barbara of the belle brigade BY CA SSA NDR A BA IM PH OT O: JA MES F R OST
Los Angeles band The Belle Brigade, consisting of siblings Barbara and Ethan Gruska, took the folkpop world by storm with their self-titled debut album. Now they are turning the genre on its ear with their second album Just Because which incorporates a radical new sound and more electronic elements. Currently touring with Ray LaMontagne, not just as a supporting act but his backing band, Belle’s drummer and lead vocalist took some time out to talk to Tom Tom. TOM TOM MAGAZINE: WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO BE A DRUMMER? Barbara Gruska: I think what made me want to be a drummer when I was a kid was Michael Jackson. Bad came out in 1987, I was four and completely obsessed with every aspect of the record and with Michael himself. I danced every day to him and Whitney Houston. I played violin for two years when I was eight and sucked at it. I hated knowing I had musicality somewhere inside of me, and then have to listen to myself suck all the time on violin, which I felt no connection with. So I literally started playing on pots and pans for fun. I hung a pan lid on a pull up bar—that was my cymbal. It clicked emotionally and there was something about it that made me feel like I was playing basketball, and I loved basketball. A year into doing that, my uncle loaned me a hand-me-down Frankenstein 4-piece Pearl kit with 14” new beat hats and an 18” K. I got obsessed with figuring out the coordination of it all—gradually giving an awkward feeling some finesse and ease. 48
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It’s a powerful tool of expression for a 10 year old girl who doesn’t have a voice in the world yet. WHAT IS IT LIKE PLAYING WITH YOUR BROTHER? It’s amazing playing with my brother. We didn’t grow up playing together because I was 6 1/2 years older than him, but once he picked up piano and guitar we would play duo in my apartment all the time and write songs and our feel locked immediately in a sibling kind of way. We grew up listening to the same shit, we share a similar kind of pocket. When Ethan graduated high school I was like ‘this kid is f***ing amazing, yoink!’ And that’s how we evolved into the Belle Brigade. WHY DID YOU INCLUDE MORE ELECTRONIC AND DIGITAL ELEMENTS IN YOUR NEW ALBUM? Before we started recording we didn’t say ‘we want to be more electronic or more
this or that.’ We knew we wanted to let ourselves experiment and take some more time to find different sounds. Our budget was nowhere near the first record so we scaled down the operation and kept it very simple. We only invited in a couple other musicians and recorded the whole thing at Tony Berg’s home studio, Zeitgeist. Mostly it was Ethan, our coproducer/engineer Shawn Everett and me in the room being dorky and having fun. TALK A B I T A B O U T Y O U R TOUR WITH RAY LAMONTAGNE. NOT MANY SUPPORTING BANDS ALSO BACK THE TOURING ARTIST. HOW DID THAT COLLABORATION COME ABOUT? This came about because of Ray’s generosity. He told me he saw me play in 2009 with Jenny Lewis when we opened for him at The Hollywood Bowl and was interested in playing together at some point. I think we really just lucked the f*** out.