by Quinn Cory
Recently, Brooklyn-based sludge rock trio, Haybaby, came through Milwaukee, WI on their largest tour yet. Earlier in the day, on their way from their previous show in Eau Claire, WI, a tire popped on their van. Murphy's Law haunted the group throughout their trip. Eventually "everything" had broken at some point. Despite these proverbial setbacks, the trio maintained resilience.
They arrived to the Milwaukee venue by 10:30p, right on time to perform their set. Appearing worn out, the group quickly got set up and settled into the show. A special humor was apparent in their crowd communication and easy going attitudes. Considering their recent road challenge, the group was relaxed and optimistic.
The outfit is comprised of Leslie Hong on vocals and guitar, Sam Yield on bass, and Jeremy Duvall on drums. Supporting their recent release, 'Sleepy Kids', out earlier in the year on Tiny Engines, Haybaby performed their deliberate and hazy indie rock songs. The group wavers between shy and sweet musings, accompanied by simple melodies and fuzzy twangs, to driving pop rhythms with buzzing power chords and vulnerable lyrics. The balanced result is a careful dynamic of soft and hard styles, veering into a combination of shoegaze and sludge with a warm and energetic mood.
After the group returned to New York from their tour, I conducted a phone interview with them on the day that their most recent release was premiered streaming on Spin. Their new EP, 'Blood Harvest', brings listeners the same song structures of honest lyrics and intensity as their previous works. Described as one of New York's hardest working bands, the trio continues to put out innovative material while keeping place in their local DIY community. Their sound is earnest, with moments of thrashing guitar, smooth bass lines, and garage punk aesthetic. The babes have done it again. 'Blood Harvest' might be their heaviest project yet.
In our interview, we discussed the New York DIY scene, their favorite (and less than favorite) parts of tour, Drake, and their songwriting style. Listen to Haybaby for "honey-ass heartbreak crooning sometimes screamy sludge pop & slack rock that will make you have some feelings".
How did you form?
Sam: The band formed in a convoluted and gradual way. It emerged out of this band called Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.
Leslie: It was our old drummer and his ex-girlfriend, they had started breaking up and they thought adding in a third member would fix things, which was me, but they still kept fighting and even brought in a fourth member. It was weird, I started out playing drums and we would just sit there while they would fight and it was really uncomfortable and finally they broke up. We did a full rotation and Sam started to play bass. We’ve all known each other for years and we stumbled upon this formation. Although, Jeremy did ask to be in our band (laughter).
Did you have a clear vision of the sound you wanted to make with each other?
Jeremy: We are still at the point where we don’t know what we want the sound to sound like. We’ve sort of always approached it just by playing together and seeing what comes out.
Leslie: I wouldn’t go as far as saying we don’t have a vision but it’s more about personally, it’s really limiting to try to sound like a Sonic Youth-inspired, new wave, post-whatever band. Why make a box for yourself? Sam and I strayed away from forcing our vision.
Jeremy: I think for specific songs we have ideas that stem from specific things, but they bleed over into other elements of it. It happens by accident.
Sam: When we were writing the EP that is now streaming on the Internet, we were at a place where we were exploring darker and heavier material. It was the direction that we were feeling out.
Leslie: We wanted to be heavy and that can mean so many different things. We wanted to stick to loose adjectives.
So your new album is streaming today. Was it promoted? I had no idea it would be on Spin today.
Leslie: We only found out yesterday. Someone from our label emailed us and said, “Hey album is streaming on Spin tomorrow!”
Do you have response from it, in the past four hours its been streaming?
Sam: It wasn’t that long ago that for an EP we put out to show up on Spin would have seemed absurd. We just put a link on Facebook a number of minutes ago.
Leslie: I literally just woke up. I grew up reading Spin so that’s really cool for me.
I feel like I have you guys at this special moment, it just went live only a couple of hours ago. I was able to listen to it before I talked to you guys. Definitely heavier than your other stuff. In terms of talking about how you’ve taken off recently, you’ve been playing out frequently for multitude of years. I actually read somewhere that you guys have been considered one of New York’s hardest working bands.
Sam: That comes from OHMYROCKNESS that lists shows in New York, and at the end of the year they make lists of bands that have played the most shows.
Jeremy: You could play 5,000 shows and only 2 of them end up on OHMYROCKNESS and another band could have all of their 25 shows on the site.
Leslie: They realize they don’t list all of it. It is really cool though because most of those bands we’re listed with are bands that we play with all the fucking time. We respect them as musicians.
Sam: And we really have played very many shows. There was a while when we were playing several times a month, sometimes more than several times a month.
How would you describe the scene in New York that you are involved in?
Sam: It often happens when you meet someone for the first time and then realize that they have a whole scene behind them that we aren’t aware of.
Leslie: So many little pockets that vaguely and loosely swirl around each other and occasionally collide. We’ve been touring around the city for probably four or five years now and we probably have climbed and side stepped and jumped through so many different scenes.
Sam: If you’re playing around for more than a couple years you see how some bands grow, some go away, so then it changes. It’s a cool thing to see happen.
Leslie: The scene that we are in is made of up of musicians that can be in three different bands with each other, or different variations, it happens all the time. We’ve kind of just been walking at our own pace.
What are some of the favorite venues in your local spot?
Leslie: I really like AVIV, it’s one of the last places that is super DIY. It’s just like, someones house,
Sam: House is a generous term.
Leslie: Lofted warehouse. People live there in a non-horrible way. Everyone who lives there is musical and passionate. They are a whole different scene.
There is also the Gateway, which is cool. These are all legal DIY spaces that have wanted to make spaces like that for their friends. There is really quick change going on with gentrification spreading through Manhattan and Brooklyn, and it’s slowly creeping further and further east. There is also Palisades, which was featured in the New Yorker, another newer DIY spot, one of our favorites.
How was your most recent tour? Biggest tour so far.
Jeremy: It was great. It was the first tour that I’ve been on that at the end of it I was just really excited to go back on the road again.
Sam: It was also hard at times, all of our things exploded, our transmission died, our tire blew up on the road, our amps all crapped out, our phones broke, we all got deathly ill.
Jeremy: I was telling stories to people at work last night and I forgot the tire being blown out.
Sam: I remember at one point we realized that there were no more things that we owned that we could break. We had broken everything.
What were some notable moments for you guys?
Jeremy: I met Fred Boswell Jr. in Milwaukee, WI. I was so drunk and very dorky. I nerded out so badly, I wish I played drums with him.
Leslie: It felt like I never saw anything play the drums before I saw him play that night.
Sam: We got to Johanna’s house and there was a string quartet playing and it was such a pleasure to see. We also played a show in Santa Barbara at the Funzone. By day, batting cages, by night… also batting cages but also a show. That was a really fun one.
Leslie: It was the only DIY space in that town and all the high school kids came out. It was really cool to see this new crop of beautifully young awkward cool kids, trying to find their way.
Sam: It was also great because this one guy there was doing a labor of love for them.
Leslie: That’s what I took from this tour, people like Ariel (one of the founders of Palisades) who I mentioned, all over the country trying to put together music for their communities to have a place to access. Those are always the best shows, not actual venues in the towns that we played. Total Drag is a record store in South Dakota that was one of our most fun shows. Everyone there really wanted to be there. In New York, going to a show is sometimes more of a just a social experience. A lot of people will stand outside smoking and chatting and catching up as opposed to actually watching the music. But you go to these smaller towns and people will drive an hour out to watch a band that they’ve only seen one song off of the Internet or whatever, just because they really wanted to see live music and that's so cool.
Sam: The other cool thing about it is that there are people making these spaces happen. A lot of the time they are making no profit from it. Everything that comes into the doors goes to the bands, they are actually paying out of pocket. We played this abandoned church in Lincoln, NE that had been there for years and they made it into a DIY space which was only played monthly. They were running shows out of this tiny abandoned church.
Leslie: For me, it was the first time I did a full US tour. As an Asian woman, in so many parts of the country where it is very homogenous…it was kind of scary for me. To walk into a gas station in the middle of Alabama and have everyone stop what they are doing and stare because they have never seen an Asian girl. It’s moments where I am physically scared for myself, but then rolling up to the venue and see these crusty, tattooed, hip kids that come and welcome you. That is the coolest thing for me.
You learn so much about the socioeconomic structure and racial tension. It was really upsetting. But then I am reminded that in every single one of these towns there is a pocket of people who are progressive and working hard to make new communities for themselves. That was my favorite part of tour. It was so educational for me. It restructured my whole life.
Sam: It also reminds me that this community is something to be cherished and must be contributed to.
How did you attempt to maintain normalcy on tour?
Sam: There is a certain realization and being okay that whatever is going to happen will happen.
Leslie: Unpredictability becomes the new normal.
Sam: Things really do have a way of working out.
Jeremy: Especially when everyone is trying to make it to one end goal.
Sam: Every place we’d go people were also trying to help us reach that goal.
What do you guys do on your downtime?
Leslie: It got really cold so we packed a bunch of summer clothes but it was freezing in the Midwest. I bought a jean jacket. We also bought baseball gloves and a Frisbee and a jump rope and just trying to stay active in little ways. We stretched a lot. It was actually predominately what we do when we aren’t in the car. You get a lot of that.
What were some of your favorite meals?
Leslie: There was so much.
Sam: We got sushi in El Paso, in the middle of the desert. It seemed like a terrible idea but it was really good. Fish in the desert, it turned out pretty good.
Jeremy: We also stopped at a diner in Weed, California that was really good.
Leslie: Jeremy would go out of his way to pick the most disgusting meal, every single meal. It was astonishing.
What are you guys reading right now?
Leslie: Our car is filled with books.
Sam: I was reading some Theodor Adorno on the road. I was also reading ‘The Argonauts’ which is great I would recommend it. It’s about a woman’s relationship with her queer partner it’s really interesting. I’ve also been reading some Dylan Thomas.
Leslie: Sam’s whole room is filled with books. I specifically read trash fantasy and science fiction. I’ve been reading a series called 'The Stormlight Archives'. I’ve been also reading a 1970’s Army manual on survival. I’ve learned so much it’s really cool. I now know how to club a fish.
Jeremy: I’m reading ‘Blood Meridian’. I can’t read more than one book at a time.
What are you guys listening to right now?
Leslie: I don’t listen to much music. Being on the road and listening to music in the car all of the time and being at shows and listening to music all of the time. I enjoy the silence. In the car though, we were listening to a lot of trap music, which Sam does not like. A lot of reggae too.
Sam: There is one song that I’ve been listening to called ‘Here I Come’ by Barrington Levy.
We focus on hip hop, so I think our readership will appreciate that you guys have been listening to some trap music.
Leslie: Predominately, I think it was 80% of the music we listened to in the car.
Jeremy: I have a soft spot for Drake. A pathetically soft spot for Drake, actually.
Leslie: He has a ‘Hotline Bling’ sweatshirt.
Jeremy: I do have a ‘Hotline Bling’ sweatshirt.
Jeremy: Is Drake really liked by the hip hop community? Or is he more of a pop icon?
I would say that he is. I feel that Drake made it okay to be a soft rapper and I think that people appreciate that. Before it was uncool to be soft and sweet, but Drake has normalized it a little bit, which is nice.
Leslie: That’s true. It’s changed a large part of the rap scene.
What have you guys been doing since you got back from tour?
Jeremy: I was at work last night telling tour stories to fellow bar patrons and serving people alcohol. We’ve also been writing.
Leslie: After playing the same songs for a month and a half, we really wanted to write new material. We’ve been really focusing on cranking out the new jams. All of our songs are born through jams. We go to the practice space and set up, hang out, and play for awhile. It’s not that one of us comes with a fully arranged song.
Jeremy: Definitely, the arrangement part of our group is definitely improvised. Everyone understand each other as a musician and player and we know what needs to be done to make the song sound full but also allow space for everyone to have their own voice in the writing process. It’s a relief to get back to that. Our band is strange in that we make it up as we go, we take parts that we like and don’t like and fit it the way that it aesthetically pleases our ear.
How does that first step for creating a song go then?
Sam: Usually what happens is that we are in the practice space, someone starts to play something and then we all start playing and make a song.
Jeremy: People either like it or we don’t. We will play it and start looking at each other and sometimes decide that something is terrible and we should never play it again…or it works.
Jeremy: There very first thing we did yesterday was yelling at each other with our instruments, purging everything that has happened and then getting really focused.
What is a normal day like for you guys then?
Leslie: Ideally, I love days where we have nothing planned at all. We practice all day. We will go out for air or to eat. Our space is a shitty dungeon in a basement.
Sam: No windows, small and dank. We try to be significantly productive because we usually only have a couple hours.
Leslie: Other bands that practice in there smoke all of the time, so it’s nice to get out and get air. Yesterday, we had a few different noodles that we thought had potential and we could record. We will listen to them and hone the idea of it and then come back to practice again. Jeremy usually doesn’t remember it.
Jeremy: I think as a musician you acquire certain things that you do and that come easily and certain lines or licks or riffs, whatever you want to describe it as, certain things or vocabulary that you go to. The more things you have, the more things you can say. A lot of my friends that are very accomplished musically forget what the core element of how others identify to a song is supposed to be sometimes. They are trying to flex their musical muscles, trying to show their technical ability as opposed to focusing on a melody that is memorable and that you can easily sing, get caught in your ear. The kind that you feel you already know. It’s a completely different skill set and that’s what I personally try to hone in on.
It’s a special place you’ve found where it doesn’t seem like you are trying to impress, just making relatable songs.
Jeremy: It’s hard for me because I really respect musicians that do solo and that do have moments of grandeur and I love that but people still like folk and blues music for a very specific reason. The story that is being told with a raw sensibility and visceral energy and I think that’s what we thrive on.
It’s amazing what you can do with not the most technical skill set and I think you guys are finding that space. Not to say that you aren’t technically skilled, but you know.
Leslie: I would equate my guitar playing ability to my Mortal Kombat ability in that I smash all the buttons and somehow I end up not dying all of the time (laughter).
What inspires you guys?
Leslie: Every other band. I seriously think I learn a lesson from every performance I see.
Jeremy: Whether it’s what to do or not to do or say or not say. This tour. The energy they bring. What happens when they go on stage. I ask myself, “am I so overwhelmed that I forget everything else that’s going on or am I watching the bartender take orders?”
What would you be doing if you weren’t playing?
Leslie: Having a steady income, maybe a home. My mom always wanted me to go nursing school. I wanted to be a geologist. If I could change my destiny so I could be a rock doctor (laughter).
Sam: I would have become some kind of crime fighter by night, reporter by day. Cool cape.
Jeremy: I would want to be a teacher.
What’s the plan for the summer?
Sam: When we originally planned this most recent tour, it was to support this EP. But then we took longer than we expected to get the EP ready. We are probably going to tour again in the fall. In the meantime, playing local shows and writing. I think we are going to hang out for a few months here. We are playing some festivals.
Leslie: Pop Fest in Athens in August and Fest in Florida in October.