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Professional musicians, amateur magicians


Barbara and Ethan Gruska will be opening as Belle Brigade for Ray LaMontagne this Friday in Indianapolis.
  • Barbara and Ethan Gruska will be opening as Belle Brigade for Ray LaMontagne this Friday in Indianapolis.

Today we had a word with Barbara and Ethan Gruska of Belle Brigade, the hit brother-sister band whose self-titled 2011 album made waves. After their second album Just Because was released this year, they picked up a opening slot with Ray LaMontagne. This Friday they open for him at the Lawn at White River State Park -- and they're also his backing band.

NUVO: You guys have been touring for over a monh with Ray LaMontagne. Tell me about that.

Ethan: It's been great. We've been opening for him as Belle Brigade and then also playing in his backing band- Barb plays drums, and I play guitar, keyboard..and we sing backup for him.

NUVO:: And you're touring after the release of Just Because, your newest album. What's that been like?

Barbara: After the first record, we toured for about one and a half years, and then when we got off the road in May 2012, we went into the studio a few weeks later and started the process of recording this record. Long story short, it was a very different process, because we were paying for it, so our budget was way smaller. We recorded in a studio that was more affordable for us, and that gave us the freedom to experiment more and take our time, recording different versions of songs. So we got to let loose, an just do what we wanted to do. After we finished recording the record, Warner Brothers, our first record, they wanted us to make a bunch of changes. because they wanted it to sound like a second installment of the first record, which it's not. And we really didn't wanna do that. We got lucky, and they just let us leave without any trouble. A lot of bad things could have happened, but they didn't. They let us go, and we went to ATO, and they liked the record ... and everything is good now!

NUVO: I'm glad everything worked out! And before that, you guys recorded some Bob Dylan?

Ethan: We recorded one song called "No Time to Think" and that happened because we were lucky enough to get offered to be on the Amnesty International compilation. That was a thing where between 50-100 different artists recorded a Bob Dylan song and put it on the compilation for free. All the profits went to Amnesty International. And that was cool obviously because we got to be a part of it, but also because we got to record that song with a guy named Bob Clearmountain. He is a pretty legendary producer, engineer and mixer. He did a lot of work for that compilation, and we recorded in his studio with him. It was really fun. It actually ended up being an 8-minute song, and we were a little worried that it would be too long, but it actually ended up getting some good notice, and people seemed to enjoy it. I'm happy that we got to do that.

NUVO: Who are some of your musical influences when you think about writing music -- or just listening?

Barbara: All sorts of influences.

Ethan: It's sort of all over. I think this last record was different.. the direct influences were different than the first. The first record ... you know, a lot of Fleetwood Mac, a lot of Paul Simon. This next record, Peter Gabriel, more kind of '90s rock band elements. Generally that sort of sound. I'm always stumped when I'm asked what the influences for the second record are. We're kind of just pulling from everywhere and trying to collage all of our influences.

NUVO: So after this current tour with Ray is over, what's next? What do you have planned?

Ethan: It's pretty wide open. We plan to tour more and play more around the US and Canada, but nothing is for sure. We're just waiting for more opportunities, and hopefully soon enough we will get into recording more things.

NUVO: What is it like to record music as brother and sister? What are the advantages?

Barbara: It's great! I mean, we are best friends. We have the exact same background, pretty much. If one of us talks to family while we are on the road, it covers that for both of us, so it makes it easy to keep in touch with family. You don't get homesick, because you have your sibling on the road. It's fantastic.

NUVO: So what do you like to do when you're not touring, when you're not making music? Any side hobbies the fans should be aware of?

Barbara: Yeah, Ethan's got one. He's an aspiring magician.

Ethan: It sounds funny, it sounds like we're joking, but we're not. I was always really into slight of hand card tricks and more small-scale magic tricks when I was a kid. I did it pretty seriously, for a few years, kind of by myself. I would come home from school and not do my homework and learn card tricks. As I got older I moved away from it and really moved more towards music. And then I just stopped. But about one and a half years ago, I got sick, I had a cold. i couldn't do anything for a couple days, so I went on YouTube and learned a new trick, and it was so fun, I thought, why did I stop? Then I started going crazy! I got out my old books, and bought some new videos, and I learned a bunch of new tricks. Now I'm pretty obsessed.

NUVO: Do you think you'll ever perform onstage with that?

Ethan: We're hoping-

Barbara: He will!

Ethan: We're hoping at some point when we can have kind of a big pyrotechnics show. We're hoping to merge stage magic with our performance. Like, we'll be playing, and then all of a sudden we're on the other side of the room. Something like that.

NUVO: I can see that being a big hit.

Ethan: We'll figure it out. It would be pretty cool.

NUVO: So there's no chance I might see that Friday at the show?

Ethan: Probably not.


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