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Blending Memories and Music with The Belle Brigade

The Belle Brigade are a brother/sister duo from LA that have been dubbed as “LA’s shining stars” by KCRW. Sister, Barbara Gruska, plays drums while brother Ethan plays guitar. They sing on most of their songs together, resulting in beautiful harmonies that have them compared to the ranks of Simon and Garfunkel. They are currently on tour with Ray LaMontagne where they are pulling double duty by opening and playing as part of Ray’s backup band. I saw them recently and was taken away with their uplifting and fun performance.

MCB: Who started playing an instrument first and what instrument?
Barbara: I am 6 1/2 years older than Ethan and I started taking group piano classes before he was born when I was 4 or 5. I started playing the drums at 10.
MCB: Since you come from a musical family, in your teens did you ever want to rebel and just want to become an accountant or something like that?
Barbara: Yes, I wanted to be anything but a musician when I was 14.  I wanted to be an architect but I'm horrible at math.  I wanted to be in the WNBA but I'm short and slow.  Finally at 18 I gave in and all I wanted to do was to practice drums and be the best musician that I could be.
MCB: How long did it take for drumming and singing at the same time not to be awkward?
Barbara: I started singing a long time after I started playing drums so my coordination was already solid by the time I merged the two.  I think it was weird at first but I started singing and playing at a time in my life when I was practicing at least 6 hours a day, so it felt natural quickly.  It's just like anything else, once you get the hang of it you don't think about it.
MCB: Your new record Just Because has a fuller, more diverse sound than your debut. Is this a display of more confidence to try new things?
Barbara: Confidence and courage is a must for making music period.  It took a lot of courage to make the decisions we made on the first record and same for the second.  I would say the sound of "Just Because" came about mostly from a desire to experiment and from the freedom we granted ourselves to not cater our musical decisions to anyone but ourselves.

MCB: This is one long tour you are on and it’s just begun, how has it been going?
Ethan: It's been great! This is our first tour since the release of our record so we are really happy to be playing these songs live! Playing Ray's set is also so incredibly fun!
MCB: Is it tiring to open then play with Ray LaMontagne (or are you too excited to notice)?
Ethan:  It actually feels really great to play so much every night and we both can feel our endurance getting much stronger both vocally and instrumentally.
MCB: Do you treat touring like a family vacation and take in some local sites while touring?
Ethan: It's amazing to tour with family because you always know you have a friend and someone who will always be there for you... We like to hang  and explore the cities as much as we can while touring but it's still very much a job with a lot of different kinds of tasks, so I wouldn't call it a vacation... It's definitely one of the most fun jobs in the world though!
MCB: For a band with an intimate sound, you are playing some big halls now. Do you worry about losing your intimacy in a large hall or do try compensate in other ways?
Ethan: As an opening act, it's always important to be exciting and entertaining so sometimes you have to sacrifice a certain amount of intimacy to do that... Sometimes in some of these big outdoor sheds our ballads don't really come across correctly, but some of the indoor theaters that we are getting to play are perfect places to get a little bit quieter and more intimate. Every show is different and it's important to be flexible with the set list...
MCB: Is there a song from Just Because the crowd seems to really be latching onto live?
Ethan:  It's hard to tell... Again, every show is different and as an opening band, it seems the more up tempo songs do a bit better and get the crowd more engaged... I guess if we had to choose, “Everything For a Stone” and “When Everything Was What It Was” seem to be going over pretty well.

Interview and pics by Mikel O.D. of MPAD Media