Local musicians Dave Grenon, Wes Grist, and Bennett Bedoukian are Hello Babies. Formerly named Tender Buttons, together they play a kind of music that combines techniques from a variety of musical traditions including jazz, rock, post-punk and noise. They play music in the same vein as Deerhoof, Joan of Arc, Nihilist Spasm Band and Sonic Youth. Arthur sat down with the trio to talk about their origins, musical tradition, location and business in preparation for their show on Thursday November 15th at The Spill with Commander Goznales and Odium.
The band was booked for a show before they had even written a song. Guitarist Dave Grenon was a regular at drummer Bennett Bedoukian’s house, and Bennett’s roommate Kyle Chivers (of Elk the Moose) knew that they both had songs and wanted to play music. Kyle booked a show at The Spill for Elk the Moose and left room on the bill for Dave and Bennett to play. “Kyle is the reason we started the band,” says Bedoukian. Bennett and Dave knew bass player Wes Grist from Trent Radio and class, and asked him to join. They wrote enough songs to play a short set and called themselves Tender Buttons, after Gertrude Stein’s prose poem. Despite having played together for over a year, Dave remarks, “I think we’re still just babies, we’re really new.”
Dave pondered his musical origins: “I took piano a bit when I was a kid, took drum lessons even less. I hated both of those things because I hated to practice. I started making weird sounds on my own…that seemed more interesting to me.” He would circuit bend (modify electronically) children’s toys in order to make analog based noise music. He started playing guitar when he was twenty and would perform at open mics at the old Grassroots Cafe with the encouragement of local songwriter Tom Eastland.
Wes also found that “lessons seemed like a chore,” he mostly just wanted to play his favourite songs. “In grade ten I arbitrarily decided to ask for a bass guitar,” he says. “I made a lot of music by myself in my room.” Wes took his songs out of his bedroom with the encouragement of his partner and inspiration drawn from his parents’ musical influences.
Bennett, though, stuck with the lessons. He began to play classical guitar in grade three, played bass in his high school jazz combo, then switched to drums after a wrist injury, under the tutelage of drummer Dave Clark (Rheostatics, Woodshed Orchestra, Bidini Band). “I don’t think in melody, I think in rhythm,” Bennett remarks as he recalls the lessons learned from Dave Clark. “Coincidentally, I now understand melody through rhythm.”Bennett would play live with Clark’s improvisational collective, The Woodchopper’s Association. Bennett had not sung in a band before Hello Babies, and credits his time at the men’s drum group at the Nogojiwanong Friendship Centre for his marked improvement.
When questioned about their thoughts on genre and ‘experimental’ as a label for their music, Dave responded, “It’s OK. People don’t have a lot of language about music, at all. I know I don’t, so I understand why it’s used.” It seems that the problems of classification are not ones that concern them while making their own music. “Our music is difficult to pin down. We just play music we like, so it’s all over the place,” Bennett explains. “It allows us to be very dynamic in that sense.”
“Could you classify our music in a tradition? Well, it is very distinct from a lot of other music being made. I think we may find out that we are part of a tradition that we don’t yet know about,” Dave says. Wes acknowledges, “I’m far from the first person to feed an effects pedal back into itself.”
Hello Babies understand that some people may find their music strange. “A lot of people have this presupposition that ‘weird’ is synonymous with ‘bad’,” Wes says. A feeling of strangeness can lead to “a self-reflexive attitude,” according to Bennett. It’s a feeling that asks you to ask the question, as Bennett puts it, “‘Why is this shocking to me?’” To describe their music as experimental would suggests that Hello Babies are experimenting on stage, but they do “know exactly what [they’re] going for, and how to achieve it,” says Bennett, and their music “demonstrates previous experiments,” Wes adds.
“What I see happening with our music, often times, is after the third or fourth song, people may leave the bar, or go out for a cigarette or something, because they are confronted with something they cannot classify easily. It can be confusing and disorienting,” Bennett suggests. “They might be forced to reflect on their own opinions and ideals and what they think about music.” Dave reminds us that,“most of all we’re just trying to have fun.”
Peterborough and Business
“There are some very good musicians in Peterborough who are quite supportive of us. That is something that I’m always honoured by because we are just three dudes trying to have fun,” Bennett says. Wes adds, “we couldn’t have done this all together anywhere else…[Peterborough] is a part of the songs.”
Since the three are mostly shy and introverted, but can be rather extroverted at times, “awkwardly so,” according to Dave, convincing people to come to shows and actively promoting their music can be quite the task. These self-loathing Facebook users have forced themselves to network socially when booking or promoting shows. Their early posters may have been seen as ‘shocking,’ but it is indicative of a spirit of fun that is also found in their music. “We want to represent ourselves in ways that we won’t regret,” Dave laughs, acknowledging that it is not shock for the sake of shock. “If we can make the ‘hype-building’ also interesting, fun and engaging, then that is a worthwhile part of it,” Wes comments, exemplifying the fun-loving sentiment that the three exude. This is the band that plays the song ‘Scotty Ate the Meat Bunnies’.
None of them have illusions of becoming famous or making lots of money—though they have their fantasies—and they often donate proceeds from their shows and sales to causes like the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre or Niijkiwendidaa Anishnaabekwewag Services Circle, an aboriginal women’s health organization.
Basically, as Dave puts it, “we don’t take ourselves as seriously as this interview has sounded.” Their aesthetic reflects their virtues as people, and trying to do things in a good way is the essence of Hello Babies. “I think it’s really important to have fun and be silly. To be kind and to be loving,” Dave says. “It’s really important to not be a coward and to face the hard shit inside of you that causes yourself and others harm.”