by Silke Hartung

Balu Brigada: Hitting Number One

by Silke Hartung

Balu Brigada: Hitting Number One

It’s been more than four years since NZM included alt-pop band Balu Brigada as a Fresh Talent feature, back then a foursome of three brothers and a friend. For the last couple of years the band has been scaled back to the pairing of Pierre and Henry Beasley. With Number One, a new single (their second of 2021) and music video out, and EP on the way, keyboard-wielder Pierre was kind enough to let himself be quizzed once more. Made with the support of NZ On Air.

Balu Brigada, two oddly appealing words and now just two musician brothers?

Yeah. We decided to downsize to the two of us because ultimately, it made more sense for us. Charles [Beasley, their drummer brother] and Guy [Harrison – bass] are incredible musicians who we were super grateful to play with, but they both had busy lives outside of the band and weren’t able to invest as much time into Balu as myself and Henry.

How does being a smaller band affect things musically?

I think as we’ve become more confident as writers and producers, it has helped in the sense that there are less cooks in the kitchen creatively. Also, as well as being brothers, me and Henry are best buds who spend about 97% of our time together, so we’re overly familiar with one another and super comfortable pitching any ideas. Not to say the other two were tyrants at all, haha, but ya get me?

In the band’s early days you changed the name from just Baloo to Balu Brigada – why was that?

Yeah, we were formally known as Baloo, which was based on the Jungle Book character, but Henry was worried we’d get sued by Disney for some reason. Anyway, he landed on Balu Brigada which is fun to say phonetically. We also are blessed with the fact that surely no one else is gonna think to call their name ours!

Your music videos are always super fun and very expressive. Who came up with the idea of the video for Number One?

Cheers! We caught up with our friend Riley Coughlin one day and just spitballed a bunch of ideas for a bunch of our songs. Me and Henry said that we’d always imagined Number One to use driving as a visual theme, to tie into lyrics like, “Feet on the gas” / “Step on the brakes” etc. From there, we kept it pretty simple conceptually and didn’t need to organise that much. On shoot day, we literally just zoomed around for a couple of hours one afternoon and got Riley to work his magic behind the lens.

What a guy. I think we would’ve met him a couple of years ago through our friend Damin [McCabe aka Jack Berry]. Riley had done a lot of the visual work for Jack Berry and others part of Garbage Records – a collective of incredible artists. I tell ya, the guy just knows how to cook up a visual sensation, and me and Henry loved his taste and editing nuances. So, when our manager said he’d be keen to work with us we were stoked. It’s definitely important to feel safe in the hands of a visual director, and we knew we could, based on his track record.

The footage looks like authentic old school video camera footage – how did you achieve that look?

I’m sure Riley would give you a way better answer! I know Riley shot that video on a digital camera, but he said he likes to print his footage through an actual VHS tape machine or something crazy like that.

Important question… Who owns the Merc?

Unfortunately, neither of us.

Looking at Number One in terms of songwriting, who came up with which parts?

Henry wrote the demo one afternoon and I was upstairs nodding my head probably cooking Nong-Shim or something. I remember thinking, “Oooh, sounds like a flaming hot banger to me.” He definitely had the bare bones of Number One just from that session, but the structure was quite different. When I got involved with the song I workshopped some of the verse melodies and the drum groove. Then it was just tag-teaming to the finish line from there.

Comparing the single as it was released to the first demo recorded, what were some of the major changes?

Entirely different drums. Way less hi-hats, way more toms. Henry’s voice instead of mine and a whole lot less attitude.

Did you work with anyone else in the process?

Me and Henry produced/engineered the song ourselves, but got the talented Mr Simon Gooding to mix the song. We went back and forth a few times with him about how the mix should sit, and he was super devoted himself to getting it right with us, so that was cool.

You did really well in terms of international playlisting with your previous single, Favourite Clothes. What tips would you give your younger peers to get onto playlists?

Thanks! Playlisting is great because it gets your music in front of so many potential listeners, but the sound of the song has to fit the description of the playlist. Thankfully, there are SO many different playlists out there for all types of different genres and sounds. I don’t ever think I would advise anyone to make music with a playlist in mind because it could interfere with the creative process, but if your song has a clear intention on how it should make you feel, then there’s a playlist out there for ya.

It’s 2021 and artists use the internet in so many different ways to reach their fans. Which medium do you find most effective for your fans?

Honestly, we need to branch out more. Right now it’s just good ol’ Instagram. We’re slowly trying to understand what on earth is going on on TikTok.

At this stage in your career, how much consideration do you give things like your ‘public image’?

We find it can get exhausting pretty quickly if you overthink the public image thing, so while we’re conscious of what we put out there, we try not to think about it too much, so we can come across as our genuine selves. It helps to have a band member who’s on your same wavelength 97% percent of the time.

And lastly, what’s next for you two?

We’ve finished recording and producing our upcoming EP and now it’s just in the mixing stages. So that’s sweeeeeet – it’s coming out soon enough. Also gonna be playing some shows and festivals over summer and hopefully getting overseas whenever it’s more realistic.