It stays in the family for this bit of our musical tree , in part because Ben Arthur’s brother, Michael Arthur, is a member of the band. But really, it’s all a family thing anyway, having been started up by Lauren and Pascal Balthrop, and grown into the bustling musical metropolis it is today. With 11 members, a bevy of different instruments, and a carefully crafted backstory, Balthrop, Alabama creates wonderful songs that bring you back to the warm green grasses of home.
Lauren Balthrop (aka Georgiana Starlington) took the time to respond, talk a bit about their music, and represent the fair town of their creation.
How did you get started playing music?
We come from a pretty musical family. As kids, there were always sing-alongs and we were singing along with when the family got together. It was just always a part of who we were. My mom and her sisters are like the Andrew Sisters. When they’re together, they are in three part harmony. I wrote my first song when I was 6 after having gotten back from a trip to the circus. It was called Tightrope and it ended up on the first Balthrop, Alabama album ‘Your Big Plans and Our Little Town’.
What was the first recording you ever purchased?
I’m embarrassed to say that the first CD I ever bought was Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On Come On. I was 8 and heavily exposed to country music everywhere I went. She did a great cover of Lucinda William’s “Passionate Kisses”, and I was just obsessed with “I Feel Lucky”. Oh, to be 8 again.
How would you describe the music you play now?
Someone called it “Barnyard Epic Indie Rock” and I guess that sums it up pretty well. We always say that our songs tell stories about dead people and dead people in love, although sometimes they aren’t quite dead. The songs tend to be pretty narrative and when we play in concert, our town drawer, Toxey Goodwater (Michael Arthur) does these live drawings that are projected behind us, which makes the show kind of like a live cartoon.
Some reviewer in Alabama said we were like a touring version of Barack Obama’s Rent and that will also do as a description, even though I don’t really know what it means. I think he didn’t like us, but we like Barack Obama and Rent’s a pretty good show, although Hedwig [And The Angry Inch] is better. We’re like a touring version of Barack Obama’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Balthrop, AL has a population of about 11…how did this particular musical town come to incorporate?
It started with my brother Pascal and I, but the expansion was pretty organic. We all knew each other through this local coffee shop called the Fall Cafe in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn which is across the street from where Pascal lived. Most of us either worked there or spent some time each day there. But the Fall Cafe is sort of where the community of it all began. That’s where the city limits were laid out.
Is there good real estate value in Balthrop?
Well, Balthrop, Alabama is located primarily in Brooklyn and real estate’s mighty pricey in New York City. But, the town travels around a good bit, so we can find deals here and there. I gotta say we have some nice parts of town and some pretty shady areas, and sometimes it can change just like that. But, it’s strong property and we consider it a good investment. There was some fear that we might qualify for a super-fund clean up, but then Douglas Snead showered and everything worked itself out.
Is there a comparison you would make between your music and something non-musical?Â A painter, building, dish of cereal?
Oh, I think we’re pretty much that good pair of overalls that everyone has but only wears on laundry days. It never gets washed, but it’s comfy and every stain tells a story.
Who would you consider your musical inspiration?
That changes all the time. I’m pretty restless and I get bored easy, so I listen to and borrow from a lot of stuff. Pascal got the notion of the band after seeing an Arcade Fire show. I think we’re all inspired by the Beatles story–the hard work and constant creative stuff that went on there, but we’re also pretty partial to Hank Williams too. On tour, we’re always swapping out iPods and listening to everyone else’s music–it’s a pretty eclectic group of tastes, so we listen to Hillbilly stuff and punk stuff and big bands and show tunes and a lot of Patton Oswalt. Man, Pascal and Jason really like that Patton Oswalt album.
If you could pick a perfect lineup (dead or alive) for a show where you were the headliner, who would it be?
Well, I think we’d be playing a bar show with the Hamburg-era Beatles. We’d probably have Rocketship Park and the Ne’er Do Evers play, because their members are in our band too and we have fun playing in all sorts of configurations. I wonder if we can get the Hamburg-era Beatles to tour again–it would be a sweet opening slot for them and we wouldn’t make them change out of their leather stuff jackets. Also, Coldplay should be in there, just so they can see how a real band does it. It would be good for their career and their musical growth.
What attracts you to a particular song? An artist?
A good marketing strategy and product tie-ins. A little payola gets me every time.
Ok. For real. Uhm . . . I like a good melody and a nice bit of melancholy stirred up in some optimisim. I guess we don’t really like fake stuff and don’t much go for attitude unless it’s got something backing it up.
Who should I be listening to right this very moment? Why does their work get you excited?
Our label mates (and frequent collaborators)Â Caithlin DeMarrais and Kyle Fischer each put out amazing solo albums last year. I guess I think you should listen to either one of them. They were both in the Indy band Rainer Maria and their solo albums feature a lot of members of Balthrop, Alabama as players. I know it seems like nepotism or something to choose albums that you’re on, but I swear Caithlin’s My Magic City and Kyle’s Black Milk are two albums that everyone should be listening to. We listen to them repeatedly when we’re out on the road. They’re SO GOOD.
Listen to some Balthrop, Alabama
And pick up an album or two while you’re at it…