One of the most engaging, invigorating records I've heard of late is the debut full length of Stolen Babies, There Be Squabbles Ahead. It's about all I can play lately. The disc features wildly convulsive mixtures of near-death vocals, cabaret-ish segments, corrosive guitars and goth elements. And that description does not do the band justice. Put it this way. They're just flat out entertaining. I spoke with the band's drummer Gil Sharone recently to find out where their unique sound comes from.
antiMUSIC: I love your record but man it's weird! (laughs)
Gil Sharone: (laughs) Well, that's Stolen Babies. But good, we're glad you like it. That's good news.
antiMUSIC: It's not one of those records that you put on a couple of times and end up getting tired of.
Gil Sharone: Right. Exactly. The more you hear it. The more you sit with it, the more s*** is going to jump out at you.
antiMUSIC: Your sound is amazing. It seems to incorporate a lot of different starting points. What do your songs require to be included in something you would put out as a band? What's the impetus?
Gil Sharone: Well, Rani --- my brother, and Dominique….they do the writing and between them two…it's like…we all just have such a wide range of influences and certain things inspire us so much. It's like we always say, it's not just even styles of music that inspires us but also things out of music inspire us. Just life. And other things that inspire what they're brining to the table that makes the band sound how we sound. We just have so many different passions for so many kinds of music. My brother is extremely into film scores and then the quirky cartoon music. So that's obviously a huge element that you can hear in the songs that comes from that influence. And then there's obviously metal and other things. Basically there isn't a pre-requisite for them to bring in a song and say "OK, today we're going to write a really heavy song that thrashes. And then tomorrow we're going to write some circus-y carnival songs." And then after that, a ballad. It's just all really organic in what comes out of them.
antiMUSIC: But it's interesting that no matter what direction you go off to in the record, it all sounds like it's part of the same umbrella. "Lifeless" sounds a lot different than "A Year of Judges".
Gil Sharone: That's because with us, since we're not trying to do anything different…I mean there's the ballad "Lifeless" than "A Year of Judges" and there's a techno dance song "So Close". So instead of trying to go out of our way trying to write different songs and then they end up sounding like different band each song, the reason why it sounds so cohesive and it sounds like Stolen Babies' identity, it's because what I was saying a minute ago. It's a very organic process and it all has…even though it could have very different dynamics and diverse styles of music triggering our song, it's all very much Stolen Babies and our identity. We've really come into our own like where there's a song like "Gathering Fingers" on the record, you know? And there's newer stuff that we're writing like that. And then "Tall Tales" and "Mind Your Eyes" and the heavier stuff. Even though it's all over the place, it's still the same identity. It's still the same voice. So it will always sound like Stolen Babies.
antiMUSIC: The sound gives the impression that you would be very visually aware, in terms of your presentation. Do you approach your songs with a broader vision than just how they would sound on record?
Gil Sharone: That's a good question. We like to do everything that you hear on the record live. So it's not that we want to overwhelm ourselves with all this crazy extra stuff and then you see us live and the songs sound completely naked. It's actually pretty full live. We're able to pull a lot of the stuff off that you hear on the album pretty much live. It's definitely part of the live show…we incorporate as much as we can. Ben, our keyboard player, also has a percussion set up with a lot of that metal you hearing on the record, with a lot of those aural drums and random metal hits and other auxiliary percussion outside of the drum set, so not only is he playing keyboard and singing backgrounds, but he's also doing that stuff. And so, it helps with the visual effect because the set up looks great and we like all the metal and rawness and that stuff but at the same time it's what was recorded in the studio that we can do live.
antiMUSIC: How and when did the band come together?
Gil Sharone: We have such a history. We've been playing together back since high school. We had a band called the Fratellis. A 12-piece, very theatrical, kind of all-over-the-place band. And it was very much kinda similar to the path of Oingo Boingo where before it was Oingo Boingo, they were called the Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo and they were very theatrical, quirky, cartoon-y group. Then eventually years later they trimmed down and wrote, focused more or less on the theatrics but more of solid songs and being a band. And that's pretty much exactly what happened. The Fertellis you know, we started in the group and one of the songs "Filistata" on There Be Squabbles Ahead, that was a Fratellis song. That song's 10 years old. So...and that was on the Fratellis demo tape back in whenever it was, ten years ago. So basically we had ups and downs after the Fertellis split up. It was really hard to keep a band that big together on top of mixing all the theatrical stuff on the stage show that we incorporated with that group. Like we had two members of the Fratellis that weren't even musicians; they were just part of the theatrical part of the show. So over the years we just kept playing together, and Ronnie would be writing and we'd be working with Dominique on stuff and it just organically trimmed down and formed into a five piece rock group. And when I say rock group, I just mean a more straight forward band as opposed to the whole carnival circus-y Fratellis -type environment we were used to when we started. So we pretty much formed out of the Fratellis and we're all the core original members.
antiMUSIC: So who is everybody and what's their background?
Gil Sharone: Rani is my brother, the bass player and the songwriter. Dominique's our singer and plays the accordion and she writes all lyrics and the songs with Rani.
And I'm the drummer and Ben is our keyboard player. Us four, we are the core members. We were all original members of the Fratellis and then our guitar player we actually... have kinda rotating guitar player right now. If you noticed on the record, Rani's playing guitar as well as bass and a number of other instruments all over the record. So we're pretty much using a touring guitar player and that kinda rotates between a few close friends.
antiMUSIC: There are so many interesting arrangements on the record. Was it difficult to narrow down the elements that you wanted to have on there?
Gil Sharone: Hmm. There were certain things that were just part of the vision right away. Just as soon as Rani brought the song in, or the arrangement and we were piecing the arrangements together, it was all very organic. It wasn't like we were like: AOh, well let's put tiffany on this song. And let's put a mandolin on this song, and let's get a glockenspiel.@ We all really had a clear vision of what each specific song was going to be before we even recorded it. So they came together that way already. But in the studio, you know when the creative juices are flowing and we're working with someone like Dan Rathbun in the studio who co-produced the record with us. It's like certain things just came up, you know? We said, "Hey let's hear what this sounds like with it" and it totally worked. So it kind of came together. We weren't trying too much to get overwhelmed with trying to make it over-produced or just throwing something in there for the sake of throwing something in the song. We used what we thought was best for the song.
antiMUSIC: How long was this record in the making and how did the songs all come together?
Gil Sharone: Well real quick. The Fratellis were 10 years ago. Stolen Babies came together, we'd say, with the recording of our first EP in 2002. That's when we consider Stolen Babies really starting out. So in 2002, that's when we considered it okay, this is our new band, and we're going to call ourselves Stolen Babies which was a title of a Fratellis song. And that's when we got our name. So not only does it suit us, but it also gives kinda, you know, a throwback to all our roots, which is where we came from The Fratellis.
antiMUSIC: Is there a particular writing pattern within the band?
Gil Sharone: Yeah, it's funny. Rani will come up with a song and he'll write either on the guitar, the bass or the piano. And he'll come up with something either by himself or hanging out with Dominique and they come up with something together. It's funny, since the Fratellis, the songwriting process has been like this: them two pretty much collaborating and work on the stuff, the music, the vocal melodies and then Dominique gets on the lyrics. Then they'll bring it into rehearsal or Rani will even sequence a song. Like he'll have certain songs. He'll have a full vision in his head and just sequence it and then he'll bring it to the band and play it and say okay, "This is what I want the song to sound like, this is the vision. Let's make it happen@. And then when we start to play live and I sit behind the drums and Ben is playing the keyboard parts and Dominique is singing and we're just jamming on them, they just come to life. So I wouldn't say we're too much of a jam band and that's how we end up writing our songs. It's usually pretty clear when Rani and Dominique bring something in. They have a pretty good vision of what it's going to be and where it's going to go. We've been going with that for years and it works for us.
antiMUSIC: I've heard you make all your own props. Can you tell us what to expect from a Stolen Babies live performance?
Gil Sharone: Well we definitely very much like to bring people into our own world. We like to create another world and escape as opposed to seeing five bands on the bill for instance and they're all playing on the same stage and nothing's really happening. Whereas when we come on stage, we bring a visual aspect to make the attention like: our show is about to start. They are entering a new domain and so we dress up in costumes. We have our wardrobe. We dress up. We have makeup, but at the same time it's not a gimmick. We don't use what we look like and what our stage is decorated with as a gimmick. We're all about the music first but at the same time the creative part of it of how we look and what we do with the stage is an extension of our whole package. It's just icing on the cake. It's not trying to compensate for something that's lacking musically. And Rani has a special effects background as well so you know...between him and Dominique and our artist Crab Scrambly? There all so creative they have ideas for backdrops and props to have on stage and they mark them out and Rani goes to the shop and makes them himself and that's what we use on stage.
antiMUSIC: An interesting part of the CD package is the artwork. Who is Crab Scrambly and how does the artwork play into the whole overall presentation?
Gil Sharone: Crabs Scrambly as we like to say is like a just a silent member of the band. He's not just only a part of the family and what we do but we hooked up with him years ago. My brother met him at a special effects shop actually when they were working. He invited him out to a show early on, just before we recorded our first EP and Crabs Scrambly came out and he just really dug the band. And then we hit it off, became good friends and creatively it was just about when we were going to record our first EP we asked him to do the artwork for it. So ever since, 2002, that first EP, Crab Scrambly's been doing pretty much all of our artwork. The video for Push Button, our t-shirts, our website, the two EPs we have plus There'll be squabble ahead, and his artwork and style and how it complements the music it's all very cohesive. Just like you were saying with the songs on the record, there all even though they're different they're still cohesive. It's still the same band. The artwork is very much…it glues it all together. But yeah it's very much a huge part of the package of Stolen Babies, Crabs Scrambly's input.
antiMUSIC: I've heard something about you being involved with a soundtrack. What can you tell us about that?
Gil Sharone: Yeah, well, another part of our background, we've been really into. Like I said, Rani my brother is a composer, not just for the band, but he's also very much into scoring films and using the band as his orchestra as he likes to say. And that's one of the way he comes up with writing songs, he has his visions and he uses the band as his orchestra. So when he sees film or anything visual, he has this knack to score, to just put music to that right away as soon as he sees in. So the band has been asked to get involved. People have been asking, approaching the band to score their films as well for Rani to score some other stuff. But we got asked to score a horror movie, a full feature horror movie that's in the makings right now. I'd like to talk more about it but because it's Hollywood you never know what's going to f***ing happen. But yeah, it's like we're definitely open to doing stuff like that and it's a natural thing for us and we have...it's just another niche we have that we can do, as Rani as an individual and using the band as well.
antiMUSIC: That's all the questions I have for you guys. Is there anything else that you would like to tell me about the band that I didn't ask?
Gil Sharone: You asked some really good questions. I hope I answered everything good enough. Usually Rani and Dominique and I; we're on the calls together but I pretty much answered what they all would. But yeah, I'm glad we got to talk about Crabs Scrambly and the artwork and the packaging. It's very much the visual presentation and everything, whether it's the packaging of the record or our live show. Like I said, just to bring them into what we do. We want to take them into Stolen Babies' world and just escape from the world. It's f***ed up enough. Yeah that's our history. That's where we come from. And it's been a lot of fun.
antiMUSIC: Thanks a lot for taking the time Gil and all the best.
Gil Sharone: Awesome. Thank you so much. Yeah, hope we see you eventually. Take care. Later.