The Belle Brigade's Barbara and Ethan Gruska are nothing if not well-traveled.
"Between the two of us, I'd like to think we've driven the circumference of the Earth," Ethan laughs in a phone interview with the Wheel
. As I speak to them, the California-based folk-duo are hailing their way across the country to Knoxville, Tenn. Once there, their newest tour will commence.
Such is the life of the traveling musician. Yet, the brother-sister duo are far from disgruntled. In fact, the two, who are set to stop at Atlanta's Vinyl tomorrow night, are just as cheery and sunny as their music would suggest.
Released earlier in 2011, the Belle Brigade's self-titled album ( The Belle Brigade
) is a refreshing burst of harmony-laden folk-pop that harkens back to the likes of Simon and Garfunkel and Fleetwood Mac. The Wheel
caught up with the two to discuss the group's genesis, the touring lifestyle and the advantages of having your family as bandmates.
Emory Wheel: Can you tell us a bit about the events that led to you guys forming The Belle Brigade?
We talked about starting a band during my senior year of high school, which I guess was about 2008. We went on a family trip that summer and played each other some of the individual songs we’d been working on. On that trip, we planted the real seed of saying, “let’s start a band together.” Then, over the course of the next year and a half after that, we’ve been writing songs. It was pretty organic and it kind of just rolled around pretty smoothly. Growing up, I’ve kind of always wanted to start a band so it was really cool.
EW: What are they upsides to playing in a band with your family?
: I imagine for many family members, communication lines might not be fully opened, but they are for Ethan and I. We’re constantly trying to keep our relationship fresh and in check. I think the advantages is that, if there’s a down or a disagreement, our relationship is more important than anything so we’re really rationale about stuff, even if emotions run high. We can really talk things out and we always work things out.
EW: When I was growing up, my sister and I had different tastes in music that we couldn't reconcile. Did you guys ever go through that period or have your tastes always been aligned?
We had a little bit of a separation just because I’m six and a half years older than Ethan. We’re your grown up, six and a half years doesn’t seem so distant but it’s huge when you’re a kid.
Barbara would always listen to Bjork and stuff when I was nine or ten and I always thought it was weird. Then, years later, it was my favorite thing I’ve ever heard. Eventually, our tastes aligned pretty nicely, but when we were growing up I was listening to 'little boy' stuff [laughs
EW: Your song "I Didn't Mean It" was recently featured on "Twilight" Breaking Dawn Part 1" soundtrack. Has they changed your audience in any way?
We’re actually just about to find that out. That movie came out literally on our last day of our last tour. It’s the first time we’ve been on tour since that movie came out so hopefully the movie gave us a few more fans. We’ve definitely gotten a lot more YouTube hits on that song.
EW: Was it ever intimidating going into music knowing what your family had accomplished? [the duo's father, Jay Gruska, a film and television composer and their grandfather is renowned, Oscar-winning film composer John Williams]
: No, actually. Our family was really supportive. When I was 19, my dad kind of had a real frank talk with me. He was like, “if you want to pursue this you’ll have to work your little booty off” and so. That was kind of scary, but our family is really supportive. We can never live up to what our family has done. One, it’s a different thing. Two, [what our grandfather does] is so amazing that it was never an option to compare the two.
EW: Did you always strive to have this breezy, sunny sound? Or is there a version of The Belle Brigade that could have been a goth, dreary alternative band at one point?
: When we’re writing, we’re always trying to maybe be a little deeper and darker than what the music may sound like. For the music, we really wanted it to be a great 'driving' record and just be fun so you could dance to it. We love music like that. The record totally turned out differently than we expected it to be. I’m glad that you see [those qualities] in it. What we’re working on now is different and I think we have enough feelings to cover in our future.
EW: A big part of your guy's sound comes from harmonies. What that something that come naturally to you two or was it something that had to be developed?
Ethan: When we started the group, one of the main ideas is like—let’s seem like we’re always singing harmonies. And that’s not something we necessarily do, but we do do harmonies a lot. I think it works in terms of we have a similar melodic sense. We don’t really have to slave over our harmonies, we usually pick them up pretty fast. But we do think about them a lot and they are a big part of our group.
EW: I first learned of your music through the South by Southwest festival. Do you generally prefer venues or festival or are there advantages to both?
: I guess since we’ve been touring, everything has become a bit of a blur. Shows become "just another show." The setting isn't as important as it used to be. I love both. Playing a festival is great because a lot of the time it's beautiful and it's outside and it's playing in an usual place. But there's nothing like the experience of playing in a small, sweaty dive bar.
: Unless it's a small, sweaty and empty dive bar. Then it's no fun [laughs
What do you do during the long car rides needed for touring?
Just listen to music and shoot the s--t and try to not eat too many peanut-butter pretzels [laughs
— Contact Mark Rozeman.