From Aural Innovations #11 (July 2000)
Last month we reviewed Babylonian Tiles' new CD "Teknicolour Aftermath", and shortly after I was fortunate to have the band visit Columbus, Ohio on their recent tour to support the new disc. In concert Babylonian Tiles gave a potent performance, all the more impressive given that their bass player was unable to join the tour due to an arm injury. The band plays a rockin' brand of psychedelia and Bryna Golden's chanting vocals are cosmically entrancing. Such bands coming through town is rare in Columbus, and still high from the excitement of the Quarkstock 2000 festival the weekend before I was geared up for the performance. The band ran through a great set of songs mostly from the new disc, beginning with the powerhouse "Boulevard", a natural opening number that also leads off the new CD.
Bryna Golden is indeed the Hip Death Goddess that her moniker proclaims, and we made arrangements to get on the phone and chat after the tour was over. During our conversation Bryna talked about the band, the new CD, and the tour.
AI: How did you feel about the tour. Was it a success?
BG: Oh yeah. It seems like every time we go out they keep getting better. We had a great time. The shows went really well. And we met all kinds of really cool people. Part of the enjoyment of touring is all the people that we meet that we normally wouldn't get to see otherwise. Musically we were really happy with the shows. We felt like we were playing even tighter than ever and just came off stage feeling really good about it most of time.
AI: You didn't have your bass player but I thought it worked just great.
BG: When we first found out that our bassist broke his arm we thought, Oh what are we going to do? And it was too late to pull out of the tour. So when we came to the first show there was this feeling that this is gonna work or it's not. And once we got the first show done we realized that everything was going really well, and the sound worked even without the bass. There were only about two songs that we weren't able to play.
AI: Were either of those songs I would know from the new CD?
BG: One of them is "Ballad Of The Hip Death Goddess", which we've become known for doing. And the other one is on the new CD and that's "Reasons For Grey".
AI: So those were songs you could just tell wouldn't work without the bass player.
BG: I think we went over them at soundcheck and realized that they really needed the bass. You're better to stick with what's strong rather than pulling something out that's going to be weaker.
AI: I know the crowd here in Columbus [Ohio] was a bit small. How were the crowds overall at the other shows?
BG: They were pretty good. And most importantly is not just size but response. Even though, like you say, the Columbus crowd was missing, the point to us is we can play to 30 or 50 people and if they're really into it then it's worth it. Playing to 700+ people like we did at the House Of Blues a year ago is great, but playing to a smaller crowd is just as rewarding when the people are there and paying attention and applauding, and they come up to us afterwards and want to know all these things about the band.
AI: I see where the band formed in '89. Have you been the one constant all that time or have some of the current band members been there all along too?
BG: I actually started forming the band in '86. I'm the founder and main songwriter. And our guitar player Tim [Thayer] met up with me in late '87 and we started playing together. But it was in '89... we actually had another drummer for a short while, but by the end of '89 we had Brian [Schreiber]. The three of us are the ones that have been together since '89 playing out. And we have had a few bass players. It seems every time we put out a CD we end up getting a new bass player after they appear on the CD. It's kind of like Spinal Tap and their drummers, we have the disappearing bass players. Actually we kill them and throw them in the closet. So right now we're in the midst of deciding we're probably going to be staying a 3-piece for a while until we get a bass player that we feel works with the band.
AI: Is the new CD out now?
BG: I'm not sure if it's hit the stores yet. There was a mixup at the manufacturer while we were on tour. Something was missing or something like that so they ended up having to send them back so we ended up getting the CD's towards the end of the tour. So I imagine they're now in the process of sending them out to the stores and getting them up on the various internet sites.
AI: You mentioned stores, so I guess Pangea has distribution in terms of "regular" record stores?
BG: It should be in Tower and Virgin and I imagine all the major stores as well as some of the mom and pop stores.
AI: Is this a first for you having a CD with this kind of distribution?
BG: Yeah. We do have two previous CD's but it seemed that they never really got out there the way they should have. And that was one thing Pangea felt when they took us on is that our previous music never really had the chance it deserved.
AI: I notice that the new CD has tracks that seem to have been on the first two CD's.
BG: What happened is, because Pangea felt our previous music didn't get the distribution and promotion it deserved, they were thinking of releasing a "Best of". But what we ended up doing, we wanted to go back in the studio, and we wanted to record some new stuff, which we did. But we ended up re-recording a few tunes that we had already released. And we felt the band had progressed. And we felt some of the songs that we released previously, we didn't quite capture the vibe that we have live. And people would comment they liked the CD's, but live we were so much better. So we went back and re-recorded some of those songs that we felt we really had something to add to. On the other hand there are a few tunes on the first album, like "Rain People", that we felt the first recording was the definitive version so we used that recording as well. But we remastered our older recordings and made them sound a lot better and a lot stronger. So what we ended up with is some of those original recordings, new versions of tunes that are much more representative of what we are, and then the newer material as well.
AI: So you've got a good mix of the earlier stuff that deserves a chance with the audience you might get now, and new stuff that reflects the progress you've made.
BG: Right. And the thing is even the older tunes that we re-recorded, they're things that we're still playing. It's not like they've been and gone. They're still very viable and there's a lot of people that didn't get to hear those recordings and now they're hearing the way they were meant to be.
AI: You had mentioned before that you're trying to reach out beyond the Goth and Darkwave crowd towards the psych, space, and prog rock fans. Were you originally a Goth band and the music evolved toward the more psychedelic elements or was it always there?
BG: I'd have to say it was always there. When I first started going out to clubs and playing in bands, we didn't call it Goth then or even Darkwave. It was like post-punk. That was all part of the scene where I was playing out. It was definitely something I was into and I liked, but I've always gravitated towards psychedelic music. Not having actually grown up in the 60's, I kind of missed that. People turned me on to it and the more I heard the more it was like even though I liked this newer stuff, this older psychedelia was what really grabbed me. And then my band members, they're coming from a place where they're into Zappa, and King Crimson, and Soft Machine, and bands like that. So we all have those influences, whereas the Gothic thing is just kind of another spin to put on it.
AI: Are those the crowds you seem to attract or do you feel like you're getting a varied crowd?
BG: We get a varied crowd. I think a lot of shows that are booked have been in the Goth and Darkwave scene, and somehow it always seems that there's either people from other elements that kind of wander in, and I'm surprised sometimes by the crossover of people that really like what we're doing. I think we caught on in the Goth scene because when I started playing in bands years ago that was the scene I was involved with. So naturally they got turned on to what we were doing, and the dark element in it appealed to them so the word got out. So a lot of times the scene that you hang in is where your original audience starts. But now we're pulling in more and more people from other scenes as well.
AI: You mentioned all the influences your band members have. And it jumped out at me when I was at your web site you have a page listing all the bands you like, and I'm seeing Captain Beefheart, Henry Cow, John Coltrane, and Faust, and Hawkwind. Do you feel like having this eclectic variety has influenced your music?
BG: Definitely. I think the more you listen to the more unique your music is going to sound. People that tend to listen to only one thing, their music shows that. What you saw is only my own personal page. My band members... a lot of those bands they're into as well. But then they have their things that they bring into it. There's so much going on that I think you can't help but come up with a sound that is more unique because you're not relying on one set of influences.
AI: I think you recorded with primary members of Ultimate Spinach and The Amboy Dukes.
BG: We did record with Steve Farmer of The Amboy Dukes. We released a single back in '98 I believe it was. We had originally recorded a cover of a song of his and I was really interested to talk to Steve because I really liked his music and ended up tracking him down and then when he heard what we were doing he really liked it and ended up coming out to record with us. We were originally going to release an album with him as a guest artist. We recorded a number of tracks. But we ran into a dispute with the record label that we were on and we ended up deciding not to complete the project. The tracks were all recorded but we never went in and mixed it. We felt we needed to walk away from working with that label unfortunately. So that was going to be our Journey To The Dark Side Of The Mind album which was to be a tribute to all our psychedelic influences. So really all that came out of the recording sessions with Steve was our collaboration with Shadows On The Wall.
As far as the Ultimate Spinach connection, we haven't actually recorded with Ian Bruce-Douglas. We did a cover of "Hip Death Goddess", which he really liked and had some extremely nice things to say about it, one of which was he said I am the Hip Death Goddess. The Hip Death Goddess was his concept 30-something years ago, and as it says on our web site, he felt that I was the embodiment of his vision that he came up with 30 years ago. And I just felt that it was a real honor to have someone, especially a psychedelic warrior, as he calls himself, and an icon in the scene, bestowing that title on me. So that's how I ended up being known by that name. He pretty much gave me his blessing and told me to use the name and that stuck. And Ian ended up writing the liner notes on our new CD.
AI: Well having one of the pioneers from the 60's saying that and being able to network with these people must be a lot of fun.
BG: Oh yeah. And we like to feel that what we're doing is bringing that whole spirit of 60's psychedelia into what's going on now. And the whole thing is the connection. It kind of bridges the gap.
AI: So because the new CD wasn't available until near the end of your tour is there going to be pressure to tour again soon?
BG: Well we're talking to the label about doing another tour in another part of the country, probably up to the Northwest and maybe into Canada. Having just got back we're still feeling we'd like to catch our breath first. But we would love to go out again.
AI: I see where your mother is a jazz singer. Does having come from a musical family have much to do with your becoming a musician.
BG: I think definitely it had an influence on me. I think I mentioned in my bio on my web site how every activity in the house had a song to go along with it. I grew up around jazz musicians, and rehearsals, and even as a kid on the weekends I'd go out to my mom's gigs and hang with the musicians till 3 in the morning. My mom is a real pro. She's toured, and done television, and recorded with Ramsey Lewis and the likes. It's something I never planned on doing as anything more than for fun. I took piano lessons and all that. But somehow I just kind of got thrown into it at a certain point. And once I started I couldn't go back.
AI: Any other future news you'd like to pass on?
BG: Just want to encourage everyone to get the new CD and look out for us on the next tour.
CLICK HERE to read the review of "Teknicolour Aftermather" that appeared in Aural Innovations #10.
You can visit Babylonian Tiles at their web site.
Listen to sound samples at their Mp3.com web site.
Delve deeper into Bryna's world at her personal web site.