By Lydia Wiener | January 4, 2023
On the heels of a fall tour supporting The Lone Bellow, BAILEN played two sold out nights at Union Pool in Williamsburg. The second of the two Wednesday-night December dates, just days before the city emptied for the holidays, was jam-packed with family and friends. The familial essence in the room resembled that of a wedding or bar mitzvah, which is always fitting for a hometown show.
The New York City born and raised trio is reminding us just how magical a three-part harmony can be. Each song is laden with beautiful harmonies, strong songwriting, and intricate sonic landscapes. David Bailen’s commanding percussive pulse in “Eyelashes,” Daniel Bailen’s silky bass lines in the group’s fabulous cover of Joni Mitchell’s song “Coyote,” and Julia Bailen’s crisp guitar riffs in “I Was Wrong” are mere windows into the immense talent and care possessed by the band. The music is deeply technical and uniquely “its own thing,” while also being accessible to listeners of all demographics.
Yes, they’re siblings, and yes, it’s more fun to share that fact with people after they’ve heard their music. With classical musicians as parents, the Bailens all grew up playing and making music together. However, it wasn’t until Julia was a senior in high school, and David and Daniel had departed from their college project, The Bailen Brothers, that the three officially joined forces as BAILEN. BAILEN’s first official show took place at Rockwood Music Hall in 2014.
Shortly after the Rockwood debut Daniel moved to London to be in a West End show, but he was able to negotiate visits with David and Julia into his contract. The band booked over 30 shows in London while curating the BAILEN sound, marking the first time they had “really taken the band seriously.”
After the stint in London, BAILEN moved its sound back to NYC and took up a weekly residency at Rockwood, which culminated in playing the Rockwood Downtown Comes Uptown show at Lincoln Center. This show launched BAILEN into the industry zeitgeist, and eventually led to a record deal in 2017. By this point BAILEN had acquired a steady fan base in NYC and beyond, selling out rooms like Bowery Ballroom, all before releasing any music at all.
BAILEN released its first record, Thrilled To Be Here, in 2019, along with a mixtape collection the same year. Since then the band has toured with acts like Hozier, Amos Lee, and Joseph, along with two headlining US tours.
The December 21st Union Pool show leaned heavily on material from those two bodies of work, including an acoustic performance of “25 for The Last Time,” while also sharing new material, including a euphonic collaboration with friends Elliot Skinner and Rebecca McCartney. While BAILEN’s recorded work is fantastic, the live experience brings the three-part harmonies and sonic hooks to life in a new way. Everyone in Union Pool went home beaming and with the unambiguous identity as a BAILEN fan.
We caught up with BAILEN after the December 21st show at Union Pool where they answered a few questions for the groovement:
How/when did you first decide to form a project as siblings?
Our parents are both musicians. They are classical musicians in the city, that’s what they do professionally. Our mom’s a flutist and our dad is a cellist. Our dad is also a lifelong singer-songwriter and guitar player, and he taught me (Julia) guitar and encouraged us to learn music.
Daniel and David, you know, have been in bands since they were like six years old. I think once they learned that The Beatles were a thing, they were like “Oh yeah. Like obviously that’s what we’re gonna do. Right?” I (Julia) was doing my own thing for a long time, and when I was a senior in high school, we started playing together.
When we were in college, me (Daniel) and David had a Bailen Brothers band with a horn section. It was very much a party band. And then we started singing with Julia. We started writing these songs that needed a third part. We were really into three-part harmonies and none of our friends could sing. We were like, Hey, Julia, why don’t we get you singing the third part over us? And we were like, “Hey, this sounds pretty good, we should do this more.”
How would you describe your music?
I think it’s its own thing for sure. Totally its own thing. We’re a pretty vocal heavy group. We love good songwriting. We love to make music that feels accessible, but also super musical. It’s not dumbed down chord progressions. We try to keep ourselves interested in the harmonic landscape, and we have a lot of faith in our listeners. I feel like we give a lot of credit to our listeners, we’re not spoon feeding anybody.
We don’t really use tracks or anything like that. We use some samples, but you kind of have to, creativity by virtue of necessity. There’s only six hands, and you got some feet active, but you know, there’s only so much you can do and you have to make the most of each instrument. I think it’s cool to see a band doing that, feeling like there were more than three, just three people on stage. You know that it was a really live experience, like we’re not here to play karaoke, you know?
Yeah. We’re not here for that shit. I mean, I love a good track sometimes, but definitely we’re working pretty hard up there.
Can you describe your writing process?
It’s really a group effort from A to Z. We’ll usually write separately and bring it to each other and finish it together. We find that a lot of times the most meaningful songs come from someone just being by themselves. There’s also a couple of deep songs that we really started together and finished together. We have a pretty heavy editing process in a lot of these songs. I think they go through a lot of rounds of editing and have a lot of eyes on them, you know?
A lot of eyes and ears cause there’s three of us. I think my favorite part of the whole thing is when you are really struggling with a song or something’s not working and then you bring it to the group. I feel like Daniel is one of these people who does this a lot, where you’ll give him something, and then he’ll write lyrics or write something that feels like something that I (Julia) would have written.
The lyrics just pour outta him. It’s so weird. But I think it’s genuinely awesome. Like how much Daniel’s able to, and I think we all do this to a certain extent, how we’re able to slip into each other’s voices.
We spend so much time with each other, like on the road, we’re just constantly around each other, so sometimes we can express what the other person is feeling easier from the outside looking in. You have the perspective, you feel for them.
As NYC natives, what is your favorite NYC venue to play? Favorite NYC venue to see a show at?
Immediately my mind goes to Bowery Ballroom, like I think it’s one of the most special venues in the country, honestly. Just like such a great size. But frankly, these shows that Union Pool were so much fun and sounded great. We spent so many years playing at Rockwood, so that also feels like such a home, such a hub for singer songwriters.
I remember seeing Alabama Shakes play at Bowery Ballroom in 2017. It was like a one off show that they did. That’s a small room for them. It was really special. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
What does the NYC music scene mean to you all as a band?
I would say that we tour a lot, but New York is the city that put us on their shoulders and got us to where we are. We played so many shows here that it’s kind of the foundation of our fan base and everything we built. It’s awesome to talk to the publication like you guys who are based here and working on building the music scene back up after Covid and after everyone freaking moved to LA and Nashville. So it’s very important to us and meaningful.
We talk a lot about how important artists’ spaces are. I’ve talked to Elliot Skinner a lot about this. He has a studio and we’re lucky enough to have our studio too. I think it is the lifeline of artists in the city to have spaces where people can come together and commune and be musical together. I think that makes New York a special place. I think it’s really cool that you guys are making time to appreciate those communities and spaces.
I think that a fun little historical note on Bailen was that before we released anything into the world on Spotify or anything like that, we just played a bajillion shows in New York and around the country, but a lot, so many in New York. We sold out Bowery Ballroom in 2019 before we even had a song on the internet, which is kinda a cool story because it’s unheard of and probably stupid that we did it that way. It was as if we were in the 1950s or something, just like total word of mouth and live shows.
Connect with BAILEN on Instagram, Spotify, TikTok, and their website.
📸: shot by Kyle Manning