After years of touring as a professional musician, Dre Babinski of Steady Holiday finally made the plunge towards a solo effort with the release of her debut album Under The Influence. The record paints a dreamlike world, full of enaging imagery and layered production. The video and album artwork continue this theme, keeping listeners in a somewhat surreal landscape as they follow along with the stories she's released thus far.
Despite a record filled with complexity, Babinski insists songwriting is still a new venture for her. "Open Water," the first single, almost tricks you into feeling like you're floating alongside her without land in sight. "Your Version of Me" kicks up the tempo and the violin throughout "Superstar" is easily addicting. However, the process of standing on her own two feet proved more difficult than, say, getting up on stage at Coachella earlier this year. She's performed in front of big crowds with other artists and has a decade's worth of experience under her belt, but always held back with developing her own voice. We caught up with Babinski over email to discuss the transition, her musical background and influences on the record.
I would love to talk a little bit about the musical journey you've been on since you started playing, when you were touring with bands, and on the road to your current album. What kind of music did you begin with and how has the progression through different styles helped you grow as an artist, if at all?
I've been learning the violin since childhood, classical music was the first I was heavily exposed to and had a serious connection with. Playing made me fall in love with it. I don't think I'd have the same appreciation otherwise. I loved being in the 2nd violin section and learning countermelodies that were so interesting and complementary. While playing I'd be asking myself, "How the hell are there so many things going on and nothing is getting in the way?" It blew my mind and still does. Playing in bands was an opportunity to experiment with composition and scale and, more importantly, learn restraint–which I will one day.
You’ve previously mentioned singing and guitar were newer ventures for you, both of which you employ for Under The Influence. What did you to do to gain the courage to finally take these two things center-stage? Was it a lot of practice to prepare or more of a “fuck it, we’re going live” mentality?
It was a blend of the two. I had about 80% of this record written, demoed and sitting in my computer for several months; some songs were already a few years old at that point. What took some catching up was the decision to commit to myself as an artist. When a friend introduced me to my producer Gus, who quickly gave the thumbs up to begin recording just a few weeks later, the "fuck it we're going live" took over.
When did you begin writing songs for the record? Were they pieces of things that have been written before or were they all conceived after you decided to make a complete album?
It's a greatest hits compilation FOR SURE. Songwriting is a pretty new and not yet prolific thing for me, so I gathered the strongest ideas and tailored little details to make them pair well together.
What drove you to have the song “Under The Influence” be the album’s title track?
The decision was less about using the song as a namesake, more so the phrase itself is important and very loaded to me. There are many ways I interpret being under an influence, most of which reflect the literal and figurative mindset in which these lyrics came from.
Under The Influence was produced by Gus Seyffert. What was it like working in the studio together and how did you work with one another to bring the album to another level?
Working with Gus was the first time I'd allowed anyone to make decisions on songs I've written. As many times as I've been in a collaborative recording environment, the experience of making a solo record was entirely new, so every delegation was a shock to the system. It's extremely vulnerable. I decided early on that Gus was someone I could trust with my aesthetic (he's got the vibe), but it was a big challenge to treat as a dialogue nonetheless. Incredible learning experience.
It seems like you've put a lot of focus into developing the live performance and put an emphasis on connecting with the crowd. In what ways do you hope an audience relates to what you are putting out?
I can't say I've put too much energy into connecting with the crowd yet. This is all very new to me and having the responsibility of publicly speaking and being charming on command makes me extremely anxious. I don't feel like a performer. I have trouble communicating a lot of the time, which I think is why I write songs, and I know is why I requested this interview to be over email. Of course I hope people are connecting and relating to what I'm doing, but writing and performing is still in a very introverted stage for me, at least for now.
You've mentioned things fell into place once you started taking your health seriously. Did that mean mental or physical?
It's all connected, but mental mostly–acknowledging the patterns that I was living and thinking in. I was addressing some big issues before and during recording and was still in a reactive mode, though this time with positive behaviors. Even those I took to unhealthy extremes that manifested as over-sharing, demonizing alcohol, among others. I still have a long road ahead with balancing all of that, but I understand that this record and trajectory was fueled by wanting a better life for myself, so I'm trying to go easy and just let things unfold.
The video for “Open Water” is insanely captivating; it’s easy to fall into that world and want to stay in it. How did the concept for the video come together?
Most of Steady Holiday's visual collaboration is with the video's director Joey Armario. We began by sharing images, film clips, color palettes, etc. to establish an aesthetic. The storyline came naturally, following the themes of the record. We're really excited to share the next phase.
You've said you use film and sonic references for most every song. Can you tell us a little about what was in the artillery for your latest single, “Superstar?”
This is embarrassing as hell but whatever. My garageband demo for "Superstar" was titled "Superstar de Cherbourg." I love Michel Legrand's score for Paraplueis de Cherboug and wanted to capture that feel EXACTLY. I don't think I did, which is fine and probably better, but that was my intention: Theft.