Words by Jonathan Stout
Although Vermont based band, Babehoven, have been releasing music since 2018, the strength and coherence of their newest offering, Nastavi Calliope, feels like a redefining statement of purpose. Band leader, Maya Bon, deals with various personal crises as themes for the songs on the album, but without that knowledge, it’s overall tone can otherwise easily translate to the alienation and bewilderment that most of us experienced throughout the pandemic. From the first line of the album opener, “Bad Week,” where Bon sings: “It’s hard to talk about it being a bad week/When it’s been a bad week/For a long time now,” the overall sentiment becomes automatically relatable to the seemingly never ending bleakness of quarantine and 2020 survival in general. And just as this album arrives after many have been vaccinated and are beginning to return to normal life, there’s also a hesitant sense of hope that the album ultimately leaves the listener with.
Off Shelf: “Nastavi” from your album’s title (which translates to “keep going”) is a very relevant mantra that many of us have had to repeat to ourselves during the darkness of 2020. What motivated you to keep going during the turmoil of the pandemic?
Maya Bon: Songwriting and working at a beautiful bookstore in Vermont kept me going during the pandemic. I took a seven month break from songwriting and recording at the start of quarantine, while I focused on some introspective questions about why I make music. Finally, after conversing with a number of femme musician friends about these questions, I landed on the very real notion that music is part of what makes me want to be me. After this realization, I dove into writing and began recording Nastavi, Calliope within a week’s time. This is all about the same time that I started working at a bookstore, which was very refreshing, as I had been in near complete isolation in Vermont where I knew only my partner and his family. The bookstore opened up a whole new world for me that definitely kept inspiration flowing throughout the duration of quarantine.
OS: The second part of your title, “Calliope,” mainly refers to your family’s pet dog, of the same name, who unfortunately passed away during the writing of the album. I’m sorry for your loss, she was obviously a very important member of your family. You wrote about this loss on a few songs from the album, was this process therapeutic or are these songs difficult for you to sing, from an emotional standpoint? Will it feel weird singing them in front of people?
Maya Bon: Writing songs has helped me process many of the losses and heartaches I’ve experienced in my life; often I’ve found that writing a lyric that’s quite painful to say out loud eventually makes me more comfortable with the “saying” of it on a daily basis. When I find myself unable to move through pain, I tend to bottle up the very things that are hurting me the most, keeping them close to myself in a pressurized way. A lyric can be both painful in subject and sonically pleasant at the same time, thereby allowing a breath to enter into the hurt and loosen up the pressure, if you will. By sharing with an audience, I find that the song is still sad to sing and to hear, but carries an element of relief, of overcoming the feeling of internal pressure to contain, to carry, to hold loss as if it were an identity.
It can sometimes be quite difficult to explain what it feels like to be hurting in the specific way you’re hurting, but if you’re able to encapsulate that feeling in a song, you can approach sharing a more accurate depiction of that feeling that can be held and processed through other surrounding bodies, too.
OS: The material on the album lacks some of the more jangly or uptempo moments on your previous albums; you even rework your song “Lena” from Solemnis to be a low key, dreamy – almost Cure-like – new wave ballad. Is this mainly due to the lyrical subject matter or is this album signaling a new direction?
Maya Bon: Honestly, whatever comes out comes out. It’s less conscious than a signal most times. It’s funny because I actually hear Nastavi, Calliope as a jangly, uptempo record especially when comparing it to Yellow Has a Pretty Good Reputation. Songs like Alt Lena and Annie’s Shoes even feel dancey to me at times.
OS: Even though Nastavi, Calliope certainly has a prevailing sense of melancholy hanging above it, there’s also a pensive positivity that sneaks through the cracks. Are you able to walk away from the subjects you worked through on this album feeling positive or at least at peace?
MB: Yes, I am generally able to find positivity on the day to day level — for me, music helps solidify the processes of letting go.
OS: On the song “Crossword” you sing “I am trying not to live my life based on shoulds.” I was wondering if you could elaborate on that sentiment.
MB: I wrote Crossword in 2017 when I was making a series of bold decisions focused on my own self worth and happiness for the first time. This was somewhat of a mantra for me at the time; I wanted to live my life based off of my ambitions and wants versus what I should or shouldn’t do or feel.
OS: You’re able to create a very full sound even with minimal arrangements on the album. There’s an intimateness to it sometimes associated with lo-fi, but sonically it fills the room with clarity. What was your recording process? Was it in a home studio setting or a more traditional studio?
MB: 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. 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.
We have now worked together on many recording projects so we’ve gotten better and better at communicating, at exploring, and at accomplishing our goals together. I feel that this EP is an example of ways that we allowed ourselves to fully realize the scope of potential for each song. We had so much time on our hands that we were able to go down wormholes of ideas. Plus, we started using midi on Nastavi, Calliope, which has opened up a totally new door to us. Midi enables us to find almost any sound we’d like to add to a song and control every aspect of it.
OS: Who sings back up on “Like Artists Making Offerings”? Why did you choose only this song to have backing vocals?
MB: Ryan, my partner and co-producer sings back up on “Like Artists”. In my mind, I heard the chorus of the song with deeper registered background vocals and Ryan was the only one there to be on the recording! I also love his voice so it worked out well.
OS: In reference to you getting in touch with your Croatian ancestry, you mentioned that you have recently taken up Balkan singing. Besides attending classes with a language tutor, do you take specialized singing lessons to learn this style of singing? Is this something you plan on incorporating in your future music?
MB: Yes, I take specialized Balkan vocal lessons. Who knows! At this point I don’t have any plans to incorporate Balkan music into my songwriting, but most aspects of my life have their ways of seeping into the songs.
OS: Now that more people are getting vaccinated, gigs are starting to come back for bands and many are even going on tour this summer. Do you have any tour dates scheduled as of now?
MB: We don’t have any tour dates as of now but we’d love to start touring soon! We’re building up a very full live band here in Hudson, NY that we’re super excited to share. Soon, we’ll be playing lots of shows I’m sure.