A few weeks back, I posted the video for Whale Belly’s “Water Voices”. The Brooklyn group has been dubbed as “sophisticated folk rock” and has generated a lot of buzz based on their lives performances. Their sophomore album I Once Was a Bird will be released October 8th. I recently checked in singer Todd Bogin. Check out the exclusive interview below.
Your new album, I Once Was a Bird comes out pretty soon. Let’s talk a little bit about the making of it.
This album was all about figuring out a concept and what we wanted to convey then very intently and painstakingly making it that. We wanted a very clean and clear record that had many musical changes and beautiful parts but never overdone. I am proud of our debut album but one criticism I have is there’s too much going on and much of that is not necessary to the song. We also wanted to create a world with a concept that plays through this whole album. Earth, water, feeling like you want to escape or that you are being overtaken by some greater force. Lyrics repeat themselves between different songs and so do musical phrases. we also references other song on the album in different songs. This record to me is like a mixture of old classic american song book meets a touch of folk and rock it a slight feel of classical edge. it was recorded at Saltlands in Brooklyn. Nick Smeraski our drummer produced and engineered it all. Only the 4 people played on this record. Our debut had 23 people playing on it. After writing for about a year and playing many of the songs live on tour, we had a very clear idea on how we wanted to play them on the recording. we pretty much recorded all the backing tracks, drums, bass, rhythm guitar, piano and violin in 2 days, live together. Everything else was overdubbed over a few months. all of the vocals were layered mostly at Nick’s apartment and it is all my voices. He was adamant on me exploring and expanding my voice on this record. I feel like this is a very tight, well performed and calculated record and I am proud of it. I also tried to write from a more interpersonal level. The first album has a few joke songs or songs about outside forces that have affected me, this record I tried to write about my own struggles and how it is now up to me to deal with them.
Folk-rock seems to have exploded in the last few years with the rise of Mumford & Sons and the Lumineers. Why do you think that’s it gotten so popular and what do you get out of making this type of music?
I really don’t think we are exactly folk rock nor sound anything like those bands. We never sing about the devil or the river or dress like its Civil War time. We also change times and keys and have a element of jazz and improv to us. That being said, I do see why people would claim us as folk, even though we don’t claim ourselves a folk band. But I do believe folk music will always be popular and have its revivals. There is always a need for simplicity. Whenever things get too crazy or experimental, people will always hit a wall and want to hear three chords on an acoustic and a few voices harmonizing together. It feels earthy and natural and easy to consume. That sort of stuff also attracts to people’s sense of spirituality and soul and I believe hearing natural instruments vibes with the blood flow and movements of people. I do feel though, that although folk is timeless, many of those time tested tricks and glitches are pretty much recycled over and over again. we try not to do that, we try to hint at them then when you think you have the song figured out we change it up.
You guys are known for your live shows and have received quite a few accolades for it. What makes a great Whale Belly show?
We started off not sure what were as a band. We had like 10 people on stage singing along and playing random instruments, no matter how sloppy. That was fun and we were able to entertain based solely on the energy we could throw onto the crowd. I got really sick of that fast though. It wasn’t playing music, it was just making out of synch noise and trying to win a victory on trickery. So before we recorded the new record, we got rid of a lot of wasted space and stripped us down to a 4 piece (were now a 5 piece). I started listening to a lot of classical movements and pieces and I began to really love the idea of a live show being a classical indie music piece, if you will. So like instead of playing a song, then stopping to blabber on to the crowd about something pointless, we bent and moved our songs into either short snippets of sounds or various improvised moments that would lead into the next tune. We have over the past year been able to successfully do that even though we have a lot of work to do to perfect that. So Our live show now is a musical piece, or an attempt of that. We have a lot of improvising that happens and a lot of energy we try to give off. Were not going to ask the crowd to clap their hands or ask them how they are doing then go ‘I can’t hear youuuuuuu’ like some jackass. Were going to give them a long piece of music performed the best we can and the tightest we can.
You guys seem to have more in common with older folk acts than a lot of newer ones. Who are your main influences?
I do agree with that. My personal biggest influences are everything from Miles Davis to Cole Porter. Of course Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Neil Young. I also was a Modest Mouse kid in high school, and I still listen to them a lot. I know it is easy to say this but I’m influenced by everything. I will listen to anything from Top 40 to the most underground descendant music and find something inspiring or influential with it. but at this point in my life, I am definitely not trying to be anyone or mimic anyone. I am trying to suck in and absorb all forms of sounds, from the subway tracks clicking when a train arrives to the hum of traffic to a perfectly played Liszt piano piece. And hope that all of that comes out of me when I write.
One of the band’s trademarks is the violin. I know you’ve been playing it since you were 9, how did you get into the violin?
Josh Henderson plays all the violins and does their arrangements amongst other things. He has been playing since he was about 3 years old, and he is a genius. He is a huge part of the band’s sound and the composer of some of the most beautiful moments on our records. Him and I have been playing together in various projects for almost 5 years now. He has really affected the sound of our band in the best way possible and helps make our live show what it is. On top of that he makes me think differently about music and opens up non traditional ideas to me.