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The Belle Brigade Talk Family, Judgments and Playlists

Folk rock duo perform in Solana Beach August 2

  • The Belle Brigade
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Inspired by legends such as The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and Stevie Wonder, siblings Ethan and Barbara Gruska combined forces to become The Belle Brigade. Their music is a funky, pleasant combination of happy music and sad lyrics. The Belle Brigade’s self-titled album is one that fans can listen to on their everyday drive to work or on a long road trip down the California coast.

With a 6-year age difference between them, Ethan and Barbara didn’t become best friends or band mates until adulthood. But it’s no surprise the duo collaborate so well. Heavily influenced by their father, Jay Gruska, a composer and songwriter, and their maternal grandfather, John Williams, an Oscar and Grammy-winning film composer, both siblings were immersed in music at a young age.

As The Belle Brigade, the duo combine both of their gifted vocals and guitar skills with Ethan’s piano talent and Barbara’s gift as a drummer. They are now more in sync than ever as they prepare for their upcoming show on August 2 at Belly Up Tavern.

What’s it like touring with your sibling?
Barbara Gruska: Great, really awesome.
Ethan Gruska: That’s pretty much it. It’s just great.

The two of you didn’t always get along when you were younger, what changed?
BG: I think we both kind of just grew up and didn’t have all the kind of pet peeves and stuff that we had when we were kids. As adults we could just kind of relate on a friendship level rather than at a silly, sibling level. And it turned out that we were actually very, very compatible as friends.

How did you come up with the name The Belle Brigade?
BG: It’s a lyric from an old song that’s about our little brother Eli, who’s 12 years old. The lyric just sounds cool as a band name and it stuck.

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it yet?
EG: It’s really hard to describe your own stuff, but we like to say it’s kind of got a rootsy rock element to it with just a lot of pop. There’s a lot of pop influence on this record so it’s kind of just a happy combination of the two. I guess we just really wanted it to be good music to drive to.

How would you describe this album using one word?
EG: One word. Damn.
BG: Fun?
EG: I’m just going to say hopefully. God, one word is tough.
BG: Airport.
EG: Yeah, airport.

What song are you most proud of?
BG: It always changes. I’ll go with “Losers” today.
EG: I usually go back and forth between “Losers” and lately I’ve really enjoyed playing “Where Not to Look for Freedom” live. I’m really happy with the way the recording turned out, so it’s a mix between those two.

You’ve said this album is about losing the fear of being judged and judging others, how have you two been judged in the past?
BG: Just kind of in the normal ways that people feel it. You know, on a small level, like day to day interactions with strangers or when you feel like you’re not being wholly accepted by friends or family, just things like that. It's just general things that everybody goes through.

What advice do you have for fans going through some of the same emotional experiences you sing about?
BG: To try to have some kind of a safe, strong place that they can go to inside of themselves. Just to try to develop that because judgment from the outside world is always going to be there and it’s actually very normal. People can’t really help to do it so it’s just about how you deal with it yourself. So having a place where you can go to and still believe in yourself and not really listen to those other people.

What songs are on your everyday playlist?
EG: Recently we’ve been listening to a lot of Dolly Parton. We’ve kind of been listening to her greatest hits but we also just listened to her bluegrass record which kind of blew our minds. We’ve been listening to a song by Ry Cooder called “Drive Like I Never Been Hurt.” We listened to that a lot when we were touring.

Are there any artists that you hope to collaborate with in the future?
BG: Let’s see, anyone who wants to collaborate with us pretty much.

What do you two plan on doing in San Diego while you’re here?
BG: Well we were on the road for about six weeks so we got home a few days ago and I think that we’ll probably just spend that day there just because we’re really enjoying being home for the short amount of time that we get to be home. So we won’t be doing much sightseeing while we’re there but I love San Diego.
EG: It’s a really cool city.

What's next for The Belle Brigade?
BG: Well, we have some tours booked in October and November. And then we have a bunch of one-off gigs in September. We’re playing the Sunset Junction up in LA on August 28. And we’re playing the Gorge Festival in Seattle on September 2 and Austin City Limits on September 17.

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