I'm not generally a "things happen for a reason" kind of person. Serendipity I have no problem with, but aligning stars and all that? Count me out. Still, there's something I can't quite explain about the good timing of certain things, the happy accidents of people's lives that sometimes come together at the right moment. One of those moments is happening right now in Santa Fe with the return of esoteric, emotive and literate rock act Babelshack.
Babelshack's current bassist started out as a fan: the first time he saw them play, he was a prospective student at the now-defunct College of Santa Fe. That bassist is Dylan Blanchard, now a fixture in his own right as a supporting player in several of Santa Fe's top-notch rock acts (Ten Ten Division and Future Scars) as well as his own solo project, Blanchard.
Back in '05, Blanchard was excited by Babelshack's eclectic sound and
frontman Barnaby Hazen's wild vocals and command of dense lyrical content.
"At the time they were one of the only rock bands in Santa Fe," says Blanchard. "[Babelshack] were grungy and kind of nasty."
Even so, Blanchard was surprised to see the band play to non-receptive or sparse crowds.
"I would go to these shows and they were never super well-attended," he says. "It was just interesting that a pretty tight and powerful rock band struggled to find an audience."
Babelshack recorded a full-length at the College of Santa Fe, Return of the
Bottomfeeder, in 2006 and continued playing until the multi-talented McDowell brothers Westin (guitar) and Dylan (drums) moved away in 2007 and 2009 respectively, effectively ending the band.
Listening to that full-length now causes a strange cognitive dissonance. In these complex, driving rock songs exists something surprisingly current given its age. What's odder still is, by coincidence or not, the music seems to reflect what's going on in Santa Fe's burgeoning rock niche.
In as little as five years, the city has undergone a sort of renaissance in its rock scene. A lot of acts dip heavily into the pool of influences Babelshack championed over a decade ago: traces of emotional hardcore, grunge and heady-yet-heartful instrumental rock in the vein of bands like Slint. If Babelshack struggled to find its audience way back when, it seems like they'll have an easier time today, and founder and primary songwriter Hazen is happily surprised to hear about the shift in musical climate. His own shift focuses on family life in Taos with his wife and children and, since then, his creative output has been the writing of fiction, plus some gigs with a professional cover band.
But he started to feel burned-out with the cover band scene right around the time he heard the news that sparked Babelshack's reunion.
"I was starting to get into kind of a cynical headspace and eventually just backed away," Hazen says. "After I pulled out of that project, frustrated, I heard about Dylan [McDowell] coming back into town."
With Westin also having returned some years prior, Babelshack met for a preliminary practice to feel things out, and everyone snapped back into the songs like they'd never pressed pause on the project.
"All four of us were really enthusiastic about it," Hazen explains. "It wasn't just some sort of nostalgic curiosity—there was a lot of energy behind it. There were new ideas."
Westin claims the secret to that energy is in Hazen's songwriting, which he still feels challenges him after all these years.
"Barnaby was kind of a hard dude to follow," Westin recalls. "It was hard for us to go there with him cause we were young dudes in our late 20s and Barnaby was in his mid-30s all pissed off about life, you know?"
Westin is now the age Hazen was when they met, and the serious and
sincere lyrical themes—ruminations on psychological pain and even suicidal
ideation—resonate on an even deeper level than when the band first came
together. It all has a synchronicity, the members of the band re-energized by material that still feels new and a town that finally feels ready to fill the floor at shows highlighting the loud, the raucous and the weird. I'm not one for signs, but if I were, they'd all be pointing toward one conclusion: Right now might finally be the time for Babelshack.
Babelshack with North by North and Full Speed Veronica
9 pm Friday July 26. Free.
Tumbleroot Brewery and Distillery,
2791 Agua Fría St.,