Baby Cages: The Wavelength Interview

Purveyors of: Mutating goth pop.
File next to: Siouxsie & the Banshees, Massive Attack, Cat Power
Playing: Friday, November 13 at The Monarch Tavern (12 Clinton St.) — Get your tickets here!

The music that Toronto/Halifax duo Baby Cages makes is hard to describe. Certainly goth-tinged, it shares commonalities with a diverse group of influences from the reality-folk of Cat Power to the emotional electronic waves of Massive Attack. Vocalist Halloway Jones (interviewed here) and multi-instrumentalist/producer Jeremy Costello play these contrasting elements against each other to mesmerizing effect.

I assume the name comes from those contraptions from the ’30s, where babies were suspended outside from windowsills. What intrigued you about the name? How do you feel it suited what you were writing?

There are currently thousands of products people use to baby-proof their homes, it’s laughable. Less than a century ago we left babies in cages out of 10th story windows and they were fine. Mostly, I like how baby cages were so popular in the mid-’30s, but by the ’40s they were considered completely barbaric. Coddling and preciousness, being valued then vilified, all reminds me of dating and break-ups, and I write a lot about my inability to maintain meaningful relationships. I feel real kinship with the baby cages debacle, like, sometimes I’m the debased cage and sometimes I’m Child Welfare Services.

Your music is gothic, but you maintain a pop format (i.e. short songs). What interested you in keeping things short and (bitter)sweet?

I learned to play guitar in punk bands as a teenager. Some of the first songs I remember teaching myself to play were two-minute Ramones songs. I wasn’t immediately drawn to goth, drone, or psychedelia, that came later in my journey through genre… Plus, I’m not really built to write sweeping half-hour epics, I’m medicated, but I have pretty severe ADHD.

Your writing partner lives on the coast, is it easy to maintain that partnership? How do you go about writing together? What do you like about the process? Similarly what is frustrating with it?

There’s nothing frustrating about it, really. I write the vocal/guitar parts, record the demos, send them to Jeremy. We talk. For Indelicate I flew out to Halifax to record my parts, and Jeremy (synth, bass, drum machine), Craig (guitar) and Nick (saxophone) recorded their parts, then Jeremy mixed and mastered everything and I stood over his shoulder making suggestions, asking questions, I think he grew to really understand my ear. For “All U Want,” Amy Fort recorded my guitar and vocals and sent them over to Jeremy and he added bass, synth, drum machine, mixed it and sent it back. I listened to it with Amy and sent him some suggestions, revisions were made and… yeah, it’s not very interesting, sorry.

How do you rehearse for live shows?

I have a Baby Cages band in Ontario now, featuring my dear friends Hugh Mater (drum pad), Brian Schirk (bass) and Chris Worden (guitar). Brian and Chris live in Guelph, so they have to drive in for rehearsals, but Hugh lives at Double Double Land, so lately we’ve been lucky enough to use the venue as a practice space. We’re trying to make it work. I’m hoping to be in good shape for the Wavelength show, should have a couple new songs ready to debut.

I’ve read that you are a visual artist. Are there visual elements to the live presentation? When you write, do you often have visuals in mind?

I’m a pretty gloomy songwriter, but my artworks are silly. I hated the pompousness of art school, I have very little patience for high art and swanky galleries; I just want to make sloppy paintings and deformed paper maché sculptures until I run out of pastel colours to abuse. Performing music makes me feel like a dark sorceress, and creating visual art brings out the bratty troll in me. Maybe there’s a place for those two parts of my personality to intersect, but I haven’t found it yet.

How has Baby Cages evolved from 2014’s Indelicate and the newest single “All U Want?” Is there an album in the works or are you more in favour of the singles format?

I have new songs that I’m hoping to release as an EP in March. They’re in line with “All U Want,” dreamier, less aggressive. I’m a better guitar player now, so the songs are a little more complex, but still coming from the same murky place.

What influences do you share in common with Jeremy? What does he bring to the table that is uniquely his and what is uniquely yours?

Special Costello (Jeremy’s band with Nick Dourado) is one of the most mesmerizing acts I have seen live; they are both such sensitive and expressive players, it floors me every time. As far as bringing an audience to tears goes, no Canadian band compares. At one of the festivals we played this summer, the organizer couldn’t even make it through introducing them without crying. I love it.

Jeremy and I bring very different perspectives to the band; Jer is a classically trained musician and the most relaxed, thoughtful human I know, I am a self-taught musician with no theory knowledge, and the energy and impulse control of a puppy. My songs would be skeletons without him, very sparse and a little unnerving. Jeremy adds beauty and texture. I am very grateful to be able to work with and learn from him.

— Interview by Evan Sue-Ping