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Q&A with Babe Lewis

Babe Lewis is the solo recording project of Harrisonburg, VA-based multi-instrumentalist Joseph Harder. Mercurial and expeditious, Harder's writing soars and pulses, painted with an ethereal sonic palate incorporating elements of retro psychedelia, shoegaze, and dream pop.

How long have you been making music?

I've been writing, recording, and performing music in some capacity for the past six years or so. I was in a folk band in college, followed by an indie rock group; I started really writing my own stuff in earnest when the indie rock group broke up about three years ago.

What are you working on currently?

I'm currently working on all sorts of things! Perhaps most notably, I'm working on putting together an album, which I'm quite excited about; I'm also working on a somewhat improvised EP with a friend, and doing production work for various other artists.

What’s your writing process like?

I try and keep my writing process somewhat variable; approaching music-making from a multitude of directions allows for a diversity of creative products, I think. That being said, I do have some routines. Recently I've mostly been writing on acoustic guitar; I'd fallen into a habit of trying to record as I wrote, and as a result had more or less stopped playing for the sake of playing. Lately I've been forcing myself to just sit down and play without trying to catch anything, which has been remarkably helpful in my writing -- having time to sit with what I'm making and play with variations on it I think allows for more depth. I've also been working on incorporating vocals and lyrics earlier in the process; historically that's been the last element I add to a track, which I think makes it more difficult to find something that fits when you've already filled in much of the sonic space with instruments.

I consider the recording process part of my writing process as well; I usually demo things fairly in-depth to get a feel for production/tones and such in the final recording. I try to be fairly experimental in the studio. For the album I'm currently working on, the engineer and I did a couple things to incorporate chance into the process. We wrote down all the different gear we had -- all the mics, amplifiers, effects, et cetera -- and organized them all into bowls; for each instrument we needed to track we'd pick our gear out of the bowls and figure out how to use it. This gave us some wacky results -- using a lapel mic taped to the ceiling as a drum overhead; recording a 12-string guitar with six microphones, including a pair of headphones taped to the body of the guitar and plugged into a microphone input, thus functioning as a microphone... we also made us of dice to determine the number of mics we used, the number of pieces on the drum kit, et cetera. It was a lot of fun, and a great way to fight any sort of creative block -- if you don't have an immediate idea for the tone of something, just roll the dice and pick some names out of a bowl and figure out how to make it work.

How do you feel your songs have changed since you started making music?

My 'sound' has definitely shifted a bit since I first started writing. The very first songs I wrote were all on acoustic, mostly fingerpicking stuff; I swung pretty hard into focusing on writing for electric in an attempt to write songs for Prince Bellerose, the indie rock band I was in. That pushed me to learn new chord shapes and ways of playing to fit the stylings of our guitarist, which I think was good for me. When I first started writing stuff for my own project, I started with a focus on synths and pretty washed-out electric guitar, going for something in the dream pop vein. Recently, though, I've found myself returning to acoustic guitar; I've found myself drawn to late-60s psych music, which has long been an influence for me but not something I've intentionally tried to channel in my writing. Continuing to learn more about the recording process and my production tastes has shaped the music I make as well; perhaps the biggest example of this is simply the number of tracks I use in a song. When I was just starting out I tried to fill as many nooks and crannies in my song as I could by just adding layers upon layers; the first song I released I think had close to sixty or seventy tracks, including a whole orchestra of Mellotrons and some sneaky saxophone layers. Recent songs have focused pretty intentionally on trying to make a few layers sound as big as possible.

Do you have a favorite song you’ve written? If you do, why is it your favorite?

I think "Butterfly" is my favorite song I've written. If I were to record it today, I would do some production things a bit differently, but I really like the guitar part and the general energy of the song. Butterfly was the first song I tried the headphone mic technique I mentioned before; we used it on each drum in the drum kit, and it gave the kit a really heavy, rubbery sound, which I love. There's a lot I like about the song -- the writing fell into place all at once, the recording process was fun and memorable, and I like to play it.

Who, or what, has most influenced your music and artistic style?

My influences are a bit all over the place; I take bits and pieces from all sorts of random things, but I think if I had to choose some creative pillars to lean on they'd be Crosby Stills & Nash and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Tame Impala's Innerspeaker and my bloody valentine/The Coctea Twins occupy a good sector of my taste as well.

What are you listening to currently?

Recently I've been listening to a lot of old reggae! I've particularly been hooked by "Let Me Down Easy" by Derrick Harriott. I've also been trying to get a feel for Daniel Romano, as well as some forays into Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada. Giles, Giles & Fripp's rendition of "I Talk to the Wind" has been a particular favorite of the past few days.

Listen to Babe Lewis' single "New Growth" now.

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