Interview wih Babyland conducted by Ashley Serotta & Randolph Williams, WMFO 91.5 FM Boston, 6/96


Ashley: Let's start by getting a quick history of the origin of Babyland.

Smith: Babyland is a two person project with Dan and myself on stage and Arthur as our henchman. We have been playing live since 1990.

Ashley: How did all of you originally meet?

Dan: We met at school. It started out as a project for a class that I was attending. The whole project was to interpret a poem in some way, so I wrote the music for it and I enlisted Smith to do the visuals. We decided that we wanted to continue to work together afterwards and it was a natural evolution to begin playing live. The first time we ever played live ended up being far more energetic, aggressive and fun that we could have ever expected. So it felt right to continue and people liking it didn't hurt either. We thought that it was odd since we felt that once we got up on stage that people would ignore us. We knew we had something when people actually liked what we did, but we didn't quite know what that was.

Ashley: How did you manage to get picked up by Flipside Records?

Smith: They saw us at a show and interviewed us and after awhile they offered to help us releases records if we were interested. We worked it out so that we would just write the material and Flipside would release it.

Ashley: It seems to be working really well with the volume of material you have released.

Dan: We constantly put stuff out because we really enjoy continually releasing new material.

Smith: It is very much a do it yourself situation because Flipside is not some huge record label. It is basically just one guy and a few phone numbers.

Randolph: How has the tour gone for you?

Smith: The whole tour has been great. We went to a lot of out of the way places that were really fun.

Dan: For the most part, even though we have been releasing a lot of material most people still haven't heard of us. I don't think a lot of people have seen us play live or heard our records, so seeing us perform is all new to them. We can't really expect to go into a new town and have five hundred people waiting to see our shows either. It was really interesting to hear from where people had heard about us and how they felt. It was always in the most bizarre places that we had the best shows.

Smith: Unlike a lot of electronic based bands we are very performance based and have spent a lot of time playing everything live. We get to really surprise people who have only been familiar with our recorded material who are seeing us for the first time live. We get to spring that on them and we really enjoy that.

Ashley: Can you sum it what your live performances are like?

Smith: On stage we don't use any tape so everything is sequenced live. Dan brings all of his electronics with him and the Macintosh. The sequencer is actually jamming along the tunes with the keyboards. Then we add the human element of ourselves which is great.

Dan: Smith uses all types of metal percussion. He has them set up much like a regular drum set that still looks unconventional. We stay away from a lot of the traps that musicians doing electronic based music tend to fall into. It's very, very energetic. We really try to involve people in the show. We want to see them at the very least bobs their heads. We want to avoid people just sitting at the bar thirty feet away simply ignoring us.

Randolph: Is there any story behind the 'crash' cymbal you use?

Smith: The item you are referring to has been called a coil, a crash, or that thing that makes noise. It was part of a heater that was made out of stainless steel with about thirty, five foot tall pipes all bound together. So when you hit it a huge shimmering crash occurs. I found it in a junkyard that I have been going to for the last five years. Since I picked that item up it has become a staple element for our live performance. It's loud as hell and people enjoy it.

Dan: The whole idea of our live performance is to find items that will sound really cool and get a response from the audience rather than acquiring these really cool props that don't have a purpose. We've narrowed down all the equipment to those items that are necessary to make the music. We have designed our show to be able to be played in rooms the size of peoples bedrooms or we can play a huge club. Either way we can adapt.

Ashley: You forgot to mention one portion of your live show, fire!

Smith: Fire is great but it has almost become a problem. Aside from the chronic smoke inhalation, when it gets to be something that people demand at every show, we are not sure if we want to continue using it.

Ashley: So then do you rotate the fire, the buzzsaw, the metal shavings and the air freshner at every show?

Smith: We try to fill our shows with as much fun stuff as possible. We want to be surprising and different. We want to make the show stand out.

Dan: The one thing that we found is that we are very interested in doing this for a long time to come, but we want to continue to become better creators of noise and add that to the performance. Once you see a band that is competent using strange instruments you can now enjoy it with your eyes open or closed. Also, sometimes we go to places where we have sound problems, we can still use these items as visual to make up for that.

Ashley: You mentioned that the computer that you use is an ancient Macintosh?

Smith: It is a Macintosh SE from 1988.

Ashley: Do you use that older equipment by choice.

Dan: People refuse to take current technology and squeeze all you can out of it. The perfect example is that people are now buying all vintage analogue equipment to make their music. There is stuff that you could not sell for fifty dollars five years ago that are going for over eight hundred dollars. It is a very funny trend. They do not look at what they have in front of them. They are always looking to follow trends. It is part of the reason why we use instruments that we have. We don't want to add a glam metal guitarist, or a hard rock drummer or a good looking lead singer.

Ashley: What comes first when you write a new song?

Smith: Dan plays around endlessly with the electronics that might turn into a portion of a song and he will eventually bring that into practice and spring them on me. Then we add more to it and decide how it would be arranged into a song. Eventually a song evolves.

Ashley: Have you ever sung live Smith or is it just Dan?

Smith: I rarely sing.

Ashley: Are there any particular songs of yours that you enjoy more than others?

Smith: I am happy with everything that we have done because it has all been done within the context that it has a beginning and an ending point. Every one of those musical points is a tiny portion of our lifelong musical journey.

Dan: Each song is an emotional snapshot of a period of time. It is great to have those things. It would be nice for everyone to be able to have that. When we compare some of our older material to our newer material, it is interesting to hear how some things have completely changed while some things have not changed at all.

Randolph: So California has been good to you?

Dan: California is the best place to live.

Smith: For me personally, back east in April that was the first time I had ever been exposed to subzero temperatures. It was terrible and very pointless. I will never complain about the heat here again. If it's not the cold it is the humidity. I really enjoy my desert.

Randolph: When do you think you will be releasing some new material?

Smith: We are working on stuff right now of what will eventually be the fourth album. Hopefully there will also be another single before the whole album is finished as well. It is hard to say what and when it will happen.

Dan: We are going to just record some stuff right now without any pressure. The only pressure is the dates of when we have the studio reserved. We want to go in and give all the new material some treatment, let them sit a little and decide if we want to put them on a new album or a single. We are going to try to constantly put out new material that is a little different.

Ashley: Do you see yourself moving into a new direction with this new stuff?

Dan: We want to do something completely odd.

Smith: Hopefully into newer bizarre directions. However, stating that we will be going into a new direction assumes that we had any solid direction to begin with.

Dan: The only limitation that we have is that we want to stick with this two person, electronic, noise, metal, percussion band. Because there are a lot of bands who just get tired of working with electronics and end up moving into a standard rock format. To me, electronics are limitless. I am excited about that every single day.

Ashley: Are you both doing music full time or do you have other jobs as well?

Smith: I just went back into the salt mines. We are destitute.

Dan: When you are touring you can't have a job. So you tour and try to make some money and that works for a month until you figure something else out.

Smith: Then you charge up your batteries, fill up the war chest and when you feel ready you go through the whole ordeal again. It happens in spurts.

Ashley: What are are both of you currently listening too?

Smith: I have been listening to a lot of Latin Jazz. The Afro-Cuban percussion tradition is totally incredible. That and the last Morrissey album.

Dan: Let's see, I was listening too the new Hard Floor, Underworld, 808 State single. That was what I was listening to today. I am diving into that electronic stuff. For awhile I was off of it but now I am back into it. I just bought all these records but now I can't spend any more money.

Randolph: Will you continue to go down the musical path that was evident on your last album?

Dan: It is kind of bizarre. You can sit around, drink coffee and talk about what you are going to do and then when you actually write the song, it kind of happens. Sometimes you can write a song and it will sit for years until you decide to finish it. We have a lot of those types of songs. We have lots of different types of songs from short fast songs, to short pop songs, and even slow tracks.

Smith: In the beginning we were not really musicians. We were just making music from the standpoint of passion alone. It took us years to bring up an interest in raising the quality of the sound or the arrangement of the track. That is maybe what you are hearing on the new album. We are just now getting more and more mileage out of musical ideas than we have in the past.

Dan: It is a challenge to have an idea and to follow that idea through all the way to the end. It is really hard because the most important thing is to not repeat ourselves. A lot of people want us to repeat our first record. We just want them to go and listen to that album again while we go do something new and different.

Smith: That isn't to say that there are not threads that run from album to album. Certain songs are steps that have released specific evolutionary ideas that were not really conscious when we wrote the track.

Dan: We also pick songs that work really well live. For the most part is it very difficult to do a slow song live because people get bored of it quickly. Playing an entirely instrumental song would also be really weird live. Yet at this point we have a lot of songs that are fun for us to play.

Ashley: Are you going to be touring again this fall?

Smith: The bad news is that we have no idea if we will get out of Los Angeles any time soon. At this point our resources are so depleted because this past year it has been impossible to find our albums in any record stores because of the distribution situation. It really has been strangling us. It is kind of being rectified. The small steps that are being taken will be hopefully followed by big steps in 1997 that will allow us to perhaps tour again then. Until then, we really have to put our effort into making better material.

Dan: It is also a selfish thing, we want to have a great deal of new material the next time we have a large tour. Otherwise it will not be as fun for the audience and it gets boring for us to play the same songs over and over again. To make it interesting for ourselves we have to change the show constantly. The life span of our band is a lot different than other bands. It is something that will continually go on. Sometimes you need to reevaluate what is most important. For us that is writing new material and getting distribution. To be able to move on and advance ourselves. The only way we can do it is to take the time to do it right. We hate it when people are always coming up to us to inquire about why they can't find our albums and to also ask when we will have new material, it really sucks.

Smith: They all really want our stuff but they just cannot find it.

Dan: It was a very large problem. We left one distributor, found a new one, that didn't work out and we went to another. It takes time to get our stuff out now. If people are persistent they should be able to find it.

Smith: At this point our record is available at Tower Records. You can make stores carry our material if you bug them enough about it. We spent the entirety of 1995 writing, producing and releasing a new record and then nobody can find it. The minute we put it out, our previous distributor left Flipside. Only about seven hundred copies got out originally.

Ashley: The large festivals that you play out in the desert, what are those like?

Smith: The desert shows are totally bizarre and something that is extremely unique. It is one of the most difficult and arduous things a band could ever put themselves through. There are maybe like three to six desert shows in California a year that will have anywhere from five to ten bands that will play. People will drive out for an entire weekend to some obscure place out in the Mojave desert. The land is government land that is open for public. It is shared by motorcyclists, gun enthusiasts and punk rock bands. It is a big UFO scene. It is a big hallucinogenic chemical scene. It is just a really weird phenomena. Bands play from dusk til dawn with people all over the hillsides freaking out. It is not healthy but is it very safe. It is great when some band just clicks and fills the canyon with this sound that cannot be beat.


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Last Modified: Monday, 24-Sep-2012 16:43:13 MST