Kevin Morby of The Babies invites you on his rock ’n’ roller coaster
The day before Thanksgiving, Kevin Morby was pacing outside of a Guitar Center and talking on the phone, in Des Moines, Iowa, while the rest of The Babies purchased strings for their show hours later.
It was a strangely low-key afternoon for the 24-year-old singer/guitarist, who recently finished touring with his other band, Woods, in celebration of their September folk rock treasure, Bend Beyond.
Morby had one week to unwind. Once Nov. 13 rolled around, he and singer/guitarist Cassie Ramone (Vivian Girls/Bossy), drummer Justin Sullivan (Bossy), and bassist Brian Schleyer dropped their sophomore LP, Our House on the Hill, thereby kicking off their extensive fall/winter tour.
Despite having multiple record releases and tours within such a short time span, Morby confesses, “To be honest, I really feel at home on tour … people think that it’s like ruining my life or something,” he says with a laugh, “but it’s actually very nice, and I like it a lot.”
The Texas-born musician has been on the go since childhood, when he spent the first 10 years of his life moving all over the Midwest, before his family ultimately settled in Kansas City, Kan.
His one week off in Brooklyn, N.Y.—The Babies’ home base—was actually the most intense time for Morby.
“There was a really heavy vibe there because of the hurricane,” he recalls. “And it was crazy with the election, and then the weird snowstorm out of nowhere, and it got really hot. But I’m really happy to be on tour.”
The feelings associated with Morby’s bustling schedule, occasionally plagued by a random or dismal twist and turn, are captured on Our House’s painfully perfect opener, “Alligator,” in which he belts out, “Life is funny/life’s a laugh/life is lonely/yeah, it’s a drag.”
For Morby, those lyrics really hit home. “Life has been good,” he reflects. “Life is always funny, and it’s always a drag. It goes both ways—it’s a big roller coaster.”
Our House on the Hill—a reference to the house in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles that Morby, Sullivan, and Ramone lived in for two months while still in the songwriting stage last year—boasts the same winning combination of crashing cymbals and tambourine, dirty yet polished guitar, and playful dual vocals of Morby and Ramone, that characterized The Babies’ eponymous full-length album from 2011.
A welcome addition to the new album is the incorporation of clean orchestral elements, such as brass and strings, which gives the record extra edge and showcases the band’s ability to weave straightforward rock ’n’ roll with garage rock and folk. Morby’s affinity for Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen shines through on the soft and sincere folk-influenced tracks “Mean,” “That Boy” and “Wandering.”
Like his iconic influences, authenticity and a matured sound define The Babies’ discography, a fact which calls into question the band’s moniker.
“What’s funny is that with a band name like ‘The Babies,’ everyone just assumes that it means an infant, [that] it means a small child,” says Morby.
“I’ve gone back and forth from loving the name and hating the name, because sometimes, it seems kind of silly or something, and it’s not a silly band. My intention when we first named it that was sort of like a ’60s-sounding group, like The Whiners or The Complainers; like a group of adults who act like children.”
Just as young children are unashamed of showing their emotions and expressing themselves freely, The Babies’ lyrics and instrumentation are always genuine and refreshing, whether the sound is subdued or loud and tantrum-like.
“A big part of this record is that I wanted people to understand that,” explains Morby. “We’re a group of musicians and we go deeper than just some party rock. That’s sort of how the band started, and so I understand that, but we want to go in a million different directions.”
On Friday, Dec. 7, The Babies will make its well-awaited Santa Cruz debut at The Crepe Place.
“It’s an all-around good experience,” Morby says of the band’s live shows. “It’s like everyone sitting in a roller coaster with the four of us … who wouldn’t wanna see that?”
The Babies play at 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 429-6994.