On the Road with: The Belle Brigade
The Belle Brigade, sibling duo Barbara and Ethan Gruska from Los Angeles, released their self-titled first album in April 2011. Since then they’ve been touring non-stop, having already performed in over 50 cities and counting. We caught up with the duo to ask them about their influences, life on the road, and what it’s like working with family.
What’s the story behind the band name?
Barbara: It’s a lyric from an old song we wrote about our younger brother Eli. So we had the band name before and it stuck.
Why the pear on the album cover?
B: Our last name means pear in Polish and we both have pear tattoos on our back.
What message were you sending with this album?
Ethan: A funny thing about this batch of songs is that it was really important for us to not be preaching. They are messages to ourselves about how to live a happier and healthier life…We’re genuinely talking to people about our experiences and it is emotion-based. I hope people can pick up on that and that it means something to them too.
Can you tell us the story behind one of the songs off the album?
E: “Sweet Louise” has a story that is linear. The story is about a friend of mine from college. He walked up to me and told me about a love letter he wrote to the girl he liked. She didn’t give the response he hoped for.
What’s the best and worst thing about working with your sibling?
B: The best thing is everything. Someone you know so well, that knows you so well, the creative process, the performance process. Being able to split the tedious jobs like driving and tour management. Everything about it is just the best. The worst thing…
E: She doesn’t like that I can run faster. It’s something that we’ve been working on and we run races around the city to practice. Even the hard parts are things that help us grow and become a stronger team. Sometimes it’s hard to travel and get logistics to work out. We really respect each other and it’s important for us to learn through everything we do.
Many of your influences are from the 60’s and 70’s. What do you love about this musical era?
E: What draws us to the music of this time is how organic it is. Most of what you hear is a band playing live together in a room. You have to keep up your musicianship. There was no auto-tuning. You couldn’t manipulate things as much as you can today.
You come from a very musical family. How did that shape you growing up? Did you always want to be involved in music as well?
E: Growing up around people that are lovers of music, and also musicians, was inspirational. We had a studio in our backyard. We would hang out there, we listened to them play, and we watched how they interacted. Music was a subconscious influence all the time. Once we realized we wanted to do it as a profession, we had an idea of how to do it and how to be professional about it.
Favorite live act you’ve seen?
E: If it’s people we’ve toured with, then watching k.d. lang and her band was amazing. They are the most incredible people and musicians. Of bands I’ve been to see…well, I haven’t been to too many gigs. Watching Bjork when I was 17 at Coachella was pretty unreal for me though.
B: We have so many musician friends in L.A. and most of the shows I see are my friends’ bands. I love seeing my friends play.
Favorite place you’ve performed?
E: Beacon Theatre in New York City. I absolutely loved it. It is a legendary spot. Our show sounded fantastic and was a highlight of my life.
B: I like playing in the smaller venues. Being an opener for someone else and trying to win over the audience is not the same. When we’re headlining and know people are there to see our band it’s amazing.
What do you like best about performing live?
E: The overall rush – the possibility of having a great show. They definitely don’t come every night. Also, having an awesome crowd that has fun watching us play. I don’t know how to describe a great show, but if it ends up being one it’s a huge rush and a great pleasure.
What is your favorite song to perform live and why?
B: Mine always changes. Right now probably “Where Not to Look for Freedom.” I know it’s often Ethan’s favorite song but I’ve been enjoying it a lot lately.
E: It’s been my favorite song for the past few weeks. Barb gets on the drums, there’s a shift in energy and it’s awesome to watch that and go for it.
How do you spend your down time when you’re on the road?
B: Mostly we just explore the town we’re in and see if we can find a good restaurant. I like to eat vegetarian so good vegetarian restaurants are always fun. A lot of the band likes to check out bookstores, vintage clothing stores, and see what the town has to offer.
Who’s someone you guys would like to tour with in the future?
B: We’re really looking forward to touring with Dawes and Blitzen Trapper. We’re friends with Dawes. They are all good musicians and good people and it’s going to be really fun.
What’s next for the band?
B: We’ve been on tour for the better part of the last six months. We’ve been on the road for the majority of that time and we’re continuing for the next few weeks. We’re just writing now and gearing up for our next record. We love to be creative and work on new material.
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