Bells’ Toll: Let Independents Ring – Our Q&A with Bathe

Bathe, aka Bailey Jackson, wants her listeners to be able to see her music, picturing it in swirling colors, and, perhaps, transporting to a dream pop world. She’s a one-woman band and a multi-instrumentalist based in Atlanta, GA, but she also doubles as the bassist for VYB, a four-piece indie rock outfit. She has Synesthesia, which is most commonly viewed as a fusing of the senses, such as seeing sounds, hearing colors, and tasting words. Artists such as Lorde have also experienced this phenomenon, but some studies have indicated that many people have some form of the condition.

In the same vein as Beach House, her vocals and instrumentation are drenched in reverb, so much so that she has said her moniker implies a musical bath. But her name is actually made up of the initials of people and pets she loves. She’s been working with producer Damon Moon at Standard Electric Recorders Co. to complete her full LP, Last Looks, which will be released later in 2020, and has released two singles, “The Silence” and “Tarot Cards,” in the meantime.

Both songs are similar in lyrical themes and sound, as the whole album will focus on absence and loss. The Bandcamp synopsis for “The Silence,” for example, indicates that the song is about experiencing loneliness and grief, while grappling with anxiety. The lyrics, “Do you know, do you know the silence” seem to evoke a familiarity with solitude or the choking sensation that might signal the onset of a panic attack. However, the tune itself, which is soft and light, is not meant to instigate sorrow, and, instead, seems to promote acceptance and relief. Her newest song, “Tarot Cards,” was just released this month, and its building synth beats make it more of the mood piece she has in mind for listeners. Indeed, if you listen with your eyes closed, lying in bed or on a floor, staring at the ceiling, into space, or into the album art that she's created to go along with each song, you, too, might be transported to her dream pop world.

Our Q&A with Bathe follows, below.

The Bell’s Toll (BT): Your name is quite unique and has nothing to do with taking a bath. We read you combined initials of people/animals you loved to get the spelling. Do you anticipate sticking with this moniker or do you think you’ll ever release music under your real name? Why did you feel the need to dissociate from your real name?

Bathe (B): That's right, I did! I didn't want to release music under my real name, because, to me, it'd make it sound like I was a singer, like Taylor Swift or Michael Jackson. To be honest, though, I'm not sure if Bathe is a band name or a stage name, like Lorde or Lady Gaga, because I play everything myself and don't have any bandmates. But I definitely plan on sticking with Bathe, because I feel like it implies I care about the sound of the project as a whole, instead of putting the focus on me.

BT: Can you tell us a bit of your back story, from playing in band in school to connecting with your current producer, Damon Moon?

B: Yeah, that's a long story, but I'll try to sum it up. I played a bunch of instruments in school growing up, and I was that kid who was in each band my school had to offer. During our performances, I'd play drums in concert band, then get off stage to switch to alto sax for symphonic band, and then switch again to play trumpet in wind ensemble. And when I got home from school, I'd go play guitar or something. After I graduated, there was this long stretch in my life where I was just grinding the time away with a minimum wage job, and then going home to create music. It was during this time that I really found myself in the music I created.

My tastes changed as I started writing with less and less distortion on my guitar. I went from writing fast tempos, to slower and slower tempos. I found reverb and extreme delays to be super inspiring to write to, so my songs got dreamier and dreamier. It was truly a time of maturity and transformation when I look back on it now. Most of my songs, by the way, were instrumentals. I didn't care to sing at the time, because I didn't like the sound of my voice. I was going for more of that Tycho style of song, where the melody and everything you'd ever need is right there in the instrumentation.

It was about 2017 when I was at the end of this period, and what I had was a bunch of songs and a confidence in my musical identity, but no knowledge on how to progress to the next step in a music career. I had tried working with other musicians I met online or in my local area, but it always seemed like there was a mismatch in the commitment and drive needed to grind together to the next step. Then one day, I saw an ad for BandMix on Instagram and thought, “Why not?” I made an account, and, within a few days, I was contacted by a bunch of musicians – one of which was Sean of Big Brutus, who had written to my song “Hello Today” on SoundCloud. Nobody else who contacted me had taken that initiative to write to one of my songs, so I answered back.

Long story short, we started making an album together. Sean had experience making albums before, and so he sort of showed me the way into what the next steps [were]. We met with a few potential producers to make the album with, and Damon Moon was the last one we met. I instantly clicked with Damon, because, first of all, he's the nicest guy, but most of all he doesn't try to change you. If I know the sound I'm going for, he respects that and tries to make the best version of me as possible. I joke that I have a lot of Virgo tendencies, as I'm super self-critical. But one of my favorite things Damon does when I make a mistake is, if he thinks what I did sounded super cool, he'll let me know.

After I sit on it for a while, [they] actually end up being some of my favorite moments in the songs. In “The Silence,” there's this pad synth being played on a Roland JX-3P, and he told me to just hold out one chord on it the entire time. He had one hand on the JX-3P controller and the other hand on a big Space Echo, and he just went to town and started slowly modulating the tone of the one chord with both hands. It was crazy and that was the only take we took, and, to me, that pad synth is a signature sound of the song. His intuition in the studio is next level.

BT: You recently shared that you have Synesthesia. We had never heard of this before! Can you tell us about your experience with this, and how it contributes to and/or influences your artistic process?

B: I didn't know it was a thing either until I was talking about how I thought the number four was purple, and how it didn't match the aesthetic I have for it on the Call of Duty 4 or Resident Evil 4 covers. Someone told me that it sounded like I had Synesthesia and to go read stuff on it. Before that, though, I remember having a conversation with my now-husband about how I thought “Fast In My Car” by Paramore was so overwhelmingly red, and he was like, “...what?” I tried explaining it to him, but he was unbelievably confused. I was dumbfounded at how he didn't understand what I was talking about. I thought it was normal to [associate] colors with songs or see abstract shapes moving to music. It's like a movie playing in my head, but it's also in a cloud behind me. I know that sounds weird, sorry.

But yes, it 100% influences my artistic process. I took music theory in school and can make my way through a song just fine using theory, but it can be super boring to work with constraints in mind. I find it more inspiring to create to colors and moods. A major one chord typically has a cooler or blue tone. A minor one chord typically has a warmer or somewhat orange tone. It can all change based on context, too. When I write a melody to a chord progression, I'm basing it on what the colors look like in comparison to the colors of the chord. In my song “Tarot Cards,” there's this dissonant chord I play on the rhythm guitar in the second half of the chorus that a lot of people comment on. The entire song is this cold shade of green, but when I hit that chord it's like a flush of orange poking out at you that disappears back into the green when I resolve the chord. I try to pick album art for my singles that represent the song in a setting as similar as possible to what I see. I hope it's something people can stare at and get lost in. But I'm sure for other people with my type of Synesthesia, the green visual is a huge distraction and feels totally wrong compared to what they see!

BT: So far, you have two tracks (“The Silence” and “Tarot Cards”) and a future release date of 2020 for your debut LP, Last Looks. What do you anticipate this looking like? Will the whole LP focus on the concepts of loss and absence?

B: I've finished writing the LP, and I'm just in the middle of tracking it. So, I know what the album is about now, and, yes, it's pretty heavy on those concepts. I struggle a lot with anxiety and panic attacks, but below the surface I believe it stems from being afraid of being alone or just not being okay with the way I used to be. I've organized the album to go in sort of a chronological order of what that realization is [like], starting out with what it is on the outside, and ending with where it comes from on the inside. Lyrics are something I've never considered myself good at, especially when I was only making instrumentals in the past.

I've learned to just not care too much, be gentle on myself, and to not force it. I have to write lyrics to the instrumentation, not the other way around. If the sound of the words aren't complimenting the song, then to me they're not the right lyrics. I usually just end up playing with the sound of words and what usually comes out is my subconscious. An example of that is in my song “The Silence.” There's a lyric that says, “Guess it took yourself a while to become the one that you know you can count on.” Once that line got spit out in the moment, I realized how true it was to myself and what I'm going through.

BT: We know you’re a multi-instrumentalist, but which instrument are you most comfortable playing?

B: I'm definitely most comfortable playing drums. Of the instruments in Bathe, guitar is the one I learned first, but drums are something I've always had a blast playing. I bought a drum set off a guy in school right as I graduated, and I went to town on it. I always wanted to be a drummer in a band, but after playing every instrument on my songs, being only a drummer wasn't what people wanted from me. But that's okay, because I get to be my own drummer in the studio for Bathe!

BT: We read you learned drums from playing video games, namely Rock Band - did you pick it up quickly once you actually had a real drum set?

B: Yes, it was crazy. I remember playing “That's What You Get” by Paramore over and over again on Rock Band. And when I went to play it on real drums, it translated almost perfectly. I highly recommend learning the drums on Rock Band first, especially if you're a visual learner.

BT: You’ve also said you were never much of a music listener, that you absorbed what you were exposed to and sought out pop hits in the early ‘00s, and that you’re a big Paramore fan, which influenced some of your early music. What would you tell yourself then, as a more experienced music listener and a musician, now?

B: That's a really good question. I think I'd tell myself to enjoy simplicity. I think there's this thing with musicians where we tend to believe that the louder something is, or the faster your guitar solo is, or the more technical your skills are, the better you are. Which, don't get me wrong, a crazy technical part takes a lot of skill and is crazy to watch. But there's beauty in simplicity. There's beauty in empty space and symmetry. If you can write a really simple chord progression and listen to it on loop for hours, and, by the end, you're still not sick of it, then that's an amazing chord progression. Lorde's “Royals” is famous for this. That song is so minimal, but you really get to tell how good the song is when all the clutter and distraction isn't in your face. I wish I had found out that I love simplicity in music sooner in life, so yeah, that's what I'd tell myself.

BT: What’s the recording process for your album this far been like? We read you often start new songs, leaving others unfinished. Do you eventually go back to those, and are any going to make it onto your new release?

B: My pile of unfinished songs is ever-growing. I'll go back occasionally and see if I can add anything to a song, and sometimes it works out, but most times I leave it alone if I'm not feeling it in the moment. That is what happened with “Tarot Cards.” It was sitting there for almost three years as an unfinished song before I picked it up six months ago to finish it. I've got my track list for the LP pretty set in stone as of right now. But, hey, if I write something that I feel is way better than something on the current track list, I'm totally the type of person to go with my gut and find a way to get it on there.

BT: How often do you play gigs in your area, and what’s the Atlanta, GA music scene like?

B: I played around the area with my old band, and I play a lot of gigs with my band VYB where [I play] bass. Occasionally, I'll help friends out and fill in if they need someone for a gig or I'll sometimes play acoustic sets around town with friends. The Georgia music scene is the only music scene I've ever known, as I'm born and raised, here, but my impression is that Georgia is hard to get an audience in, if you're not country or hip-hop. I hear places like California or even Seattle and Portland are more accepting of the indie genre. But I haven't played live yet as Bathe, here. I'm still in the creating phase of the project. I'd also have to look into getting musicians to play with me, as I play everything myself right now.

BT: We saw in your interview with Indie Midlands that you’re engaged! Are you getting married soon, or are you still wedding planning?

B: Yes, I did get married! I've been with Alex for 10 years, and he's been there from the beginning. He was really into music, as well, growing up. When I mentioned that I was in every band my school offered, we were in two of the bands together. I played trumpet in wind ensemble, while he played euphonium. And he also picked up the alto sax. So, we sat next to each other in symphonic band learning the same instrument! He doesn't play anything now after graduating, as I've tried to convince him to play music with me. But I know if he tried, he'd pick it up in no time!

BT: What are the next steps for your album, and do you think you’ll continue releasing songs as you go?

B: I definitely plan on releasing a bunch of singles and covers up until the release of the LP. I've had to cancel some studio dates, because of being sick, but, assuming I don't get sick anymore, I should get the album finished up on time and release everything according to plan. Right now, I'm looking at a release date of mid 2020 for Last Looks!

(Please note: this interview was proofread for grammar and clarity).

About the “Let Independents Ring” series:

When we first started writing for IE Weekly back in 2007, we wrote a few columns on mainstream artists before we began covering the local IE music scene, mainly discovering bands via MySpace. Around the same time, we started collecting records more obsessively. We met and fell for so many bands and have continued to support both independent artists and record stores. Through this series, we plan on highlighting bands and musicians that want to be “heard” amid the vast and competitive musical landscape, hopefully contributing to their growth. In her master’s project, Kady compared local bands to non-profits, as they typically put most of what they have into creating art, thereby providing a service to their communities. By sharing independent bands' stories through short Q&As, our goal is to inspire more listens, follows, likes, and, perhaps, success, to let them loudly ring. We hope you’ll also lend them your ears (and, us, your eyes).

If you're an independent artist or band and would like to be featured in this series, please contact us for consideration. We can be reached at jkbellstoll@gmail.com or via Instagram (@thebellstoll).