I checked in with Ethan Gruska of brother-sister duo The Belle Brigade about their new record, playing two shows a night on their current summer tour, and being on the Twilight soundtrack.
After The Show: Since you’re opening for Ray LaMontagne and playing in his backing band on this long summer tour, how are you keeping up your energy/stamina?
Ethan/The Belle Brigade: Warming up before shows and giving ourselves good vocal rest will be key!
You felt your first record was a little too polished and reminiscent of the past. What did you learn from working with Tony Berg on Just Because?
We cut the record at Tony’s studio in Brentwood and it was amazing to have him around for advice and guidance but we didn’t make this record with Tony… We actually co-produced this record with Shawn Everett who has done a ton of work with Tony for many years. Working with Shawn was amazing. He is such a talented and creative engineer and was totally on the same page about trying to branch out sonically. He is fearless about trying something new, has a totally open mind, and is so calm, warm and patient. So is Tony! Being in that environment was amazing.
Older songs like “Belt Of Orion” and “Where Not To Look For Freedom” are so strong lyrically. How has your songwriting process changed from your first record to this new one?
The songwriting process was actually pretty similar to the first record… We wrote the songs acoustically and then made simple demos of the them before we went into the studio. I think the main difference between these songs and the songs from the first record is how we approached them and treated them once we got into the studio to really record them. We were much more open this time to changing them and re working them. I think the biggest difference in these new songs besides production is a little bit of freedom lyrically… We tried to be a little bit more visual and less attached to a story line than a lot of the songs on the first record.
Ethan, your voice sounds similar to Barb’s and I sometimes find it hard to figure out who’s singing what. As a vocalist, how do you approach your singing in the context of the band?
Yea, sometimes it’s hard for me to tell who’s singing what when we listen back to background vocal stuff :). It’s really fun to be able to blend so much with somebody and honestly I don’t think too much about a vocal “approach” while singing with Barb because our voices naturally go together and our harmonies usually fall into place pretty quickly.
How difficult from a business perspective (like contracts, legal obligations) was it to leave Reprise/Warner Brothers and move to ATO Records?
We were really lucky with that and were treated very well by WBR when we parted ways… It took a little while but we left with a lot of mutual respect and no hard feelings.
How useful was your experience studying music at CalArts? Are you happy with the foundation in theory/analysis/ear training/arranging you got there?
Both our experiences were very different there but in both cases they were very positive! We met a lot of great people and it’s the type of place where if you seek something out there’s gonna be someone there who can impart some serious knowledge… They have a great theory and ear training department! Learned a lot in those classes.
Was being on the Twilight soundtrack as big of an exposure boost as you had hoped? That song is by far the most played of yours on Spotify, but you still played a residency at The Echo earlier this year.
Yea it was a great thing for us to get a song on there and definitely got us a little more exposure, but these days when a bunch of people stream one song or even buy one song it definitely doesn’t mean they are going to go listen to or buy the rest. We knew that going into it and didn’t expect it to be our big break at all… It was just really cool to have a song in a big movie like that 🙂
Thanks Ethan! To catch The Belle Brigade on tour this summer, head over to the band’s website.