Brooklyn based rock band ‘Baba Yaga’ was brought into being with the joining of Morgan Jesse Lapin (drums / vocals), Dave Keen (guitar / violin / vocals) and Zach Rose (bass / guitar / keys / vocals). With influences ranging from Motown, Garage, Surf, Classical and Tribal, the trio self describe their sound as ‘a series of varied tonal qualities performed simultaneously over a succession of percussive slaps and thuds in several assorted time measures and motifs’. In 2012, the trio composed the theme for ‘The Colbert Report’s Hobbit Week’ entitled ‘The Pundit: Or Colbert and Back Again’, and in March 2013 released their self-titled studio album ‘Baba Yaga’.
For those unfamiliar with the band, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves – how the band was formed, your musical influences, and how you settle upon the name ‘Baba Yaga’.
I was working and touring as a violinist and I’d played bass guitar and sang in bands when I met Morgan, through some musician friends, and our musical connection was immediate. I played the violin professionally in classical groups since I was 15. My first band was in high school and was called Entropy, which was a sorta punk hardcore group that I was fired from because I kept bringing in string and synth ideas I’d been getting off on listening to Yes and Pink Floyd. Me and Morgan met through friends and stared immediately working on music with having a band in mind. He had always wanted to have a band called ‘Baba Yaga’ and so it was. Zach came in about the same time and brought a really great style and approach to how he hears things. I play the guitar and sing, Zach Rose plays bass and sings, and Morgan plays drums and sings. We do interchange between instruments when we are writing and recording. We were all influenced by blues-based rock, Beatles, motown, progressive groups, 80s New Wave, metal, cartoon music, and I have classical music in my background right along with 50s rock and a lot of CCR!
How did you score the gig of composing ‘The Colbert Report’s – Hobbit Week’ theme song?
The process for The Colbert Report Hobbit Theme was simple and surprisingly efficient. The three of us work well together. We’re all big fans of the show anyway. Morgan’s cousin Matt Lappin is the producer of The Colbert Report and this where everyone ays “ohhhhhhhh…oooook!” Well, it was that bit of luck and Matt played it for Stephen Colbert and he loved it!
Given Stephen Colbert’s mega Tolkein fan boy status, were you nervous about working on something he is so passionate about?
I guess we don’t think about how a guy like Stephen kinda thinks about things day to day … the show needed a special theme, his people told him they’d take care of it, and then he came to the rehearsal wondering what it would be, because when it played he just stood up and said “… beautiful!” That was a highlight for us!
Did Stephen Colbert and/or ‘The Colbert Report’ staff have any input on the composition? Was there anything specific they were after or were you largely left to your own creativity?
We were mostly left to create what we wanted, because we work very fast and so could change, turn 180˚ if need be, but I think Matt Lappin trusted we’d come up with some nice noise. We recorded a drone on G and then Zach sang a G and we shifted the pitch down an octave giving that low bass drone. Then Zach played some sparing plinks and plunks on the keys, and we sang the theme. The studio only wanted us to sing “The Colbert Report” and we needed to capture the image and style of it, though we did not see the scene until arriving at the studio the day of the show.
The ‘Hobbit Week Theme’ is quite different to the songs featured on your studio album ‘Baba Yaga’. What was your starting point? Where did you draw your inspiration from?
We listened to some old recordings to get into the mood. We knew we needed to be recording out in the forest, without pretentiously produced-sounding music so that was our starting point. We recorded the main sung theme all three live and then overdubbed with our own voices and then with weird funny voices—those are very low in the mix. I recorded string flourishes and like you might imagine as bright lights over a scene and it was a lot of fun.
Had you seen the graphic to accompany the song or were they produced as separate entities?
We slapped it onto Garageband, and I figured we’ll have to re-record the whole thing at the studio that afternoon to get it up to some standard we already apparently had through Garageband! They simply slapped it onto the show with some editing to elongate it to fit the duration of that opening shot traveling over the funny map. I was really surprised how well Garageband sounds there in the theater. I’d have to say we felt honored as well as confident going about this gig.
How does writing and composing a theme song differ from writing a song for an album?
Writing a theme song is serving the mood of the special and also serving the mood of the show in general. The seed of comedy was our main direction from Matt Lappin, that we only sing “The Colbert Report”. That was hysterical! Our tunes need to survive on their own four chicken legs! Like a soundtrack versus a symphony.
Is the composing of theme songs something you hope to do more of in the future?
I would love to be hired to write a theme song a week for the rest of my career. It’s a great practice of craft, and brevity, (if your into the whole brevity thing) Sorry I have to throw in a Big Lebowski there. And if you can get paid for it, all the better.
What did you enjoy most about this whole experience?
Most of all, I enjoyed working with my Baba’s, being excited to create nice music to such a great show! And sitting in the audience as the crowd laughed their asses off and cheered, not realizing that the writers were sitting right next to them in the theater!
What’s next in the pipeline for ‘Baba Yaga’? Any plans for a arena tour of Middle Earth? Surely the song is a huge hit amongst Hobbits?
Baba Yaga is planning on much! We have a new additional guitarist, Parish Pawan. We’re playing upstate this summer and even pressing some LPs.
Visit us at http://www.facebook.com/BabaYagaMusic Cheers!
A big thank you to ‘Baba Yagas’ Dave Keen for taking the time out to talk to us, and to the Hub Staff for helping me put the interview together!!