Get to Know Groove-Pop Duo Balu Brigada [Live Performance + Q&A]
Inspired by musical heavyweights like Frank Ocean and Gorillaz, Balu Brigada is all about experimentation. Their discography provides the perfect backdrop to any setting - from coastal road trips, summer BBQs, flirty dancefloor moments, and everywhere in between. The band is no stranger to performing, having toured around New Zealand numerous times, including treating an exclusive audience to an electric performance at Live Nation and Vodafone's recent Ones to Watch showcase.
In addition to delivering a standout show at our recent showcase, the duo has just released their latest single, "How It Would End," the first song off their upcoming EP. The single is their debut release as a two-piece, with its bouncy synth hooks and groove-worthy melodies sure to get you up on your feet.
On the eve of their first release as a two-piece, Henry and Pierre Beasley Zoom in from their parents' rumpus room - the scene of many family jam sessions, which spawned their self-described "groove-pop" band Balu Brigada - to discuss archival footage, guilty pleasures, and which brother is the better mover.
Pierre: We're actually at our parents house right now, because our houses are both equally too small to do anything in, but actually right behind us is a grand piano that used to be our grandfather's. He was an orchestral conductor, so it's a bit of a family heirloom.
If that piano could talk, what do you think it would've said to you during your piano lessons back in the day?
P: Try harder [laughs].
Henry: It would probably say, "Slow down!" as well, 'cause I remember just getting frustrated. You know, you play something 100 times, badly, and you just wanna get it done so you play it faster but then that sounds even worse!
P: It was a classic case of your parents make you do piano lessons and you miserably endure them, and then I think we picked up our own instruments, that we did actually enjoy playing, from there.
When would have been your first-ever public performance? Did you put on shows for Mum and Dad when you were little?
P: Probably some church Christmas event or something, to be honest. We were brought up in the church, so I think my earliest memory of performing was being a little Elvis in a Christmas production, which, yeah, I wouldn't like to see that footage back…
Could there potentially be footage out there somewhere?
P: Yeah [laughs] Some granny with VHS footage of me with my hair in some big, slicked-back mop or something.
H: Pierre and I have got a bit of an acting background as well, so there's some horrendous clips that you can pull up of us on shows that I won't name [laughs]. But you can't take yourself too seriously; you've just got to be able to laugh at it.
Performing is in your blood though, isn't it?
P: Yeah, Dad was a ballet dancer in his prime and he actually met our mother, who was an actress, in a musical. They spent the majority of their twenties performing and then Mum pursued a TV career until she started having us boys so, yeah! Performance is very much in the construct of our family, which has been really cool because we've got that support from our parents who also understand the life of a performer and understand the passion.
H: We just actually saw some archival footage of Dad in his Royal New Zealand Ballet days - it was quite a trip! That's literally some of the first footage we've seen of him as a ballet dancer, which is wild because it was such a big part of his life. Obviously no one had a bloody iPhone back then to just record clips, but it's a shame. I would love to see more footage of him dancing, because it was such an integral part of fostering our creativity as well.
Did you boys take ballet lessons when you were kids?
PIERRE: I did it for a few years and Dad's always said, "Ooh, you would make a good dancer!" And still to this day he's like, "You know, it's not too late to become a professional dancer…" You didn't though, hey?
H: Nah, I didn't. Pierre's definitely more the mover, which you'll see in a few videos of ours. I'm kind of skulking in the background doing something minimal and then Pierre's managing to find a dance move out of thin air, which I can't quite fathom myself.
You both studied music at Auckland University [Pierre majored in jazz, Henry, pop]. Did you ever take ideas that you were working on for Balu Brigada into uni?
H: It's kind of like the informal way we started the band. I was playing guitar randomly for other bands and didn't really have a project of my own, but I was writing all these songs during uni, so I was like, "Okay, why don't we try a song where I'm leading?" Previously, I'd just written for another project that someone [else] would front, so that's when I enlisted Pierre and my other brother at the time...
P: Brother at the time [laughs].
H: [Laughs] He's still my brother - he's just not in the [Balu Brigada] project at this point - but that's how we all got together and took our background of jamming in our parents' rumpus room to playing my original songs, and then making it more collaborative along the way.
Did Balu Brigada originate as a four-piece?
H: Yes, there were a few versions. Sometimes we'd go with a three-piece because Pierre was underage, and couldn't play the show, or sometimes we'd get someone to replace him for the shows that he couldn't make. It was a four-piece for probably four years or so and then that transition [to two-piece plus live drummer] was in maybe 2019. That was a lot to do with the fact that the other two band members - they were invested in it, but also had lots of other plates to juggle, and Pierre and I have always been the core and the nucleus of the band, and so it was like, "Okay, this is our whole world, so let's kinda scale this back. You guys can invest more into your lives outside of the band and we can just really home in on this thing."
So it's kind of like you two are Kevin Parker from Tame Impala, with extra band members brought in for touring purposes.
H: We'd love to draw that comparison! [laughs]
P: [Laughs] Absolutely! Yeah, the role that our drummer fills is less an actual band member and more a session musician, I suppose.
How would you describe your music to people who are yet to hear it?
H: I think our favourite description, or at least mine, is groove-pop at this current point in time. Would that be your choice of description?
P: I just go with the easy one: alt-pop. Groove-pop is also cool, but I dunno if you just made that up, or...
H: I definitely made that up.
What was the last Balu Brigada single release and what's your next scheduled single release?
P: So the last one we released was in October last year, it was called "Moon Man", and our next single is called "How It Would End". This is the first time that we are choosing to release a single when we already have [a new, as-yet-untitled EP] ready, so we can actually get some momentum with the project rolling out, as opposed to how we've done it in the past where we released a song and then we were like, "Oh cool, that went well, now we need to finish the next one," which is a silly way to go about it if you want to get that momentum. So this time we've got a few things in the bank.
H: This is the first instance where we've been able to play songs live before they've been released, which has been quite exciting for us.
Which songs off this upcoming EP have you performed live so far?
P: We've been playing "Number 1" and another song called "Favourite Clothes" in our most recent shows, and they've been going down well. Because we don't have too many of those up-tempo, four-on-the-floor, driving songs, "Number 1" is a good one to just slot in there to hype-up the energy a bit.
The entire EP is killer, but I reckon "Number 1" is my favourite song on there at the moment. It reminds me of N.E.R.D!
H: For sure! N.E.R.D is a massive influence and when I started that one off I was definitely conscious of, "Oh, is this too Neptunes or too Pharrell?" And then I was just like, "Nah." We love that you've drawn that connection, that's great.
Also, something about the overall vibe and the sparkling melodies throughout "I Should Be Home," another standout track from the EP, called to mind The Strokes…
P: Yeah, I've been listening to a lot of The Strokes - especially their latest album - so that would make sense. I just think all of the melodies that Julian [Casablancas] hits are real nice.
H: I think because Pierre was listening to The Strokes so much that always bleeds into my listening habits, because we spend so much time together. I think that would have definitely been a subconscious influence, because it was definitely in line with what we were taking in at that moment.
Your previous way of working, drip-feeding one song at a time, reminds me of the Gorillaz's Song Machine project, where songs were recorded and released separately before they were collated and released as a collection.
H: Yeah, for sure. I really liked that roll-out. It was cool, and obviously the featured artists on it are world-class, interesting, eccentric creatives in their own right. Gorillaz' second [Song Machine release], "Désolé" [featuring Fatoumata Diawara] is my strongest memory of when I was living in Melbourne. I lived there for a few months and that song came out around that time, and I was like, "Woah!" I listened to it this morning, actually; it just rocks my world. Gorillaz are a massive inspiration in terms of how we like to think about music, eclecticism, and genre-mashing.
Given that part of your band name pays homage to the character Baloo (but with different spelling), talk me through your love for The Jungle Book.
H: That movie is a very nostalgic kick for us brothers...
P: Not the movie that was out a couple of years ago, the Disney one...
H: I couldn't believe it when I found out it was from the '60s, hey! When you're a kid and you're watching that shit, there's no differentiation that you can make between The Jungle Book and, say, Aladdin [released in 1995]. You're just like, "The Jungle Book, man, it's such a jam!"
Have any Balu Brigada songs been synced to a TV series or film?
H: Only in one very informal instance. I was actually on a show about six years ago called 800 Words and I think we had just released our third release and then I had a shoot day. The actor I was working with, Milena Vidler, was like, "Oh, I've gotta be listening to music in this scene, what shall I play?" And I told her, "We just released a song today!" And she said, "Well why don't I play that!?" So that is literally the only sync we've got so far, but it was quite a serendipitous moment. To see myself on screen and then hear our band play as well was quite meta, a little in-joke or Easter egg.
Do you each remember what made you fall in love with music in the first place?
P: Abbey Road on vinyl. It was Mum's. I would've been, like, 11. It blew my mind. It was the first time I got to know an album in full, and didn't just know a single that was on the radio or whatever, and I just loved the way that album flowed and the musicality of it, and how it's pop music but they were also experimenting. There's just something about that album, which probably - when I think about it - is my favourite album of all time and made me want to do music.
H: Mum will definitely want the credit for that one; Dad's got the Bowie records, Mum's got The Beatles ones. This one is way less cool, but my answer is probably "I Miss You" by blink-182. Combined with "Ocean Avenue" by Yellowcard - that was my favourite song. I was like, "Yep, I'm a rock guy now. I'm a band guy. Take me as I am."
H: I couldn't say that it's my favourite song now, but I remember that distinction pretty clearly, being like, "Yeah, this is me now".
Did you have any Yellowcard posters on your walls?
H: [Rotates webcam] I've got some nice Gorillaz ones over there, but no Yellowcard ones.
If you could choose any band to go out on tour with, who would it be?
P: I'd probably say Tame Impala, just 'cause I'm a diehard KP [Kevin Parker] fan. But I don't know if we'd be the right fit, though...
I can totally see you guys opening for Tame Impala - Balu Brigada would be the perfect fit!
H: I mean, my pinnacle artist is Frank Ocean and I love the idea of getting to tour with him, but, no [laughs]. I don't think. So that makes Kevin Parker feel a little bit more attainable. I don't think it would be too far-fetched, hey? I reckon we should link it up.