It’s Their Show: No hyperbole here, but Broken Baby are one of the greatest live bands in Los Angeles right now. Yeah, we know, you’ve heard it all before. Those are the sort of big claims thrown out by music journalists on a daily basis nowadays, and they inevitably lead to you feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. And of course, music is utterly subjective so we can’t really guarantee that Broken Baby will make you feel the way they make us feel. But dammit, we’re right.
The secret is in the recipe. Broken Baby isn’t one thing but many: indie rock, glam, punk, power-pop, and fuck, there’s some disco in there. Amber Bollinger and Alex Dezen are the forces behind the Baby. It was they who broke it, then reconstructed it into a fabulous, arena-ready, hook-laden baby.
Bollinger, as well as being a superb singer — snotty ‘tude sits comfortably alongside real range — is a magnificent frontwoman. Bowie meets Wendy O’ Williams. Madonna meets Beth Ditto. Karen O meets David Yow. But very much Amber Bollinger.
Dezen, an accomplished musician, songwriter and producer beforehand, might not be the focal point on stage but he’s very much the other half of this beautiful beast. Focussed and demanding, and a stellar guitarist, it is Dezen who drives Broken Baby forward.
The band officially got going in 2017, a year after the pair started discussing what their band should be.
“Alex had been in a bunch of bands,” says Bollinger. “He was in a band called the Damnwells for a decade or so. Then he did his solo stuff. I was wasting time being an actor. It was some friends or family who asked why we don’t just do something and be in a band together. That’s a horrible idea. So I sang backup when he needed some harmonies on his pretty songs, and then we went on tour. I was singing backup on his Alex Dezen tour, and he was sick of doing it.”
Dezen became disillusioned with the solo life, and a band with Bollinger started to look more and more attractive.
“He was like, ‘We should start a band and you should be the singer’,” she says. “I was like, ‘That’s a dumb idea.’ But I secretly did want to do it. I wanted him to prove it. ‘What’ve you got, boy?’ He did a mockup of what our band would look like, and it was just me as a model. It was so uninteresting. But then we started listening to records that we liked, like Jesus Lizard and the Pretenders.”
“We discovered that the band we wanted to make was nothing like we thought it was going to be,” adds Dezen. “I think people thought that we were going to do some sort of civil wars-esque folk duo, harmony-laden thing. We immediately gravitated as far from that as we possibly could. Not necessarily on purpose but more because we discovered that the things we mutually love are none of those things.”
The first Broken Baby release was the 2017 self-titled EP, including the “Bullets or Bummer” song.
“It was an EP and we vomited it up on social media,” says Bollinger. “Like, ‘Hey we’re a band, and here’s a song.’ ‘Bullets or Bummer’ was the first song. People were like, ‘What the fuck is this? Do I like this? I dunno.’ They just liked that we were doing something together, and we put the EP on Bandcamp. We didn’t do a live show for like six months after that.”
That song and EP hints at what is to come, but the band has noticeably grown massively in those four years. Everything, from the production to the hooks to Bollinger’s delivery, is in a different league now.
“The first stuff, we didn’t even care,” says Dezen. “Then we started to care. In the beginning, bands are often like, ‘We like these bands – we want to sound like this.’ Then they go and sound like that. As time goes on, they gravitate towards other things. It naturally comes out of that. So that’s what happened – we’ve become more us.”
The pair are a superb team. That’s clear in conversation, it’s clear on stage, and they say that it’s true during the creative process too.
“Alex starts, then I cry and scream about it,” says Bollinger. “He’s like, ‘sit down.’ That’s pretty accurate. He’s focused, and I’m like doing the laundry before we sit down to write a song. But it does work. We start having fun with it. Once we find a melody or something, it’s like ok, I can start focussing. But it’s really hard to write a song guys.”
True to the DIY ethos, Broken Baby have their own imprint called Poor Man Records. They release things on their own terms, while helping out other bands too.
“It was a really old imprint that my old band used when we were between labels to release EPs and manufacture physical product before streaming,” says Dezen. “Over time, it evolved into a label that was putting out other bands as well as our own music. We got a distribution deal with the Orchard, sometime around 2018. Then it was like, oh shit I guess we should have things to distribute. So we started helping some of our friends. I think the first Poor Man release that we put out other than Broken Baby was Tummyache. The record was so good that we started there. The good news is that most of the stuff we do now, we do know how to do. So we’re not flying by the seat of our pants. Other bands were not as successful off the bat, and that’s when we cut our teeth.”
Though they are very much based in L.A., Bollinger says that they don’t necessarily feel like an L.A. band. Although, as Dezen points out, it’s tough to nail down what that even means anymore.
“There are so many different bands in L.A.,” he says. “Almost every band that we know, they’re not native Los Angelenos so they’re coming from all different places and backgrounds, bringing with them the influences from where they’ve come from. So saying you’re an L.A. band could literally mean anything.”
While the COVID pandemic and lockdown has been devastating and heartbreaking, we’ve heard from a number of musicians that they were able to knuckle down with their work.
“It gave us time to rewrite our album,” says Bollinger. “We had our album done in 2019, and then lockdown happened and we were like, ‘Fuck. What are we going to do with this?’ We basically scrapped four or five songs, and rewrote them. We got rid of songs and wrote new ones, and that upped the ante for us. Also, we realized that we couldn’t tour and get out, so how could we connect with the music scene around us? That’s when we started doing little collabs. We did one with Tummyache and the split with Egg Drop Soup, just to bring the community closer together. I hate saying it, but the pandemic was great for our creativity at least.”
Their half of the split single with Egg Drop Soup was the gloriously sarcastic “Madonnas a Dick,” a song about double standards and sexism. The next single was the equally riotous “Get the Piss Up.”
“Americans are confounded by that title,” says Dezen. “You can’t say piss on half the radio stations. But it’s about going nuts. Americans also have a hard time doing that.”
The band’s sophomore album, Late Stage Optimism, is out September 24. The title is a play on the phrase “late stage capitalism.”
“I like to say that whenever anything goes wrong,” says Dezen. “It could be middle-class people unable to get loans to buy a new home, or the fact that the ketchup bottle is only filled 75 percent of the way. Chips in bags – it’s awful. So we were thinking about titles and trying to be positive, and at one point one of us said, ‘I’m so tired of being positive all the time.’ This is late stage optimism.”
With a tour with Skating Polly coming up in support of a superb album, the pair can be forgiven for allowing some of that optimism to rise higher. Late or not.
The Late Stage Optimism album is out September 24. Broken Baby performs at 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 25 at the Moroccan Lounge.
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