and I love those guys, but that style of music wasn’t necessarily the kind of music that I always wanted to do. With that group of guys, that the kind of music we always gravitated towards. So I wanted to do something different, and I just assumed that if Amber and I started a band together, it would be something like that. But after really thinking about it, we pulled out the records we loved and started listening.
Amber: Gang of Four.
Amber: Cyndi Lauper and The Pretenders.
Alex: The Jesus Lizard.
Amber: Bikini Kill.
Alex: And we were like, “Oh shit… this is way different than what we thought.” Post punk. Punk. Prog. All this stuff that I never got to do before. I just found myself in this other band … that I loved … but I feel like that if I was left to my own devices, this is what I would have been doing the whole time.
Amber, did you have any experience with singing prior to acting?
Amber: I was in a band before Broken Baby. Kind of like a co-singer type thing. I didn’t write really because the guy already had his music. I just kind of came in and sang, which I thought was what I wanted to do. I was like, I want the least amount of responsibility possible. Sure, that sounds fun. And that becomes really boring, really quickly. I wanted to be in a band that I really liked, and could contribute to.
How did you guys start writing music together? Do you remember the first song you guys wrote?
Alex: I just came up with a couple of little riffs, and then she started singing a melody, and we pulled out a little piano we have and started jamming out some melodies on that, and that became the first thing.
Amber: I think our first song was “Bullets of Bummer”. I was writing! I was like, “What the fuck is this?!”
Amber: We had no idea what it was going to sound like.
How’s the creative dynamic as couple? When someone has an idea, is the other person usually receptive to dropping something to work on what the other person is thinking?
Alex: Weeeeell ….
Amber: I’m usually the one who doesn’t like working stuff.
Amber: I’m one of those people who’s like, “Ok, we have to get this done? First, I have to do the dishes and then the laundry and then we need to clean the bedroom, then Alex would be, “What are you doing? Get in here, we’re writing the song today!” Cause, Alex has been writing music for 20 years, and he knows how to sit in a chair and do it, and I’m like, “Let’s go plant some stuff in the garden.”
Alex: It’s really important that Amber is part of the process because she is the band. I just try to do everything that I can to facilitate her creative process. Whether that’s coming up with a riff. Or just coming with a beat. I’ll offer up a couple of little “starts”. The most deadly thing for any artist is the “blank page”, so let’s just start with something. Maybe it won’t be the final thing, but it might inform something else. I try to do whatever I can to facilitate a process that helps bring out what Amber does which is obviously an indispensable part of what Broken Baby is.
Was there any song you wrote that’s on the album that surprised you guys?
Alex: That’s a good question.
Amber: That’s a really good question. Surprised?
Alex: You know, that’s hard. It’s hard to see the forest through the trees. We’re so close up to it. When I hear the songs, I hear all of the parts that I played and all of the different tracks that we have. So to take a step back, and use your objective mind to think about the music is always hard.
Amber: I’m kind of surprised that we did the thing in general.
Alex: I think we’re both kind of surprised that we actually did it.
Amber: Some of the songs that we wrote … we would start off with an idea or something, and then have no clue where we’re going lyrically. And then, when it’s done we’re like, “Ooooh. That does make sense.”
Alex: I guess they’re all kind of surprising. We just kind of take stuff and throw it against the wall. We start rearranging stuff and start pulling stuff back, and then throw more stuff against the wall. It’s a pretty messy process making Broken Baby songs.
What do you mean by messy?
Alex: There are like 8 different guitar parts that are all kind of competing for one thing. You want them to all live in the same song, but you’re like, “That doesn’t make any sense.” Then you start removing stuff, bringing the song back to it’s bare bones, and then maybe thinking, “Oh, that’s inadequate,” so I’ll add on another thing and take it another direction. We’re writing some new music right now, and I just pulled up a song that we’ve been working on the last couple days, and I was looking through the tracks. Since I engineer, as I go through and edit the tracks to clean them up, often times there are 4-5 tracks that have been muted for a month. Then I’ll be like, “What’s on the track?” and find a whole other song that’s been muted on top of this beat.
Gotta make sure you label all of the tracks, even the muted ones!
Alex: There is this philosophical modus operandi that we have that “nothing’s precious”, it’s all coming and going, but we do try to label them.
What’s your favorite song on the album?
Amber: I love “Are You Afraid?” It’s odd because I actually hated that song when we first starting writing it. I think I hated all of the songs when we first started writing them. “It’s My Show” is really fun. That’s become the most fun one to play live. And I love “Year of the Fatman”. I think I like them all most because they are easier to sing.
Amber: For “It’s My Show”, it doesn’t really matter how good a singer I am or anything like that. I can just antagonize the audience a little bit.
That’s probably the actor in you coming out a little bit.
Amber: That’s probably true.
Alex: I have a lot of favorite moments in songs and they’re all Amber’s lyrics and stuff or they’re little riffs.
Amber: My favorite solo is “Pass the Acetone”.
Alex: Hey, now.
Alex: Speaking of “Pass the Acetone”, there’s a part in it where there’s a breakdown after the solo going into the last chorus where she goes … how does it go?
Amber: “Nothing more makes me feel like a loser”.
Alex: That’s right. “Nothing more makes me feel like a loser than to hide all my bruises.” At the time we were writing it, it just kind of came out, and we didn’t stop to analyze it. We were just like, “that’s cool.” And then in retrospect, thinking back on that song. It’s kind of like looking at a tree from above. There are so many options to get to the root, but when you’re looking from the bottom, it all point to the same thing. With that song in particular, it’s hard for me to listen to her sing lyrics like that, because I’m the person with whom she shares her life, and there’s such a raw emotional sensor to these songs. It maybe doesn’t make itself known on first listen, but I’ve listened to these songs so many times. So when I hear her sing these songs, when I hear the emotion come out of her, and when I perform it live, I feel it. I’m affected by it. I think that people are affected by it. Riffs are fun, but they’re just the mode of transportation to the center of the song, which is always about something that Amber is struggling with.
You mentioned new music. What do we have to look forward to this year?
Alex: We started in 2018 and there was nothing.
Amber: Our first show was February 2018, so really we just have everything to look forward to. New music. New videos. Hopefully, a tour.
Alex: Hopefully get out a couple songs.
Amber: For our next show, we hope to play a few new songs.
Alex: We’re going to SXSW this year, which is both terrifying and exciting, but we’re hoping to release something before that. I don’t think we’ll be putting out a new album for 2019, but we’ll release some new songs and playing shows…
Amber: Just getting out there and connecting with new audiences