It's been a slow burn for West London's alt-pop band Babeheaven, but following the release of their debut album Home For Now, vocalist Nancy Andersen feels like they're finally at the point that they've been trying to reach for the last four years.
“It’s nice to be back,” beams Nancy Andersen as our conversation draws to a close. “It’s nice to talk to people about the music again. It hasn’t felt so exciting in a while to discuss stuff, and have a full body of work… It feels amazing because it’s got the first song we ever wrote, up to the newest song we’ve written, and it feels very special to be able to have that moment of my life in a box on my shelf — literally — in a record.”
Andersen is speaking about the debut album that was recently released by her dreamy alt-pop band Babeheaven. As she sits beneath an azure blue poster of celestial bodies that feature on the album cover for Home For Now, she is a flurry of excitement — operating in effervescent bursts and going on tangent after tangent. Whilst the album itself is by no means centred around the after-effects of lockdown, it is deeply rooted in a sense of introspection and self-discovery. There’s a vulnerability in the music which lies in direct contrast to the person who sits in front of me today.
Serendipitous are the beginnings of Babeheaven — vocalist Andersen met her musical collaborator Jamie Travis at football classes that her father used to coach when they were both just kids. Whilst they’d wax and wane out of each other’s lives, over the years, their friendship was eventually cemented when coincidentally working on the same street as adults. Though, how much can they really owe to coincidence? Once their musical endeavours got underway, and became more than just two friends killing time, there was always the idea of creating an album in mind. It wasn’t until they were afforded the luxury of time, this year, that the ball truly got rolling.
Soothing trip-hop melodies and use of organic field recordings create a lush soundscape for the listener to find solace in. As a new layer of vulnerability is uncovered in each listen, you feel closely connected to Andersen’s stories and the timeless relatability of the human condition. As such, Home For Now also takes on serendipitous meaning. Home is a transient place for both Andersen and Travis — it is an amalgamation of memories and cyclic happenstances that have brought the duo together, time after time.
BEST FIT: Congratulations on the release of your debut album — it's been a very long time coming. How has the reaction been? Would you say that it is scarier to have released it under the circumstances of a global pandemic?
ANDERSEN: I think it's less scary than I anticipated. I had a lot of pressure in my head about what I thought putting an album out would be, so it's kind of nice that it is done. Under the circumstances, it's a bit lame. I feel like we normally would be touring [and doing] that kind of stuff which is actually the fun of being in a band — not being able to do that, I’ve found quite difficult. In terms of making the album, it was kind of perfect because I couldn't do anything else. It was the right timing for that.
Luckily, Simon, one of the producers we mostly worked with on this album, was very much like: “If you've seen people, just tell me and then we can go from there” and was very open to working with us through the whole of the first lockdown. He was like: “I just want to be cautious.” I really appreciated that. It made everything work and run really well because we just had time. There wasn't pressure and there wasn't so much on our shoulders. It feels good! I read one horrible — really horrible — review of it, but I actually quite enjoyed it. You can't read all good stuff! They were like: “Even the name Babeheaven is bad…This is the epitome of coffee shop music for a new trendy coffee shop”, and I was like, I'm not upset, that's fine. Everyone can have an opinion! But it's been really nice, it's been really well received.
It's probably quite humbling as well because you might get a bit big headed if you're constantly getting amazing reviews…
I like it all! I'm open to everything. If it’s a bad review — I’ll read it. If it’s a good review — I’ll read it. A bad review is really interesting. I mean, they really say stuff. I really enjoyed reading it even though it kind of stayed in my head. I guess that's the internet, though. Everyone has a place to say what they want, and I respect that. I appreciate it.
What is your personal relationship with music? How did you come to using your voice as an instrument and what was the thought process behind making music with Jamie in a professional capacity?
My dad writes music. He was in bands when he was young and has been writing TV jingles and music for TV shows for the whole of my life. So, I always thought of music in that way, as obviously I'd been used to listening to music. I’d go to his studio and just sit while he did that. Most weekends, that was what I did. So, I've been used to that aspect of it and understood [what it was like] being the studio, but I don't think I understood that I could do it as a profession — I still am wrapping my head around that idea. I think I've been kind of entrenched in music the whole of my life, but then doing it as more than just us having fun has been quite an odd thing to get my head around. I think that generally making music in this day and age is different from the ‘90s, because it's probably harder to make a living from it. So, like that aspect of it. I've always found it quite confusing, but I'm definitely doing it now which I didn't think I would be. It's amazing — it feels good — but, I mean, it did get very serious and now it’s become a real thing. I don't know what the moment was when it when it became more real. I feel like the album being out is like the start.
For anyone starting out in the music industry, the idea of a first album is always in mind. So, I guess once you've ticked that box you do end up in the mindset that this is your job, and something that you now just get to do all of the time.
I mean, I think that's probably why I was pushing for us to wait longer and longer, but actually, now that it's out I’m like why didn’t we put this out ages ago; we should have just done this straightaway! But I appreciate having the time. I'm really happy with it. In terms of singing, I guess I always mimic people. I love learning songs off by heart and everyone can vouch for it — I’m always singing a song, just one line, because I get really bad earworms and I’m obsessed with repeating things. I think I taught myself to sing just from copying other people.
"I find the whole idea of me being on stage just hilarious, so then it all becomes like an in-joke with myself."
As someone who grew up around music, and had been singing for years, what was the decision behind taking your first singing lesson just before the first lockdown?
I'm lucky because I've never had to sing take a singing lesson, and that's amazing, but before lockdown, we've gone on tour, and I've had the same thing that always happens — stage fright. We were on tour with Rosie Lowe, and my manager was like, “She has an amazing singing teacher. It's not to teach you how to do scales or anything like that, it's more so you can feel comfortable on stage.” So, I went with a very open mind, and it was almost like therapy. He watched me sing for five minutes and was like, “You know that you haven't really breathed the whole way through this?” And I was like, what?! He told me to just walk around the room, and I was so uptight, I was stood by a piano and he was like: “Just walk around the room and sing what you see in the room.” Because I'm so obsessed with hitting the right notes and making sure everything sounds perfect, I kind of lose the joy of it, so it was nice to try and figure out how to find joy in performing and singing. I know I have it and I would enjoy doing it, but in the moment, I won't breathe. So, that was really interesting, and I really liked it a lot — here's the thing — it was like having therapy! It's kind of crazy.
It's interesting to say that because breathing goes back to meditation. We breathe all of the time, but don't really realise that we're doing it…
I never thought about it! He was like, “I can assume from meeting you today that within 24 hours before the show, your breathing gets really fucked up.” I get really bad migraines because I’m so nervous and he said that that's going to give me a migraine because I literally haven't breathed properly for 24 hours.
When you are performing, do you feel like you're on autopilot?
In some ways, I mean, I like to think I'm not an auto pilot, because you can't really be [because] there's so much that can go wrong. Luckily, when you're playing with a band, you are so used to playing each other. So, we were talking about our last headline show, which was Bussey Building last year, apparently I just missed like loads of verses and courses. I was just so nervous that I must have just messed up loads of the songs. I was talking to Luka and Jamie about it and they were like, “Yeah, you were just crazy”, but luckily, we've got a good band they know what’s going on and they can stick with you.
Some songs like "Friday Sky", when I sing it, I just I know it so well that I don't have to think about anymore. Suddenly I wake up and I'm like, where am I? Okay I’m back! It's not so much autopilot, but between songs is when everything starts really coming together. I'm on stage making jokes and no one could hear them, so I'm just laughing at them by myself, looking around the band who are laughing at the joke because they understood it, but no one else is did. It’s almost like a stand-up routine. I mean, I enjoy all of it. I think it's also fun; it's hilarious. I find the whole idea of me being on stage just hilarious, so then it all becomes like an in-joke with myself.
The album was created during lockdown, and as you said earlier, it's a blessing to be afforded that much time to do exactly what you want. Was it stressful to share and record your ideas whilst being cautious of the lockdown rules?
We weren't planning on the album; it kind of came in response to lockdown. We were supposed to be on tour in America and doing lots of shows when our manager called us halfway through like: “You're just wasting time if we don’t do this now, so let's just do it”. We'd done a couple of sessions just before lockdown started — I find it really hard writing when I’m not in the room with everyone — I think most people find it really easy, but I like to be there. “In My Arms” was the first song we wrote at the very beginning of lockdown, and it took us to the very end of lockdown to write it because we started writing and sending things back and forth between each other. I mean, we didn't write all together straight away, we waited quite a while as we were super cautious. Three-quarters of the way through we're like, “Let's just get back in the studio!” Also, Jamie has always lived about a five-minute walk away from me, so I know if he's locked in his house and I’m locked in my house, we can go and see each other. I mean, I was very careful about the rules.
We did a little bit of back and forth but I find it so hard. That song was like a proper journey. I think it’s the longest we took writing songs. We wrote the first verse then changed everything; all the beats, all the backing track. Everything just got changed over and over again — even the guitar solo. It was like a week before the whole album was meant to mixed and we wanted to put a guitar solo in, and Simon was like: “I cannot add anything else. There's got to be a point where we stop!” That was [during] the biggest lockdown. It was like a relay race where we were passing everyone stuff all round. It was really a lot.
Topically, it definitely doesn't seem like a lockdown album even though it’s quite introspective and retrospective; diving into love from many different angles whilst dealing with anxiety and self-love...
Like you say, I didn't think it was good to write a lockdown album. Van Morrison’s written a bunch of lockdown songs and it’s so crazy but we didn't want to write any of those. I think I'm just quite introspective anyway so the first lockdown didn’t bother me that much —actually, I had an amazing time. The weather was good, I live in a very nice house, and I was watching really great films and listening to great music. You know, I did all the banana breads and sourdoughs – I didn’t really do that stuff – but I had a good time! I don’t think it affects the music, it just meant that we had time and space.
I feel like because the album is called Home For Now, people thought it's about lockdown, but actually, the name is completely irrelevant to that. It's kind of just how I felt; I think both how me and Jamie felt at that moment where we had to name the album. I was just thinking about words that I wanted to put together and Home For Now seems like it's just quite like us actually. The album cover — which we were trying to figure out the same time — I was just thinking about putting things together so it's like a box which opens. Inside the box, in all those cubby holes, there's all things that we've had and have carried with us when moving from home to home. So, the whole cover and title was all inspired by that.
You’ve spoken about coming to terms with being a person of colour and performer in an alternative band, and learning how to be comfortable with occupying that space. In light of the BLM movement that was going on over the past few months, would you be comfortable talking about whether there was any of these struggles in your upbringing, and how the past few months have helped you go through that process of accepting this.
I grew up in West London — my mum passed away when I was young — but she's the black side of my family. I felt quite isolated from that side of my family and kind of had to come to terms of being who I am quite a lot later in my life. Because I didn't have that figure teaching me who I was and how to be in the world; how I should act or what I should be doing — which is kind of quite liberating when you're young. When you get older and start realising things, it kind of changes and you start realising that things might be a little bit different for me. I think in terms of being in a band and being the front woman — having the backing band as all white guys — I think people didn't really understand what it was, how we want to be seen, and what we were trying to make.
It's kind of made things quite confusing, because everyone always wants to put us in a [category]. You want to categorise music when you hear it, and when you see it, even more. I never thought of it as a hold back but then one day I kind of woke up and I was like, maybe it would be easier if I was just like a white girl or white guy standing in the front of this band? People would completely understand what it that we were doing, and it's so boring, but that's how people look at stuff. They see it and want to look at me and be like, “She makes R&B. She's curvy; she's brown — that's an R&B girl.” And I'm like, No, not at all. Not that I'm not interested in that, I love it, but I don't want to be completely categorised and put in that space.
"One day I kind of woke up and I was like, maybe it would be easier if I was just like a white girl or white guy standing in the front of this band..."
I think it's interesting. I feel like, when we were writing the album and the Black Lives Matter protests [were] happening, we started writing a song which was "Swimming up River" — that was a moment where there's so much in the media, and it was really upsetting. I was talking to my friends about everything, and we wrote that song. It’s kind of a response to not being a allowed into like an alternative — well, not not allowed, but just like the door being slightly closed, and a little bit harder to get open just because of the way I look. I mean, I don't want to use it as a holdback because everyone has to work hard, but you do have to work a tiny bit harder if you want to be accepted into that world — it’s just not so accessible — I don't think in the UK anyway. I feel like maybe in America with stuff like Afropunk, there's more space for it. Whereas here, there isn't really yet, I hope one day there will be.
There's a whole thing with the MOBO Awards going on now where they’re trying to get alternative category into it. I was speaking to someone today about what they think and they said, “Because rock and roll is of white origin”, and I was like, “It’s not completely! It’s all from black music and black history.” I feel like most genres of music you listen to come from a lot of listening to music of black origin. Just because it's only white guys singing it, they don't want to put it into their categories. I think it's been it's quite confusing; life, isn't it? Without having my mum to kind of show me how to be in the world, I’ve kind of had to create what I wanted to be in the world, which was liberating, but now at an age you kind of wake up and you start speaking to your friends; you have to kind of create your own identity — it’s been quite interesting.
What are your thoughts on how the music industry has reacted to all of that. Do you think there are opportunities for us to create a better future in terms of representation?
Well, I think that there has to be I feel like the whole of this year has been a moment of everyone being like, “Ok, now you have to really open up and understand what's going on.” I'm hopeful for the future. Always I think there's no point in not being hopeful and positive about everything, because there's always gonna be a change, but I don't know. The music industry is a funny thing. I don't really understand it. I feel like I'm not really that much part of it. We've always been completely independent. We've never been with a label. So, I'm kind of on the fringes looking at it. We've kind of made our own path, but I'm hopeful for a bit of change. I think that there's gonna have to be an acceptance of alternative black music. There's so much of that in the UK — it's huge! There's a huge scene and it could be celebrated, and instead, it's kind of ignored.
How much of your music is influenced by the outside world as opposed to your own personal experiences?
I think it's very personal — both of us listen to references, but I feel like the mood that we're getting true to both who we are and where we're going. The thing that I think is nice about the album is, we've been trying to get to this point musically, and like sonically, for a long time; really [trying to] nail the sound that we wanted. Now, I feel like we've got there, but it's taken a long time to get to this point. But I mean, I don't know, how is it personal to me? We’re just kind of writing what we want to write. In terms of production, and writing the chords and chord progressions; we'll just sit together, he'll write a chord progression, and I'll be like, “I'm not sure about that”, and we'll work around with each other and try and get something that we both really enjoy. But it's been nice with this album because we feel that we really have got up to where we wanted to be for a long time in terms of writing music. It’s taken a while but, it's finally happened.
The more time you spend on something; the more effort that gets put into it and it's going to be a better outcome as opposed to rushing into something and trying to force it...
I mean, we did take a whole year off at one, point pretty much, kind of just to reflect on what was happening in both of our lives, personally. And also, it's such a rush when you're a band. The reality is, do you want to be a band who's 10 minutes of: “Amazing, they're so huge and incredible” — like the next hot young thing — but after a year, you're kind of washed into the into the ether. Or you can take your time and slowly build what you want to do. Going on tour; actually meeting people and playing shows; it being real, not just online and slightly vapid — it's good. It's been it's been good for us. We’ve met a lot of people, we’ve played lot of shows, and we have loyal fans who want to come and see us which means a lot. I think that there's a lot to be said in actually taking time and slowly building to what your dream is instead of rushing it for the sake of the music industry.
I think there's something to be said about the organic nature of that and doing things naturally in the real world. It’s what I enjoyed about the music with the snippets of organic sounds, from the laughing in the background of "Human Nature" or the flurry of activity in "Until the End". How do you go about selecting those moments to put in the songs?
Jamie is a collector of sounds. A lot of those are from parties last year, when we could party. He would put his phone on the table and record noise. There's a lot of them from travelling around. When he goes abroad, he’ll take a Dictaphone with him and record sounds. I appreciate that, like when you walk along the street at 3am and you can hear the birds singing. It’s silent and all you hear is that — it's nice to have those moments put in as they kind of break it up and make it a bit more real.
As someone who struggles with the idea of embracing self-love and having confidence, how does the whole idea of denuding yourself and being personal with your lyrics translate when you're releasing an album and thinking about performing these songs?
I had to come to terms with that very quickly, because the first song we wrote, "Friday Sky”, was a joke love song. I wasn't in love; I had never been in love. “Heaven”, which is the second song released, was about my mom passing away. I never thought about what I was writing or how I was writing it, it’s all just kind of happened and then suddenly, you get a text from your management and they’re like, “I think that's the next single” and then you're like, “Okay, that is quite personal...” I think I just I got used to quite quickly and said well, if it's me writing it, it's always gonna come from a personal place unless I sometimes I write from another perspective or about other stories — but I don’t find it as easy.
I mean, I've gotten in trouble for it in the past for my family and stuff by writing songs about them, and it doesn't feel good. But now I'm just a bit more open to tell them that this one is about them. You can listen to it first; you can hate me now, and then we can move on because there's nothing you can do. “Your Love” was about an ex-boyfriend. We met up and I was like, “Have you heard the song I wrote about you? Here you go, it’s pretty good.” I mean, you have to! It’s kind of embarrassing. “It’s Not Easy” — which we wrote about Jamie's mum passing away — I find that sometimes I'm like on stage and it kind of chokes me up this way. It’s really emotional but I think that's good. It's real.
“How Deep” showcases the art of cutting lyricism that touches on something dark, but goes to show how intense human connections can be, and how there's that one person out there who will do absolutely anything for…
Exactly. That is my favourite song on the album so I’m happy you brought that up. I was wanting to write a love song but I didn't wanna write from my perspective, so it's actually based on the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. It is the one when she goes to hell and he has to go and get her but he’s not allowed to turn around, cause if he turns around then she'll go to hell forever. It’s completely impersonal, so it feels quite good. The first covers, the “Cassette Beat” cover, which is the two people falling was also from the myth. So, like a lot of the artwork before the album were mythological creatures and stuff like that.”
Looking back at this year, our human interactions have been just fragmented at best. How do you feel like you've adjusted to kind of connecting with people on such a distant scale?
I’ve been quite lucky. I've got quite a tight bubble of friends. Before I moved here I lived with loads of with my best friends, and it was amazing. I'd like I think I've always been a very social person as well. My grandmother who's 91 or 92; I went to see her every week during lockdown, and just sat in her front garden with her. My dad that literally calls me like seven times day —I've been connected. I find Zoom crazy, I just don’t get it at all, but it's interesting, youj ust have to re adjust. I feel like everything has changed — I feel like I'm becoming agoraphobic, almost. I don't want to leave the house.
Where is home for you right now, and where do you see it being in the next couple of years?
I mean home right now is where I live in my lovely little flat, but I’m open to change one day. I'd like to move to a different country, but I’m quite scared. Aside from that, home right now is definitely where my friends are and where my family is. I think that's true for most people. I don't want to say that my belongings make me feel home, but there are a few belongings that have to go with me wherever I go. Home to me is when I have my headphones on. When I'm like walking and listening into music; I feel like so myself. When I listen to music really loud in my headphones, which I don’t do often, I'm just there. I just feel overwhelmed by how good other people's music is. I never get that feeling with my own music and it really bums me out. That is when I feel most excited and really invigorated to do stuff. I like to keep moving and I want to make a change and do things.