An exclusive RNR Globe chat with one of New York City’s most enduring rock ‘n’ roll exports
If you like the hookiest power pop – lyrics about getting to a beach party, ringing Rickenbackers, and beats like leaping into a convertible that’s already pulling out for the beach – and you still haven’t heard Baby Shakes, that’s on you, pal!
The main NYC trio of Mary, Judy, and Claudia (last names are for squares) initially got their banana bike rolling circa 2005, amidst a pretty sizzling scrunch-punk scene in Brooklyn, to which the Baby Shakes brought a summertime fun vibe that fit right in, because these gals have the punch and guitarist Judy’s stingy leads to kick right through any punk lineup. After a brief move to Atlanta in 2008, which yielded their debut album, The First One (Douchemaster, 2009), they moved back to the Big Apple. After a few drummer juggles, they found their best yet, Ryan, in 2015, and have since shifted into a whole other gear. Always active regionally, and having gone to Japan first in 2009 and a couple Euro jaunts later, in the last two years they’ve toured across Europe, America, and Japan numerous times, and wowed ‘em at the big Burger Boogaloo garage rock fest in California.
VIDEO: Baby Shakes at Burger Boogaloo 2017
And now they’re about to let loose their fourth album, Cause a Scene. So far, a perfect example of “If it ain’t broke…”, on this new album, the band sharpens that adage into switchblade relief, but does make some subtle stabs into some late summer sunset colors. Not the least, “Wasurenai Wa,” featuring Japanese lyrics and a dreamy guitar lead, light backing bells, and overall reverb that barely brings to mind au moderne beachy pop bands like Best Coast, La Sera, and Alvvays.
As their want though, the hooks just do not ever quit with Baby Shakes. Increasingly impressive is singer Mary Blount’s vocal style, which has really sharpened from solid happy-go-plucky to something more workably layered. The band’s harmonies, as on “Down” and “Am I Ever Gonna See You,” are where the already easy early Bangles comparisons ring out. And should things get too gooey, Ryan’s boot-kick snare always reins the rainbow melodies down into the junkshop from whence the others’ high heels were shoplifted.
I am forever amazed that some major label suit hasn’t thrown a contract at Baby Shakes and shoved them into a studio with some big time producer (Marc Ronson, you listening?), then got them out there for the wider enjoyment of those who use last names. But no matter, that doesn’t seem to be a concern for Baby Shakes themselves, as they continue to roll out some of the best pure power pop going. And they’re such a glued-together unit, they insist on answering some questions as the whole band. Check out our interview, below.
Ok, first off, the old albatross — is it THE Baby Shakes, or just Baby Shakes?
Baby Shakes: Baby Shakes, no The!
For such a fun, summertime kinda combo, that’s actually kind of a dark band name. Who/how did you come up with it?
Judy: Claudia came up with the name back in 2004 when she wanted to start the band.
Claudia: We’ve always had the name. Name came first, then the band. Never had to think of another name. We all liked it and it just seemed to fit.
Do you remember the first conversation about maybe forming a band?
Judy: I was roommates with Ian from Some Action, one of my favorite bands at the time. He heard me jamming to Chron Gen in my room one day, and suggested that I start a band with Claudia since she was looking for band mates and had similar taste in music. He thought it would be a good fit, and he was right! Claudia met Mary through our mutual friend Avi Spivak and introduced her to me one wild night at Lit Lounge. The rest is history!
Mary: Yeah, it all kind of fell into place! Judy and Claudia were already jamming together and I was looking for people to play music with right as I moved to NYC. It’s funny because I came to NYC hoping to be a drummer in a band, but instead ended up the singer/guitarist.
Memories of the first Baby Shakes show? Was there an after-party?
Baby Shakes: Our first show was at Mars Bar! It was insane. Our drummer at the time played on an ice bucket. We did some covers and had about four to five original songs. If you’re lucky enough to have been to Mars Bar, you know how tiny it was, and we squished ourselves in the corner of the bar. I think there was one mic, and we each had about five inches of space. There was an after-party, before-party, and during – it was Mars Bar!
Favorite thing about living in Atlanta? Worst thing about living in Atlanta?
Judy: I’m biased because I’m from there, so I have a love/hate relationship with the city. I think the people are the best thing (also the Mexican food); and the worst thing is having to drive around everywhere. And the rednecks, haha.
Claudia: We moved to Atlanta for a year to wrte music and record an LP leisurely with “Diamond Dave Rahn”. New York was full of distractions. We also wanted to go on tour without worrying about keeping up with our expensive rent. For that I think it worked out perfectly. Best thing about Atlanta – it’s the birthplace of Coca-Cola. Thank you for Coca-Cola, Atlanta!!! I’m from Queens though, and I don’t drive. ‘Nuff said.
Mary: I drive, but didn’t have a car, haha. So that was annoying!! Wasn’t a fan of taking Marta everywhere. I agree with Judy, love the people! So many fun parties, and did a lot more chillin’ there.
So, you moved back to Brooklyn, just in time for the golden era of everyone bitching about how NYC is changing. So, rather, tell me what you love about living here!
Judy: I moved in 2002, so the scene was still going strong in the East Village where I lived. It was amazing and surreal, especially coming from a smaller city like Atlanta. There was so much going on, and the history and culture was nothing like I had experienced before. I love just about everything about NYC which is the reason why I’m still here.
Mary: My first visit to New York was when I was in high school, and ever since then I dreamed of moving to NYC! When I finally moved here from Seattle in 2005, I instantly felt a connection. Even today there’s an energy here you don’t get at other places. I’m constantly inspired by this city. I love how much of a melting pot this place is, there’s so much culture here and tons of stuff to do. It’s the best city to walk around with your headphones on and get lost in the crowd.
Claudia: Like I said, I’m from New York, so I’ve witnessed a lot of change over the years. It does suck that a lot of places we love aren’t around anymore, but it also sucks that everyone complains so much about it instead of doing something. Things are constantly in flux everywhere, but we make fun wherever we go. We bring fun, and we can make fun happen at home or anywhere in this world. People need to keep doing what they were doing before. Go to shows, go to DJ nights, go to movies, and make music and art. Take the train and go! We’re still lucky to have all this entertainment completely accessible every night of the week. It’s not like that everywhere else.
VIDEO: Baby Shakes “Summer Sun”
Ok, ok, so what sucks about living in NYC?
Claudia: Rent’s too damn high, and too many people will pay the damn high rents!!! Other than that, it’s still hands down one of the best cities in the world!!!
Judy: For me, the only thing that sucks about NYC is that free time is rare and precious. It’s expensive and we all have to work our asses off to survive. One, two jobs plus having a full-time band, it’s a challenge, but I really wouldn’t have it any other way!
Mary: Yup, rent is ridiculously high, and it’s true, we all work multiple jobs on top of having this band. But still worth the experience!!
How did Ryan come into the picture?
Baby Shakes: One of our favorite bands and influences, Protex, asked us to play a show in NYC and we didn’t have a drummer, so we reached back out to him so we could play the show! Ryan actually played with us one time five years prior to that, on New Year’s Eve of 2010. He was great, so we just reconnected with him.
VIDEO: Protex “Don’t Ring Me Up” live on St. Patrick’s Day NYC 1980
We’ve already seen your Top Musical Influences. So after those, give us 10 more, and maybe toss in a few we’d be surprised at.
Baby Shakes: Maybe this isn’t surprising but Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, The Beatles, 20/20, Rockpile (huge fan of Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe), The Toms, Cock Sparrer, Zero Boys, Menace, Bikini Kill, 1910 Fruitgum Company, Badfinger, MC5, Alice Cooper, The Archies, GBH, The Equals, The Ronettes, and of course the Ramones. Here’s a surprise maybe – Weezer or Operation Ivy.
I have a little theory that the title of your new album, Cause a Scene, might refer to, like, a lovers spat in public. But it could also mean you have caused a scene, as in helped create a scene. Do you think there is a good rock’n’roll scene in NYC these days?
Claudia: Not any lover’s spats, but definitely about being a bit too “festive” and rowdy more than a few times. Our music video for this song is due to premiere pretty soon. It’ll kind of explain our take on it.
Judy: There are so many good bands in NYC right now: Dirty Fences, Brower, Daddy Long Legs, Mystery Lights, Unknown Sender, Trash Bags, Wyldlife, and tons more. I think we’re lucky because there’s so much creativity concentrated in these little boroughs.
VIDEO: Baby Shakes “Do What You Want”
Tell us a story where someone in the band caused a scene in public.
Judy: Surprisingly I think we’re very well-behaved when we play and travel together as a band. In a way every night is a bit of a fun, drunken, yelling, singing, and dancing scene.
Mary: We’re the kind of band that trashes a place, and then the next morning cleans it back up.
Claudia: We’ve been described as the Baby Shakes hurricane. We spread fun with music, dancing and tequila. But we’re used to it. Some people can’t handle it as well as we can, and they get themselves into trouble. Not us though, NEVER.
You guys have toured more overseas in the last year than I think the whole life of the band. Off the top of your head, give us a crazy story of an overseas show. Also, can you tell us about that weird trip to China a few years ago?
Judy: One time, Ryan blacked out in Berlin and peed all over the Hostel common space and their computer. The manager came out screaming his head off, and Mary thought he was attacking Ryan and had to run out save him. She was still half asleep and didn’t realize what was going on, it was a big commotion, but Ryan had no idea it even happened.
China was ridiculous. First off, the huge music festival we were scheduled to play was postponed because of a Chinese Potato Festival. Since we already had plane tickets, we went anyway and did some other shows. We had the biggest struggle with the language barrier, I was getting screamed at by locals for not speaking Chinese (because I look Chinese), there was a big tornado in the city-center (thought I was going to die there) and we couldn’t get home. Every cab driver kicked us out of the car as soon as we got in. Ryan says because I was carrying the big Chinese bamboo coolie hat that we bought from the Great Wall earlier that day. I refused to throw it out!People were cooking food on the pavement, and all the food in the markets was expired. Maybe we were in a weird part of town, but that was a wild time.
Mary: We went to the Great Wall of China, and the way we got down was sliding down a mountain on these plastic carts. Pretty scary, but I’d do it again.
Judy: One of my favorite moments is when we played in Portugal, and we couldn’t get our drummer to leave after the show because he wanted to stay there forever. The people were calling him a King, and he said, “I’m going to stay here with my people,” but he was 100% serious. It must have been the Portuguese green wine and Jägermeister, but it was stressful at the time, but also hilarious.
Claudia : The Chinese tornado in the market place was nuts! Also, the headline about the woman getting eaten by a tiger at the Great Wall the day before we went there was pretty alarming. That place is wild! Would definitely go back.
I do seem to remember talking to you guys at your first show here after that trip, and you all seemed a little shaken. Ha. Who are you talking about in “Modern Girl Renegade,” on the new album?
Baby Shakes: Anyone who dares to be a bad ass and follow their wild heart. Could be a girl or a boy. We say “girl,” but that can go either way. We were actually thinking “Rebel, Rebel,” “Gudbye t’ Jane,” or “Lola” when we wrote this one.
Watching you guys live, it feels like the third show of a brand new band, having fun, laughing, playing just a bit faster than the record, etc… But you have been a band for over a decade now. What are the “Baby Shakes Tricks to Keeping Things Fun?”
Mary: We love what we do! Even when we took a hiatus and didn’t play shows (we had no drummer), we still met up one to two times a week to jam out. Just keep having fun with it and don’t let your ego get in the way. Taking yourself too seriously ruins it.
Judy: I think when you actually genuinely like and respect each other, it comes naturally. We all work extremely hard and party extremely hard with each other, so maybe that helps. I think the trick to keeping it fun is good tequila.
Claudia: Yeah, we just love what we do. Seriously! Playing music and traveling, writing music with your best friends, can’t think of a better way to live life.
AUDIO: Baby Shakes YouTube mix