It’s fitting that the Babies, one of most fun bands to listen to right now, formed on the way to a house party. “Cassie [Ramone] and I hadn’t seen each other in a year and a half when we ran into each other on the way to a party and we decided to pick up some beer,” Kevin Morby, who handles guitar and vocals, says. “Cassie called them ‘road sodas,’ and I thought that sounded like fun, so we decided to start a band with that name.”
Morby, bassist for folk rockers Woods, and Ramone, who handles guitar in Brooklyn sweethearts Vivian Girls, didn’t end up using the name, but the pair—longtime pals and former roommates—did form a band. The Babies started playing together in 2009, landing on bills at New York DIY venues and releasing self-made tapes and singles of their songs, including jangly young-punks-in-love anthems like the infectious “Meet Me In The City.” The plan was just to have some fun.
“Initially I just wanted to play house parties and punk shows again,” Ramone, who shares songwriting, vocal and guitar duties with Morby, says. “Both Vivian Girls and Woods had grown out of the place where it was okay to play punk shows in lofts.”
But the band caught on. After a spate of small releases, the Babies dropped a self-titled, 2011 album and hit the road, touring the States and Europe. The band’s straightforward sound and the charismatic coupling of Morby and Ramone’s vocals drew comparisons to Wild Gift-era X and elevated the Babies beyond side-project status. It was that time on the road that gave the band—featuring newcomer Brian Schleyer on bass and Ramone’s beau Justin Sullivan on drums—the material and chops to record their debut album Our House on the Hill. “We had a handful of songs we’d been playing on the road,” Morby explains. “They were all written at the same time and had similar vibes to one another, so we went into the studio with those and worked from there.”
Ramone adds: “It was a really good opportunity for us to flesh out a lot of the songs that were going to be on the record. About half of the songs we had played live a lot and the other half were studio creations.”
The album’s dozen songs—from the lovesick opener “Alligator,” which shows off shades of mid-’90s K Records pop sensibility, to the shambolic drive of the first single, “Moonlight Mile”—are stronger than those on previous releases. The album itself has a cohesion as well, an in addition to simply fitting together, the songs stay interesting to listen to together, even after repeated spins. “Our house party mentality was a 2009 type of thing for us,” Ramone says. “It’s kind of changed now. We’re obviously still into DIY and would play a house party if it was the right house party, but we don’t do it as much as we used to.” It seems, in other words, that the Babies have grown up. At least a bit.
The Babies’ Our House on the Hill is out now via Woodsist.