NME Radar: Breakout

Brigitte Calls Me Baby: Chicago romantics deliver the thrills of a bygone era

They evoke the warmth of the greats been and gone – but Brigitte Calls Me Baby are no mere nostalgia trip

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

It’s fitting that when Wes Leavins, frontman of the Chicago-based Brigitte Calls Me Baby appears in the Zoom window from his Texas home, he’s perched in-front of a weathered poster promoting the 1953 Hollywood movie The Wild One. A cult classic about rival motorcycle gangs starring the leather jacket wearing heartthrob Marlon Brando, the film quickly signposts a bygone era that this rising band have so elegantly channeled in their short journey so far.

“I love pop culture, classic movies and cinema,” the bequiffed frontman enthuses when discussing his own vivid aesthetic. “I love noir and I’m specifically a fan of French fashion and movies. I wanted to conjure that style immediately when it came to our own project.” Taking his unique band name from the French pin-up Brigitte Bardot, the singer has certainly made no bones about his love of that golden age.

This heart-on-sleeve approach has undoubtedly helped in gaining the bandmomentum as they’ve taken a full-throttle approach to touring this year, despite only having a handful of singles out there. Fans lucky enough to have caught their shows so far will have been greeted with hard-hitting live performances, with the snappily-dressed Leavins swaying over the microphone stand, pouring out lovelorn lines like a direct descendent of Morrissey.

It might sound a bit over the top, but their sound is deserving of such lavish stylings. After being the name on everyone’s lips at Austin’s SXSW back in March, the band have swooned into the hearts of fans on the other side of the pond, with appearances opening for The Strokes at All Points East in London and a festival slot at Dorset’s End Of The Road. More recently, they’ve hit the road with The Last Dinner Party on a sold-out US run of dates including stops at LA’s El Rey Theater and Chicago’s Bottom Lounge.

That attention is only set to heat up as the band prepare to drop the debut EP ‘This House Is Made Of Corners’ on November 3. A record transcending Leavins’ love of Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Frank Sinatra, it also carries the youthful thrust of more contemporary trailblazers – take the jangling guitar lines of The Smiths on ‘The Future Is Our Way Out’ or the melodic distortion of The Strokes on ‘You Are Only Made Of Dreams’. “There are so many nuances to this record that I’m really proud of,” Leavins explains. “I’d like the EP to be like entering this world and within it there are all of these different scenes and moods.”

Although they effortlessly evoke the warmth and familiarity of the greats been and gone, Brigitte Calls Me Baby are no mere nostalgia trip. As Leavins puts it, they’re a band striving for longevity. “I think mostly if you convey something strong enough, it will find its audience. At the end of the day it’s all about the feeling,” he adds. If one thing’s for certain, this is a band who have this in abundance.

It’s been a busy year for you guys on the road – was that always going to be the priority over recorded material from the get-go? 

“Absolutely, the live thing is what we did before we even recorded so it naturally became the focus. It feels very true and very genuine. Playing the music live has helped us figure out where the recorded versions end up. Early on you’re even trying a song in a few different ways to gauge that reaction. We were lucky, our first proper show was opening for Inhaler and then our second show was opening for Muse. They both came before we’d released any music, maybe some people were very curious about the mystery.”

It’s a testament to the sound that you managed to short-circuit dive bars and went straight into those bigger venues…

“It’s just been wild what we’ve got to do, and we were really thankful to do those shows. It was a thrill being exposed to those audiences. We’re just pinching ourselves all the time because there’s the opportunity to play for these captive audiences. There was no preconceived notion as to how the fans would receive us. Muse were so open to what we do, and the same thing happened this past August when we opened for The Strokes at All Points East in London. They were just so thrilling and electric. Playing over there was definitely the biggest joy so far.”

Brigitte Calls Me Baby
Credit: Scarlet Page

Given some of the legendary touchstones in your sound, how have you found audiences react to your music?

“There have been a lot of remarks, they’ve all been very flattering and warm. I look at music like cooking, there’s a recipe and the things that you love are baked into the music. So if someone comes to me and says, ‘This reminds me of Roy Orbison mixed with The Smiths’, I’m completely flattered. A father and daughter excitedly came up to us after a show in London and said, ‘This feels so familiar yet so fresh.’ That meant an awful lot.

“What we try to accomplish in the music is what John Hughes (Pretty In Pink, The Breakfast Club) did so well in his movies, this euphoria with sadness and the meeting of those two feelings that you wouldn’t imagine co-existing.”

It’s interesting you mention the likes of Roy Orbison. When did some of those ‘50s and ‘60s influences first creep into your life?

“I found my voice in my early teen years when I started spending a lot of time with my grandparents and my friends. There was quite a juxtaposition between what my grandparents were listening to and what my friends were listening to. So my pals were listening to a lot of stuff like The Strokes and Radiohead, whereas my grandparents were listening to Roy Orbison, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley and stuff like that.

“I fell in love with both worlds simultaneously. I found a lot of myself in that music and I tried to bridge the gap by writing things myself. I think the gap isn’t as far as people may think, it’s within a few generations. It’s strong voices that I think I really love, just voices with a lot of character.”

It’s early days, but is longevity and staying power important to you as a band? 

“Absolutely. The nature of that music is timeless to me and I think mostly if you convey something strong enough it will find its audience. At the end of the day it’s all about the feeling. The listener will know pretty much immediately if they’re connecting with something. I just want to be so strong and confident in what we do that it’s pretty definitive, people either get it or not, and the people who get it will understand it from the start. Doing something very boldly has always been my agenda because there’s no other way for me. The rest is up to fate or destiny.”

“I look at music like cooking – the things that you love are baked into the music”

We’ve mentioned some legendary names, but it must be easier said than done to capture the nuances between past and present. Did that approach come naturally to you?

“It did come pretty naturally, and I guess that’s the whole idea of music. I really don’t trust a musician who never had a moment where some artist or band hasn’t changed their life. It’s that moment where you were pre and post this band or this artist. The influence of music on musicians is very obvious to me and I think it’s a beautiful thing because it is those bands and artists who give us the opportunity to see ourselves in similar positions. It gives you hope. For me being from a very small town in Texas and listening to these greats, it was all I really had you know?”

There is a vulnerability to your debut EP, whether it’s dealing with coming-of-age romance or some more existential themes…

That was very much the case. There was a lot of the talk of some of the lyrics being quite open. “When my life is through the people will love me / if life could only be so kind then I wouldn’t mind being alive.” There was some discussion about that line being a bit too depressing or whatever. For me it’s just yearning and hope. I’m sure plenty of people share the same fears and hopes that I have. It ended up in the song as the first track on the EP so that we could lay down quickly that these are the topics we sing about.”

Considering everything you’ve already achieved, it must feel like the sky’s the limit?

“Definitely, it’s been a thrill having people trying to find the songs that aren’t out yet, it will just be great to have this stuff out in the world as part of our identity. I always feel in a race with time and these things take time, to have it out would mean a lot to me. To have the work among us is sort of the dream, it’s out it’s finished, it’s complete. If I die tomorrow it’s there. That was always the biggest factor to me.

“I’m excited for people to hear the diversity that I think we’ve accomplished, I’m proud of that. Hopefully it’s a sample of what’s to come for the next 70 years or more.”


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