Lair of the Beats
A true dynamic duo of musical feats, Ellen Perez and Nick Newhouse comprise the symphonic beast that is Baircave. Combining their backgrounds in acapella vocals and music production, respectively, Ellen and Nick first partnered up on the EP “Hijinx” in 2015 and are currently promoting their latest release “Let It Out” with Tiny Waves. I spoke with the two of them about the origins and evolution of Baircave, their thoughts on the music industry, and what we can look forward to with the release.
Okay, before we get into the hard-hitting questions, I need to know: why Baircave? Where did the name originate? Is there a particular meaning behind it?
Nick: Originally, Bair was just a character – a little robot inspired by GIR from Invader Zim. Just this chaotic neutral character who was there to have a good time. I had an artist make some 3D renders of him, and he slowly became the de-facto mascot of our music. He’s the third member of Baircave. The hype guy if you will.
When did you officially form Baircave?
Ellen: 2014? 2015?
Nick: Yeah, somewhere in there. Our first EP was “Hijinx" – it was very funky with electro house vibes. I wanted Baircave to just make fun stuff. In time, it became all kinds of music. Kinda like how a soda company will have so many different names for their various drinks but the parent label is still the same. I want to create other brands where I can experiment with various sounds while Baircave remains the bright, buzzy, and fun-loving label with consistently good stuff that stays palatable to most people.
Ellen: The goal of Baircave is definitely to make music that people can have fun with, and I think you can really see that in the process, the live performances, and in the artwork. I really love the artwork for this new release – Ginkgo did an amazing job!
Art credit: Ginkgo
Speaking of this new release, you’re working with Tiny Waves again. You’ve worked with Tiny Waves quite a lot Nick. How did that first come about?
Nick: I’m very close with Ben, and I’ve met all of my closest music friends through the Tiny Waves community. I have huge respect for their flagship artists like Ben, Bolide, and arthur x medic. I often go to Ben to get his feedback on my work. That’s actually how this new release started. It was first commissioned for an indie game in 2017. I was given some direction, put it together, and got paid. They said I was free to release it whenever, but I didn’t feel that it met the standard of Baircave. I put it on the backburner until sending it to Ben for feedback. He said it was good enough for Tiny Waves but felt the drop needed to be changed. It was the kick I needed to get to work on it again. Now the new drop is really bass-heavy, and everything is dance floor ready.
You said you usually go to Ben for feedback. What about Ellen? Do you usually get her insight?
Ellen: He likes to come to me to show off, haha. I’m not a producer and don’t know a lot of the more technical things to listen for. He’ll show me two versions of the same song, and I usually think they sound the same. But I think my perspective is insightful because I’m representative of the audience. I give an honest reaction.
Nick: I enjoy working with Ellen because she’s a non-technical person who enjoys music. Our audience isn’t producers, it’s just your average person who’s not gonna be listening in to every little thing. You need that feedback when you’re making something that you want to be enjoyed by as many people as possible. You don’t need to be getting caught up on what other producers think of your work. It’s the general public you need to please. I personally like to have my family listen to tracks and get their feedback.
So what was your first response to “Let It Out,” Ellen?
Ellen: I thought it was super inspirational and passionate. When I was first performing it, it really felt like we were going into battle! Like, “we’re gonna do it, let’s go!” I was super happy to come back to it after so long.
Awesome! And could you briefly tell us a bit more about your vocal background?
Ellen: My mom was an actress and singer for fun and would always play the soundtracks to musicals in the car. I performed a bit in school plays in high school and sang in an all-girls acappella group for four years in college. I’m not the most technically sound when it comes to making music, I’m not a composer, but I definitely have a good ear for what sounds go together.
Nick: The acapella and chiptunes communities are actually really similar; seeing how far you can go with certain limitations.
Ellen: When you have an all-female acapella group, you’re gonna be limited when it comes to the lower register. But it is always interesting to see what you can make.
Well, Nick, you’re the one making the music but why? Why did you choose a career in music?
Nick: Well it’s unclear whether or not I have a “career” in music yet. But when I make music, I’ve always felt this sensation of an archeological dig of self-discovery. Like I have something that wants to be uncovered, and if I'm determined and patient enough, I can create something that truly feels like an honest expression of myself.
What makes you say you’re not sure if you have a “career” in music? Would you describe what you do more as a hobby? How would you define a career in music versus doing it for fun?
Nick: Everyone has a different definition of what a career is to them, but in general, I think a career is full-time, no matter what. With music-making, most people will only go into it full-time if they can make a living off of it and really support themselves. I’m more like a start-up: operating at a loss for a long time and destined to fail if you can’t put out a product that consumers want. Currently, I’ve got all kinds of different projects, but am I paying my rent with it? No. Now, that’s not to imply that I’m spending my life savings to make it work, but I definitely don’t have this infinite well of capital to put into my career. I am attempting to do music full time and am investing in myself.
So music is something you do but not the only thing you do.
Nick: At the end of the day, we all need the essentials – food, clothes, a roof over our heads – and if you’re struggling to provide those for yourself, then there’s nothing wrong with viewing it as a part-time job. Something you do on the side to make a little extra money. Generally, we could stand to normalize people having a variety of passions, jobs, creative endeavors. We don’t need to limit ourselves. By all means, make goals, but it’s okay to take baby steps. There’s no need to take the plunge just to be “legit” in this industry. That said, I’ve done that. And this is very much a “do as I say, not as I do” moment.
This industry can certainly be an unyielding beast. Is that what inspired your “Slept On By Spotify” series? Would you mind telling us more about that project?
Nick: The music industry, as it currently exists, is all kinds of rigged. Spotify, in particular, has this hold over labels and artists with manufactured popularity which basically makes it a modern-day Payola. There are so many talented artists, especially from the underground scene, who just don’t get the attention or credit they deserve. Spotify is a great experience for listeners, but I would love to see them held accountable for their treatment of artists. I actually attended a protest march at the Spotify offices in NYC to deliver documents exposing their violation of Payola legislation and demanding transparency. Artists want their music to be shared with listeners, who in turn want to find new music via playlists. But when Spotify curators are facing pressure from above to only put songs on the airwaves if they’re getting paid to do so, it becomes exploitative and inconsistent and hurts artists. If you really want to support artists you love, BUY their stuff. Donate to them, support them on Bandcamp, make sure you are directly supporting them and their work. I could go on and on about this all day because it’s something I’m super passionate about.
Completely understandable. Hopefully we can see some positive changes in the industry over time. In the meantime, your series is doing a great job of highlighting different artists.
Nick: Basically, I pay my guests to let me interview them because I want them to get the recognition they deserve while also knowing that I value their time. It’s becoming a history lesson in underground music. Maybe it will evolve into a podcast and be livestreamed. You can learn a lot about those who wouldn’t otherwise be in front of a camera or microphone sharing their story and experience.
What do you hope this project achieves? Do you think Spotify and other platforms will start treating their artists better? Or at least paying and promoting them fairly?
Nick: I want to see a slow cultural movement, but I’m just one person. Ideally, an exposé on all of the players with billions of dollars would make a huge difference. But we need more powerful people. If we could see someone high up in the industry leaving and stirring up controversy with all of the receipts and documents that we currently lack, then we may actually get them to deal with all of the illegalities of what they’re doing. Streaming didn’t solve the issues of piracy, it just distracted us from the abysmal revenue splits in comparison to CDs. A lot needs to change.
I think we can all appreciate and respect your desire to fight for fair treatment of artists in this industry. For those that may be struggling with the current state of things, what are your words of advice?
Nick: Make sure you diversify your platform. You may have a follower who is super active on Instagram but never on Twitter. Make sure you are putting your stuff out there in as many spaces as possible. And try to achieve some level of consistency. The more consistent and diversified you are, the easier it will be to slowly start building that loyal following.
Any general words of inspiration to share? Final suggestions?
Nick: Don’t let perfection be the enemy of greatness.
Ellen: Haha, I was gonna say, “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”
Nick: Reach out to musicians you like, especially small artists. They’re more available than you think.
Ellen: That goes for all artists and creators in general. Let people know when you enjoy what they do. Even if it’s a restaurant – leave a good review on Yelp. Just always show your support when and where you can. I don’t think anyone tires of hearing it.
Nick: Sincerity is slept on.
And what are you sincerely looking forward to with the release of “Let It Out”?
Nick: I get more enjoyment from impassioned comments versus 10,000 streams. It’s those small wins. Things like my family harassing me to release the track to them early.
Ellen: Your sister was offering you $50 to let her have it early for her birthing playlist. You said no.
Nick: Yup. Gotta keep the anticipation and excitement. Speaking of which, I think we may do a giveaway if people are excited about the track. I'd be happy to offer up the vocals for people to add their own spin on it. Definitely stay tuned...
Letting out the too-often unspoken frustrations of many artists, Nick Newhouse certainly deserves more credit and recognition, not only for his advocacy but for his artistry as well. Be sure to support him and Ellen directly with their latest Baircave release “Let It Out,” available now on multiple platforms. And be sure to follow Tiny Waves on all our social media for upcoming releases and incredible music.
- Charming H. Thomas