Artist Spotlight: Babygirl

    Babygirl, the Toronto-based duo of Kirsten “Kiki” Frances and Cameron “Bright” Breithaupt, make music that sits at the crossroads between Death Cab for Cutie, Alvvays, and Taylor Swift. It’s their shared admiration for artists operating both within and outside the mainstream – as well as their mutual love for Lil Wayne, whose stylings are admittedly harder to trace in their songs – that initially inspired them to write music they’ve described as “bubblegum emo,” or more simply, “pop songs with sad guitars.” Having gained traction with their debut single, ‘Overbored’, in 2016, they released two EPs, As You Wish and its 2018 follow-up Lovers Fevers, which caught the attention of Charlie Puth songwriter Jacob Kasher, who subsequently signed them to Sandlot Records.

    Last week, the duo returned with the 6-track collection Losers Weepers, their strongest outing yet, along with a video for highlight ‘Million Dollar Bed’. Featuring contributions from Phoebe Bridgers collaborator Marshall Vore (Babygirl also co-produced Lauv’s Alessia Cara-featuring ‘Canada’, which was co-written by Bridgers and Vore), the EP leans more firmly on the duo’s pop influences while showcasing their artistic versatility, from the infectious ‘Easy’ to the fittingly dreamy ‘You Were in My Dream Last Night’ and the intimate ‘A Little Bit Closer’. At the core of Babygirl remains a focus on playful, melodic songwriting that’s as catchy as it is resonant.

    We caught up with Babygirl for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about their first attempts at songwriting, Losers Weepers, being famous, and more.

    I’m curious what role music played early on in your life. Cam, I read that you grew up in a very musical household, and Kiki, you started writing songs when you were around nine years old.

    Kiki: I was always just really drawn to it. I loved singing and performing and I loved watching people sing and perform. And yeah, I started writing pretty young, mainly just because I wanted to be a singer, and I knew that some of my favorite singers wrote their songs. I wasn’t really thinking about writing good songs, that’s for sure [laughs]. But I just started playing around and kind of mimicking things that I was hearing and trying to learn how to do it.

    Cam: I think growing up with music in the family basically informed my entire identity as a person, honestly. It was everywhere, at all times, on both sides of the family. My dad did some music journalism when I was a kid, so he would get advanced copies of albums and play them around the house and we would have, like, inside scoop. So he had like, Kid A, promotional copy; Fountains of Wayne’s Welcome Interstate Managers was a big one, with ‘Stacy’s Mom’ on it, of course, we had that before it came out. So I think that was very exciting to me, the idea that we had some sort of insider thing going on with music, which probably inspired me to want to become an insider myself in music. And here I am, deep inside the belly of the beast.

    Kiki: [laughs] The belly of the beast…

    Did you start writing early on as well? And did you feel more pressure sharing your songs in that environment?

    Cam: The earliest song I can specifically remember writing was for a school thing. Everyone at school had to write a play and we decided to make ours a musical, so me and my friends wrote this, like, terrible Sum 41 knockoff song, and I brought it to my dad to have him notate it so that one of the people who was taking piano lessons could play it on piano. So no, I was very eager to share. And then, probably around 12 or 13, I made my first full-length album, self-produced, that I sold – the school had this thing called the Entrepreneurial Fair, where all the eighth graders got to build a booth in the gym and sell their wares to the sixth and seventh graders. So, you know, something like, “I made these cupcakes,” or whatever. And mine was like, “Yeah, I have 50 copies of my debut album.” And it was really unusual music that I think disturbed a lot of people. One of my friends’ older sister, I think she was in 10th grade at the time, and I thought she was so cute –

    Kiki: [laughs]

    Cam: She had gotten a copy of the album, and then he showed me her texting later that day being like, “What is this weird meditation music? This sucks!” [laughter] So, I think that definitely informed my trajectory as someone trying to make music that’s gonna, like, resonate with as many people as possible, was being like, “Aw, cool older girl didn’t like my experimental music, I gotta make it a little more down the middle.”

    It was probably the early exposure to Kid A.  

    Cam: Exactly. It was a bad approximation of Kid A by a 12-year-old boy.

    So, you then met while studying at the same music program. What were some things you bonded over?

    Kiki: Well, just being in an environment like that already is kind of a bonding experience because everyone that you’re there with is really obsessed with music. So, meeting on that basis I think set us up to be likely to work together at some point. But yeah, just one day we were talking about pop music and just had a really fun time talking about all the songs that we mutually admired, and that made us want to try writing together.

    Cam: It’s not 100% a jazz program – they definitely touch on all corners of contemporary music, but definitely more towards the latter half. The first couple of years are super jazz intensive, so you’re hanging out all day just talking about Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, and then we start talking, it’s like, blink-182 and Taylor Swift, you know. I think it was validating – you know, you’re taking these sort of more commercial forms seriously, as they have to be taken.

    Was there a reason that you gravitated more to songwriting as opposed to performing at first? How did that come later on?

    Cam: I think by the time we met we both self-identified as writers.

    Kiki: Yeah, and we were surrounded by so many performers that were so good at performing, and I think that I kind of started to realize that my thing that I could be really good at was writing, like, “I love performing too and I obviously want to be great at that, but what if the thing that I get really really great at is writing?”

    Cam: Yeah, realizing, like, “I’m not gonna sing the highest or the loudest or do the fastest runs, but the content of what we’re singing, it can carry equal weight.”

    Was there a moment where your mindset changed or you gained a bit more confidence in terms of performing?

    Kiki: Totally, yeah. It’s just about getting to know yourself as an artist and accepting who you are and choosing to lean into the strengths that you have and not try to force anything that doesn’t come naturally. I mean, I really wanted to sing like Hayley Williams for a long time; I wanted to just be able to belt out these huge high loud notes, and I just kind of realized over time that that’s not my voice’s sweet spot. So I think it’s just about embracing the things about you and about your voice or your style that help you carve out who you are.

    Cam: I think, especially on the performance side for us, feeling like we can embrace that we’re subdued and we don’t have to be jumping around or rocking the hardest. The live performance is a vehicle to present the songs to people who hopefully are familiar with them, and if not, present them in a way that’s going to make people want to check out the recordings. I think one of our first shows, if not our first show, everyone sang along with one of the songs, ‘Overbored’, and that was a real moment for me to feel like we wrote the song well enough that we honestly could have stopped singing and everyone would’ve sung for us. That was a really powerful moment, to be like, “The performance is about the relationship between you and people who’ve been living with the songs,” not necessarily blowing everyone’s head off with virtuosity.

    Kiki: There are other bands that will do that, and thank God for that.

    How did you come up with the name Babygirl?

    Kiki: Babygirl was the name of an acapella girl group thing that I was in when I was in grade five. I use all that very loosely, it was just me kind of starting to write songs and then singing them with two girls at my school.

    Cam: Insisting that they would –

    Kiki: Yeah, insisting that they would be in my band. So I just told Cam that one day and he was like, “Oh, that’s actually a really good band name.” So it was one conversation and then we were like, “Okay.”

    Cam: “Let’s start a band and use that name.”

    There’s obviously this whole pattern now with indie projects having names like Soccer Mommy and Adult Mom.

    Kiki: Totally, yeah, we’ve noticed that too.

    Cam: Dad Sports… We should do a big tour with all of us.

    Kiki: Oh my god.

    Cameron: The Family Reunion Tour.

    Kiki: The Family Reunion Tour [laughs]. I love it.

    Cam: Mom, Dad, and Baby. We can also get Sir Babygirl.

    That would be awesome. I remember seeing one of the early write-ups having to clear up any confusion between you and Sir Babygirl specifically. And I also wanted to bring this up because back then, you described your aesthetic as “bubblegum emo.” And while I think there’s still an element of that on this EP, there’s definitely a shift to a more pop-leaning sound, which maybe goes back to what Cam was saying about wanting the music to resonate with as many people as possible. First off, how do you look back on that record, and what does Losers Weepers represent for you in terms of the band’s evolution?  

    Kiki: Lovers Fevers for me has some really high points and some low points, and I think that Losers Weepers has fewer low points. I think with Lovers Fevers, we were still learning so much about what we wanted to sound like. There are so many songs on there that I’m obsessed with, but there are moments that I’ve learned from, that I wasn’t so sure about. Going into Losers Weepers, I felt more sure of what I didn’t want to do and there was more clarity of what we did want to do. And I think Losers Weepers definitely leans more pop, but then also, a song like ‘Today Just Isn’t My Day’ is a bit more of an outlier in that sense. We’re always going to do both, because we love pop music, but our main goal is just to have writing that feels compelling and genuine to us. And however we dress it up, at the end of the day, we’re really just caring about that melody and lyric.

    Cam: But I definitely think sonically, it’s just a narrowing down – like you were saying, realizing what we don’t want to do. Listening to Lovers Fevers, ‘Soft’ was definitely a touchstone moment on that project of us learning how to make electronic drums fit in with our sound, and that sort of opened the door for songs like ‘Easy’, or for the first half of ‘You Were in My Dream Last Night’ to sound the way that they did, so I think it’s seeing the things that really worked and leaning into those.

    Could you share some personal highlights or memories from the recording process?

    Kiki: One funny moment was when we were recording the vocals for ‘You Were In My Dream Last Night’. We actually went to my mom’s house – she was out of town, and we recorded the vocals in my little sister’s closet because she had a bunch of clothes and stuffed animals and stuff in there, so it was actually a really absorptive environment, which is really good for recording vocals. So I remember just sitting on the floor of my little sister’s closet and recording this song that we’ve been working on for years and it was just kind of a funny weird moment to be in an environment that was just so adorable.

    Cam: One that sticks out to me – I don’t know if it’s necessarily a good memory, but it was a learning experience – was when we were producing ‘Nevermind’. We’re working with Marshall Vore in his studio – it ended up being my brother Miles, who drums on all the songs on the EP, drumming on the final version, but at the time, it was Marshall. And we had this big drum solo section at the end of the song, like, 30 seconds of just going completely nuts. For the rest of the session, he had been engineering, but for this part of the session, since he was gonna be drumming, I had to engineer. And were running Pro Tools, I’m a Logic user, I was not familiar with the environment, and I was accidentally deleting takes as I was recording new ones; I was overwriting them. So he played this amazing drum solo ten times over, gave us all these options, just went nuts on the drums, came in all sweating, and he was like, “Alright, let’s hear what I did.” And it was all gone except for the most recent one. So I think that was just a learning experience for me to slow down and take inventory of what I’m doing while I’m engineering, especially if it’s a new environment, because… [laughs]

    Kiki: You might not be recording.

    Cam: You only get one first take and then it’s gone, especially with improvisatory elements like that.

    That must have felt horrible.

    Cam: I get a pit in my stomach just telling this story.

    You mentioned Marshall Vore – I was going to ask you about the different collaborators you worked with on this EP. What was that process of opening up your songwriting to other people like?

    Cam: We had been co-writing for other artists for a while already, so I think we started doing that and had a lot of fun with the process and we’re like, “There’s no reason we can’t now apply this to our thing just because of some ‘We’re an indie band’ authenticity thing, like let’s just do whatever is gonna get us the coolest songs.”

    Kiki: Yeah, we try not to have an ego about that kind of thing. There are parts of Losers Weepers, some of my favorite moments, where it was just us writing and producing, so we’re never going to stop doing that, but I think that we’re also never going to stop getting in the room with other people and seeing what happens.

    What do you think makes your dynamic unique?

    Cam: Willing to be meticulous, thorough, even sometimes to the point of it slowing us down. Which I think is part of the benefit of when we co-write. We feel like, “Alright, there’s people here, we can’t sit here and hum and haw over this one line all day.” But when it’s just us, we have the privilege of patience –

    Kiki: Or the insanity.

    Cam: [laughs]

    Kiki: I think something that happens a lot for us is, when it comes to Babygirl music, we have kind of the same radar of when something clicks; we both feel it, and no one else can really understand that in the exact same way.

    Cam: It just happens to be our shared sensibility. Sometimes it’s a good thing when we have each other to bounce off of in a co-writing situation to be able to go, “You know what, everyone else in the room thinks this line sucks but we believe in it, so we’re gonna stick with it.” And it’s important for us to sort of hone that with just the two of us so that we can make sure we always have that shared understanding of what Babygirl as a band would or wouldn’t say.

    I wanted to ask you about ‘Million Dollar Bed’, which deals with the idea of fame and success in the context of a relationship. Is being famous something that you often find yourselves thinking about?

    Kiki: I wouldn’t say it’s something that I think about often. I think that we want our music to be heard on a level where fame would be a result of that, but it’s not… I really value just being able to, like, go for a walk, go to the grocery store, all those things. So the thought of real, actual fame happening to me seems pretty horrible [laughs]. But I also really want our songs to exist in the world in a really meaningful way. It’s kind of a complicated thing. I think there are some people that have a sweet spot, and I would really love to be in that sweet spot, where maybe sometimes someone says, “Hey, I really like that song of yours,” and I go, “Oh, that’s really nice, thanks,” but I’m not getting, like, harassed. I think there are some people that are successful musicians but aren’t necessarily dealing with some of the worst aspects. [Looks at Cam] I don’t know, what do you think about fame?

    Cam: [sighs] I’ve definitely always wanted to be famous since I was a little kid. And I think part of that song is reckoning with what that would actually look like and maybe understanding that it wouldn’t solve everything. But it’s easy to idealize what that would look like from a distance as a kid.

    Kiki: Oh yeah, when I was a kid I want to be famous, for sure.

    Cam: Now I definitely think of it more in the terms you’re talking about, which is, it would be a really meaningful validation of the work that we’re doing, artistically, because it would mean a lot of people like it. And it would be a really useful vehicle to share new stuff.

    Kiki: Unless we got famous for them hating it.

    Cam: Yeah, sometimes you can get famous for being the worst thing on the planet.

    Kiki: [laughs] That would suck.

    This makes me think of Radiohead again, you know, because it nearly destroyed them and then they made Kid A.

    Cam: I could definitely see us taking that path.

    What feeling do you get when you see the reaction your music has been getting from listeners?

    Kiki: Oh, it’s great. It’s so amazing now that there are ways for us to see in almost real time where people are listening to the music and what playlists we’re being put in.

    Cam: Having people reach out and say like, “Hey, this song is me and my partner’s love song,” that’s super meaningful. Also, it can sound kind of dry, like, the streaming analytics stuff, but when you think about, if you could time travel back to the 80s or 90s and tell people, “Every time someone makes a mixtape, a cassette with your song on it, you’re gonna know what the name of the mixtape was.” That’s incredibly romantic! That we can go to Spotify and see someone’s thing that says ‘Rainy Day Mood’ and our song is on there, you know, that used to just be sharpied onto a $1 cassette that the artists would never have a way of knowing about. So I feel like it’s a really intimate relationship with the fans, where you really get to see how has this become a part of people’s lives in a way that maybe people weren’t always able to do.

    With that in mind, what are your ambitions now that the EP is out?

    Cam: Getting famous!

    Kiki: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. Uh, the debut album, our first album. We’ve started – I’m sure it’s going to take us a bit of time.

    Cam: Yeah, for me, creatively, I want us to make the best body of work we’ve ever made – most cohesive, highest bar for the songs, all killer no filler, you know. I think our ambition is mostly towards quality and authenticity at this point.

    Kiki: And having a good time. It’s been a bummer of a year and hopefully shit’s gonna start opening back up and we can all maybe start to live a little bit again.

    Cam: Yeah, that’s definitely the other ambition for the band, is just touring. Really seeing the world and meeting people who are listening to our music, you know, smelling their sweat and all that.

    Going on that family tour…

    Kiki: Going on that family tour, yeah. Let’s make it happen.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. 

    Babygirl’s Losers Weepers EP is out now via Sandlot Records/AWAL.

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