The Belle Brigade
The Belle Brigade is an American vocal and instrumental duo from Los Angeles, California, consisting of siblings Barbara Gruska (born c. 1983) on guitar, drums, and vocals, and Ethan Gruska (born c. 1989) on guitar, piano, and vocals. The duo released its first album, The Belle Brigade, in 2011 to positive critical response.
The Gruskas come from a musical family. Their father, Jay Gruska, is a movie and television composer, and their grandfather is multiple-Oscar-winning composer John Williams. Their great-grandfather was Raymond Scott Quintet drummer Johnny Williams, and other relatives also worked as professional drummers. Barbara Gruska studied jazz drumming at Oberlin College and CalArts and drummed for performers such as Fiona Apple, Chrissie Hynde, Ray Lamontagne, K.D. Lang, Neko Case, Jenny Lewis, Benji Hughes and Inara George. Ethan also studied at CalArts. While giving birth to Ethan, their mother, Jenny Williams Gruska, suffered a stroke; she recovered, and her story became the basis for a 1994 NBC television film entitled A Time to Heal (for which their father wrote the music) and later for their song "Lucky Guy".
Barbara and Ethan began a band together in 2008. Their first album, The Belle Brigade, was co-produced by Barbara, Ethan and Matthew Wilder and released on Reprise Records in April 2011. The duo has toured with such acts as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, G. Love & Special Sauce, k.d. lang, Dawes, and Blitzen Trapper.
They also feature a song on the Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 1 soundtrack, "I Didn't Mean It", and performed Bob Dylan's "No Time to Think" on the Amnesty International benefit album Chimes of Freedom.
The band's second full-length album, Just Because, was released in March 2014. The Gruskas wanted to pursue a more individual sound on the follow-up, and after the record company expressed its dissatisfaction, the band took the record to independent ATO Records.
The Belle Brigade's music, marked by harmonies reminiscent of The Everly Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel, has been described as having roots in the classic California pop rock and country sounds of groups like Fleetwood Mac and The Flying Burrito Brothers as well as The Beatles. Ethan Gruska has said that their strongest influence is Paul Simon's solo work.
Their debut album has received critical attention and praise. Los Angeles Times music writer Randall Roberts described their album as "a dozen California pop gems" and said of their first single, "Losers": "A defiant, classically structured song about being sick of social games, pretense and irony, "Losers" feels like one of those works of alienation that's existed forever, one that would ring true just as clearly had it been released in 1957 or 1974." L.A. Times record reviewer Mikael Wood called the album "the sound of a record nerd’s dream come to messy, muscular life." Newsday critic Glenn Gamboa referred to their "doe-eyed innocence . . . that makes their sun-kissed '70s SoCal sound even more appealing." Paste reviewer Alexandra Fletcher listed their song "Where Not to Look for Freedom" as one of her "10 New Songs For The 2011 Summer". And El Paso Times reviewer Doug Pullen called the album "charming, compelling, timeless and inspiring—and worthy of repeated listening" and said it was his "favorite album this year."
- Randall Roberts, "Kin tight act", Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2011.
- Randall Roberts, "Kin tight act", Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2011. ("Barbara and Ethan Gruska, ages 28 and 21, respectively . . .")
- Bill Palmer, "The Belle Brigade interview: Beatweek Rising Star 2011", Beatweek, May 10, 2011.
- Tom Lanham, "Get on board with The Belle Brigade", San Francisco Examiner, April 8, 2011.
- "Jenny Lewis rocks and lulls at National show", Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 4, 2009. ("The band's drummer, Barbara Gruska, can also be credited for inserting a hefty dose of fierce to Lewis' stage show. A highlight of the night came with an intense set-ending percussion jam between Gruska and Haim, a display that would certainly quell any scoffing about a female's ability with drumsticks.")
- Mikael Wood, "Album review: The Belle Brigade's self-titled debut", Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2011.
- "On-Campus Experience: More Student Interviews" at CalArts official website (accessed June 21, 2011).
- Kevin Bronson, "The Belle Brigade: All in the Family", L.A. Weekly, March 31, 2011.
- JC Poppe, "The Belle Brigade transforms music lineage into original sound", OnMilwaukee.com, November 4, 2011.
- Melissa Locker, "The Belle Brigade Make Magic Happen in “How I See It”: Premiere; The Belle Brigade's album, Just Because, drops March 25." Time, February 14, 2014.
- Mikael Wood, "The Belle Brigade does things its way this time, 'Just Because'. The Belle Brigade's Barbara and Ethan Gruska say their debut album was 'funneled' through others' desires and that 'Just Because' is more theirs. They changed labels to get it released." Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2014.
- Jane Stevenson, "Ray LaMontagne stellar during Toronto Supernova tour stop", Toronto Sun, June 9, 2014.
- Randall Roberts, "SXSW 2011: The festival's memorable moments", Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2011.
- Wyndham Wyeth, "The Belle Brigade: The Belle Brigade", Paste, April 18, 2011.
- Mike Ragogna, "Treme & Beyond: Conversations with Steve Earle, The Belle Brigade and Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion", The Huffington Post, April 19, 2011.
- Glenn Gamboa, "Drops: The Belle Brigade's debut album", Newsday, April 15, 2011 (pay site).
- Alexandra Fletcher, "10 New Songs For The 2011 Summer", Paste, June 20, 2011.
- Doug Pullen, "Doug Pullen: Belle Brigade's riveting album at top of my list", El Paso Times, May 17, 2011.