In everything Babehoven do, there is a closeness. This is evident in the indie-folk duo’s music, written by Maya Bon and produced by her partner Ryan Albert, which patiently undresses the heart, layer by layer, until you can’t quite tell what’s left. Their debut album, Light Moving Time, released last month, collects songs that speak of many forms of intimacy directly, or investigate all the ways it falls apart. In their speaking, too, you can see the closeness from which this music is birthed—in the way the pair turn toward each other, waiting for the other to finish their thought, trusting each other enough to speak for both of them.
Bon comes out of a thoughtful pause to comment, “[Trust plays] a large role in our dynamic because it’s taken us a long time to get to the place we’re at, where often I leave and give Ryan the space to work on something for a long time. And that takes a lot of trust, it takes a lot of patience and connectivity.” Albert chimes in on an even more personal note, saying, “We’ve also been dating as long as we’ve been playing in Babehoven together. So I think that that also plays a part in this. Maya and I are pretty sensitive people, and we know how to talk to each other … Our goal is to talk to each other in ways that we each feel supported in ourselves, but also being there for the other person.”
Their sensitivity comes across in the music they make together—although it may sound gentle, the tracks often draw out a complex emotional map for the listener, with some terrains being more difficult than others. 2022 has been a prolific year for the Hudson-based pair, with an EP also released earlier this year. But on their first full-length, there seems to be something new, more sparkling and tangible. The songs reach toward the listener actively, and shimmer in your ears. Their trust for each other is not even a question.
This sort of communication is a large part of why the duo work so well together, with Bon commenting that Albert has the ability to become “egoless” in his work, never fighting back against her comments or critiques, even after a whole day of work on his part. But this sort of patient love (for their process, for others) shines through on their music, with tracks like lead single “I’m On Your Team” serving as anthems of togetherness. “‘I’m On Your Team’ was a song that I wrote intentionally,” Bon explains, “I wanted to write a song about hope for humanity, connection, community and growth and home.”
Much of their music, however, deals in heavier themes, with Bon’s lyrics being notable for their directness, wasting no time beating around the vulnerability bush. On actively thinking about people’s reactions to this, Bon is once again clear, saying, “It’s scary.” She continues, “What people are gonna take away from it, I try to not actually think about that too much, because it’s for me. I write because it comes out of me.” It makes sense, then, that her writing process would focus on this same meditative immediacy. “We [Bon and Ella Williams of Squirrel Flower] both press play on a voice memo and let the songs fall out of us, and that for me feels like a really vulnerable experience and also [a] really special experience, because I actually don’t feel like I’ve written these songs. They just come out of me and then I get to experience them, and they’re obviously very rooted in my experience, but that in and of itself is an interesting dichotomy, because I’m not intentionally writing about my experience. My experience comes out of my songs and shows itself to me, and it can be really intense. It can change my life.” And sometimes, it takes years for Babehoven to work their way back around to certain songs, production-wise, as it’s too painful at the outset. Bon offers “Often,” a song centering around the experience of losing family members who are still alive, as an example of a creative piece that totally shifted her perspective.
In songs like this, then, a lot of the search for closeness comes in. “I’ve dealt a lot with estrangement in my life and estranged family, big losses with people who are living, and music has definitely been the thing I turn to to write that quest for closeness, that I’m really seeking a way to communicate the incommunicable through. And I think it’ll be interesting to see how that shifts and grows as my relationships have shifted and grown. Big, major events have happened recently, and I’m curious how that will factor into the music, but for the past six years, it’s been this big … Almost like a cellular tower for me: I’m gonna put this into the ether and it’ll do nothing, but it’s going somewhere.”
Albert also tries to approach his work from an instinctual point, as he faces a severe inner critic—Bon chimes in that he has to go into “a zone.” And as Albert discusses the moments and people that he can trust throughout his creative process, the earnest sincerity hiding beneath his straightforward tone is touching: “I genuinely think Maya is one of the best songwriters ever,” he states. “And I just trust Maya’s ears … trust Maya’s musical decisions. You know what I mean? Maya’s one of the people in my life where I’m like, ‘Oh, Maya likes this? It must have something really good about it.’” Bon reciprocates his sentiment.
As for their hopes for the reactions of their audience, Bon comments, giggling, “I hope they think, ‘Wow, that’s a good song.’ And then they listen to another song, and they think … ‘Wow. That’s another good song.’” Her good humor gets at a truism—sometimes, the thing you want most immediately is for your audience to just … like your work. Albert chimes in, with the directness that is clearly a part of this couple, both creatively and in their personalities: “I think that I’d like people just to feel good. A lot of the songs are really emotional and I don’t think they’re really heavy, but I think that their emotional depth is very, very lush, and I hope that that makes people feel good, and I hope it isn’t just depressing or something.”
Bon reflects on the strangeness of this intimate connection with a crowd full of strangers, tuning in through their headphones. “It’s funny—I turn to music for my most personal, vulnerable explorations, and then those become my most public selves, like that’s what people see first. It’s like your deepest, most inner, most sensitive, most vulnerable person that you have inside you that only comes out when you’re fully alone, or with the person or people you’re closest with, then becomes the most public form of yourself, and that is hard to wrap your head around a little bit.” She follows up with an exclamation of gratitude grounded in realness, something that seems to further be a notable trait of hers, “And what a blessing that I can learn to be vulnerable in that way! I’m just still learning.”
So of course, although art may represent their rawest side, they are still full and complete people who can’t be contained in any one thing, even something as large as their art. When asked what doesn’t make it into their songs, Albert begins, “We kinda have a lot of bathroom humor,” whereas Bon follows up with, “Deep joy. Real, present joy.” Albert disagrees, calling such feelings “part of [Babehoven’s musical] pie chart, for me it is … at least when I’m playing it, you know?”
They like to help foster this same joy and energy of live performance in their own community, thriving off the energy of others. When they lived in L.A., they said, they would go and see live music almost every night. And now, Bon says, “We like to provide support networks for our friends. We host a lot of shows and host a lot of bands at the house, and we like to find that support network outside of our home, both for others and for ourselves … We really like to see people who are expressing themselves and feeling real and raw in what they’re doing.”
And then, as comes at the end of any good thing, the duo tell me a story—but not quite a bedtime story. Asked for a memory associated with the album, they each immediately think of the same one, the night behind the song “Do It Fast.” Bon sets the scene: “Well, I have a memory of coming home after I hit a deer in Vermont and was really in a dark, dark period of my life. We were living there during quarantine, where Ryan’s from … We were living in a small apartment, but our friend Max had come to visit, and we’d had this beautiful little week where he was the first person we’d seen other than Ryan’s family, who we didn’t even really see very much because of Covid, in months.”
“It was around the election, the presidential election,” Albert chimes in. Bon continues, “Yeah, so a really intense time, energetically, so much going on, and then I hit a deer in my car in the night and I was alone, I was panicking, and Ryan and Max came and picked me up, and they helped me get home, and then I wrote this song in front of both of them, which is really rare for me. I barely ever write music around other people, [except] Ryan. But Max was there, so that was even more people and Ryan hopped on the bass, which is also rare … Normally, I write just alone, I’ll just play the guitar [...] And it was really so good, it felt like this huge release and the song poured out, and it was like… We all had this feeling of … ”
“What the heck was that?” Albert finishes, the thought clearly humming over everybody’s heads. He continues, “And in that moment when it was right after Maya hit that deer, Maya was a stream of consciousness, I was playing bass stream of consciousness. There’s so much energy in the air because of the election and everyone was really afraid, and we were able to just be in this zone for 10 minutes, ‘cause the recorded version on the phone was just longer, and just being in that space—it felt very comfortable, it felt very exciting and it felt very honest, and [to] be in that moment with Maya and have one of my best friends Max there, just like as a fly on the wall, ‘cause he was also scared and it was a really heavy time.”
There is so much gratitude in their storytelling and voices, even when what they are talking about is a memory as weighty and mixed as this. And the intense presence found in this process reflects deeply in their music. They pull the listener to a center with them, allowing you to explore the space they create, even when it unravels musician and listener alike.
Light Moving Time
is out now on Double Double Whammy.
Rosa Sofia Kaminski is a Paste Music intern, writer, climber of trees and collector of odd treasures that she quickly loses, and is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She can be reached at @rosa.sofia.k on Instagram.