By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 1996
On “A Normal Family,” their debut CD, Britain’s Baby Fox take elements of dub music to a strange new level. Their songs are all catchy and well-crafted, but at the same time the group creates an off-beat, slightly eerie atmosphere.
Baby Fox is comprised of Christine Ann Leach, Alex Gray, and Dwight. Before becoming a band, the trio had been friends and worked together on their own club nights. Baby Fox, the band, was born when the three members met up in Thailand at Christmas time a few years ago.
“It was just really a creative urge, we wanted to present something that I guess is what they call multimedia now,” says Alex on the club they ran beginning about five years ago. “But at the time we just wanted to somehow sort of forge Lee Perry, Jimi Hendirx, and kind of film loops and all that kind of thing at the same time.”
The space the group used was the basement of a house, formerly part of a railway station, where Dwight was living. They weren’t themselves interested in the DJing side of the club, preferring instead to focus on filling the space with from loops and projections with sound systems came in to provide the dub music.
“In fact, it was almost like we had the idea for this sort of movie making way of doing stuff, sort of creating these environments with music before we actually hit the music,” says Alex. “Although me and Christine, we had a lot of musical projects going on at the same time, this was a nice little diversion because we all got involved in something we hadn’t done before. It would be taking a soundclash and putting it into more of an art space environment.”
Within the group, each member has somewhat of a defined role, but as Alex puts it, they’re “very much sort of stepping on each other’s toes.” Christine and Dwight both sing and write their lyrics, with Christine doing the lead vocals. Alex focuses on the sampling/sequencing/mixing.
“Someone will hum a little melody that I’ll tranlate to a melodic line and develop,” explains Alex on how the trio works together. “Dwight is always kind of like fucking around with samples, looking through records and stuff. Quite often I’ll modify those. It’s really chuck it all in and see what happens, but we kind of know what each other’s likes are so there’s almost a kind of unspoken language. It’s quite exciting to see one of us get off on the idea of another. Somehow an alchemy kind of happens.”
“Johnny Lipshake,” the first track on the album, is a good introduction to the unusual world of Baby Fox. The dreamy, minimal dub bass line is surrounded by subtle yet jarring samples – industrial noises, jazzy hits, even the line “Can You Dig It” from the film “The Warriors” (made famous by the PWEI song). The sweet vocals of Christine are a sharp contrast to the more dead-pan, slightly evil-sounding voice of Dwight.
Baby Fox began as primarily a studio project, but they weren’t afraid to make the transition to live performance. It proved to be a difficult task, as the studio environment had a big impact on the way Baby Fox’s recorded music turned out.
“It’s a diversion for us because, because there’s a vibe and an energy on the CD but it’s not a very live sounding project so it’s quite a big transition,” says Alex.
While “A Normal Family” only contains a suggestion of guitar, the group is happy with live member Graham’s “atmospheric and dubby” playing of the instrument and may use more of it on the next album.
Though just recently released in America, “A Normal Family” has been out in the UK since late July. Since finishing the album, Baby Fox have been busy putting together a live band and then touring. They don’t have any plans to for US shows yet, but hope to do so some in the spring.
“There’s so much that was sampling, we could have just made sure we had all the samples and just kind of play those, but we wanted to take it one stage further,” explains Alex. “The problem at first was actually just getting the attitude across, I mean it’s a very kind of drifty, laid back sound on the album. It was quite difficult to adapt it to live, while still retaining the Baby Fox magic identity, which is something we’re not quite sure how to pin down. It’s sort of magic when it happens in the studio. There’s no kind of set way of doing it all. But I think we’re really well on our way now, we’ve done a lot of rehearsing and lot of checking out of ideas.”
Alex feels that when getting into live playing, and the dynamics it introduces, it’s inevitable that music will get at least a bit more rock-oriented. He cites the minimal drum tracks on the album as something that can’t be reproduced live without reinterpretation. But Alex has no regrets about the way things were done in the studio.
“I still like the idea of fucking with the sonics and not having real playing,” he says. “I like the idea of having maybe real sounds played by a non-player. Because I’m not a drummer, so the way that I kind of have drums programmed and arranged it’s a different perspective. I like it when someone has lots of ideas but not the orthodox means to actually do it so it comes out a little bit weird and different. It has an added sort of naivete to it.”
In concert, Alex and Dwight play keyboards, and additional musicians playing live guitar and drums fill out the sound. According the Alex, the live sound engineer manipulates the music as if doing a remix.
Because adapting the music for live performance has been a challenge, Baby Fox haven’t had a chance to fully utilize their experience with visuals. Alex says that in the future, they will definitely get into using film loops and other visuals in innovative ways.See all interviews →