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Pierre and Henry Beasley of Balu Brigada (Image: Supplied)
Pierre and Henry Beasley of Balu Brigada (Image: Supplied)

PartnersMay 24, 2023

Balu Brigada is creating genre-bending music on the global stage

Pierre and Henry Beasley of Balu Brigada (Image: Supplied)
Pierre and Henry Beasley of Balu Brigada (Image: Supplied)

Signing to an international record label gave Auckland brothers Henry and Pierre Beasley the opportunity to spread their wings. Now based in NYC, the duo are staying digitally connected with home, their label and their fans all over the globe.

What is the sign that musicians have made it to the big leagues? There is no one answer, but for some New Zealand artists, one indication is saying goodbye to our isolated corner of the globe and spreading their wings internationally. By that metric, Balu Brigada have certainly achieved heights only dreamt of by most New Zealand artists. The two brothers from Auckland, Henry and Pierre Beasley, signed a deal with American record label Atlantic Records in 2022, and are now based in New York City.

When I speak to them, the pair are basking in the beautiful blue skies of Los Angeles’ endless summer on the opposite coast of the USA, while I hide in my house from another day of rainy Auckland. While all Aucklanders were stuck at home during the 2021 lockdown, the brothers were plucked from relative obscurity – like the small stages at their regular gigs on Karangahape Road’s Whammy Bar – by Atlantic Records, and celebrated the signing with the release of their first EP titled, ironically, I Should Be Home. It all happened just months after being named in Live Nation’s Ones to Watch programme, backed by One New Zealand, which aims to boost “up and coming local musicians” – a label the duo quickly outgrew.

Their combined musical journey has been a long time in the making, from performing in their parents’ lounge to the stages of Hollywood. When we speak they are honing their craft on a writing retreat in LA, after performing there a few nights prior. “After agonising over the final details of songs from a shoebox apartment, it’s been a real luxury to get to play a bunch of exotic instruments in some sunny studios”.

Being young musicians has provided a wealth of benefits for the brothers – they’re thankful to be part of the most technologically and digitally literate generation yet. “I can’t imagine what it was like a hundred years ago when you didn’t have the luxury of technology,” says Pierre. That luxury of digital connectivity enables the brothers to maintain contact with loved ones and their manager thousands of kilometres away.

“Being able to be connected and maintain relationships that mean a lot to you shapes your mood, and when you go to create some music, you’re in a better head space,” says Pierre. Not only that, but the digital world importantly allows artists to feel validated about their work. “It’s a nice little dopamine boost to know, wow, there’s some dude in Montreal who heard the song that me and Pierre wrote,” Henry says. “Seeing people in Australia and communities in New York like our music, that’s great validation-wise.” 

They’ve capitalised on their tech literacy, using platforms like Instagram and TikTok to clock up hundreds of thousands of views on videos promoting new songs, behind-the-scenes of creating their music and covers of global hits – all of which have allowed them to build an audience without crossing geographical boundaries. Touring and overseas promotion is still a crucial tool for the music industry, but for Balu Brigada, the digital space is proving a lucrative opportunity to build their fanbase.

Pierre and Henry Beasley of Balu Brigada (Image: Supplied)

Without an online presence, Atlantic Records might not have come knocking either. “An employee at Atlantic stumbled across our music on Spotify and then DM’d our instagram account,” the band explains. “There are a whole lot of bots and scammers who reach out with empty promises via social media DMs, so we didn’t think much of it at first. But it quickly went from a DM to a video call, to a Zoom meeting with the CEO of Atlantic Records in New York.

“This was all during lockdown in New Zealand so it was a bit surreal, after about nine months of going back and forth online, we finally got the chance to travel over to New York to sign the deal with them. The whole process was a lot to get our heads around since it seemed too good to be true, but we’ve been very pleasantly surprised (shocked, really) that we’ve genuinely been integrated into such a wild music scene on the other side of the world.”

Figuring out their sound has been a slow process since the Beasley brothers started making music together. They’ve been building their songwriting, production and instrumental skills since they were kids, but this patient approach has allowed them to carefully construct their strategy to take the music world by storm – and with 1.5m Spotify streams on their song Moon Man and an international contract, their plan is clearly working. 

Even after moving to New York, the brothers have maintained their connection back home – in large part thanks to the “wonders of digital media” – “having a manager back in New Zealand, we’ve had to make more of an effort to check in via Zoom calls and whatnot… I suppose we had a demo version of remote communication via the lock downs in 2021.”

 

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Moving to one of the world’s busiest cities has both enabled Balu Brigada’s journey to progress and been a slight distraction, the brothers admit. “Oh my gosh, I’m in fucking New York. I want to go do some New York things. So it’s ended up with us sleeping less than we probably should”, says Henry. Pierre adds that it’s brutal having to cover the “thousands, thousands and thousands of dollars more than you would pay for rent back home” – but the brothers agreed that it’s all worth it because the city provides a daily source of inspiration for their art. 

It’s hard to put a label on that art – some have used the terms indie-pop or alternative-pop to explain Balu Brigada, but Pierre said those categories are too vague to define their unique sound. Henry coined the term “groove-pop” to better describe Balu Brigada’s music, but foundationally their soundscapes are genre-bending. Their TikTok proves as much, where they’ve covered varying sounds, like Steve Lacy and Wallows

“We’ve always considered ourselves artists who pull from this artist in this genre and this artist in this genre on the other end and blend it all to create something that doesn’t necessarily have a label,” Pierre says. They cite genre-bending acts like Gorillaz, Outkast and Tyler the Creator among their inspirations. Being essentially genreless is important for plenty of young musicians: “for so many of the younger musicians coming up, the definitions of genre seem more and more irrelevant,” Henry says.

Since that out-of-the-blue DM from Atlantic, the Balu Brigada brothers have “hunkered down just the two of us in our little apartment in New York making music”, said Pierre. Following lots of TikTok teasers, their latest single, Designer, which they call “hypnotic modern disco”, dropped last month. 

Henry and Pierre are proud of this release because it was fully self-produced and self-written. They even directed and edited the music video themselves. The brothers say they have more singles coming out soon, building up to a new EP in June. Their goal right now is to tour the US and Europe, and a homecoming show would no doubt be appreciated by their fans in New Zealand too – although Whammy Bar might be too small this time round. 

Balu Brigada’s latest single, Designer, is out now wherever you listen to music.

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