Interview with Two Musicians: Dave New and Vivi Machi of Babbling April

In which Dave and Vivi discuss their songwriting process, the importance of good story-telling, and their love of White Denim. 

babbling april ep artwork

The cover of Babbling April’s EP with original artwork by Nancy Jane Epling.

Do you remember the first song or album you heard that really inspired you to pursue your own music? 

Dave: “Decora” by Yo La Tengo.  I remember randomly picking up the Electro-Pura CD secondhand in high school and listening to that first track driving home.  It was so different from anything I had ever heard and yet so immediately appealing to me at the same time.   

What inspires you most (peoples, places, music, literature…)?

Dave: I get inspired by literature.  I’d love to be able to communicate with someone as directly and intimately as a novelist can.  I think music can make connections with much less investment from the listener than a novel demands from the reader, but by the same token rarely communicates as deeply.  I aspire to eventually make music that can communicate on that level.

Vivi: Well-told stories, whether that’s through a song, a novel, or a poem. There’s that moment in a really well-told tale where you picture the moment or scene so vividly, your spine tingles and your heart races with how connected you feel to that moment.

Describe your artistic process. How do you begin writing a song?

Dave: Music is just sounds so for me it has to begin with an interesting sound.  A guitar texture, a loop, whatever it is it starts with a small snippet that grabs my ear and grows from there.  Lyrics, structures, etc. come much later.

Vivi: I definitely begin more with lyrics. I’ll wake up with a line in my head or be driving along and think of something that I think is just killer, and want to go home and mess around with it on guitar until something works. I now have a ridiculous amount of voice memos that are just me saying random lines that are waiting to be turned into lyrics.

Who are your influences?

Dave: Anything by Yo La Tengo.  “White Light/White Heat” by Velvet Underground.  “You Forgot it In People” by Broken Social Scene.  “Last Day of Summer” by White Denim.

Vivi: Powerful female musicians who don’t give an inch when they’re creating and exposing their art. Artists like Patti Smith, Karen O, Annie Clark, Kathleen Hanna.

At your show last week, you played some truly excellent covers (“Train in Vain” was a personal favourite). How do you decide which songs to cover and how do you go about adapting a piece of music?

Vivi: Definitely songs that people recognize but aren’t necessarily the major hits, and songs that have enough room to them that you can tweak it and make it your own. Train In Vain is a great example – it’s still classic Clash and gets the crowd moving. And songs that we can capitalize on the dual- fronted nature of our band.

If you could play any other instrument, what would you choose?

Vivi: Percussion in a heartbeat. I am in constant awe of how the best drummers can completely disassociate their limbs, play these gnarly beats and yet look completely suave doing it. Just watch White Denim drummer Josh Block in action: He looks like he’s sitting calmly at a coffee shop table about to enjoy a nice latte while his arms and legs swoop around the kit making ridiculously well timed rhythms. It’s a dance in its own right.

Also I’ve always really loved the triangle. 

Dave: Classical piano. 

What makes a good audience, a good venue?

Dave: Stand up front! Drink a beer- or don’t, just be relaxed, have fun.  Crossed arms and skepticism can ruin any great performance.  As far as a venue- nothing beats a good monitor mix.  

V: I hate when I’m watching a band I’m really enjoying and just want to move to the music, but feel self-conscious because literally everyone is just standing there, possibly nodding along, and you feel like you’re going to burst their personal bubble if you get too wild with your moves. I get that some music lovers just want to watch how the musician moves or which pedals they use, but no musician wants to see a room full of statues staring up at them. A good venue definitely needs room to dance, great acoustics, and a staff that enjoys working there. Tip your bartenders!

What’s your greatest challenge as a musician? Have you ever hit on a point where you couldn’t create and how did you work through it?

Dave: When making music I always feel in conflict between the validity of sheer talent vs creative impulse.  For instance- I love albums like Live at Fillmore East by the Allman Brothers- the sheer technical proficiency of which I will never be able to rival.  It’s hard to justify to yourself that the music you are making is even worth it in the face of some of the insane and towering talent out there.  But that’s when the only thing to do is to just dig in and find some new sounds- follow whatever creative impulses you can grab onto.

You have a strong community of local musicians and bands in Ohio. How does that help you to work and does it present any challenges? In that vein, what is hard about being a musician today and, alternatively, what is great about it?

Dave:  I have never lived anywhere with such an accessible and strong music scene.  I have never been able to hold a band together in any other town I’ve lived in, relegating my musical ventures to bedroom recordings.  It is all positive in having bands and venues be supportive- the deeper the scene runs the better for everyone.  I would say the main hardship for local musicians (everywhere, not just in Dayton) is in interesting the general public in music that isn’t packaged and delivered to them in the standard formats they are used to (ie mainstream radio, Pitchfork, etc).  Without those endorsements, even indie music fans, can be hesitant to get off the couch and go to a show.

Vivi: In a music scene like Dayton, all of the bands are invested in the success of their peers, because the mutual support helps the group blossom. No disrespect to the NYC scene, but I feel like when you have such a saturated scene where there are literally thousands of bands competing for the same slots, there is less motivation to go out and support the same bands as they’re working their way up the ladder when you can go see an already established band much more easily. When you go out to watch a local band play Friday night, and then see them come out to support your own band Saturday night,  or you see the headliner show up early and stand up front to support their opening act, it creates a connection that I feel is not found a larger music scene.

Finally, if you could be in any band from any point in history, which band would you choose?

Dave: White Denim.

Vivi: I’m going to cheat and have one old band, and one current band. I so would have loved to have been in the Runaways back in the day. Now, being a Haim sister would make my life complete.

Babbling April is composed of Vivi Machi, Dave New, Lee Wise, and Stephen Yokley and we’re so grateful that Vivi and Dave were able to share their sage words with us! Though, as Dave noted pre-interview, he could only guarantee parsley, rosemary, and thyme words. We never doubted for an instant that their insights would be well-seasoned.

Check out Babbling April’s band website and their Facebook page! Also head over to Bandcamp to purchase their newly released EP or even buy a poster of the EP’s cover (as seen at the top of the post) featuring art by the talented Nancy Jane Epling.

xox J

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