Borders are often thought of as restrictive and limiting, separating one thing from another. For Edmonton indie pop band Baby Jey, they are anything but: borders for Baby Jey are meant to be played with, meant to be blended and blurred. Borders are not only to be crossed but to be inhabited.
At its core, Baby Jey is about these kinds of liminal spaces and experiences. First, the co-writers of the band are both dual citizens: lead singer Jeremy Witten is a citizen of Canada and the Netherlands and co-writer, producer, and bassist Dean Kheroufi is a citizen of Canada and Algeria. Both co-writers are also bilingual: Witten’s brother is Deaf, so his family communicated in American Sign Language and spoke English in the household, while Kheroufi grew up speaking both English and French. And since both co-writers of the band were raised in homes that embraced differing cultural worlds, one wonders whether this fact has something to do with their songwriting–that both songwriters have always been drawn to differing musical worlds, often exploring places where musical genres can mix and meld.
Jeremy Witten was raised in a family that attended the Edmonton Folk Music Festival every summer and he began his musical career as a singer-songwriter, only to end up hosting a punk and new wave radio show in college. Kheroufi started out playing bass in a jazz band but eventually came to embrace a career as a songwriter deeply inspired by soul music. All of these musical encounters have been formative for Baby Jey. Where do jazz and soul overlap? Where do folk and rock overlap? The exploration of these questions has led to the eventual sound the band embraces today.
In 2018, the band released Someday Cowboy, an album whose cover depicts the band in neon green and pink cowboy suits. Sonically, the album featured a unique blend of shimmery synths and pulsing rhythms with lap steel guitar and jangling mandolins. That same year, Witten and Kheroufi crossed yet another border when both songwriters moved to New York City for work and school. In 2019, Witten accompanied The Bobby Tenderloin Universe as a tambourinist on their American tour with Orville Peck. Meanwhile, Kheroufi has become the center of a Venn Diagram of three other bands. At the same time three additional touring members have been added to Baby Jey: Cameron O’Neill on drums, Maria Martire on synth, bass and vocals, and Phil Holtby on guitar–all of this begging another question about the borders of the band and its composition.
Jump to 2023 and the band are back in their hometown of Edmonton, Alberta with a brand new album, Crop Circles. Crop Circles is more danceable than their previous album. The songs have stronger hooks, and the instrumentation is more electronic and less acoustic, with many drum machines and synthesizers. There is still pedal steel guitar on the record, which has become a recognizable part of their sound, but there is no acoustic guitar, banjo, or mandolin as there was on the last record. Crop Circles is like Someday Cowboy but with glitter and bigger production. Someday Cowboy mused on the cultural motif of the “space cowboy.” On Crop Circles, the band has lost their cowboy hats, though there still is a continuing fascination with a meeting place of the cosmic and the rural. Crop circles are always found in the countryside, though they suggest a profound cosmic connection.
Crop Circles takes on a darker approach to their infectious pop melodies that feel as if they were born out of the middle of a deserted plain. On top of that, the album is interspersed with old radio interludes from when Alberta farmers began finding crop circles in their fields in the 1980s. And yet, the band’s fascination with “crop circles” moves beyond their Canadian prairie context, floating high above the stratosphere, reaching for the ones who formed crop circles in the first place–with an impressive arsenal of spacey synthesizers and an array of cosmic samples. In one song, the band brags how they’ll teach you to “Swing Like This,” — but will you learn by listening to the soundtrack of honky tonk swing or new jack swing? These questions will remain unanswered, just like the origin of crop circles themselves. Such is the intrigue of Baby Jey: a band whose members blend their influence of creating many of these songs in the urban landscape of New York combined with the return to the vast farmlands of Alberta where it all began.
Baby Jey have played concerts throughout Canada and the United States, sharing stages with Michael Rault, Jessica Jalbert of Faith Healer, and Berlin indie rock band Fenster. Baby Jey’s sophomore album Someday Cowboy received music video and single premieres in Exclaim, Earmilk, and Indie88, as well as coverage in New York City’s Deli Mag, the Edmonton Journal, Obscure Sound, BeatRoute Magazine, Vue Weekly and many other publications. Someday Cowboy hit #1 on college radio stations both in Canada and the United States, and it also charted on the NACC Top 100 (North American College & Community Radio Chart).
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