Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interview: Barb Baillie from Baylou

Barb and Victoria Baillie had already established individual careers as musicians by the time they formed Baylou in 2012. Victoria won a Golden Guitar in 2010 for Best New Talent and Barb has played guitar and sung vocals for many leading Australian country music artists (including Victoria).
            The sum of the two sisters, though, seems to be even greater than their individual parts, as I found when I interviewed Barb recently. She was driving back from CMC Rocks the Hunter when we spoke, so I asked her about the experience.
            Oh, CMC was fantastic,’ she said, ‘we had the best time.  The weather was amazing and releasing the new album, we just had the best gig we possible could have asked and prayed for.’
            As CMC is an outdoor event, it favours big, loud shows rather than intimate performances; not having seen Baylou perform live, I didn’t know if just the two of them perform or if they have a band.
            ‘Sometimes Victoria and I do a few intimate gigs,’ Barb told me, but the CMC show was with their band. ‘We got to showcase all of the songs on our album and it was the first time Victoria and I performed at CMC Rocks the Hunter … that show [is] going to be very similar to the shows that we’re going to do in the future.’
            Baylou is only about a year old, so I thought they were doing well to already perform at CMC Rocks the Hunter; even though both women have been in country music for a while, it was no given that that they’d score a slot at the festival.
We’re very, very lucky to have gotten on CMC Rocks the Hunter,’ said Barb. ‘It’s a very prestigious festival with lots of international acts that are coming over, bigger and better acts every year.  Victoria had performed at the CMC Rocks the Snowies a few years ago and the Hunter a few years back, and I performed in her band, but, yeah, we were very, very lucky to get on the festival this year.’
            Given that they’d both established separate (if linked) careers as singers and musicians, I wondered how they find working together now.
Well, it’s a pleasure to be working with my sister,’ said Barb. ‘It’s not necessarily like she’s my boss, in a sense.  When I worked for other artists such as Beccy Cole and Troy Cassar-Daley and Adam Harvey, I have been in the backing band and playing guitar and singing backing vocals and I’ve never been in the spotlight, whereas working with my sister, we’re both up the front together and we’re both standing in the spotlight, and it’s something new and the concept is different and it has no relation to anything that Victoria and I have done in the past as individuals.  It’s edgy, it’s new, there’s lots of new songs and we’re a duo, we’re both up the front as equals.’
            So, I asked, is there a clear division of duties between the two of them, or is there any jockeying for position about who sings what?
‘Victoria predominantly sings most of the lead and I sing harmony to Vicki, but we’re both up the front, the vocals are up the front, we’re both singing together and I’m playing guitar.’
Singing harmonies is harder than it may look – anyone who has sung harmonies will know what I mean – so I wanted to know if Barb liked that part of her job. And, I love it,’ she said. ‘I love singing and I love singing with my sister; it’s an absolute pleasure.  I mean, nothing beats that genetic sound when family sings together and I love these songs – I have the pleasure of being able to be a part of the writing process and the recording process, and the inspiration behind these songs.  I’m not singing other people’s songs, it’s the first time I’ve been able to get up on stage and sing my song.’
            The sisters started writing their new album, Go to Hell & I Love You, two years ago when they went on their first long trip to Nashville, staying for three months. Another three-month stint there last year took care of the bulk of the writing. While some of the songs came easily, writing was ‘a track-by-track situation, says Barb. ‘The title track, for instance, ‘Go to Hell & I Love You’, that was a situation that I was going through at the time and I came up with the title and a melody and chord progression of the song and I brought this idea into a songwriting room with my sister and a fantastic singer/songwriter, her name’s Emily Shackelton, and the song came so easily –the words came out, the melody came out and it just all fell into place. Victoria and I fell in love with the song straightaway and decided that that was definitely going to be on the album. Whereas some of the other songs, they might not necessarily come as easy.’
            Barb and Victoria obviously draw on their own experiences for writing songs – and a lot of listeners might assume that they are mainly singing about their own lives, given the passion in their vocals and the immediacy of the lyrics – but Barb says that ‘we get inspiration from other people and other situations. There’s a song on the album called ‘Reckless’ which Victoria and I wrote with a fantastic writer, his name’s Eric Paslay – he’s written a string of number one hits for artists such as Lady Antebellum, Jake Owen and the Eli Young Band – and drew inspiration from that song from a really close friend of mind. It’s not a love song; it’s actually just a really edgy, rocky song.’
            On that point of passionate vocals, I mentioned to Barb that it was pleasing to hear in one song in particular (‘These Lips’) that the song, and the vocals, sounded like a grown-up woman expressing grown-up needs – there was no euphemising of the content or pretending that the song was about anything else, as can sometimes happen.
‘That song is a very strong song,’ said Barb. ‘The difference is, it’s written about a woman and it’s not necessarily written about our experience, I think we drew that inspiration just from really strong women in general who may have been in a situation with a man who – they want to hurry up and make a move, and strong independent women, they’re like, come on, let’s got a move on.  You’ve got me sitting here and waiting on you; don’t keep me waiting.’
Barb wrote the song with Ira Dean from the band Trick Pony.  Ira was ‘an absolute character to get into the writing room with,’ said Barb. ‘He was so edgy and came up with all the links on that song and there was another song, the lyrics just rolled out.’
Victoria’s career was more public than Barb’s before they formed Baylou, but Barb already had considerable musical and performing experience of her own – I asked her just how much experience she’s had, and she said, I’ve had the opportunity to go on tour with Beccy Cole just before I turned 21, which was last year – no, I’m joking [laughter].’
            Originally from Victoria, Barb moved to Sydney and found work as a guitarist and backing vocalist, ‘predominantly touring with Beccy Cole,’ she says, ‘but I was doing a lot of studio work.’
            Working as a full-time musician was, she said, ‘really hard. I mean, I’ve been very, very fortunate to be able to make a living off my music and off being a musician, for quite some time.’ 
            Having established that career, though, there must have been both opportunities and risks in creating Baylou. Perhaps the biggest adjustment for both Barb and Victoria is, as Barb says, that they have to ‘go back to step number one because we are a new act – we can’t just keep going from where we were at previously, because we are a new act, we need to create new fans, because there’s a lot of people out there that were fans of us individually that may not realise that we’ve joined forces.’
            But when I asked Barb if it was a bit scary to decide to join forces, having come quite a long way separately in their own careers, we never really thought about it like that,’ she said. ‘We were very, very lucky to land a record deal with ABC Universal, who believed in us and believed in the future of Baylou, you know, they believed in what was had to offer them and they believed in our dream. So the team behind us and the management behind us truly believed in us.  It totally makes our job a lot easier and it lets us be able to just focus on the music and focus on the sound, and focus on us being us.’
            Barb has mentioned luck a couple of times during our interview, but I tend to believe that people make their own luck – she and Victoria had both worked long and hard on their own careers, and both have had incredible highlights. So I was sure there was more to their success than luck – there definitely had to be hard work too. I asked Barb how often she practises guitar and singing and she said, ‘I do it every day. I have my guitar out; it’s on a guitar stand next to my bed.  Sometimes, it’s in the bed with me, and I just pick up my guitar and play songs that I like and I’m always singing and I’m always playing, it’s whether it’s in the shower or whether it’s lying in bed before I go to sleep, but I’ve always got a pen and paper, and the guitar and all.
            So, I asked, is it fair to say that she’s a bit obsessed with music?           
‘Just a little bit,’ she responded, laughing.
It sounded to me as if Barb lives and breathes music from the time she wakes up to the time she goes to sleep and she agreed.
To be successful in an industry such as music, or in the arts,’ she said, ‘it’s not necessarily competitive but it’s very hard just financially to be able to pursue such a dream, and if you don’t give it your all, you’re never going to know – do you know what I mean?  And I’ve always contemplated other careers, but I’ve always fallen back to music, because I just can’t imagine waking up and not being able to play music.’
            No doubt Victoria shares this work ethic, as they have both been successful in their careers; but I also thought the sisters might have started on their musical paths quite young, as they are still young but already very accomplished.
Victoria and I started in our early teens,’ Barb confirmed, ‘travelling around and doing country music festivals competitions.  Of course, Victoria won a lot more competitions than what I did, I didn’t really win anything [laughter].  I won the duo competition with her; that’s the only thing that I won [laughter].’
When I commented that Barb didn’t seem too upset about that, she said, ‘No, no.  I’m not upset.  I guess I really strived to have a solo career as such, but strived to always perform with my sister and to be able to be in the spotlight with her, I couldn’t dream of anything better.’
The way Barb talks about Victoria makes it sound almost as if it’s been the two of them, growing up together, performing together, in a tight little unit. But, she told me, they have other sisters and an older brother.
They all support our music,’ she said, ‘and Mum and Dad, they support us as well.  Mum and Dad, whichever chance they get to come and watch us perform at festivals, they’re just stoked that we’re actually doing it together now.’ Their parents had flown up from Victoria to see Baylou perform at CMC Rocks the Hunter and they were so excited,’ said Barb. ‘They live for it now. Not that they’ve got nothing else to live for, but it’s a holiday for them, it’s something exciting, and any chance that they get and any time off they get, they always try to be there to support us.’
            I asked Barb how she and Victoria came to be the two who performed together, given that there were other siblings to choose from.
‘Oh, we just flipped a coin.  I just went, all right, who is it – you or my other sister?’ she laughed. ‘We are together now because we’re the closest in age.  We’re the youngest two in the family and we’ve always done everything together; we’re pretty much like twins.’ Indeed, she says that their mother even used to dress them the same.
‘We grew up together, we live together now, we played music together in the past, we danced and went to school together and there’s only 11 months between Victoria and me, and then there’s a few years between our other siblings, so there’s always been this closeness between Victoria and me. And we’re close with our older siblings as well, but because we’re so close in age, it only made sense that we would pursue music and pursue the same interests.’
It sounds as though their closeness is indeed something special when Barb says that Victoria ‘feels like a limb. Victoria and I, we’re both like limbs, if something happened to her, I’d feel it, I think I’d feel it.’
            In terms of how their relationship works now, in Baylou, Barb says, [W]e couldn’t ask for anything better.  I get to perform with my sister, I get to play music and I get to perform to all sorts of crowds and play the songs that I want to sing, and have people that actually like our music listen to us; you couldn’t ask for anything better than that.’
            Baylou are now on the promotional path for their album; it will take them to the USA in May for five weeks, and then they return and heading to Queensland to perform at the Broadbeach Country Music Festival. They are already looking ahead to their next album, and ‘constantly writing’, said Barb. ‘But that’s the thing with music: you’re constantly writing and constantly forming your ideas and gathering everything for future albums.  You know, it’s not like you make one album and that’s it.  Victoria and I will be making music for the rest of our lives.’

Baylou's debut album, Go to Hell & I Love You, is out now through ABC Music/Universal.

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