Exclusive Interview – The Belle Brigade on Being Siblings, Their Oscar-Winning Grandpa and Other, Non-Family Things
“We like it when things sound epic.” That’s what Ethan Gruska of the brother-and-sister duo the Belle Brigade told us when asked about their family’s distinguished background in the movies and TV.
And “epic” certainly describes ‘Ashes,’ the first single from the group’s upcoming second album, ‘Just Because,’ which comes out on March 25. Ethan’s guitar playing and sister Barbara’s drumming come together with dreamy harmonies for a glimmering indie-pop gem of big-screen proportions.
On ‘Just Because,’ the Gruskas take the shimmering sound established on 2011’s self-titled debut into more experimental and adventurous territory for even greater — and, yes, epic — results. Ethan fills us in on their new ambitions, as well as family inspiration — including Oscar-winning grandfather John Williams.
If ‘Ashes’ is any indication, it sounds like ‘Just Because’ is definitely a progression in sound from your debut. How did you approach this record differently than the previous one?
I’d say the biggest difference between this record and the last is that we weren’t afraid to re-envision songs and record the same ones multiple times. There are some songs on this record that we recorded three or four times. We didn’t do that on our first record. We kind of just stuck with what we did the first time and tried to make that work, which is totally fine, but this time, I think we allowed ourselves more freedom to explore what we had. I think that extra freedom comes through, because I think this record and its production sounds more exploratory than our last record, or rather, our first record.
The video for ‘Ashes’ is a really cool kind of cut-and-paste visual. You said that you wanted it to provide listeners with a feeling rather than narrative, can you explain why? What added dimension do you think it brings to the song?
I’m not really sure why we were against having a narrative for this video. I think we felt like any sort of story happening along with the song could water it down somehow. I’m not sure. It was just our instinct to have it be more of a trippy visual thing. I think the end result, with all of its colors and stop-motion stuff, added a sort of fun element that the song never quite had before. I had always seen it as a darker sort of thing, and when we added in orange and yellow into the mix, I heard the song in a different way, which was really exciting!
What does songwriting look like for you two? Does the brother-sister dynamic complicate or streamline the process?
It varies. At this point, we have done it in so many ways. Obviously, we have had different approaches and opinions, but because we trust each other, if one or the other feels very strongly about something, we always head in that direction. We are very respectful toward each other and that makes for a very healthy and creative process.
You come from a long line of musicians. Both your dad and grandfather — John Williams — are television and movie composers. Do you think that background can be heard in your own music? Do you try to bring a cinematic quality to your sound?
We were very lucky to be surrounded by music as kids. I think that even though we don’t think about it or talk about it that much, that exposure to music, and in this case, “cinematic” music, probably comes through in some way. We like it when things sound epic.
Have your dad or your grandfather ever offered any insight or advice into the music business that you carry with you?
Yes. Our dad has always been there to offer his advice, whether we take it or leave it. He always encourages us to keep writing and to look at our times of creative emptiness as a time to fill up with knowledge and inspiration. That voice has been very valuable. Our grandfather once said that “All my musical inspiration comes from things other than music.” He looks to nature, books, poetry and other things for his creative spark. That lesson has also been very valuable.