Nastavi, a Croatian word meaning keep going. Calliope, a childhood dog, a Greek word for beautiful voice, the organ at the centre of an ever-spinning merry-go-round. These two seemingly unconnected words, with different origins and different languages, came together in the mind of Maya Bon, the songwriter behind Babehoven, and formed the seed of her magnificent new EP, Nastavi, Calliope, which comes out this Friday.
The follow up to 2020’s breakthrough record, Demonstrating Visible Differences In Height, Nastavi, Calliope was an experiment by Maya to, “pour full, attentive energy into my music”. While that decision was partly influenced by COVID-era isolation, it was also a natural next step for Maya, to fully commit to her songwriting and allow herself to explore the deeply rooted feelings that music brings out of her. The record was produced by Maya and regular collaborator Ryan Albert, taking the barely-there skeletons of songs and fleshing them out to a lush and eclectic collection, the seven tracks incorporating elements from drone-pop, to wide-eyed country and distorted electronica.
On first listen, the opening track Bad Week feels like something of a scene-setter for the record to come, yet with further listening, it feels more like joining in at the middle of a story. It’s almost as if we’ve missed the storm, and are instead confronted by the fall-out, a person standing alone in the rubble, trying to pick up the pieces of life as it was, “I don’t have the energy, I don’t have the stamina to keep on fighting, but I’ll keep on fighting, I’ll do it”. The sense of lyrical tumult is matched in the music that it accompanies, beginning with a muted strum of a guitar, that suddenly becomes engulfed in a wall of droning noise, coming across like Beach House, only with the ethereal twinkle replaced by a guttural rush of humanity. It’s a song that never fails to stop me in my tracks, demanding attentive listening, a moment for the world to stop spinning and to focus on every word Maya is sharing with us all.
Across the record, Babehoven seem to be pushing their music into a series of new directions. The recent single Annie’s Shoes pairs a loose slacker-rock guitar line to a fluttering of processed beats, and novelty keyboard sound effects, as Maya has an existential crisis, singing, “when I sit and think about it, I wonder why I’m here at all”. Elsewhere Crossword, with its woozy-guitars and DIY-percussion is a beautifully honest account of reconnecting with a father Maya has never truly known, “we hadn’t met in sixteen years and you had nothing to say to me, I always thought you would be there”.
The record’s closing bookend is also fittingly its brightest moment, Alt. Lena. There’s a wistful flow to the music, the easy guitar-line and airy vocal accompanied by the tick of the retro-tinged drum machine. Lyrically it’s a half-remembered story, flickers of memories of the titular Lena who, “loves chocolate milk and sex”, whose free travelling spirit seems to inspire Maya to pursue her own dreams, “we shouted at the moon our intentions for what’s to come, I became a full flower, Lena said I was brave”. In the same way that Bad Week seems to pick up in the middle of the story, Alt. Lena seems to end it at a beginning, Maya jumping in head first, swimming forwards to whatever joy is waiting to be discovered down the line.
Babehoven have long felt like a band on the brink of something fascinating, on Nastavi, Calliope the pieces seem to fall into place like never before, deeply personal and yet universally relatable, musically challenging yet with the raw bones of a pop song lurking underneath. Babehoven are striding into new territory and it’s a place that suits them very well indeed.
Read on for my interview with Maya, where we discuss her Croatian roots, touring plans and why her lyrics cover everything from her deepest rooted trauma to what she ate for breakfast.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Babehoven?
Babehoven is the name I go under as a songwriter. So, really, Babehoven is me in a sense but all the folks who play in the band are also in Babehoven. It feels like a very personal project and something that I identify with quite closely.
FTR: You’re about to release your new EP, Nastavi, Calliope, what can you tell us about recording it?
My partner Ryan and I recorded this EP in a small apartment we rented for a year during the pandemic along the Fayville River in Southern Vermont. Ryan is an exceptional recording engineer and we enjoy coproducing Babehoven albums together. We had a lot of fun with the recording process of Nastavi, Calliope because we allowed ourselves to explore the songs fully, taking many different directions that we hadn’t approached before. The two of us recorded all of the instrumentation together.
FTR: This feels like a very personal record, do you use music to make sense of the world?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that music is how I make sense of the world, but it is certainly an avenue through which I process my life. Many of my lyrics lie in the grey area between sharing my deepest struggles and the mundanity of everyday life; I like the juxtaposition of stinging honesty covering trauma and loss coupled with what I ate for breakfast and how long my hair is.
FTR: What did you do differently compared to previous recording?
We used midi for the first time in recording this EP, which gave us a whole new type of freedom. For example, the choir of voices that comes in during Like Artists Making Offerings would not have been possible without midi during a pandemic (unless we wanted to record a choir socially distanced outside in the middle of winter, that is). We also explored a dancier vibe with some songs — Annie’s Shoes and A Star, for example, have more of a beat-focused sound.
FTR: Who are the influences on Babehoven’s music? What were you listening to when you wrote this record?
Karen Marks, Parquet Courts, Arthur Russell, Duster, and Kraftwerk come to mind as artists who we were thinking of while recording this EP. To be totally honest, I write in a stream of consciousness style and don’t often think of anything while the song comes out. Ryan and I co-produce the songs together and definitely incorporate sounds we’re inspired by during the recording process but it mostly feels subconscious.
FTR: The title of the record is in Croatian, does you music also incorporate influences from the country?
Honestly, not really. I am learning Croatian and learning Balkan singing these days to try to reincorporate an aspect of my biological history that I otherwise had no connection to. Besides that, Croatia doesn’t have much impact on my songwriting.
FTR: It’s obviously a strange world to be releasing the album into, how has the pandemic affected your plans?
The pandemic didn’t really alter the plans of this album. In fact, I feel in a way that the pandemic produced this album as much as we did. We had so much time to work on our craft. In terms of releasing the album, we haven’t considered the pandemic as a hindrance to our path.
FTR: What’s the best way for people to support musicians at this time?
Buy our music and merch on Bandcamp, particularly on Bandcamp Fridays when all sales go directly to the artists. When shows start happening again, come see us live!
FTR: Once you can get back out on the road, what can people expect from the Babehoven live show?
We are now working on expanding our live sound to incorporate a full band. We’ll be playing with a new second guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, and some violin players… Maybe someday soon we’ll even have some horn players on board! I love the sound of a full band so I’m focusing on getting more and more instrumentation involved to fill out the sound of the live show the way the recordings sound.
FTR: Why do you make music?
I make music because it fills me with self love. Making music is part of what makes me want to be myself.
FTR: Do you have any other creative outlets beyond music?
Yes, I knit, embroider, write poetry, draw, paint with watercolors, and cook!
FTR: What are your ambitions for this record? Is music still a viable career?
I would love to start touring soon. I do believe music is still a viable career, though it’s very hard to get the ball rolling sometimes. I am committed to my craft and will continue to forge this path for myself as long as I love it!
Nastavi, Calliope is out July 9th. For more information on Babehoven visit https://www.babehoven.com/.