[Interview] Exclusive interview with Babal

Dear readers, we have the opportunity to interview a band that has been prominent in the UK-
made Prog/Art Rock scene for the past few years, with top-notch record releases and a new album due out in September 2022. Please welcome Babal.

Hi, how are you?

Rob: Good thanks! Really happy with the reviews we are getting for our latest album ! Thank you for the great review from Progressive Rock Journal! Currently working on new material for our next album.

You are among the leading exponents of UK Prog in recent years, where does your passion for this genre come from?

Rob: we have always played from the heart rather than follow a genre as such – many reviewers have difficulty placing us in a specific genre. I have always really liked music that pushes the boundaries in some way and speaks to me. Technical proficiency just for the sake of it does not move me – it has to have passion. I personally prefer the term progressive music – those bands in the early 70’s that defined progressive music at the time always stay with me and I certainly agree that by the mid 70’s a lot of prog was becoming β€œbloated” – punk and new wave was like a breath of fresh air. I started off playing blues and soul then moving on to rock/jazz fusion. I guess the band that has really defined progressive music for me would be King Crimson . Meeting Karen in the 90’s opened up a whole new vista of working together – I have always been very much into lyrics – Karen delves deep into subject material which looks at how we are as people , saying things that few venture to say – she is a poet as well as lyricist.

We recently reviewed your ninth full-length ‘Who Will I Be When I Leave’ released in September 2022, what can you tell us about this new work?

Rob: we usually start by recording together by improvising as a band , that’s Karen , me and Jon and also Paul Smith who has been playing bass for us for many years – sometimes I will only leave Karen’s vocal from the original impro and rebuild around the nuances of her vocal – this is a great way of working when you are working with such an amazing talent as Karen . Other times the bass and drums will be retained and I will work in new guitar parts that keep the arrangement moving. I use guitar synths a lot as well as the usual guitar sounds – all the synth sounds come from my guitar – there are no keyboards involved. The concept around this album comes from it’s title β€œWho Will I Be When I Leave?” – which can be understood at many levels – for example , what happens when I leave this earth, to more rooted stuff like leaving the saftey and foundation of your world and starting afresh, of letting go of status – basically the majority
of the lyrics are formed around this phrase in some ways – for example – if I could live my life again how would it turn out, trapped by the constrictions of those narcissists who rule this planet, that exploit it regardless of the harm that is caused in the name of greed.

A mixture of different genres and styles between Prog, Psychedelia, Space and Art Rock, how would you describe the sound of the album?

It’s Babalicious! All the elements above are in there as well as some jazz/blues tinges particularly in Karen’s phrasing. There is never any conscious effort to emulate anyone – we love all good music no matter what category or genre it may be defined as – rigidity is restrictive. The sound is also defined by what we have lived through over the past few years – Karen had stage 4 blood cancer in 2019 which required extensive and brutal chemo followed by a stem cell transplant – the treatment was sucessful and she is well and in remission. Just as she was recovering I got stage 3 melanoma requiring 2 operations and immunotherapy for a year. We have not been able to perform live for 4 years now, obviously covid did not help – we are hoping to return to live work next year though we have to be careful as we are both immuno compromised so covid is very dangerous for us. Throughout our treatment we have always been able to record our musical thoughts and feelings which reflect our journey over the past few years – this album and our last album Spirit In a Meat Suit reflect that journey.

There are some collaborating artists on the new album, what did they bring to the sound of the album?

The only collaborating artist on this album was Paul Smith who plays double bass on 2 tracks – Paul has contributed to many of our albums over the years and is a good friend

This album, like the previous ones, is characterised by very sophisticated lyrics and sounds, what are the themes contained?

Karen is a poet as well as lyricist so many of the lyrics evolve from her poems – we feel that words have some connection to how we see ourselves (or not) and coming to terms with living in a world which feels harsh and uncaring – for example, the rift between the very rich and the poor is growing ever wider. In saying that it is not all gloom and doom , it is also redemptive and carries a lot of hope. Without hope there is nothing… I am constantly searching for new sounds and ways to play things differently.

You have released nine studio albums, how has your sound evolved over the years?

We have never followed standard verse /chorus/bridge song structures – the sound and arrangements, singing style changes as each song develops. Earlier songs may not have been as β€œcomplex” as they are now – I like the arrangement to be constantly flowing and adapting to the lyrical flow – cinematic in a way – you have to go with our music – it can take a bit of repeat listening to get the full context sometimes. Because Karen, Jon and myself have been working musically together for many years the interflow between us has become very intuitive – people are surprised if we share an improvisation as it sounds so cohesive and flowing.

Many of your fans and our readers wonder if there will be a chance to hear your music live, do you have any plans in this regard?

We are hoping to start playing live in 2023 – hopefully some gigs will come up soon. Before June 2018 we played extensively and were well known not only for our music but for the whole live presentation was very important – in how we looked and the energy coming from us was intense. Coming on stage in jeans and t shirt does not do it for me. Checkout our videos on youtube!

Prog is a sophisticated and rather niche music nowadays, how do you see the future of the genre?

There are a lot of new bands who are breaking into new territories which I see as progressive, rather than trying to emulate the great bands from the golden age of prog, for example , I love Black Midi and Black Country New Road. Prog encompasses a whole range of styles now which is great and for me is a regeneration of pushing the boundaries which I felt a lot of the early progressive bands were doing , for example , Khan and Egg. Bands like King Crimson, early Genesis with Peter Gabriel, Van der Graff Generator, Gentle Giant – also the Kraut rock bands of that era like Neu! and Can. Also the music of Frank Zappa in all its shapes and forms I would class as progressive i.e. breaking down musical barriers. David Bowie is another fine example, as well as Talking Heads – Adrian Belew is one of my favourite guitarist.

What advice would you give to young artists approaching this musical genre?

Stay true to yourself and the music that comes from your soul – don’t deviate or be tempted to follow formats which seem popular. Be true to your music rather than chase fame for the sake of it – to us it does not matter how many people β€œget” our music – its about creating your own voice and sound as any artist should – to follow their muse.

The Babal project has confirmed itself as one of the best realities of current Prog, do you have plans for other record releases in the future?

We are always working on new material , improvising , playing together, creating new
arrangements and soundscapes. We try to put out an album once a year.

The last question as usual I leave you free to address any topic not mentioned in the previous questions.

Thank you for giving us the space to unpack our thoughts! Music is the healing force of the universe. We live in a fractured world and it so important to let music and other art forms into our life. Materialism is not the answer – the world is enthralled with Bread and Circuses while the world slowly dies.

I thank Babal for the interview, the opportunity to review the new album, and wish them all the best for the continuation of their career.

Read our review of their new album here: https://progrockjournal.com/review-babal-who-will-i-be-when-i-leave/

Babal |Official Website|Facebook Page|Twitter|Spotify|YouTube Channel|

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Author: Jacopo Vigezzi

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