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Local Music Spotlight: Space and collaboration were keys to BaLonely’s success with ‘Thank You, I’m Sorry’

June 2, 2022 Updated Thu., June 2, 2022 at 5:03 p.m.

Balonely’s new album, in the works for more than two years, is titled “Thank You, I’m Sorry.”  (BaLonely)
Balonely’s new album, in the works for more than two years, is titled “Thank You, I’m Sorry.” (BaLonely)
By Julien A. Luebbers For The Spokesman-Review

BaLonely has been working on its latest album, “Thank You, I’m Sorry,” for well over two years, the longest the band has ever spent on a record. The band took its time with every step of the process, playing live sessions in the basement, tracking new parts in the studio and working through a long mixing and mastering phase.

Not only does the final product exhibit the immense time and energy that went into it, “Thank You, I’m Sorry” also demonstrates that all the effort was well worthwhile. There were two keys to making “Thank You, I’m Sorry” a success: space and collaboration. The band took the time to write without pressure.

As lead singer and guitarist Norman Robbins puts it, “We would all just sit there and work on one track until we felt good about it.” Mostly, the tracks were recorded in a mic’d up home studio. As a result, much of the album carries a freeness typical to live albums.

Do not mistake that for a scrappiness, though; each part sounds as tight as can be, especially when accompanied by the studio work the band put in at the new TPG Studio, which Robbins opened with fellow Palimpsest Group co-founder Luis Mota last year.

With all the tracks recorded, the band moved to start mixing and mastering. At first, Robbins was mixing the record all on his own. “I like mixing records. And I do it a lot,” he said. Working with “Thank You, I’m Sorry,” though, taught him an important exception: “I don’t like mixing my own records, because it’s just kind of hard to stop.

“I start chasing my own tail a lot. So after about a year of trying to mix it, and never being satisfied, we sent it off to a mixing engineer.” Engineer Che Arthur brought a whole new sound to the record, and more importantly a fresh perspective. “It was like adding a person to the band,” said guitarist, keys player and backing vocalist Adam Smith.

“You stop focusing on the things that you want to pop through the mix,” added guitarist Alex Smith. “And give it to another set of ears, and they focus on what they find catchy and hooky. When we got that back, we were hearing stuff that was buried back. It opens new doors, stuff we overlooked.”

With a record like “Thank You, I’m Sorry,” there was plenty for Che to choose from. Band members were not shy in experimenting with all of the tools around them, especially when they arrived at the new TPG studio space. A not-yet-tuned piano, the front door, new synthesizers, all presented themselves to the band and were happily worked into the songs.

Audio samples, and a background vocal feature from Mertie Robbins (daughter of the band’s bassist Kristin Robbins and sister to Norman) supplement the album and give it further layers with each new listen.

Yet through the experimentation and diversity of artistic directions, BaLonely settled on a thoroughly enjoyable and even coherent sound. The band plays a smooth and lively rock and roll, favoring midtempo tracks and thoughtful lyrics.

“Before this record, I never felt like I was able to write good lyrics,” Robbins said. “Now, I have a sort of confidence in myself that allows me to create candid lyrics for this record.” The album’s title captures the tone of the lyrics, reflective and somewhat frank, contemplative but healthily self-skeptical. “Being more honest helped a lot.”

The album’s structure is as well-conceived as its individual tracks, framed by the two parts of “No One Told Me,” which riff on the same ideas and chords but are ultimately very different songs. It allows one to reflect on the seven tracks that separate them and to see some arc in the songs’ progression.

Throughout the record, BaLonely again and again finds catchy, tight riffs and hooks that rope you into songs rife with vivid, thoughtful lyrics. Each of the band’s members, from the three guitars to Kristin Robbins’ bass and Cody Brooks’ drums, work together to keep the sound coherent, dynamic and ultimately satisfying.

Whether it’s the spacey sounds of “In My Shoes Again” or the beautiful converging vocals of “No One Told Me (pt. 2),” “Thank You, I’m Sorry” has that magical effect of seeming to go by too quickly. You can’t help but hit rewind and replay this record again and again.

BaLonely’s “Thank You, I’m Sorry” is out now on all platforms. They are performing an album launch on June 10 at Lucky You Lounge, tickets available now. To stay up to date on more from BaLonely, follow the band on Instagram @BaLonely_Offical.

Julien A. Luebbers can be reached at julien.luebbers@gmail.com.

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