New York City-based group BAILEN is self-described as “Sibling harmonies to melt your soul,” and it’s obvious why. The band, comprised of the Bailen siblings — Daniel, David, and Julia — and their friend Pierre Piscitelli, know exactly how to tug at your heartstrings; thanks especially to the siblings’ hypnotic harmonized vocals. Their lyricism is raw and evocative, their instrumentation is meticulous and melodic; BAILEN offers the full musical package.
Despite their undeniable talent and prowess, however, the group has suprisingly only publicly released one single so far: the sentimentalized, self-reflective “Something Tells Me.” They’re an impressive live act, however, and those fortunate enough to see them know that they won’t be defined by their lack of singles (plus, there’s a good chance you can snag an exclusive, hand-numbered CD filled with unreleased tracks). The band has toured nonstop, spending a majority of this past summer playing a plethora of shows all over the globe: from Maine, to New York, and even all the way in Taiwan.
Atwood Magazine caught up with the Bailen siblings before their show in Philadelphia on August 24. Elucidating everything from their musical upbringing in New York, to the stories behind their songs, and what they like most about each other, BAILEN is wholly personable and wonderfully charming. They typify ingenuity and are as authentic as their music portrays them; they are, simply, a genuine zenith of talent.
Watch: “Rose Leaves” – BAILEN (Live at YouTube Space London)
A CONVERSATION WITH BAILEN
Atwood Magazine: So, tell me, what’s the “origin story?” How did you all get involved in music?
Julia Bailen: Our parents met at Yale music school.
Daniel Bailen: They’re both classical musicians in New York.
Julia: Mom is a flutist, and dad is a cellist.
Daniel: Our dad always played in bands, playing guitar, and he freelances as a cellist. So we always grew up with him playing guitar and singing songs.
Julia: He taught me guitar; everything I know.
Daniel: He basically infused his sick fingerpicking into Julia’s brain.
But wait – do you guys have a CD out yet?
Daniel: We have our old band’s CD, which we don’t really give out. But we printed some for this past summer tour, just like five songs.
David Bailen: They’re only sold at shows. And some of the songs aren’t even on Soundcloud.
Daniel: Yeah it’s just [a] cardboard [case], and a BAILEN stamp, and that’s the whole thing. The CD looks legit; we had that done nice. But yeah, we’ve been selling things on the road.
Julia: It’s super exclusive, and we only have limited copies.
Daniel: And they’re hand-numbered. And we can sign it.
Very cool—so exclusive!
David: But yeah, anyways—back to where we started making music.
The best moments we’ve had as a family are when we’re singing songs together.
It was your parents?
David: Yeah, and Daniel and I started writing when we were like five or six, with pots and pans. Our first song was called “Fire in the Kitchen.”
You should start playing it live.
Daniel: Yeah, we might…
Just bring some pots and pans on stage!
David: We should! But yeah, then Daniel and I were in a bunch of bands together, and then when Julia got her braces off, that’s when she joined the band!
Julia: I love that my story starts there. I wasn’t a person until [I] got my braces off.
Daniel: We were touring as a brothers’ band—we had a horn section, a big-ass backing band. But really, everyone in our family is doing really great things, and it’s exciting to watch. So we were doing that, and then Julia just really started coming into her own with the guitar and singing; we started writing songs that needed three and four part harmonies.
Well I mean, your harmonies are unreal. The first time I saw you guys perform live, that was the first thing I noticed. I thought it was so unique and so awesome. At what point did you realize that you had something special that you could build on?
Julia: I feel like it never happens that way. I feel like, I don’t know, it’s just fun.
David: It felt right. There wasn’t this feeling of “Oh, this is special,” it just felt natural. It’s what we’ve been doing as a family for our whole lives. The best moments we’ve had as a family are when we’re singing songs together.
Julia: It felt organic.
David: This is what we do at home, and now it’s just what we do on the stage. Our house is a place where people just come and enjoy music. So it’s like, the impact that we’ve made there, just with our friends and other close people to us, is something that is valuable. It’s something that translates to the fans that we’re playing for: that whole idea of bringing people into a close, comfortable circle.
How has being related, being siblings, affected the band’s dynamic?
Daniel: We’re learning how to deal with that.
Julia: We spend a lot of time together, obviously.
David: There’s a lot of separation anxiety and learning how to be independent. But we’re all different people.
Julia: We all have vastly different personality types. In some ways we balance each other out, and in other ways we totally butt heads.
David: We fight, but we always figure it out. We’re trying to learn how to do without the fighting.
Julia: We’re getting better.
David: We’ve done pretty well [lately].
Daniel: Our fights only ever last like, ten seconds, and then it’s like, “Okay I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean it…”
David: Wait—can I go back to the “why we started making music” question?
Go for it!
David: We grew up in New York—we did everything we fucking could there.
That was going to be my next question! Being from New York, how has that inspired your music? Great segue, thank you.
Daniel: Well from a really young age, we sang at the Met, and you don’t fuck around. Be there on time or your ass is on the line, no yawning…
Julia: If you looked away from the piano for a second…
And has growing up in New York inspired your songwriting?
…with some of these songs, they don’t realize their full meaning until you write them.
For your songwriting, is it one of you bringing something to everybody else, or is it more of a collaborative thing?
Daniel: It’s different each time.
David: Most songs start with one person, but we always finish the songs together.
Daniel: We’ll try to flesh it all out, and then bring it.
Do you have a particular song that you’re especially attached to?
Daniel: I think any of our most recent songs. We’re like really attached to the ones that we’ve finished most recently—right now that’s “Careless Wishing.”
Julia: I think for all of us, it’s like, if you’re the one who started a song, it holds kind of a special meaning to you.
And do you have a particular lyric that you’ve written that you feel that way about?
Julia: There’s a line in one of our songs that goes, “I’m a people-pleaser; I’m a man-appeaser.”
David: I hopefully like all the lyrics—but I do really like all of Julia’s lyrics. “Rose Leaves” is really pretty.
Daniel: I like the lyrics in “Stand Me Up,” because of the story behind it.
Julia: I feel like with some of these songs, they don’t realize their full meaning until you write them.
Watch: “Stand Me Up” – BAILEN (Live at YouTube Space London)
As a writer, I totally get that.
Julia: Yeah! But also, like, even after you’ve been performing it for a while, and then your life starts changing, you can realize that one of these songs can have a different meaning. It can gain an entirely new level of nuance for you personally as a songwriter. It’s weird. I don’t know—sometimes I’ll think about a song and be like, “Wow, I wrote that before this happened.”
Daniel: I really love the lyrics in “Something Tells Me,” just because of that chorus that David brought. “Something tells me I could fall in love…” And when you hear that, the first thing you think could be like, oh okay, is this just another love song? It was really hard to make that chorus not cheesy.
I don’t think it’s cheesy at all!
Daniel: No, no, the final product isn’t. But it was—we did a bunch of versions of it before we got where we are with it.
Listen: “Something Tells Me” – BAILEN
The final product is very introspective, and I think that really makes it stand out.
David: And “Careless Wishing” is cool.
Daniel: Yeah, because that one is kind of like—it’s just a vibe. It’s mostly just bass.
Julia: It doesn’t linger.
David: It doesn’t try to get at a greater meaning.
Daniel: And there’s a story behind the arrangement; I just came home from London, but while I was living there, I didn’t have my guitar with me, I just had my bass. And I was like, I just need a song that I can play on my bass, and sing. I wanted to express my songwriting with my instrument a little better.
Julia: We tried to rewrite it with a guitar, but it just wasn’t working. It lost its spark. So it was like, yeah, fuck it, let’s just leave it. And it works.
Daniel: That’s our favorite song to play live.
What’s your favorite show that you’ve ever played?
All, unanimously: Swan Island [Maine].
Julia: I love Swan Island.
Daniel: Taiwan was really fun too.
Daniel: Oh, and London! At Ronnie Scott’s.
Julia: That was so much fun.
David: Gramercy Theatre [in New York] was good.
Do you like playing hometown shows? Or do you just work with it just because it's convenient?
David: I mean, they’re good; they’re fun. Rockwood [Music Hall] is just the best. We play there a lot.
…when it just feels right, and everything sounds right, then there’s this thing where you’re just so precise that you can be flexible.
So how do you hope to keep pushing yourself within music?
David: With the industry, or with music?
David: Music is the artist’s side of the question; industry is the business side. Artistry, I want to write a song that is totally honest and is exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. Then I can sing it, and have it be a resurgence of that feeling each time.
Julia: I would like to work with other people. And just be as genuine and truthful in music as I can be, […] I think it’s really nice to feel like, wow, I’ve learned something new, and it’s inspiring me to be creative and express myself emotionally.
David: I want to be able to experiment with sounds.
What is the most meaningful part of what you do with music, or what do you think is the most meaningful part?
David: I like when we harmonize together and it’s not out of tune. When it feels right, those moments, when it just feels right, and everything sounds right, then there’s this thing where you’re just so precise that you can be flexible.
Daniel: It makes me smile.
Julia: You kind of feel it in your teeth, you know?
David: It just vibrates—those are the coolest moments. And then when it’s like that, but for a whole song, it just feels right.
Julia: I like when you can feel a connection with the audience. That’s nice.
Daniel: I like connecting with people that you never thought you’d connect with.
Okay—how would you describe each other in three words or less?
Julia: Each other?
David: Can Julia do me?
Julia: Ha—okay, David…
David: Let’s be positive.
Julia: I know! I’m being completely positive. I think David is extremely competent in all things. Organized. Passionate. Compassionate. Very silly.
David: Daniel is the most caring and trustworthy. Daniel trusts everyone.
Julia: He could be a space cadet.
David: He gets along with everybody. He accepts them immediately, and doesn’t really look at the bad things. He looks at the good things first, and that’s a really good quality.
Daniel: It’s not a good business quality.
David: No, it is a good business quality! I’m good at being the schmuck behind the curtain, but Daniel always brings the smile.
Julia: You’re so genuine, and you do care.
Daniel: David is way beyond his years. A visionary.
David: Julia is right from the soul. She’s sensitive.
Daniel: She’s the most talented out of all of us.
Sensitive, silly, passionate, genuine: BAILEN exemplifies an affable adroitness that makes one simply feel good. The group has acutely tapped into raw human emotion with their music, and their personalities merely add to their overall likability. They continue to trek forward with indisputable musical aptness, fiercely and firmly planting themselves within a music scene of which they seemingly transcend altogether. BAILEN is a musical tour-de-force unlike anyone else; here to melt your soul and steal your heart.