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Embrace your inner space cowboy with Baby Jey at Sled Island 2024

By Ansharah Shakil, June 23 2024—

Indie rock band Baby Jey made a return to this year’s Sled Island, performing on June 22 at Eighty-Eight Brewing Co. Now based in Brooklyn, Baby Jey are originally from Edmonton, but their ties to Calgary remain strong, as core member Jeremy Witten — who plays guitar and keyboard along with lead vocals — shared in an interview with the Gauntlet.

Baby Jey was formed by Witten and co-writer Dave Kheroufi, on bass and backing vocals, in 2015 before the addition of Trevor McNeely on lap steel guitar and Connor Ellinger on drums in 2017. Witten said coming to Calgary for Sled Island is always exciting because it’s a different and unique community from Edmonton’s supportive but smaller art scene. 

“I love Calgary, I have family here [and I’ve] been coming here since I was a kid,” he said. 

After their 2018 album Someday Cowboy, Baby Jey released Crop Circles in 2023, available for streaming on services like Spotify and Bandcamp. 

““The first record was really musing on the cowboy motif, and Crop Circles [has] a little bit of the rural and the cosmic at the same time,” Witten said.

Joining Witten to play bass was Avery Zingel, who called Baby Jey’s newest record something you can dance to, perform a two-step to. 

“They’re both pop records with a handful of love songs or break-up songs, but the instrumentation is quite different. We lean more into the electronic instruments this time around. There’s more synthesizers, more drum machines,” Witten elaborated. “The more recent record is poppier, dancier.”

Witten’s favourite track on Crop Circles is “Swing Like This”, which is one of the closest to realizing the artistic vision for the jazz-influenced record.

“It’s dancy and it’s got a pedal-steel guitar solo right in the middle of it and it’s kind of referencing new jack swing music a little bit,” he said. “Swing is one of those words that stuck with me. It’s this word for dance that isn’t really tied to any particular music genre, it transcends these borders.”

When it comes to choosing their setlists, Baby Jey will often mix in slow songs with upbeat songs. Witten’s favourite thing about performing is dancing. 

“I like feeling the music and getting the crowd excited and I like being silly,” he said. 

“You’re always collecting information and things and facts and I feel like you have a rich inner life that shows up in your songs,” Zingel added. 

Witten provided an example of one such random fact of ostriches having eyes bigger than their brains. These elements of curiosity and vitality are all at play in Baby Jey’s music, and getting the whole crowd to sing and play along with it is one of the things the band looks forward to. 

“I think that music has an ability to communicate all kinds of things and allow you as an artist to express things that you’re feeling or deal with things that you might not be able to articulate but you need to let come out of you somehow,” Witten said. “So I feel like I’m in tune with the range of things that music can do […] like if I have a friendship or relationship that I want to sing about for some kind of catharsis, that might come out. Or if I have something I’m really angry about, like ATM fees or something, I might write a song about how I really hate ATM songs.”

“There’s a place for an ATM fees song in this world,” Zingel agreed. 

Witten reconciled the band’s 2018 song “Someday My Space Cowboy Will Come” with their new sound by explaining that Crop Circles captures the two different worlds of outer space and countryside. Some of the main influences to that sound are Sade, Todd Rundgren, Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan.  

“I really listen to music from a longer time ago and I study pop song-writing from an intellectual level,” Witten said. “I’m always breaking down songs and going where does the hook come in, [the] verse, bridge, this, that. My parents, when I was growing up, had records by the Clash, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan. I grew up with parents who were big musicheads. And then you see the Alberta culture and symbolism of the cowboy, and I think we just wanted to take that starting place and move it in a different direction.” 

More about Baby Jey and Crop Circles can be found on the Sled Island website.

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