Someone quite hip to the pen jive once said that there was no joy in writing, but great joy in having written. Had that frankincense-and-myrrh-level seer wrapped such a wise truism in iridescent organza and tulle, it might have been stolen directly from Canada’s own Babygirl, the two-person maker movement of absorptive ambience creating songs that sound like they are actively being carried off by butterflies since 2016. Having met at Humber College in their native Toronto, Babygirl is the classically trained harmony humectant founded on a shared love of the pop-trap patterns of Lil Wayne that you will absolutely want to skip music theory class with.
Starting with their breakout single “Overbored” off their debut EP entitled As You Wish, Kirsten “Kiki” Frances and Cameron “Bright” Breithaupt have always made sounds akin to an emotional roller derby set at a hermit happy hour. They reside near to a Cub Sport-meets-Cowboy Junkies-parties-with-Cat Power soundspace, and yet they are likewise Lush trading licks with Shawn Colvin – and also none of these. They are the glamorously grunge-adjacent kids with a song called “Nevermind”, but they’ll sing it for you like cool contraltos at the Toronto Opera House.
Exercising a powerful visual messaging throughout the presentation of all of their music, only Babygirl would take a song like “Easy” and have the good, paradoxical sense to cast it at a demolition yard. Since 2018’s Lovers Fevers, along with its self-reflective lead single “Soft”, they have illustrated with ease the previously unseen liminal world between Beck-like vaporwave and the stylishly profligate terrain of the league of socially observational writers such as Nick Cave and Jim Morrison to which they rightfully belong.
While they have been referred to as “bubblegum emo” and their name may speak of tongue-satin, any soft captions for these estafettes of the effervescent are misplaced and dismissive of the depth in their standalone lyricism. Tunes like “Million Dollar Bed” and “You Were In My Dream Last Night” showcase Frances and Breithaupt’s taxonomic understanding of the nuances separating the past you deserve and the future you wish for. Discovering Babygirl feels a bit like shagging a fly ball in a World Series game you didn’t know was being played, and there is nothing uxorious about their foot-borne manner of delivering aerial sentiments.
With their latest EP entitled Losers Weepers, they have whittawed their aural ambedo to its most limber grace yet, and every stunningly skew-whiff song is rendered as if with the blending precision of a Filbert brush. In the live setting, Babygirl teleports you to a place of dried strawflowers and sounds that have spires. In pointing out the nervous tick in the context of romantic relationships – and themselves – they are the penultimate aural analgesic for any brand of anxiety.
Copping a pavement perch out behind Atlanta’s storied Variety Playhouse ahead of their November 6th show in support of Jeremy Zucker, QRO chatted all things writerly and wonderful with Babygirl as they excitedly embarked on their first live shows in two full years.
Often, it’s months of chipping away at things that we really care about rather than finishing whole songs at once over and over.
QRO: As a writer, I have to start by saying that I think you guys are wordsmiths of the first order. Do you tend to write these gems in notebooks or do you compose digitally?
Kirsten Frances: When I was a kid and I first started writing songs, it was always like my little Mead composition books. Now if I’m on the move and I just have a quick idea, I’ll jot it down in the notes app, but I love pen and paper.
QRO: Oh yeah, me too. It’s one of the primary reasons that I bonded to your music – well, I heard “Overbored” in 2016 and immediately loved the style – but I could tell before I ever heard you say it that you two are both bona-fide writers. Do you fragment your songs together then, from segments generated by each of you separately, or how do you build them?
KF: Usually, one of us will come to the other with an idea. Definitely I will record a quick fragment, like two lines of a verse that I’m thinking of or whatever it is – or, a whole chorus if that comes to me in that moment – that I will then sit with and explore. When I feel like it’s something, I’ll show Cam and vice versa.
Cameron Breithaupt: Often we’ll just start with a title or concept. So, one of us will go to the other and be like, “I think we could do a song called this,” and then we’ll have a little conversation about what angle we’re going to approach that through. Like, “Okay, I’d like to hear that as a romantic song with this, this, and this kind of aspect.” Then we’ll break off, kind of create our own drafts, and then amalgamate the best parts and workshop those. There’s a lot of revision and there’s a lot of solo exploration and co-writing. Often, it’s months of chipping away at things that we really care about rather than finishing whole songs at once over and over.
KF: We definitely know when something has to be finished. We don’t really write full songs just to do it. We can kind of tell within the first bit if it’s something that’s worth finishing and going through the agony of production! [laughter]
QRO: I did hear you guys say that there was a very fine line between meticulousness and insanity. As in, the patience that you need versus “where’s the line?”…
KF: Sure, and when you’re in it, you don’t have the clearest perspective sometimes. You have to take a break and revisit on a different day.
We never will strongarm the other into any “It’s gonna be my version.”
QRO: Which brings me very naturally to my next question: How do you know when it’s done? Is there a vibe or is there a verbal affirmation?
KF: With lyric and melody, it’s very obvious as soon as it’s right.
CB: And it’s only done if it’s unanimous. We never will strongarm the other into any “It’s gonna be my version.” Like if we have two different last lines of a verse, whichever one we land on that’s because we mutually agree it’s best for the work. The mix and production side – when we know it’s done is kind of like when we have to turn it in! [laughter]
KF: With production and the mix, we could honestly keep tinkering with it forever. It’s good for us to have deadlines because otherwise it will be the day before we have to turn something in and I’ll be like “Wait, what if we just change the entire thing!”…. [laughter]
CB: We’ve been talking about the idea that when you put out a song you say you’re “releasing” it. We take that very literally. You’re divesting yourself of any attachment to the process associated with making the song and accepting that this is what it is forever now.
QRO: Yes, and it is a true release, isn’t it? – like interior and exterior – that feeling of accomplishment. Well, I think you’ve gotten quite good at this because I’m mega-loving whatever you’ve held onto or let go of on Losers Weepers. I think it’s gorgeous and entrancing. Talk to me about this magical new single, “Born With A Broken Heart” – the video takes place in a languid laundromat with this kind of evening-shade filter on – is there some symbolism there around the airing of internal dirty laundry that is the song?
KF: Yeah, that was the director’s idea because we were talking about how we wanted it to take place in a kind of mundane, maybe slightly boring, slightly depressing place. So yeah, the laundromat! [laughter] First of all, if you’re going to a laundromat that means you don’t have a washer and dryer in your place. Then, the laundromat the director found felt like it was art-directed already – it had a big rainbow and the ceiling had clouds so we were all for it!
Babygirl’s video for “Born With a Broken Heart”:
QRO: One of the things that you guys do so well, and that “Born With a Broken Heart” illustrates to perfection is the highlighting of the advantages that come with being bio-spiritually designed toward cracks and creases, and the perspective that gives a person over what might be available to some of humanity’s smoother-cut stones. There’s a greater alignment to truth as opposed to even an accidental skirting of it.
KF: Yeah, I think if you listen to it and you have felt that feeling, you can immediately see yourself in it. If you’re a person who tends to feel kind of low or out of place – while everyone has felt that way – there are people who feel that way more often. I think those are the people that we wrote it for.
QRO: Do you guys feel that you are those people?
KF: Yeah, definitely! I think a lot of people feel low a lot of the time. There’s a lot to process in existing!
QRO: And we’re sort of not allowed to…the pace of life and that!
KF: Yes, and I think people have pride about coming across like they’re doing well when internally that’s not the case.
QRO: Absolutely. Before we move away from “Born With a Broken Heart,” I have to tell you that the line “predisposed to hold a rose by the sharpest part” speaks to my inkaholic and Capital “R” Romantic self in every possible way. It makes you the inverted, spritely version of Morticia Addams, Kiki! [laughter, in threes]
KF: SO funny!
There’s a lot to process in existing!
QRO: All goth hilarity aside, your lyricism is straight poetry. You could put it in a book with no music and sell it, easily. I know you’re all humble about it, but it’s not everybody that can write!
CB: Thank you so much!
KF: That’s usually what we try to do; we try to make it so that if you’re just reading it off the page, it feels good – without any melody or anything else going on. I don’t really listen to any music where I don’t love the lyrics, honestly. If the lyrics feel lazy or I don’t connect with them, even if the production is amazing and it’s the best singer you’ve ever heard, I just can’t be interested.
CB: There are some singers where the legibility is different – like, I’ll listen to D’Angelo and the lyrics are secondary just because of the nature of his singing; it’s a little elastic and the lyrics aren’t prioritized in that presentation. Or like My Bloody Valentine where the texture is more the vehicle. Ideally, in our own songwriting, we try to have it so that there’s a marriage of lyric and melody that is as supportive of the emotional arc of the lyric as possible. I love that line too, partly because it’s derivative. That’s not untread ground: there’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison, there’s “And So It Goes” by Billy Joel, and so on. There are so many songs that touch on that idea, but I take a lot of pride in being able to do something derivative that still has its own little original presentation. I think we’re getting better at stealing is what I’m saying! [laughter, all around]
QRO: I’m sure I’m about to butcher this quote, but you guys said somewhere that you liked to write from the “You can’t fire me because I quit angle,” sort of writing from that pre-slanted stance so no one can say about you what you’ve already said about yourselves, which I think is brilliant and honest. I think what you guys also do is take something that is an established trope, like the thorned rose, and look at it in a way that it has not been depicted before. In all the examples we just listed, the thorned rose is a metaphor for love. In your song, it’s much more like “No, this is what I am. I’m the person who picks the flower up from the wrong side, and I do it as a matter of biology.”
CB: It’s built-in blood-letting!
I think we’re getting better at stealing is what I’m saying! [laughter, all around]
QRO: Bio-hardwired blues! [laughter] What’s next for you guys in 2022 then? Every musician I’ve spoken to recently has expressed losing a year of their touring careers…
KF: More shows in 2022, for sure, and we’re working on some new music right now. That single is going to be part of a project that we’re going to put out in the new year.
CB: We’re thinking a new EP in the first quarter of the year.
KF: We still have the debut album to release, which is really exciting. We’re taking our time and making sure that it’s as perfect as it can be.
CB: You’re here on our first show in two years!
QRO: My word, I didn’t realize that!
CB: Yes! And we are so glad to be back. Even during soundcheck I was just feeling like I am so hungry to do more of this so I can definitely see us being on the road for most of 2022. I will say also, the people we’ve met down here in Georgia? The nicest people I have ever encountered! You live up to your reputation of southern hospitality.
QRO: Oh, I’m so happy and relieved to hear this, guys! That is fantastic to know and I hope that continues across the entire tour.
CB: We are headed to Nashville next and I think “Born With a Broken Heart”, in particular, because it is so influenced by Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and all that type of conventional country vocabulary, those are maybe people that will have an intuitive relationship with that kind of writing.
QRO: Oh completely! Well, you touched on something there that I really wanted to ask you about because I can hear that you were listening to something older with regard to that song’s 1950s and early-1960s template.
KF: We were listening to a lot of jazz standards alongside those country classics and it all gets tied up in that kind of traditional sound.
CB: The American Songbook! We also have a song called “Today Just Isn’t My Day”, and it feels like the sister song to “Born With a Broken Heart” as it is also a song about being depressed, basically, and is built around the same traditional American song forms. Both of them have a little bit of country inflection and a little bit of jazz standard inflection. Also, for me, influences would be people like Fountains of Wayne, Ben Folds, Randy Newman, Steely Dan – people who have that kind of comedy and earnestness in equal measure, where sometimes the funniest lines are the saddest. Bare Naked Ladies are great for being able to do that, and, more recently Phoebe Bridgers is a master.
KF: There’s such a built-in comfort and familiarity in those forms where you’re just like “I’ve heard this song before – even though I haven’t, I have.” You can feel where it comes from.
There’s such a built-in comfort and familiarity in those forms where you’re just like “I’ve heard this song before – even though I haven’t, I have.” You can feel where it comes from.
QRO: That’s almost like the sonic species of imbibing the ancestor. Like the first time I went to Ireland, my whole body knew I was where I had come from. Love that you’re doing that in aural form for everybody. Now, you’re both pretty humble child prodigies as I understand it! Songwriting at age 9, Kiki? And first album at 12ish, Cam?
CB: I’ll be honest, if you heard the album you might not have used that word! [laughter]
QRO: I remember you calling it a bastardization of Kid A! [laughter] As you both started so young, what has driven you to make music all your lives?
KF: I really have no idea; I just loved music! I wanted to be a singer and I knew I had to write songs so it was almost simple math for me because I had no notion of co-writers or songs coming together through multiple people.
QRO: You realize that’s a lot of rational thought for a nine-year-old though, right? [laughter] I think that’s great!
KF: I guess you’re right! [laughter]
CB: And I’ve had the opportunity to thumb through a lot of those old notebooks and what’s amazing – other than the fact that her 9-year-old songs are pretty darn good – is that “Babygirl” is scrawled all throughout it.
QRO: You manifested this!
CB: Totally! And now we’re about to go play our biggest show ever courtesy of Jeremy Zucker and it’s all a bit unbelievable.
QRO: I’m so glad you guys will be experiencing all of this for the first time with such a sweet person and someone that can take you through it like a friend. Do you have future dream collaborations in mind with anyone? If I could wave my wand, who would you like to write and sing with?
CB (with a conspiratorial glance at KF): I mean, I think we know…
KF & CB (in unison): TAYLOR SWIFT!!! [laughter]
QRO: Okay, fabulous! We’re going to manifest this right here and now!
KF: That would be the greatest thing ever if she would take Babygirl out as her supporting act on tour. She’s just one of the greatest living songwriters, in our shared opinion, and certainly one of the people who taught me how to write songs.
CB: Of course, like everybody, we just hope that some of those people that from-a-distance taught us how to write songs would one day hear them and think they were any good.
QRO: I feel with my whole heart that all of our Taylors and other people with superhuman skills that we idolize have honed those skills in precisely the way that you two are, and there are no impossible dreams. Well guys, I know you’ve got to get ready for this show so I just thank you so much for taking time with me today; it’s been a genuine joy to hear about what you’re doing and I look forward to listening to everything that’s coming down the Yellow Brick Road for you tonight and in 2022!
KF: Thank you so much for this; it’s been invigorating and inspiring to talk to you.
CB: This has been truly motivating and very fun. Thanks so much and hope you enjoy the show!
Babygirl has just completed their first American tour alongside Jeremy Zucker. Look out for more show dates as well as fresh “pop songs with sad guitars” from the Canadian pop-rock band in 2022.