Baby Calendar is a textbook example of how an indie band makes it. Sort of.
The trio Tom Gorrio, Jackie Biver, and Arik Dayan just issued its first nationally distributed album, Gingerbread Dog, and went on its first Southeast tour this past summer. This month the group plays at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York, one of the biggest music festivals of the year. It's a modest amount of success for a band that continues to improve year after year.
Gorrio, a 25-year-old Peruvian who moved here when he was three years old, says all the band members grew up in Miami. Dayan (drums, xylophone, and tambourine) also came to Miami as a child. His girlfriend, 28-year-old Biver (bass, keyboards, and vocals) is a native Miamian. Each member spent time in other bands prior to Baby Calendar: Gorrio played in Lasso the Moon and a punk band called the Be Sharps, and Biver played in a rock group called Para.
"Everybody that we know plays in a band or two," says Gorrio. He notes that there are "hundreds" of bands in Miami, but most of them break up or change their name within a year. Since so few of them have enough stamina and drive to survive and build a formidable fan base, the local scene tends to be jaded and cynical. After all, why support a crappy rock band if it breaks up just as it gets good?
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It took about three years for Baby Calendar to earn the trust of local indie fans. The group began with just Gorrio and Biver writing songs together for fun. In 2004 the couple put out a CD, Your Move, and played a few tentative-sounding shows at I/O Lounge and Churchill's Pub, with Gorrio on acoustic guitar and Biver on keyboard. They grew bored of doing acoustic shows, so they went electric and added 22-year-old Dayan, also formerly of Lasso the Moon. A second self-released album, 2005's Fifteen Year Old Sneakers, marked Baby Calendar's artistic development.
"We were really nervous and stiff," Biver says of those early shows. "But we all really loosened up." Now, says Biver, Baby Calendar plays "happy" shows. "When we finish playing, everybody's like, 'Oh, we like listening to your music. It makes me smile a lot.' So we try to keep a positive vibe."
Baby Calendar began playing shows outside Miami and eventually reached Athens, Georgia. An acquaintance there told them about Mike Turner, owner of a small but respected indie label called Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records. Biver says the band wooed him: "I sent him a package with some little handmade pieces of fabric, some music, and a letter." After months of correspondence, Turner agreed to put out the group's third disc, Gingerbread Dog.
Issued this past May, Gingerbread Dog inspired by a dog owned by a member of local band Fake Problems is far and away Baby Calendar's best album to date. Though still a large part of the band's identity, the cuteness factor isn't so dominant. Instead the group constructs tightly wound rock arrangements that contrast nicely against Gorrio and Biver's harmonies.
"Everybody likes the new songs a lot. People say we're taking a new direction and that it's more mature," says Gorrio. Standout songs include "Laboratories" and "Lemon Snaps," as well as "The Way of the Samurai," on which he sings of getting bullied in the second grade. "I'd daydream of swords and nunchucks/camouflage masks/Why I'd be a samurai," he sings. "I'll take them all, I'll take them all/Make sure they'd regret messing with."
"The main thing we sing about is love songs," says Gorrio, "through little scenarios inside the song, but not saying it so literally." Occasionally, as on "The Way of the Samurai," they talk about other stuff, but everything has a positive message.
"We've grown into a mixture of serious and funny and cutesy somewhere in the middle. We have some ideas about wanting songs to be colorful and bright and fun, but at the same time we want them to have depth and to express the things we're thinking about," says Biver. "We're not trying to be cutesy, but we've definitely accepted that it's part of our thing."
Now Baby Calendar is gathering momentum. In August it performed at Athens Popfest, a three-day music festival organized by the group's record label. The showcase put Baby Calendar on the radar of many indie-rock fans, and Gorrio and Biver's boy-girl harmonies favorably drew comparisons to veteran groups like Mates of State and Rainer Maria. CMJ comes later this month.
"We want to take this as far as we can go and want as many people to hear and experience our music as possible," says Biver.
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