Editor’s note: This is a continuation of last week’s feature on Baby Weekend.
With the magic of home recording programs and large file-sharing services, it’s possible to record and send an entire album back and forth without ever being in the same room, to collaborate with friends and strangers from across the globe.
Baby Weekend, a musical ensemble with strong desert roots, is an example of being able to collaborate from afar. Billy Juan, formerly of The Great Tortilla Heist and Tone in Georgia, wanted a project to blend his love for Eastern European Jazz, lo-fi Hip-Hop and Balkan Brass.
Comprised of fellow ex-pats of the Antelope Valley and Lake Hughes music scenes, the band’s lineup is made up of many of Juan’s friends and former band mates.
The cast of characters includes guitarist and co-producer Diego Hodge, who operates the recording studio Valley Crest in Lake Hughes; MC Tony Baker who resides in Georgia; and guitarist Matt Ruder, who lives in Santa Fe, NM.
Additional collaborators include bassist John Karwoski, now living in Seattle, and guitarist Danny Harris who lives in Beijing, China.
Upon entering the COVID lockdown of 2020, Juan rearranged music he compared for a Balkan Brass band and transformed the pieces into Hip-Hop tracks. Primarily a trumpet player, he also played keyboard and provided vocals for the songs.
“I would compose the tunes in Musescore then spit out the MIDI file of the horns, throw it onto the beats, then I would send it out to people,” Juan explained. “Once I had the harmonic underpinning of piano and guitar, then I would record the horns to it. I didn’t want to spend my time recording out-of-tune horns, then have to re-record them again.”
The foundation of friendship amongst Baby Weekend hasn’t been stifled by distance. In fact, the ability to stay connected and create from across the globe seems to have strengthened their friendship. The band’s biography, written by Baker, captures all elements of the group.
“What do New Mexico, Georgia, California, Colorado, Washington and Beijing have in common? Besides record levels of high blood pressure and turquoise jewelry? These locations house a star constellation of Balkan Cadillac infiltration that’s too dangerous for your radio station. It is the beginning of the Balkanization of the United States. It is the Balkan barrage of Hip-Hop. Toyota Hilux beats, with Honda Civic lyrics,” the bio reads.
Through the humor, one line piqued my curiosity.
Baker explained the meaning of his automobile analogy: “The Toyota Hilux, if you want to get into history, there was a civil war happening in the Middle East. They found out that the Toyota Hilux was an amazing vehicle for not only going fast but carrying .50-Cal machine guns. That became everyone’s gangster-riding, everyone wants to buy car. The Honda Civic lyrics is about how it’s $1,500 off the lot, but you can put $50,000 into it to make you feel better about owning it. That was my take on the aesthetic and the mood of what we do. It’s not even ‘fake it until you make it’; this is as far as you’re get. Do what you can with it.”
As much humor is expressed in this sentiment, truth lies within it. The experience of most raised in this desert is that of the working class, who live by one simple ethos: do more with less.
With fewer opportunities and less abundance arrives a desire to create outside of the box. It’s an abandonment of the pretentious because it was never given.
“The Antelope Valley will always be home,” Juan said. “Santa Fe has it’s rougher side but it’s pretty boujee. It’s pretty funny, anytime I do anything not in the nicest manner at home, house cleanliness, going out dressed a certain way, she (Juan’s partner) will say, ‘I guess you can take the man out of the AV but you can’t take the AV out of the man.’ ”
Baker also spoke about his desert roots.
“It’s where I started doing music. Even though I’m in Georgia, I steel feel like I’m doing AV stuff because I don’t even leave my house.”
It’s often said that playing and creating music helps preserve a part of one’s youth. In many ways, this long-standing group of friends keeps their spirit alive by continuing to nurture their creativity, no matter the distance, no matter the passage of time. In a way, that’s why music keeps us timeless. With everyone having tremendous fun on this project, Juan has begun to write the next record.
“Diego and I have been taking about what programs we can use and getting together to compose more,” he said. “I’m really excited to explore that more. Trying to see, with all of this technology and distance, we can compose more together. How is that possible, you know?”
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