Baby Dave’s Monkey Brain is a record of deeply personal stories and a frank account of coming to terms with one’s mental health. The debut record was released earlier this year and saw the artist (AKA Slaves’ Isaac Holman) collaborating with Damon Albarn, who co-produced much of the record. We met Isaac in the green room of YES before Baby Dave took to the Pink Room for their debut Manchester show.
Riot: We’re here in Manchester ahead of the third date on this tour – what’s the reaction been like to the new material?
BD: It’s been great… Literally, everyone’s been singing along to everything, even just like little bits that aren’t words, like little bits of the tunes. It’s cool and very nice. Though I’m just trying not to laugh every night… There’s something quite comical about it!
Has there been an adjustment to how you perform with Baby Dave? Fronting a whole band must be totally different to being half of a two-piece
Yeah… It’s kind of the same, but I felt very, like, safe behind the drum kit. You almost feel a bit protected because you’ve got your thing that you’re doing, and now I’m just literally standing there at the front of a stage. I still don’t think I’ve quite got there yet in terms of like working out how to move and how to stand and stuff.
Do you play instruments during the live show or are you purely a singing frontman now?
I play keys on like one tune and I play guitar for two, the rest of it is just me fronting it. But I’m starting to feel a bit more comfortable with it now.
We really loved ‘Monkey Brain’, which is quite a personal record. It comes from a dark place and you’ve expressed it really beautifully, but is it difficult to be that open and vulnerable in front of a crowd?
I think I found it quite difficult at the start. Not necessarily live, but like in terms of sort of speaking publicly about it, it felt very alien. And, you know, I was like a typical bloke, hiding my feelings for years. Then when I was like: “no, I wanna start talking about it”, it felt quite weird, but also quite cathartic at the same time. When I’m doing it live with the band, it doesn’t really feel like that. I’ve got to a place in my life where I’m so comfortable talking about my feelings and stuff… It doesn’t really feel like a thing anymore.
Musically, Baby Dave and ‘Monkey Brain’ are quite different to much of your previous work – was it a conscious decision to make something totally different of was it borne out of your surroundings?
It started out with me working with what I had, I was at home with my parents when I started writing this stuff. I had a MacBook with GarageBand on it… I was scared to get Logic or anything like that because I get like overwhelmed by too many things. Then obviously I went into the studio with like Damon and he did his thing on it and made it something a bit different.
I didn’t set out to make any sort of like specific genre or anything, I like to think that it’s still a bit genre-less. I know it’s obviously “indie music”, but when people ask me about it, I don’t quite know how to explain it. I feel pretty good about the fact that I can’t quite describe it to someone.
What is next for you? Will Baby Dave return after this tour or can we expect Isaac Holman in a different form?
This is my thing for now. I’m focusing on getting this off the ground and it seems to be gaining momentum, which feels good. It feels like people are catching onto it and yeah. I’m liking where it’s going. So I’m gonna crack on with this for a while.
Earlier you described Baby Dave as genreless, but I wanted to know what, if anything, influenced you musically when creating ‘Monkey Brain’?
I don’t really think I was listening to anything. I was working doing gardening, and I was just listening to podcasts and shit. At the time I was pretty fucking unwell and I wasn’t really listening to any music. I wasn’t really taking much enjoyment out of anything.
So ‘Monkey Brain’ is pure, distilled Isaac Holman?
Yeah, I suppose… I also find when I’m making music, I don’t really listen to much music, I find it distracting. I don’t really like to take too much influence-wise. Obviously, there’s influences in the broader spectrum of my life that have gone into this music, of course. But at the time I don’t think I was really listening to anything specific.
Baby Dave brought their brand of lo-fi indie pop to Manchester’s YES on a balmy August evening. And before support act – local punks ‘Duvet’ – had finished their fuzzy energetic slot, the Pink Room was beginning to heat up and the young crowd were reaching fever pitch early doors.
Baby Dave’s live band consists of frontman Holman, keys, guitar, drums, bass, and sax. The group are on spectacular form too, having warmed into the tour with shows in Edinburgh and Leeds, and BD are already hitting their stride with opener ‘Too Shy For Tennis’. Despite his earlier misgivings, Isaac is already an enigmatic frontman. Kitted out in Adidas trackies, a vest and some sports shades, Holman exudes cool in an understated and genuine way, holding the crowd in the palm of his hand as he professes love for his ‘Gen Z Baby’, or details his mental health struggles.
The band are tight and well drilled too, with Holman in fine voice. The icing on the Baby Dave cake is surely the sax, which accompanies the genre-less ‘Monkey Brain’ cuts beautifully, achieving a level of funky transcendence, elevating the sweaty Pink Room into raptures. ‘Robert’ is a real highlight, where Holman professes his love for a close friend – not only is the track a feel-good singalong number but Baby Dave close it out with an outro borne straight from Slaves’ punky roots.
Baby Dave is a truly unique musical prospect – as Holman himself said, the sound is difficult to define. There are shades of classic reggae and ska in there, as well as hints of R&B and classic 00’s pop and rap. The main endearing quality of Baby Dave, however, is the purity and reality of the group. Holman is so frank, honest and open in the lyrics of ‘Monkey Brain’ that the live experience is a powerfully safe space, where people are free to express themselves and their attachments to Holman’s deeply personal work.
photo credit: Harvey Williams-Fairley