Sibling Band Bailen Is a Jewish Power Trio

Guitarist Julia Bailen sat down with Hey Alma to talk about the group's new album "Tired Hearts."

Bailen is your new favorite Jewish family band. With twins David and Daniel on the drums and bass, younger sister Julia on guitar and all three singing magical harmonies, this indie trio is poised to steal your hearts with their endearing sibling banter and captivate your ears with their awesome music.

Hey Alma sat down with Julia Bailen to talk about what it’s like being in a sibling band, how growing up Jewish together impacted their sound and their ethos, and what listeners can get excited about when you see them on tour and hear their sophomore album “Tired Hearts,” available digitally May 5th.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How would you introduce yourself, your band Bailen and its style?

Bailen is a power trio sibling band. I think the most accurate genre description I can give you is indie-rock-slash-folk-pop. We’re a very dynamic and eclectic band, and we’re not so constrained by genre. We’re vocal-centric but take risks musically and sonically. There’s a little bit of something for everyone, I think.

What is your dynamic like as siblings? How do you make being in a band together work?

I mean, it’s crazy. It’s a mad social experiment to be in a band with your siblings. It’s definitely a double-edged sword — there’s no filter, because they’re your siblings, but even if you hurt their feelings, you know that you’ll still love each other at the end of the day. So, the songwriting collaborative process is very blunt and kind of no-nonsense.

We don’t have a recipe for songwriting, typically. We all write on our own and then bring things to the table and edit everything together. We all have slightly different musical tastes, so the collaborative process is very important to how the sound comes out. Because we spent so much time apart during the pandemic, a lot of the songs that we went into the most recent recording process with came out very differently on the other side. We have demos of the songs that are basically unrecognizable from their form — like Pokémon.

There are some songs that don’t sit well with one of us that another is really, really connected to, and that causes a lot of tension. But we’ll really fight for some of these songs, and usually, it makes it come out better. It’s definitely fierce.

As a band and as siblings, we’re deeply resourceful— very self-sufficient. And we’re all our own people with pretty different skill sets. Daniel does a lot of the tour managing for us. He’s very good at saving money and making money on the road for us. David went to film school and is very good at technical stuff, mixing a lot of our demos and a couple of songs on the record, and making our music videos.

On stage, you have a very endearing banter between three of you. Does this rapport come naturally from a lifetime together, or do you ever feel like you have to get up there and perform your relationship?

We’re so weird, which is great. Our shows are not a huge production. It’s like a clown car: It’s the three of us bringing our whole lives out of a minivan to set up a show and put it on for you. One of the things I love the most is how off-the-cuff and casual we are. Our shows are an extremely personal experience. I think we come on stage exactly the way we are. We’re dynamic people and it’s not always the same every night.

You’re a Jewish family. Did you end the first leg of your ongoing tour in time for Passover on purpose?

Actually, we didn’t we didn’t plan to end the tour around then on purpose, but we did celebrate with a lovely sit-down. My mom nailed the brisket this year. She did a slamming job. I do not keep kosher for Passover because I’m a heathen, but I love Passover.

I have to hit up my synagogue, actually. They want us to come play music. My parents have a chamber music series there; we just went to hear them play. We’re like, low-key their resident musician family.

Your synagogue’s website has an excited post from several years ago announcing a Bailen band concert — you’re clearly local celebrities. How involved have you three been with your parents’ chamber music group?

Literally three days ago, my parents had a concert there. They played “Rhapsody in Blue” with their string quintet and Daniel played bass. That was really cool.

Your parents are also professional musicians. How has that influenced you?

In every way, really. We wouldn’t even exist if they weren’t musicians because they met in school. Our mom is a classical flutist and our dad is a classical cellist. He had originally been a guitar player and singer-songwriter all through college. He is a beautiful fingerstyle guitar player and taught me guitar starting when I was seven. The boys were already playing in bands at that point — I didn’t really take it that seriously until I was 15 or 16 and joined the band.

We grew up in a house where our parents were always rehearsing, coaching and playing a lot of chamber music. The kind of collaboration and the musicality of chamber groups was really formative — plus hearing the powerful melodies of Mendelssohn and Schumann and all these incredible composers.

I really love classical music. I wish more people listened to it. When we’re taught literature in school — books by Charles Dickens or like Jane Austen — we’re often not allowed to experience their sense of humor or let them be dynamic in the way that they really are. I think classical music suffers from the same thing. Classical music has a great sense of humor. It’s very lively and beautiful. I wish more people gave it credit for how actually rock and roll it is. Some of Mendelssohn’s quartets go so hard, I have trouble staying in my seat.

Were you a Jewish household growing up?

Oh, yeah. We were all b-mitzvah’d. I wouldn’t say we’re terribly religious, but I really like being a part of the community. We all went to [Hebrew school] through middle school. It’s a part of our lives, for sure; we are full New York Jews. “Seinfeld” is an essential part of our religion. That’s what we watch on tour — whenever we have a second in the Airbnb and we’re like, “alright, let’s watch something,” it’s always “Seinfeld.” On a recent drive to Portland on this tour, we listened to like six episodes of “Seinfeld” in the car. Like, we just listened to it.

How does it feel to be compared to a certain other popular trio of Jewish siblings with excellent harmonies?

Haim came out when we were touring with Hozier in LA and we sang a song together at the end of the show — it was amazing. I’m a big-time fan, I love Haim. They were one of my first concerts! The other day, we had somebody say, which was a first, that we’re like the Jewish Hanson. But I do think about the Haim comparison, since they’re the Mecca of sibling bands right now. If they want us to open for them, I would be there in a heartbeat — so let’s put that out in the world.

Were any Jewish musical repertoires a part of your musical upbringing?

There’s some Ladino music that snuck in. I would love to learn more about that, honestly. And Daniel’s a huge fan of “Prince of Egypt.” We love that soundtrack — it’s a beautiful soundtrack.

We’ve also always really maintained that Drake’s Jewish side really speaks out in his music. You could really chant some haftorah over Drake songs and it would actually slap. Somebody’s really got to give it a try.

Are there any distinctly Jewish values that have shaped your life?

Having grown up in a Reform Jewish way, one of the values that I was taught is to constantly question your teachings and formulate your own thought. My takeaway from any Jewish education that I had, aside from religion and spirituality, was that this is one of the most important values. And I just I love that. I think it’s very rare in religion to get to spend so much time really pondering and questioning your teachings.

You finally are back on a big solo tour for the first time since the before times — how does it feel, how does that work for you?

It’s so great. We have the best fans. Very cool, lovely, warm, gentle souls. It just makes the whole thing so worth it. It’s a beautiful reminder of why we do this. It’s been so great to be back out and reconnecting with people and seeing how many people have just been waiting to see us again.

Releasing music is really hard. It’s very emotional to say goodbye to something that’s like been yours and to see how people respond to it. I came to the table for “Tired Hearts” remembering you can’t expect anything from the world. I’m just doing it all for myself more now, and so I feel a lot stronger, more mentally prepared.

What can folks look forward to learning about Bailen as a band when “Tired Hearts” releases May 5th?

I’m a B-side girl, I really love the B-sides on this record. It’s sonically a very different record from our last record. We used a much softer, much proximate and tender part of our voices. We were trying to capture some androgyny, especially in the boys, by using more falsetto. There’s a lot of electronics and synth, but also heavy guitar lines and piano. There’s really a lot of bops, it’s a very fun record. And it feels personal.

Jason Flatt

Jason Flatt (he/him) is an educator working with music, food, and writing to strengthen communities and invite justice. When he’s not laboring over what to write in his bio, he’s probably playing a different game of “on the other hand” that would put even Tevye the Dairyman to shame.

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