Interview with Siân Alex – Vocals & Guitar, Sara Kleppe – Bass, and Scott Hislop – Drums
Interview by Lee Carter
Before Gold Baby, what was it that made you want to become a musician in the first place? Did you always want to become one, or did the idea develop later on?
Sara: My friends in my early teens were introducing me to all the Swedish pop that was coming out at the time, and I got hooked. Somehow it didn’t feel like it was enough to just be listening to music, so I started learning to play, and it’s gone pretty much in a straight line from there.
Scott: My older brother probably got me into playing by introducing me to rock and metal at an early age. I just decided that drums looked like a lot of fun so got some lessons at school when I was about 11. It wasn’t until I was maybe 15 or 16 when I got a drum kit and tried to find people to start a band with.
Siân: I always remember secretly loving singing – I say secretly because my older sisters said I was terrible and remember me singing songs from The Lion King loudly and badly around the house all the time. Like Scott, some older kids got me into rock & metal when I was about 13 and I graduated from Disney to form a band with four girl mates – none of us could play our instruments, which in hindsight was pretty punk.
What were your influences when starting out? How do they differ from what influences you today?
Scott: My influences are certainly a lot more mellow these days; played in bands as a teenager which were mostly attempts at being a hardcore band. These days I’m much more about playing for the band so drummers like Bryan Devendorf from The National or Greg Rutkin from Lvl Up are people I aspire to play like.
Siân: When I was about 16, I spent all my time at Rock City in Nottingham, but what was coming out in my songwriting was my mum’s favourite songwriters – Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman. Those ladies are still showing up in my songs, and I’m still a Rock City greebo at heart, but there’s a few more flavours in the mix now. I try to expose myself to a wide variety of stuff.
For those that don’t know, can you tell us a little about how the band got started? When did you guys form?
Siân: I was performing for years in Leeds and Nottingham as a solo singer-songwriter, and moving to London with a bunch of songs better suited to a band, I quickly and instinctively decided to start one called Gold Baby. Easy, right? I didn’t bloody know anyone in London. It was a year or two of trying to meet and play with people before we found our line-up. It was a frustrating time, but a good way to make new friends in the big smoke!
How have things changed from when you first started up until now?
Siân: I love the influence that Scott and Sara have both brought to the songs. Sara has played for years in an awesome math rock band called You Break You Buy, and you can hear that in her intricate, melodic bass lines – they make me so happy. Scott is my favourite drummer I’ve ever played with, and I think does such a great job supporting the dynamic movement of the songs, that I’ve naturally brought more of that singer-songwriter vibe to the fore.
How do you go about writing songs? Is there a particular process you go through, or do things vary each time?
Scott: Siân comes to us with a fairly fully-formed idea and we just play stuff over and over until we can hammer it into some kind of song.
Siân: We don’t talk a lot. I mean I do, but I’m learning that we work best when I shut up and we really listen to each other and the song.
Do you find writing comes easily, or does it ebb and flow according to how you or the band are at the time?
Siân: I always make time for writing, but it can be the free-est thing ever or it can be a battle. It depends on those secret forces we all have playing around in our subconscious, and whether they’re egging me on or tripping me up and telling me I’m shit. Either way, I try and write.
For you, what is the most important thing when writing new music? How would you say this was best achieved on ‘Rabbits’?
Sara: It should feel good to play it.
Siân: That it’s honest. It’s really hard to tune out of the mental noise – all of the things you want your music to be or to say, whether the song is good (before you’ve even written it), whether it’s fair or offensive or cheesy. It’s an exercise of trust to let go and see what comes up, to try and tune in to some higher force or some gut instinct, but that’s where all the best stuff comes from.
What was the mindset going into the writing and recording of ‘Rabbits’?
Scott: The mindset for me is just to improve as a band and write some catchy songs. Feels like so long ago we were writing the EP – it was originally due to be recorded in March 2020, so by the time we got to finally record it in the summer we were just super keen to get those songs laid down.
Siân: I had been keen for a long time to write a longer body of work. I wanted it to feel cohesive, and to have the songs play around and connect with one another, and I think we’ve achieved that.
Prior to the release of ‘Rabbits’, you had released a number of stand-alone singles. How, if anything at all, has the writing changed across the span of those singles and now?
Siân: I used to think Gold Baby had to have nothing to do with all of those years I spent as a singer-songwriter performing with an acoustic guitar, I wanted it to drastically different. But that’s a big part of my identity as a musician, and the more I’ve let that in, the better the band has been.
What inspired the name for the EP? Was there any significance behind it, or is it just a name?
Siân: There is significance to it – there’s an answer to this question hiding in one of the songs, so I’ll just say, listen carefully and make what you will of it.
Was there any theme behind the EP, or is it simply a snapshot of you as a band and your songwriting in 2021?
Siân: The weird thing about songs is, you can be a chronic overthinker like me and trying to decide every last thing about it and in the end the song will still tell YOU what it’s about, rather than the other way around. All of these songs in one way or another are about feeling overwhelmed and running away, which was not the intention – it’s weird to look back and see what must have been going on in my subconscious when I was writing them.
How did you find the recording process for the EP? How was working with Ian Flynn (producer) and Pete Mayer (mastering engineer)?
Sara: It was really nice and fun to get to play and spend some time with everyone in that little window of time during the summer when this was “allowed”!
Scott: It’s always great with Ian, he’s so easy to bounce ideas off and can give an honest opinion when we’re unsure on a part. Stuff comes together pretty quickly in the studio with him. On this EP we tracked everything (except vocals and extra guitar layers) together at the same time so I think it gives it a more live band feel.
How have you found the reaction to ‘Rabbits’ so far?
Scott: Really positive but wish we could play it live for people.
Siân: Yeah I was thinking that the other day. Playing live is my favourite bit and it’s so hard to gauge what is landing well without that – but that said, the online response has been great, so I’ll just have to imagine how ace the gigs will be when we’re back to it!
The release of ‘Rabbits’ has been supported by Help Musicians – how did they come to be involved with Gold Baby?
Siân: Help Musicians run a great fund called Do It Differently to support DIY bands. We applied for that, and that has helped us change our plans and still get our EP made in the nightmare year that was last year. The fund is supplemented with loads of help and advice. They’ve been amazing.
Tom Robinson of BBC Radio 6 featured Gold Baby in his February 2020 mixtape – how did it feel to be featured on his list, and did it result in any noticeable boost across social media, streams, etc?
Scott: That was great, Tom is a legend, I hope we can do a live session for him one day.
Siân: Yeah Tom is ace, and it was a great boost for the band!
Would you recommend other artists and bands look to avenues such as this to get their music heard?
Siân: Of course, Tom runs a great site called Fresh On The Net to support DIY bands and artists.
What advice would you give to artists and bands that are just starting out to try and find an audience?
Siân: Focus on making honest good work. Don’t “network”; just be a real person and make friends out there.
Speaking of audiences, have you got any touring plans set for later in the year, or are you waiting to see if the roadmap out of lockdown runs to target?
Scott: We are very keen to start booking in shows for later in the year, perhaps some kind of support tour but we shall see what happens.
Siân: It’s still very tricky to plan for.
With a hypothetical infinite budget available, where would you most like to perform in the world, and who with?
Sara: I’d love to do a tour through Asia!
Scott: A US tour would be a dream, perhaps with some of our friends’ bands too. Failing that maybe we could open for Radiohead!
What would you say your favourite aspect of playing live is? Have you a favourite show that the band has played since your formation? If so, what made it so special?
Sara: The launch gig for Japanese Racehorse at the Waiting Room was really fun!
Siân: The best shows are the ones with other great people involved, where there feels like a lot of love – for music and for each other – in the room.
With the events of the last year in mind, what effect has this had on Gold Baby and yourself, personally?
Sara: It has definitely made me value the freedom we used to have (and which we will hopefully have soon again), and any time spent with my close friends, as well as the time spent in rehearsals. It’s just such a nice way to spend time with people you really like, which is something that I wasn’t appreciating fully before, I think.
How have you and the band been keeping yourselves occupied during the various UK lockdowns? Are there any recommendations you can make to our readers?
Sara: Reading lots, doing some yoga, and writing some music…
Siân: I recommend going for loads of walks, and eating less biscuits than I am.
Beyond the release of ‘Rabbits’, has the band been working on future material whilst in lockdown at all? Are there any plans for an album?
Siân: YES! I’m writing an album. It’s trying to defeat me, but I’m slowly winning. Keep your ear to the ground later this year.
Thank you for your time, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?
Siân: Listen to Rabbits, out 26th March!