Words by Harrison Stewart-Weeks //
You may not have heard of Baby Beef yet and they want you to know that’s ok. Since the release of their debut single, ‘Just Relax 2018,’ the band has only played a handful of live shows. Couple that with the fact that the accompanying video clip looks like something out of a Tim and Eric sketch you could be forgiven for writing them off as joke band. Once you take a closer look you’ll see that they’re much, much more.
The song’s lyrical content unashamedly addresses mental health, failed relationships and day-to-day anxiety. The production balances on the edge of absurdity – borrowing the best (and revamping the worst) elements of ‘80s pop to make something unmistakably modern. It has the combined effect of making you want to get up and dance while simultaneously asking you to sit and reflect.
Their latest effort, ‘Better Yet,’ is a continued discussion on the same themes. Drenched in a smooth veneer of quirky art-pop with lyrics that are cast in light and shadow, it’ll make you want to dance, cry and hug your best friend.
Catch Baby Beef live at The Lansdowne this Saturday supporting Joseph Liddy and The Skeleton Horse (info here), and get to know the three-piece a little better in our interview with Hewett Cook (Baby Beef), Cameron Stephens (Christian Valuez) and Hayley Lyon (Mumma Beef) below:
Hewett: Baby Beef is at the same time all of us and myself. It exists of many levels. It also extends to our friend Mark Piccles (ADKOB), who mixes our music, and even our audience. I’d like it eventually to be a really big celebration of music and for everyone to feel like they belong to it.
Hayley and I used to work at a cafe and we were often pretty bored. One of our favourite games was to just come up with premises for pixar movies. We came up with this movie called “Baby Beef”. It was about this little lamb, called Hewey, but he was the runt of the litter and he had black spots like a cow. He was teased and called “Baby Beef”. Eventually he embraced his weirdness and all his siblings did as well and he became the president of the farm.
Hewett: Yeah, yeah, it is. It comes from a place of love and acceptance. Self-love and accepting yourself.
Hewett: It’s therapeutic for myself, first and foremost. I think the therapy continues beyond me writing it and carries on with me sharing it. That’s the final stage of therapy I think – being able to discuss it and sing it.
Hewett: There’s a lot of humour in the way we hang out and obviously we’ve been friends for like a long time. We had several nights where we had drunk a bottle of wine and as we were building on the song we were adding elements into the song just to make eachother laugh and be like, “is this too much?”
Cameron: Yeah, we’d know when it was too much.
Hewett: I don’t think it was difficult because it came from such a genuine, honest place.
Hayley: I don’t feel the corniness or the cliched-ness of it. It’s a very modern take on those sounds. Definitely listening to the songs for the first time the lyrical content and the way it all came together was very attractive to my ear. I’m not necessarily a huge ‘80s music fan… [but] for me it’s very comfortable.
Hewett: We were limited in budget definitely, but also limited in skill. Especially when it came to the video. That was the first time that we’d ever done it. It was a very honest performance. We’re light hearted people I suppose.
Hayley: There’s no facade about Baby Beef. Like you said in the very first question – who is Baby Beef? Everybody who sees [the clip] feels included because everybody is always fumbling a little bit through everything. Nobody’s certain to begin with, so maybe that’s the point.
Hewett: A big inspiration of mine is Bruce Springsteen. Not so much sonically. I have this little mantra that I say to myself every time I record music and it’s, “Born to Run didn’t happen by chance.” It’s just something that someone worked so hard on and created this masterpiece. That’s my biggest non-musical inspiration. Musically, everything’s on the table. I’ll try anything. I didn’t intend to make anything sound like it was from the ‘80s or pay homage to the ‘80s. I guess it stems from my parents music collection. I think it just seeps out without.
Cameron: David Byrne would have to be listed as a big influence.
Hewett: Yeah, he’s God.
Hewett: Yeah, a bit of Ween.
Hayley: Anything your parents listened to when you were a child you kind of absorb and then you spit it out.
Hewett: This song was derived from a Casio keyboard initially. It’s half biographical and half… not. As opposed to ‘Just Relax’ being very personal. This is a little more like an umbrella of emotion. I was struggling to move on from a dark place and this specific relationship that I had with someone who was very inspirational to me. It was a glorious time. A friendship. We were never lovers. It was just a really personal relationship and it ended quite abruptly and I got pretty hurt by that.
As I said before, music is therapy to me, so I wrote a song or, rather, lyrically I wrote about it. That’s one part of the song. Then the chorus is kind of a step by step guide to getting yourself out of a rut. A how to. Well, from my own personal experience. A how to if you’re me. Cameron came to me with this musical idea and he told me to write something that was happy. This was the happiest thing I could write at the time.
Hayley: But it is surprisingly uplifting. It’s definitely lyrically more ambiguous than ‘Just Relax’. But it’s a very uplifting song when you listen to it.
Hewett: Yeah, it’s positive. It’s as optimistic as ever.
Cameron: We wanted to get a lot of shots of Hewett moving and we thought public transport was a pretty easy option. There were a lot of good locations and then the whole idea of this song being a “moving on” type of song. What better visual metaphor than using heaps of public transport. What we didn’t account for was the general public.
Hewett: We were on the tram trying to get these shots and we did a pretty big day of filming a lot of stuff…
Hewett: Not just that, but just the one song. Our own music, unmixed.
Hayley: And just doing the same thing over and over again. We were in a kid’s park at one stage and me and Cam were laying across the little horsey thing… I can’t remember what that is… and Hewett was on the swing in front of us and people were walking past and just like…
Cameron: The whole idea was that Hayley and I were taking Hewett on these trips to cheer him up because, you know, he’s been having a rough time lately. As the song progresses he starts to feel a bit better.
Hewett: I think we get there in that one [ferry] take.
Hayley: The rest of the takes we just ended up all looking just very sad. It wasn’t taking Hewett out for a trip.
Hewett: We had a good day anyway, regardless of the shooting.