Interview Series: Bathe.
An Origin Story
Brooklyn, NY-based duo Bathe – comprised of producer and multi-instrumentalist Corey, and singer-songwriter Devin – have only a single official release to their name, yet the pair have already carved out a wholly cohesive and distinct sonic identity for themselves.
If it sounds like Corey and Devin know each other too intimately for this to be their first collaboration, it’s because it isn’t: Corey names Bathe the “4th or 5th iteration of [them] trying to start a project together,” but the first one “to click pretty effortlessly.” The two, who met in college at UPenn, have worked together frequently over the years, as part of jam bands, rap collectives, acoustic projects and more – but nothing really stuck.
“We started off as very casual/unsuccessful collaborators,” explains Devin. “Corey would send me a beat to work on, I’d take too long to work on it, and he’d delete the link.” Later, the pair moved in with a few mutual friends from college and created a studio in the attic. “Everyone used it separately initially,” says Devin, “but soon enough we started collaborating with each other and our good friend Ivy Sole. We really brought out the best in each other that summer. But summers end and the project lost steam [although Ivy Sole remains a close friend].”
Bathe, though, felt different.
Eventually, after honing their craft for another two and a half years, working from various Brooklyn apartments, they decided it was time to make something official. To that end, Devin explains that an epiphany of sorts was had – and that it forced them to take action.
“You can refine and refine, seek feedback, incorporate that feedback, and wake up at 35 with a product that gets you no closer to where you want to be,” he told us. “So Corey and I set a deadline for when ‘Sure Shot’ needed to exist in the world no matter what, and we made it happen.”
Rewind: The Beginnings
One commonality between Devin and Corey is their shared musical pedigree. Devin’s mom is a jazz singer, which led him to attend gigs in and around New York during most of his childhood; later, following what he describes as a “failed career as a child actor and several botched auditions for NYC performing arts schools,” he landed at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, in whose vocal program he was a student. Following a series of rap projects throughout college, he settled in on his current role as R&B vocalist par excellence.
Corey, meanwhile – citing his “musical ADHD” – describes his musical upbringing as having been filled with several instruments, each of which he picked up and dropped just as quickly, before he finally settled on electric guitar in high school. His older cousin then introduced him to making beats, and at a certain point, he realized the two forms – guitar and beats – need not be mutually exclusive; that he could, at once, channel both his love of indie music (e.g., Toro y Moi and TV on the Radio) and the hip-hop/soul that his cousin had introduced him to.
Bathe, then, is the culmination of a lengthy journey of both artists – individually, at first, and then together. And yet, while it’s an ending point, it’s also a fresh start, and an endeavour to break ground in unfamiliar territories.
Exploring Identities & Defying Conventional Wisdom
Says Corey, the genesis of their self-described “Surf R&B” sound stems from the combination of their influences from Motown classics (e.g., The Spinners’ discography) and Surf Pop ones (e.g., The Beach Boys’ “I Guess I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times”).
He notes that “the line between [these] two genres had more to do with the segregation of the music industry at the time than the two styles being sonically distant.”
“With Bathe, we set out to bridge that gap, but in a contemporary way,” he proclaims.
Indeed, “Sure Shot,” Bathe’s first and only single to date, sounds off as a powerful reclamation of west-coast-associated, and some might say conventionally white-sounding, rock flavours. The latter notion is, of course, misconceived; rock-n-roll owes much if not most of its origins to R&B – itself a derivation of blues and jazz – which is a musical format that was conceived and pioneered entirely by black musicians. Nonetheless, it’s a widely-held view – that rock music is predominantly white music – which ought to be rebuked.
These two narratives – (a) that the surf sound belongs to NY, too, and (b) that rock can be a lens through which to explore blackness – are central to Bathe’s identity.
Regarding the influence of their surroundings on their music, both Corey and Devin explain to us that New York, and Brooklyn, specifically, are not just part of Bathe’s musical story; they are that from which it stems, most basically. “I’ve spent several really important summer nights at Coney Island, and it’s become this wonderfully (terribly?) comprehensive representation of Brooklyn and the greater NYC,” says Devin. “You’re constantly wading through crowds, spending your life savings on overpriced food, and contending with the changing cultural and physical landscape.”
“But there are these really brief, sacred moments when the noise recedes,” he continues. “When it’s just me, my loved ones, and the water, and there are few places I’d rather be. So our surf music is a little different – a little darker and a lot more introspective. But it’s just as connected to the water.”
Adds Corey, “I just think NYC lends itself to Surf-y music in a different way than LA. Whereas Californians might go to the beach then sing about it, New Yorkers dream about being on the beach and sing about that. I might be sitting on the J train gliding over the Hudson on the way to work, but in my mind I’m probably walking through the tide on Rockaway.”
When producing for Bathe, Corey tells us that he tries to “paint the feelings around those fleeting daydreams.” He calls NYC Surf music “Cali Surf’s dreamier slightly more melancholy cousin,” before hesitating and adding that he’s not quite sure – that, after all, they’re just figuring it out as they go.
He describes his relationship with Devin as being inherently symbiotic: “Dev has challenged me to become more experimental and cinematic in my approach to production, and I think I’ve helped Dev put more stock in writing catchy hooks and finding creative ways to use his voice.”
On Dreams, Ambitions, and Creating a Lasting Impact
Citing Album by Girls, I Want You by Marvin Gaye and Leon Ware, and Madvillainy by Madlib and MF Doom, Corey explains that his favourite records are ones where the talents of the singer and producer line up perfectly. He says that he wants to create a “classic record” and play a tour where the crowd gives way to a sing-a-long.
And he reiterates that Bathe’s intended message goes a lot further than music; he wants desperately “to show young black kids that the lines between genres and identities are super arbitrary and you really can do whatever you want by just being yourself.”
Devin, too, holds this goal dear: “Culturally, I’d like to be a part of a growing cohort of artists and story-tellers who are crafting known but untold accounts of blackness. I want Bathe to be brought up in conversations alongside Issa Rae, Hanif Abduraqib, or Laverne Cox. I want Bathe albums to give black and brown kids the room to embrace black musical traditions AND anything else we’ve (falsely) told them exists outside of those traditions.”
Financially, he insists that they don’t need much – a moderate income, enough to sustain themselves without a 9-5, would be perfect. He ends with the following:
Musically, I want Corey and I to create a classic, genre-defining (-breaking?) album. I want our music to bring us around the world. I want a Grammy. Maybe. I don’t know.
. . .