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May/June 2022

by Richard Thorne

Bakers Eddy: Hi-Vis Antics

by Richard Thorne

Bakers Eddy: Hi-Vis Antics

Originating in Wellington as a schoolboy skater band back in 2009, Bakers Eddy have this March released a debut album that has drawn enthusiastic praise for its freewheeling blend of indie and punk, music that’s as exuberantly fun as it is youthfully frantic. Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Ciarann Babbington talked with NZM’s Richard Thorne about the band’s last four years living in Melbourne, the ups and downs of which have resulted in ’Love Boredom Bicycles’.

Prepping for the release of ’Love Boredom Bicycles’, the four-member cast of Bakers Eddy submitted to a series of ’kind of’ Youtube documentaries, the first titled Episode 1 – Inception. In a few minutes, they cover off 12 years of band life, with photo slides and home video snippets illustrating the journey.

They are brothers Ian and Alex Spagnolo, Ciarann Babbington and Jamie Gordon. Jammed together on a Melbourne couch and asked to describe Bakers Eddy in one word, the individual answers are; ’triggered’, ’shambolic’, ’party’ and ’chaos’.

Live wire frontman Ciarann laughs when asked if that maybe explains why it took them 12 years to get around to releasing a debut album?

“No! I think when it comes to our music we do take it very seriously, and we’ve always been that way. After we left high school and made the decision to do this, it was like, ’We’re going to have a lot of fun with this, and we are going to party cos we like to do that!’ But when it comes to the music we do take it very seriously.“

“We’ve been wanting to do an album for a long time, it’s just that there haven’t been the avenues there for us in order to jump on it.“

Given that 12 was also the age when they first got together as a high school skater band, they deserve to be cut some slack, but just two EPs released over the past seven years make ’Love Boredom Bicycles’ well overdue.

The avenues Ciarann references are those fundamental industry building blocks like management, a label, radio support, funds and a promo strategy – plus a cohesive set of songs to justify all the effort.

“It looked like another EP was the way to move forward… until we got to a point where it was like, ’We have no choice but to do an album.’ And come 2020 that was the opportunity. ’We have the time, we have a good management team and we are fortunate enough to have a record label who are willing to help us with that.’ So everything was falling into line, and it hadn’t been like that in the past.“

Though their signing to Ivy League Records was only publicised last year, it has been a reality behind the scenes for longer. The band knew they needed to be signed, and the Sydney-based label essentially offered them the opportunity to record.

“We were just all in!“

Ciarann describes Ivy League as tiny, but with a few big artists like The Rubens, plus one of his favourite Aussie bands – A. Swayze – a big reason why they signed on.

“Yeah, I think it was 2019 when we had our first meeting. It’s just a shame that throughout Covid we haven’t been able to take advantage, and when we decided to make an album that’s when they were all in. Thankfully, because we couldn’t pay for this… I mean we will pay for it through recoups, but that’s a future thing!“

He’s as engaging on Zoom as he fronting the infectiously energetic live act, and Ciarann explains the album itself is supposed be like a party in progress – with kick-arse opener Concertina where you walk in and find everyone having a great time, through to heading home in the quieter early hours. Given their predilection for shambolic chaos, however, inevitably it wasn’t a party they’d really planned as such.

“It gets a bit murky because at the start of 2019 we were planning to record an EP. Then at the start of 2020, we wrote these songs like Peripheral Vision and FMO – and the label suggested we make an album out of the EP, with those new songs added on the end. Then we listened through, and we thought it didn’t sound like an album – so we decided to ditch that and start fresh, do an entire album based on Peripheral Vision and onwards.“

Australia’s tastemaker radio station, Triple J, have backed the Kiwi band in the past, most notably with their 2018 single Leave It To Me, but from here on radio play is all the more vital. So, with ’Love Boredom Bicycles’ are Bakers Eddy still best described as a punk rock band?

“I think so… it’s hard to tell,“ Ciarann confesses. “I struggle to tell what punk rock is, but the bones are there. Most of the songs we don’t venture beyond four chords max in the chorus, and I think more so than in the past we tried to keep things as stripped back as possible – even though sometimes it doesn’t sound like that on the record.

“When it came to demoing we did try to keep it simple. Like FMO, it’s just those three chords in the chorus, and I’ve always been scared to do that, thinking it was cheesy to do that. But I decided to make it sound as cheesy as possible, while making it sound as bratty as possible – and I think that’s kind of what punk rock is! Cheesy brattiness, with chords that are as simple, yet the lyrical content is some kind of juxtaposition, like with FMO.“

In line with the band’s skater punk origins, Bakers Eddy have never been afraid to throw the odd expletive about in their songs – witness Jack S**t For You, and If You See Kay from their 2018 EP ’I’m Not Making Good Decisions’ – but there’s never any intent to offend, they’re a fun lovin’ playful bunch. Presented in full the title of FMO is FMO (Fucking Me Over), making it a song that radio might well baulk over, but live audiences will quickly join in.

“When we originally recorded FMO, because of the lyrics – and our last producer as well – we pushed it too far into the punk rock realm, too boisterous, and it started to sound really toxic. Those lyrics, ’You’re fucking me over’, can be toxic – having four guys yelling that made it sound gross, and not what the song really means.“

“So when we recorded it for the album we listened back on the demo and it was done with smiles, and stripped back, and everything was very quiet and compressed. So we went back to that for the album. I think it came across the right way on the album. It’s not boisterous and toxic, it’s more playful and cute, in a way!“

Bakers Eddy moved to Melbourne in 2017, and given that Victoria was for a long while Australia’s most-affected state, about half of their time there has been in some form of Covid restriction. Being Kiwis on OE they share a house, which includes their own rehearsal/recording space (and seven chandeliers), so there’s not been much in the way of healthy separation for 24 months. Ciarann admits it has been trying at times but points out that having previously lived together, and having shared a tour van for extensive periods of time, there wasn’t much they didn’t already know about one another.

“Me and Jamie were fortunate to be able to work day jobs throughout Covid. We both work as furniture removalists for a company built out of musicians, in Melbourne, so that was cool. On the downside, the other two were getting funding to do absolutely nothing, so they were making more money sitting on their arses, while we were slaving away lifting furniture and making crumbs! So look, beggars can’t be choosers! If anything it might have made us all a little bit closer.“

Though there are no ’Covid-songs’ in the collection, he notes that the boredom part of the album title stems from those repeated early lockdowns, and some tracks definitely reflect the frustration of isolation.

“Songs like Coffee Mate, and even though it wasn’t written during the pandemic, I think Drinking Mood, are representative of that period. Feeling unmotivated all the time, and bored, for lack of a better word. Not necessarily depression, but just feeling down a lot, everyone went through that.“

“A lot of the songs were written during the lockdowns, even if they didn’t necessarily represent that experience. Peripheral Vision was the song that triggered the idea to write an album, and that’s got the word ’isolation’ in it, even though it has no relevance – I just couldn’t think of another word – but we were definitely isolating at the time!“

Peripheral Vision was the first song that came out of it and it’s a different song for us. I’ve thought about it a lot, and it comes to the fact that we weren’t playing gigs in front of people, so we weren’t getting a gauge of what audiences like – which is something we’ve always focused a lot on.“

“We had to trust ourselves, which kind of gave us more freedom to do whatever the hell we wanted. And Peripheral Vision was the song that I feel is a step in another direction for us – and a direction that I have wanted to take for such a long time. It’s kind of referencing bands like The Mint Chicks, which is my all-time favourite band, in the chord progressions, and it’s a little bit nostalgic, which is something we couldn’t capture before.“

“The time we were allowed by lockdown got me thinking in a different way and allowed me to dive deep into what I wanted. Out of that came songs like FMO and Concertina, which are also different for us. That time let us step outside of our comfort zones a little but more.“

Actually, their debut album was flagged for release in October last year, but Covid got in the way of that plan. Ciarann giggles in recalling the collective relief when their management gave them the ’bad news’.

“We were like, ’Oh, thank god!’ Because we know that we’re a live band, and our fans know that we’re a live band, and that’s the most important thing for us. It was terrifying the idea of releasing an album of songs that most people had never heard before, and not get to play them live to show the audience what we kind of mean when we play these songs, and have them see the energy we put into them.“

“So it was great news that they were pushing it back, and now we’ve got a 25-date [June/July] tour, so it worked out perfectly for us. And before that we’ve got a three-week April tour with another band, so we will be touring from mid-April to August, and even beyond then. It will be the longest touring period in our history!“

’Love Boredom Bicycles’ was produced by Oscar Dawson, songwriter and guitarist for smart Australian rock/electro pop act Holy Holy. He first helped Bakers Eddy record their 2020 punk Christmas track, A Verry Merry Christmas.

“So, we were doing this botchy album of an EP plus a few new songs and having a really hard time figuring out the right sound for those songs. We’d been working with a producer, who’s a really close friend, and the label said to us that what we were recording was so far from what the demos had been – and what they’d loved – and what they knew we love, cos we’d spent a lot of time recording the demos like that! We’d never thought about it that way…“

“We’d always in the past recorded demos knowing that they would be changed in the studio – but it made sense – why would you want to change the sound that you’d worked hard to create? So the label put us in touch with Oscar Dawson, who we knew from Holy Holy and recording a lot of pop acts. For a period there he was the most sought-after producer in Australia.“

Bookended by Concertina and the unusually slow four-minute-long number Valuable Things, there’s a run of minor addictions/vices in the song titles; coffee, cigarettes, drinking, drinking again, getting high…

“Yeah! Honestly, I can’t tell you why,“ the songwriter smiles. “I wouldn’t claim a healthy lifestyle, but really I don’t rely on any vices.

He admits that early on after their move west he was in a bad place for a few months, drinking a lot to deal with “minor depression and feeling like shit“. Drinking Mood is about that period of not having a very good time.

“Now we play it live you don’t think about that shit, it’s much more about us having a party with the audience.“

As much as ’Love Boredom Bicycles’ reveals fresh new depths to the Bakers Eddy song palette, it also includes some tracks that are, at least lyrically, dated. 21 stands out in that context given the band are all now all mid-20s. Running a hand through his enviable quiff Ciarann grins at the observation.

“Yeah, yeah. That [21] was probably the first song that we wrote when we came over here. It was like a big, ’Ahhh [he sighs], I’m 21. What am I going to do with my life? Where am I gonna be in five years time? Blah blah blah.’ Now that I’m 25 I’m like, ’I’m in the exact fucking same space I was five years ago, what the hell?’“

He’s happily laughing at himself.

“Same with Sober – that’s another time stamp song. I was going to change that. Actually, when we were going to release it we re-wrote it to say 23, so that it would be current. By the time we recorded it for the album I was 24, and decided we would never release it, but the label wanted it on there. We ended up going with it for that reason, and to be fair, it’s our most popular song over here! When we do play live it’s the one where everyone’s singing.“

Fans are vitally important to this band and Ciarann’s thrilled their album has been received well in Aotearoa, something they’ve struggled with over the last five years.

“I feel like we’ve done pretty well in Australia, but have lost NZ cos we’ve been away so long. I’ve never done so many interviews with NZ media, so it’s been exciting for us to see NZ taking interest again, and to be taken seriously.“

“I think people here have also been waiting for it, and our fans have helped us out a lot – in kind of demanding that we release some songs, and that has forced places like triple j to take notice over here.“

Arriving young and nervous in Melbourne five years ago, Ciarann says it took them a good 18 months to figure out where the gigs were and where they might fit in. The coming months will see them playing gigs in cities and towns from WA to Queensland to Tasmania. Do they still feel like Kiwis playing in the Australian sandpit?

“Not anymore. I don’t think we’ve felt like that in a while. The weird place we’re in now is that a lot of people think we are Australian, based on the fact that we’ve had some level of success on triple j, and they’ve sometimes promoted us as an Australian band. So we’re having to correct people a lot of the time! Over here people love New Zealand.“