Artist Interview: Babehoven

Posted: by The Editor

New York’s Babehoven released their latest EP, Sunk on March 4, on Double Double Whammy. Formed in 2017 in Portland, OR, Babehoven has since been alchemizing their approach to the sonic and emotional world of folk/rock, turning out an eclectic mix of tunes that track the characters, visions and grievances of singer and songwriter Maya Bon’s interior world.

When approaching the making of Sunk, Bon and collaborator Ryan Albert notably drew inspiration from the sonic palate of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or. The result is an intimate, lush, and slightly delicate work that explores emotional truths surrounding grief, personal realization, self care and the complexities of interpersonal relationships. All the while, Bon notes, she’s been holding the idea that it’s “easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” I don’t think that’s the whole story here though–there’s some fight in Bon, and she’s quick to celebrate and contemplate the beauty and possibility that persists despite the malaise that so many of us are awash in. Sunk is unpolished in an endearing way, jangly with its strummed classical guitars and sparse percussion.

The Alternative’s Emma Bowers spoke to the band before their show in Portland, OR, in early April.

You recently moved to Hudson, New York. How has the move affected your creative practice? 

Maya: I grew up in Los Angeles, I came to Portland for college–which is where I started Babehoven–and then I moved back to LA. I have a really great community of friends and people I grew up with, and an artist community in LA. It’s where I met Ryan, and we fell in love and he joined the project. With the move, there were a few factors–I could imagine myself staying in LA forever and I didn’t really want to do that, and Ryan and I were both kind of like, “Hm, is this what we want?”

Ryan: Heat and traffic aren’t really my thing.

Maya: So we ended up moving to Philly and on that trip we stopped in Vermont, where Ryan’s from, and we recorded Demonstrating Visible Difference In Height. Then we moved to Philly and three months later COVID hit. We moved back to Vermont and recorded Nastavi, Calliope and Sunk. I was really unhappy in Vermont.

Ryan: It was just pretty hardcore isolation, kind of secretly a conservative place, not a lot of creatives. I love Vermont but it wasn’t socially very stimulating, if anything it was depressing.

Maya: But it was good for work, we worked really hard and we made a lot of music. Ryan produces and engineers a lot of our music, and a little more than halfway through quarantine I started working at a bookstore in town, so I would leave the house for three or four days a week and I could leave Ryan to work on the music. I could just come back and be like “Yes. No. Maybe.” and it was kind of an ideal mix.

Ryan: It worked out.

Maya: I still love Portland, I love LA. I’m glad I had my time here but I do feel that Hudson is our place. It really is a great spot and an amazing community of people and I love living there.

What’s the community like in Hudson? 

Maya: In some ways it reminds me of the community I found in LA in that there’s just a lot of space, in LA it’s urban sprawl and in Hudson it’s just woods and people are just really rooted and have the space to take care of themselves. I’m really inspired by people in general and I love the creative stream of energy that I’ve found in people there. Also, I get to live in the woods and hike all the time, which is what I love to do, and not have to be in a city but I have the output of people as if I were in a city. We’re only two hours away from New York City, but it’s far enough away that I feel able to detach.

You’re on tour. What have shows been feeling like? 

Maya: Shows have been really great. It was a mixture of my manager and I putting the tour together, with a little external help, but there’s been a lot of “I don’t know how this is going to turn out,” and reaching out to friends of friends. Even on week nights in cities I’ve never been to before there’s been people who know our music and buy our merch. I don’t know if we’ll break even, but either way it feels like we’re either going to get really close or it’ll be like, that was worth it in any case. It’s been a really profound experience.

What energy are you getting from people at your shows? Have they been ready to come be tender? 

Maya: People for the most part have been really caring and tender. I write very honestly about grief and my family and pain and my own processes of finding myself, and that’s really brave work. It’s really scary and it feels really vulnerable. I feel like having Ryan there, and then we now have this amazing drummer who’s really wonderful, I really supported. I feel people have been coming knowing what they’re getting into, whereas previously when we were less known–you end up being the band people don’t know about yet. Now it feels that people come a little more prepared to be quiet and attentive.

Ryan: It’s kind of the first time that it’s been a consistent thing of people knowing our music and actually being fans. Which is amazing and really interesting. It’s heartwarming and sweet. We’re noticing that people are definitely starting to listen a lot more, especially in the Pacific Northwest–there’s been a lot of very attentive crowds.

What was the process of building out this project been like, finding collaborators and now a drummer? 

Maya: I have a really hard time trusting people in general. It’s something I actively work on. It took me a long time to let go of control, even having a manager now, it’s been a year of working those kinks out, but we work really well together. Meeting Ryan was the bigger turning point for me, Ryan works really hard at what he does and has an amazing ear. I feel that we’re creative soulmates. I feel that the reason I’ve been able to let go of control is because I met the right people. Ryan puts all of his effort in the places that make me feel safe.

Ryan: We’ve also been dating for four years. I also have a hard time trusting people musically, and I think that since we’re dating, a large part of our relationship is learning how to communicate with each other, so then when we create work together those skills come with the territory.

Maya: Finding other bandmates has been hard because we have very specific expectations, like we’re not a party band, we’re not looking for people who just want to chill and jam.

Ryan: We’re also not looking for creative input from anybody.

Maya: I’m not looking for a collaborator. I actually wasn’t really looking for a collaborator when I met Ryan, it just happened that way. I actually don’t really like people’s input a lot of the time, because I’m doing this for me.

If Sunk were a person, what would be in their tote bag?

Maya: Resmaa Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands.

Ryan: An IPod with Duster’s discography.

Maya: Sunk for me was a large part about letting go of things that it wasn’t possible for me to continue carrying. Someone recently wrote that a lot of our music has been, from a songwriting perspective, my processes through the stages of grief. It feels like Sunk is the acceptance stage, and I feel hopeful for the first time. I feel able to be who I am, and be myself. I think in the tote bag there’s definitely like–

Ryan: A water bottle.

Maya: A lot of water, and a pillow. A lot of fiction. I’ve been reading a lot of good fiction this year, one book called The Innocents by Michael Crummey really changed my life. It’s very heavy–but heavy, beautiful fiction feels very much a part of the Sunk ethos. Harold and Maude.

Would you want to break down the making of “Twenty Dried Chillies”?

Maya: I can start my part and then I’ll hand it off to Ryan, which is what happens (laughs). So I’ll sit down to write a song, normally it takes me the amount of time it takes to literally sing the song. Like I’ll just sit down and press record on my voice memos, and the song will come out, and then I’ll write it down. Then I bring that to Ryan.

Ryan: “Twenty Dried Chillies” is a song Maya wrote a long time ago, in 2018. It was the last song we recorded for Sunk, and it took a while to get the right guitar sound because we couldn’t get a quiet time to record. We were recording in our apartment, and there’s always traffic and it’s a seven and a half minute song, so there would always be a lot of noises. When we finally got that done, Maya really strongly thought it needed a finger picked guitar line to move through the song, so I deconstructed the chords and put different voicings on the chords Maya put together and came up with a pretty simple but fast pattern. Then from there, what I usually try to do from a production standpoint is to give the song breath. Maya’s phrasing in this song lends itself to that very easily.

We were thinking a lot about Wilco, thinking about how the hell a band can have a twelve minute song–basically without a chorus–and still make it interesting to the listener and the person playing it and have it be emotionally concise and present throughout the whole song. So trying to transcribe the emotion into a sonic experience. With that, there’s a lot of guitar swells and out of time piano parts, really just thinking more emotionally than anything else in the sonic landscape.

Maya: From a temporal aspect, it starts with me writing a song. I take it to Ryan, he kind of constructs and we discuss the overarching things, he kind of goes for it and I start to add in little things. We kind of just bounce off of each other, and then sometimes, you know, inevitably with a collaborator there will be a moment where we disagree. We’ll discuss it, but normally, it’s my song–so it ends up being like…(laughs). It’s my song. At the end of the day, it matters to me that these songs feel like mine. That’s why working with Ryan is so important for me, because he really understands that. A lot of people are like, I want to go work in a studio and trying working with a lot of different people–and I super respect that, I think that’s a beautiful perspective to have–but for me it’s really critical to have a really trusting relationship first and foremost, that’s rooted in an understanding of what it means to write a song.

Ryan: I don’t consider myself a songwriter at all, I consider myself a sound person.

Maya: Writing and sharing a song like “Twenty Dried Chillies” is very vulnerable, that’s part of the reason it took me so many years to play it–I actually could not even listen to it. It’s still sometimes emotional for me to even play. So that is critical for me, as a sensitive artist, for people to be aware when approaching collaboration that this isn’t just a walk in the park for me. It’s really nice that Ryan and I are able to work through that.

Sunk is out now on Double Double Whammy.

Emma Bowers | @emmaebowers

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