One of L.A.’s hottest rising bands is coming to NYC for a three-night stand at the legendary Beacon Theater. Made up of brother/sister combination, The Belle Brigade is Ethan and Barbara Gruska. The two have created brilliant singer/songwriter/pop style of songs that sound like a close mix between the melodic combo of Simon & Garfunkel, and the pop friendliness of Fleetwood Mac. If you haven’t heard them yet, you’ll be quick to hear their one-of-a-kind sound in songs like “Not The One” and “When Everything Was What It Was”. Both off their recent release Just Because.
The band has been touring with Ray LaMontagne all spring and summer in support of the album. Impressively, not only have they opening for LaMontagne, but they’ve also been spending the tour as part of Ray’s backing band as well.
Ethan and Barbara have only been on the scene for a short while – Reprise Records released their self-titled debut album in 2011. They’ve been surrounded by professional music their whole lives, as their grandfather happens to be one of the greatest composers of our time in John Williams. They’ve seemed to carve out their own niche in pop music though, as their unique style isn’t exactly fit to play during the imperial march of stormtroopers, rather the kind that could easily fit on the soundtrack of a more modern and realistic adventure.
On a cold and rainy fall morning during a tour stop in Philadelphia, the two were able to phone in for a bit to talk about how it’s been playing with Ray on their tour and what they like most about visiting New York.
P&W: You guys have been on the road since the spring right? How’s it been out playing songs off the new album?
Barbara: We toured so much in support the first record, it’s been nice to have a change and some new material to play every night.
P&W: Speaking of the new album, Just Because is so diverse and unique sounding. Was finding the specific sounds for this album easy or was it a longer/tougher process?
Ethan: It was mostly just experimenting. I wouldn’t say it was hard finding the right sounds, but it took a little longer. We didn’t have a lot of specific music ideas in mind, rather we just went in the studio and let ourselves and our engineers take some good risks.
Barbara: Yeah there wasn’t a big game plan. We wanted it to be more of a pop/craft style of songwriting for the first (album), but for this we cared less about that and more about tapping into something more personal and honest. We still cared a lot about the songwriting but it was more introspective this time around.
P&W: You’re playing a 3-night stand at The Beacon opening for Ray next week, excited to play such a historical venue?
Ethan: We played it a couple years ago opening for K.D. Lang. Every time we playing it is pretty special.
Barbara: Playing NYC has changed every time for us. The last time we played the Beacon was kind of an older crowd, but we played Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom and people were so energetic and fantastic. The crowds are so intensely cool. One might think that New York fans might seem jaded, but that’s never been the case when we play there.
P&W: You’re opening for Ray but are you also part of his backing band? What’s that experience like?
Ethan: It’s great. We’ve been doing it for almost half the year. It can be tough after four or five shows in row and trying to maintain your voice but it’s so cool to engage and talk with the audience for our set and then come back out with Ray and just focus on playing.
Barbara: I would say it’s much easier to be in the backing band because you don’t have to focus on having that vocal connection with the audience. You of course have to have the same energy, but it is more difficult as the front person because you have to find things to say to engage the audience as opposed to just being a musician. Some nights you just have nothing to say and you just want to go out their and play.
P&W: You come from a musical family so when did you think it was something you’d want to do together in your adult lives?
Barbara: I’d say 5 or 6 years ago. I was 25 and Ethan was 18 and we’d been writing and doing our own thing, and we just though it would be a good thing to try.
Ethan: I don’t think we expected to work together growing up. We weren’t close like we are now. Spending all this time together has been so natural and really nice.
P&W: You two are from LA, do you like coming to NYC?
Barbara: It’s just so beautiful, especially in all the architecture. There’s that crisp NYC feeling in the fall as well. The summer and dead of winter is tough but the spring and fall are just so beautiful. It’s really iconic.
Ethan: I love how everything is within walking distance. It makes it so easy to explore. Obviously in LA there’s no walking to get from place to place, so being able to walk everywhere in New York makes it so easy to explore and discover new places in the city.
P&W: Aside from new material obviously with the new album, is there anything new you’ve been trying on this tour?
Barbara: This is the first tour where I’ve been doing drums full time. Before I would be more upfront playing guitar and singing, so the full time drumming to go along with my vocals has been new for me. It’s been smooth though.
Article by: Tom Shackleford