KEVIN MORBY, BASSIST of the acclaimed lo-fi psychedelic-folk quartet Woods, is fully aware of his lucky position at the nexus of Brooklyn’s teeming underground music scene. But he manages not to take it for granted. Instead, the earnest Morby uses the word “blessed” regularly and without irony, and focuses on playing whenever and wherever possible. To this end, he started another lo-fi project last year called The Babies with Cassie Ramone, singer and guitarist in Vivian Girls, which has benefited greatly from the popularity of their parallel endeavors.
“There’s this opportunity that comes out of it because of our other bands,” says Morby—singer, guitarist and primary songwriter for The Babies—as we sit talking in a Greenpoint bar. “It’s a very blessed existence that we have, that people want to listen to the records.”
And though The Babies has attracted attention based on the exceedingly excellent output of both Woods and Vivian Girls, the newer group’s own handiwork (a couple of 7-inch vinyl records that sold out their first pressing) succeeds on its own merits. Morby and the band have distilled the essence of young Brooklyn’s dream life into bite-size, bittersweet chunks, from the noisy fast-and-loose pop of “Meet Me in the City,” which pairs Morby’s husky howl with Ramone’s blithe melodies echoing over the rise and fall of waves of jangly guitar, to the slow burn of “All Things Come to Pass,” a melancholy ode to the ephemeral. The Babies’ breezy lo-fi garage pop sweeps you up in its tuneful distortion as it captures the laid-back spirit of roaming around Bushwick (Morby’s neighborhood) with friends on a sunshiny day, any worries receding into the furthest reaches of memory.
“Our original intention was to be a party band,” Morby says, explaining that as Woods and Vivian Girls were booked at bigger, more established venues, both he and Ramone began to miss playing the DIY spots they started out in.
The Babies initially sprang from the friendship between the two, who fittingly met at a Brooklyn house show. Later, after an extended visit to his hometown of Kansas City, Morby ended up camping out on the floor of Ramone’s Clinton Hill apartment for a few months in 2008, and a nascent form of The Babies emerged. Ramone was in the midst of recording the Vivian Girls’ debut album, and Morby hadn’t yet embarked on the folky experimentations of Woods, but the two intermittently strummed guitars together, which inevitably led to the casual discussion of starting a band some day.
A year later, they were both touring with their respective full-time groups, but one fateful night back in Brooklyn, they ran into each other on the way to a party and talked about getting “road sodas.” Morby heard band name potential, so they grabbed some beers, and a couple of days later started jamming as the Road Sodas, first playing live as a trio with Bossy’s Justin Sullivan on drums, and later adding Nathanael Stark from Bent Outta Shape on bass.
Soon thereafter the four renamed themselves The Babies, but adhered to the original aesthetic, playing locally and touring in whatever downtime they had from their other projects. The Babies just finished its first West Coast tour, performing at backyard barbecues, basements, warehouses and art galleries, and drew a larger turnout than the average year-old band might have based on the quality of its members’ respective primary occupations. But Morby’s not a fan of using “supergroup” in reference to The Babies, as it has been repeatedly described in the blogosphere.
“I just feel like we’re not that famous, so the word supergroup is weird… a little bit forced,” he says. “I think it’s just an easy way to make a reader wonder who it is, who could be in this ‘supergroup…’ Maybe it’s more about the fact that we exist in this Brooklyn scene that gets written about on the Internet a lot.”
Despite playing only in fits and starts, sometimes with a month or more elapsing between practices, The Babies sound like a cohesive unit, albeit a loose one. And the band has crafted an album’s worth of songs in what’s essentially spare time. Shrimper Records, which co-released the Woods album Songs of Shame, is set to put out The Babies’ full-length debut later this year.
“The Babies is a cool freedom to have,” Morby explains. “I wanted it to exist for a long time, and I think it can do that because we don’t push ourselves too hard.”
>> THE BABIES June 23, Silent Barn, 915 Wyckoff Ave. (betw. Wierfield & Hancock Sts.), Queens, no phone; 8, $TBA.