Folk-inspired trio BAILEN captivates from their first note. Floating sibling harmonies, powerhouse vocals and complex musicality are the group’s distinct signatures, affording them high praise from Rolling Stone Magazine and NPR music on their remarkable debut album, Thrilled To Be Here. Tied together by more than music, fraternal twins David and Daniel and younger sister Julia Bailen use familial ties to strengthen the connection listeners feel in their music.
After nearly three years of relative inactivity, BAILEN returns with new single “Call It Like It Is” ahead of anticipated record Tired Hearts, which is set to release in early May. In a press release from Fantasy Records, Tired Hearts is described as navigating “the space between the heart’s expectation and the head’s sober reality” and filled with dazzling vocals and avant-pop stylings. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Daniel Bailen allows listeners into BAILEN’s process of songwriting and record-making.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
The Michigan Daily: So who is BAILEN as a collective? What initially inspired you?
Daniel Bailen: Our parents are classical musicians in New York, so we grew up always surrounded by that. As kids, waking up to a chamber group in the living room playing Beethoven, it was kind of hard not to follow suit and pursue music. Our dad is also a folk guitar player and songwriter, so we always gravitated toward Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and the Beatles. BAILEN is also very much inspired by growing up in New York and its music scene though it’s not exactly what it used to be.
TMD: How would you describe your place among the genres when your music carries such deep nuance? What are the influences that you’re drawing from there?
DB: At our heart of hearts, we’re inspired by the great folk songwriters. But we’re always listening to new music. So I would describe us as grounded in the ’60s folk world of Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, but remaining inspired and influenced by what’s coming out. It kind of makes BAILEN into a melting pot.
Our signature is our three-part harmonies. We don’t write based around it, but instead arrange places where it fits naturally — Crosby, Stills & Nash were such a huge influence in that regard. It was so sad to lose David Crosby this year. Back in 2019, he kept tweeting our album Thrilled to Be Here, and that was absolutely surreal, to be seen and heard by one of our heroes.
TMD: Melting pot is the perfect word for it. From the new single “Call It Like It Is” to the rest of your discography, it acts like a diverse collection of influences and inspirations that are showcased from track to track.
DB: BAILEN is made up of three very different people; even though we are siblings, we’re very different. We have songs that are really eclectic because it’s a combination of three different personalities. There’s a unique sound that comes from the same people playing together over and over again — and even more so in our case as siblings. Even if we write an eclectic group of songs, there’s always going to be a through line by nature of it being a product of the three of us, in a room together, playing the songs and harmonizing together. Regardless of the technical genre, our songs are always going to sound like us.
TMD: BAILEN released Thrilled to Be Here, your debut, in 2019 and you have a record, Tired Hearts, set to come out later this year. How has the process of songwriting and recording changed in the past four years?
DB: During the pandemic, we were all writing songs separately from our homes, so all of our demos ended up being quiet because we didn’t want to bother our significant others. So compared to the first record, a lot of our demos had especially intimate and soft vocals. It’s almost like you’re in the closet with the person singing, and we wanted to capture that intimacy in this record — I guess the outlier is “Call It Like It Is”. Tired Hearts definitely has more of that intimate vocal sound where you’re held kind of close up against the vocals rather than three feet away or at arms-length.
We did the record with Brad Cook. We did like two weeks with him and then we took it back to our city to finish up on our end. We had a lot of freedom and a lot of time because of the pandemic so we wanted to get it right. But also when you take too much time, sometimes you take the magic out so we were conscious of that as well.
TMD: Speak a bit on “Call It Like It Is.”
DB: It’s funny because everyone’s asking me about all these synths on “Call It Like It Is.” There really aren’t that many synthesizers — it starts with electric bass, and it’s just bass and drums until the chorus. And then the synth-like sounds there on the chorus are just strings that David put some effects on. Our good friend and amazing violinist Doori Na came over and we just went crazy with all the violin parts.
The music video for “Call It Like It Is” was inspired by this time when we were staying with a lady who invited us to stay after a show. When we went home with her we realized we were staying in a dungeon and it turned into this really fun storyline for the video which David directed and edited. The hosts shall not be named.
TMD: What was the process of writing Tired Hearts like? What influences are you pulling from in this record? How do you hope it might connect with listeners?
DB: It was a difficult few years through the pandemic, especially as a musician in New York City when everything just shut down. It felt like we were floating into an abyss almost. A lot of the songs are products of us working through that period in our lives. And I know people are done talking about the pandemic, but it did open up some emotion and pathos that we were able to translate into the songs and we hope that people will relate to that. We have some of our most heartfelt songs on this record. There’s palpable emotion coming from all three of us in each of our songs that came from that period, and you can feel a certain type of honesty and fragility that is sometimes difficult to access and hold on to when you aren’t given that stillness. But in making the songs, we had so much time to sit and think and kind of open ourselves up to songwriting. And I think it lends itself to some special sauce.
In our hibernation period, we probably wrote four records worth of music. We don’t want to release something without being able to tour it, so we are moving one at a time with “Tired Hearts” first. So watch out for a lot of music after this record, too.
Be sure to catch BAILEN at The Ark on April 2.
Music Beat Editor Claire Sudol can be reached at email@example.com.