Stellar followup is no “Fiction” on new Babcock EP

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When I was first introduced to Stephen Babcock through his prior record Said & Done, I could sense his developing potential. The kind of young musician beginning to reach out and establish himself as he found the basis of his sound and where it might possibly stake his career.

Said & Done felt like the initial foundation of that structure, built on charming acoustic-laden fixtures. Now, Babcock’s new release Fiction feels as though the walls of that metaphor are starting to build up and take on a greater shape. Not that it isn’t without its fair share of familiar moments.

The folky Dawes send-up of album opener “Atlanta” and folk-rock of “Seersucker Dress” could certainly slot in easily alongside tracks from Said & Done. I think the major difference for Babcock on this album though, is more experience. As with any talent, getting to constantly learn, hone and repeat your art is always the best medicine. And you hear those results both in the familiar, speedway-chugging, Paul Simon wit of “Atlanta”, as well as the real left turns that start coming in with tracks like “Darlin” and “Good Things”. The first gets off the ground on the wheels of a boisterously racing Hank Williams-style hoedown, while the other is a smoky, organ-accented blues take that rewards Babcock handsomely for reaching outside the box.

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In fact, “Good Things” final, guitar-searing crescendo may be the most head-turning moment of the whole record. Its the kind of hallmark standout that takes a good song and makes it great, while hinting at greater vision along with it.

Closer “5A” settles back into what Babcock does best without ringing of repetition or ground retread. If the first four tracks of Fiction weren’t enough to have you at least humming a chorus or harmony the first listen in, the earworming lines of “5A” will handle the rest.

Now ordinarily this would be the line where I’d riff a closing pun about how Babcock’s talent is no Fiction, but since I already did it in the title suffice it say: put this album in your summer playlist. You’re gonna have fun.

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Find Stephen online at stephenbabcockmusic.com, on Spotify, and where good social media is sold! 

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“Atlanta” gives 2018 the right side of folk rock kick

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As we wind down March and meander into April, it seems like a biennial rite of spring to hear new music fresh off the grapevine in 2018 from New York City troubadour Stephen Babcock. His prior album Said & Done was a fresh favorite of mine and a hot topic on this site at about this time in 2016. Now, two years later Babcock’s preparing followup EP Fiction, due out April 6th.

And while my first thought is its been two years already? What’s really important here is the song. On one hand, “Atlanta” continues the best qualities of Babcock’s well-crafted songwriting. Though in this case, it feels as though it hones in more on the Ryan Adams Gold-era as opposed to John Mayer’s Room For Squares. You can sense the growth in Babcock’s craft since Said & Done, tinkering and getting his weapons sharper. The instruments feel thicker here, with variations and new inclusions that show promise for the entire album’s direction. While the rest of the track hooks with the charm of a foot-tapping Southern ladykiller.

If the reason for our slow start to Spring has been because we don’t have enough 2018 summer driving songs to warm things up, lets start with “Atlanta”. That Jason Isbell-y sounding guitar hum that kicks towards the end is worth the miles alone.

Check out “Atlanta” over on Spotify, and Stephen Babcock online at stephenbabockmusic.com! 

Babcock Brings “5A” To Our Floor For New Video Debut

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of collaborating with smooth-folk troubadour Stephen Babcock in order to discuss his current LP Said & Done. Babcock was a new face to me at the time, and I found myself immediately charmed by his music.

For one thing, it’s often easily straightforward without being stereotypically indie or coffeehouse. No offense to the Bon Iver’s or St Vincent’s of the world, but it’s often pleasant to just go back to the bare essentials of music’s bedrock beginnings. The era when folk music felt like an innocence rapidly turning cloudy, or… ya know, when a man named Dylan came along and changed the game forever.

Babcock has that same stripped down charm to his sound, as well as a sense for songwriting that combines to make for a hard punch in a velvet glove. It was a prominent force on Said & Done, and also makes a fresh appearance for Babcock’s latest song “5A”.

Shot in Central Park for A Remote Session, “5A” finds Babcock directly in his element. With just a guitar slung across his shoulder and a song on his sleeve, he strolls casually singing about a relationship gone on a downward bender.

He opines, “She was an hourglass, she could spare no time” with a gentle reserve some might spare for conversation eased into the picture frame of a moment. In a sense the cinematography of the video fits that conversational tone as well, painting Babcock as the everyman’s example of making the difficult look easy.

It’s a reminder of a simple adage that seems relatively forgotten nowadays: less is more. A reminder that yeah maybe you can’t get a bank of synthesizers or a quartet of strings, but you can still take out a guitar and make it sing.

Check out the video for “5A” up above, and be sure to go find Stephen on social media if you like/want to hear more of what you see! And be sure not to miss the line in this song “is it bad that I miss her mother more than I miss her?”.

It might not jump out at first, but it’s a deceptive killer.

 

 

 

Views From The Road: Catching Up With Stephen Babcock


I always find April to be an interesting time in life and in the world as I know it. 

On one hand I think of it like that because it is the month of my birth (originally supposed to be in May, don’t ask), but also because April is such a time of travel and transition. The temperatures creep up higher, the last of those stubbornly sticking snow piles disappear, and it finally starts to make sense to leave home in order to pursue a view from other windows. 

So as I take my own advice and look out upon a window scene that is not my own, I share with you the words of someone else who is doing much the same. As you may remember, OTBEOTB spoke with musician Stephen Babcock back in March about his album Said & Done. As is often the case, we did a review on the album as well as an email interview with Stephen who was kind enough to answer some questions and add some…. illumination to the man behind the music. 

Luckily, Stephen recently reached out to us again and we wound up chatting about touring life, the reception to Said & Done, and a bit of what the world of a traveling musician is all about. 


1. Hey Stephen, good to catch up with you again. How has touring life been treating you since we last spoke around the release of your album “Said & Done”? And how have the audiences enjoyed it as you’ve toured it out?

(SB): So far things have been really great! The release show was amazing and really blew me away with how people responded to the songs. The shows lately have been really fun as people start to learn the songs and the words. I see people singing the lyrics at shows now, which is super surreal. It means a lot to me to see that. The songs mattered enough to someone that they learned the words and feel invested in the lyrics. That’s pretty darn cool.

2. Are some areas you’ve toured to more or less receptive to the music, or do you find that the places you tour to are pretty much all greeting you warmly?

(SB): So far its been pretty warm everywhere, but I’ll be honest, my music always feels right when I am in the south. Since the subject matter is mostly about being in the Southern US, I think people really grab onto that when I am playing down there. Still, the songs are really all about heartbreak in one way or another, and that resonates with folks no matter where they are from.


3. What’s life on the road like, depending on whether you’ve touring solo or with other bands? As a music writer who has always aspired to see the touring life, give us a mental taste of what some of that day to day is like. 

(SB): Honestly I’ve only ever toured as a solo artist. I have done tours with friends, who are also solo artists, but I have also done a tour with just me and that’s it. I like being out on the road with friends though a lot more as you get to share that road experience with someone each day. As far as a tour day to day, it’s pretty straight forward. Basically I just get up each day, grab some coffee, and hop in the car and drive to venue. Once I am there I basically drop my stuff and wander the town a bit. I always like to get a feel for where I am playing. Even if I have been there before, it always is nice to see what is new and what stayed the same. After that I usually hit the venue and get warmed up and then I get to playing. After the show I try and meet as many people as I can and talk a little bit before packing up and getting ready for the next night’s show.

4. Now regarding your album “Said & Done”, have you largely toured it solo acoustic or have you had a backing band to bring more of that instrumentation on the record to life?

(SB): It’s been a little of both. When I am in New York I basically always play with a band. It’s my favorite thing to do and I think it really brings the songs to life the way I always imagined them. When I tour outside of New York though, it has been fully acoustic. The great thing about that is I think it allows me to give the songs a more personal spin. It’s just me up there with these songs of mine, and I think it allows me to be more spontaneous on the road. A lot of people I meet while touring have never seen me before either, so I think the acoustic experience is a great way to start that connection off. It allows people to see my music in it’s rawest form.


5. And regardless of whether you’ve done it solo or in band mode, have you found the arrangements of the songs on that album to be changing at all? I know a lot of bands talk about taking new songs on the road and finding them change in some ways over time. Have there been any twists or curveballs in your sets like that?

(SB): That has happened a bit. I know with the band, we tend to draw out instrumental moments more and make the vibe more fun and bouncy. I love it when a solo just like takes off and brings the song to a whole new place from where it started. On the other hand, when I play acoustically I tend to take more vocal chances that I might not with the band. I will change how I sing certain things and occasionally I’ll even add a new verse or outro to just see how it comes off.

6. Now I know one of your latest touring cycles has been shared with Darryl Rahn who I’ve heard a little bit about. What has it been like touring with him, and in general what’s it like on the road with another band? Is that sort of a bonding experience, and does it become like a band of brothers over time?

(SB): It has honestly been fantastic. Darryl is a great guy and just all around amazing songwriter. I think touring with friends is definitely a great experience. I think it is great to have people around to share that experience of the being on the road. A lot of things can happen while you’re out traveling around, so it is great to have a good friend to share a laugh or two with while you are playing.


7. Have you found yourself writing any new songs or getting new ideas while you’re on the road? Do you find the road to be an inspirational place to write, or do you save that side of your creativity for when you’re in your element at home?

(SB): For me the road is a catalyst to pull things out of me. I never really write while I am on the road, but touring allows me to think about things in my personal life. When I tour, I kind of escape my day to day life. It allows me to think on recent heartbreak or whatever may have happened in my life. I know lately when I have been on the road, it has made me think a lot about certain people I wish were still in my life and are not any more. So by hitting the road, it allows for a certain sense of clarity I can’t always get just sitting at home. I think there will be some definite heartbreakers coming out of me sometime soon haha.

8. And finally, now for those who might be reading this and are curious, where can we catch you out on the road next? And who will you be with?

(SB): Well I hit the road with Darryl Rahn April 27th, 28th, and 29th. We will be at Gypsy Sallys in DC on the 27th, Café Caturra in Midlothian, VA on the 28th and 7 Locks Brewing on the 29th. Then in June I will be out on Cape Cod for a weekend run of shows and then another southern tour in July. And I will also be playing here and there in New York. I’ll be on my own when out touring, but I’ll be back to give everyone their full band fix in New York. Basically, I am all over this summer hahaha, but I hope that anyone who is curious swings by and checks out a show or two.

Big thanks goes out to Stephen Babcock for catching up with us! As he said in the interview you can catch him with Darryl Rahn tonight in DC (along with plenty of dates still to come). 

Also be sure to check out his album Said & Done which is currently available on a variety of platforms. Go check it out and give Stephen’s music some much-deserved love! 

Stephen Babcock Makes Strong Case For “Said & Done” To Be Far From Finished

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I do a lot of driving in cars. When you live in Western New York and around a lot of rural towns, it’s kinda the in vogue thing to do if you want to get anywhere considered interesting. Journeys of importance are often long, very involved, and hopefully worth the price of admission by the time you’ve gotten to your destination and back home again.

So with that thought always usually very firmly in mind, music is a vital companion for passing through and experiencing car time. Whether it’s that day’s playlist, a record hot off the new release pile or an old favorite, getting the vibe of the moment as those wheels hit the pavement is ever-presently…. vital to the mood when everything is said and done.

And, with that bit of obvious wordplay now put out there, I feel those same critical road trip vibes coursing through Stephen Babcock’s newly-released LP Said & Done. From the opening guitar chucking away on “Someday”, I can almost sense a smooth California sunshine streaming in my eyes from between large green road signs and speed limits (even as Babcock narrates about the Mason Dixon line and Southern girls wrapped in sundresses and pearls).

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I think it’s something in Babcock’s influences to the likes of John Mayer and Jason Mraz that keep me initially looking a little further West than down South, but as Said moves along the mood moves with it across the map. “Tightrope” changes that initial folk-pop handshake into more of a heady chaser of rollicking blues rock tension balladry, while “Cape Cod” swoons into pensively percussive-laden indie, and “Worth” and “Wedding Ring” stand out as steps into separate sides of the contemplation/joyful free-for-all that soulful and organ-rich Americana can be.

Though for all of Babcock’s often lighter-sounding trips into that joyful veneer, his words and stories hide something a bit more bitterly muttered once you lay between the surface of the sheets. Much like Ryan Adams and the glossy overtones of his 2001 summery smash Gold, while the music might burn like a firecracker the mantras and choruses beneath sound more burnt out than burning bright.

And that’s the moment where the wheels truly touch the asphalt and grip with such relatable humanity on the journey of Said & Done. Because while there are plenty of our life moments that act as the metaphorical “wind in your hair, cruising down the road at 70” snapshots, all too often those are just escapes. A brilliant disguise, as Bruce Springsteen says, when all we’d really like to do is reflect on bitter breakups, bad endings, and being anywhere else besides the situational hand of cards we’ve just been dealt out by the dealer.

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Thankfully, Babcock is more than willing to provide the car keys on Said & Done, a release that is awash in a swell of songs easily capable of blending pop to a variety of ever-mixing genres, insanely memorable hooks that are easy to dig your fingers into, and tunes that speak to the heart as easily as their rhythm sections do.

It’s the work of a fine young singer-songwriter, and forget about Said & Done. When it comes to what Stephen Babcock has put out for our listening ears, the only feeling I experience… is Far From Finished.

Let’s ride.

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Stephen Babcock’s new album Said & Done is available now for purchase on Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon, and can also be streamed for your pleasure over on Spotify! 

For more on Stephen, feel free to visit his various social media outlets across the web, and check out the interview I did with him in my last post!

All photos are courtesy of Stephen Babcock’s artist Facebook page. 

Getting Started With “Said & Done” And Singer/Songwriter Stephen Babcock

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So it seems like every time I get ready to write and tell you a new story here at OTBEOTB, we’re entering some new untold musical realm that seems to sync up perfectly with my mindset for the time of year.

Last time I spoke to you we were drifting through the mire of February and shaking up that grey Polaroid of activity with the music of David Rothschild & The Downtown Local. Now, we find ourselves in the very fingertips of a new March beginning, and with that comes the notion of a spring just waiting to be sprung. And while that blossoming of what’s to come seems to be stirring up the musical realm as well (with some great releases just starting to emerge), I find none to be quite so perfectly fitting for a summer in the making as the goes-down-smooth textures of Stephen Babcock’s just released LP Said & Done.

Babcock has an immediate flair for a good hook and a sweet melody, and when you put it all together his sound is the kind that makes “radio friendly” the term of endearment it used to be before largely tone-deaf Top 40 ruled today’s airwaves. Listening to Babcock’s songs recall that period when it was fun to find a song by an artist you didn’t know on your FM dial that just sounded great (and felt the same), and all it made you wanna do was roll down the car windows, blast the speakers, and hit the highway.

Thankfully, yours truly here at On The Back Edge of the Beat was able to catch up with Stephen Babcock just after the release of his album (and coinciding release show at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall on the 27th), and ask him some questions. I hope you find it as interestingly illuminating as I did, and if your interest is piqued you can now pick up Said & Done on Stephen’s Bandcamp page, Amazon, iTunes, and you can stream it over on Spotify. There will be a review of it to come here on this very spot tomorrow, but without any further ado:

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1. Congratulations on releasing your new album Said & Done! How has the reception to it been in the days since from both fans and newcomers alike?

(SB)-So far it’s been really overwhelming and exciting. A lot of people have shown their support and it’s been fantastic. New and old friends alike have reached out to me and have been really kind and supportive. Some blogs here and there have also given the record some really positive reviews, and we had a full room at the Rockwood Music Hall release show. It makes me happy to see that people have really been enjoying it.

 2. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to ask anyone this, but what are the mixtures of emotions like in the days leading up to and after the release of a new album? Are there a lot of nerves? Does this perfectionist side emerge where you wanna change a guitar part or lyric in hindsight? 

 (SB)-I definitely had some nerves right before releasing the new record and playing the release show. You never know how people will react and I really just wanted people to like the album. I had put a lot of time into perfecting everything I could and making sure I loved each and every song. So my hope was that people would fall in love with the songs like I did. So far the response has been nothing but positive and really exciting. I know that no matter what anyone says, I still love every single piece of music on Said & Done. It just makes it even sweeter to know other people love the songs as much as I do. It makes all the time, money, and effort worth it.

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 3. Now I know you played a release show for the album at the venerable Rockwood Music Hall this past weekend. What’s it like from your experience playing a venue like that, and where does it rank in terms of places you’ve gotten to play in during your music career?

(SB)-I’ll be honest, Rockwood Music Hall is easily one of the best venues in New York City, if not the US. When I first started out in New York as a songwriter, Rockwood, Stage 2 was where I wanted to be. All my favorite bands have played there, from Bahamas, to Dawes; to even just recently Johnnyswim came in and sold out the venue. So Rockwood always holds a special place in my heart. Playing Stage 2 at Rockwood for me meant that you “made it” as a New York songwriter. So I started out playing really early slots at Rockwood Stage 1 at like 6PM. After playing up through Stage 1 to Stage 2, I was finally able to pull off a Saturday night slot for my release. The folks at Rockwood couldn’t have been kinder and more supportive of the release too. When it came to the night of the show, I think everyone was surprised at how packed it was. I had basically sold out the venue and we were at capacity. It just blew my mind to see how supportive and wonderful my friends and fans are. Even people who didn’t know my music before came out to the show and were totally engaged. The release show is easily one of the highest points in my musical career. After the show my band and I just hugged each other because we knew how special that moment truly was.

 4. So as I’m reading the summary of your new album and the personal journeys and stories involved in it, I have to ask (because it always fascinates me) what are your origins as a musician and songwriter and what led you to making music as a creative outlet? 

(SB)-I grew up in a very musical family. My dad had my brothers and I taking piano lessons when we were about 3 years old and I tried numerous instruments as kid (the viola and saxophone in particular).Things changed a lot though when I was 10 years old and my older brother bought John Mayer’s Room for Squares. I just identified with the music and it led me to really loving the singer-songwriter genre. I picked up the drums at about 13 and started playing in bands with some school friends but it never allowed me to write songs like I wanted to. When I was 16 I gravitated toward the guitar as soon as I learned a few chords, I went home, wrote three songs, and recorded them the next week. That same year, I won the high school talent show, which triggered the light to go off in my head thinking “maybe I could always do this?”. To this day I still play both drums and guitar consistently as a musical outlet. They provide different things for me musically and I really enjoy that. The work I do with drums is more collaborative and includes writing with other people, but the guitar is all mine I would say. The guitar gives me a chance to say things to people I might not people to in real life, and I need that sometimes.

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5. And to add on to that a little bit more (coming from this fellow Upstate New Yorker), how does a guy coming out of Utica and Syracuse find himself down in the big city doing the whole music thing? Do you still find time to come back to our neck of the woods, and does that play a role going from places that could arguably be considered quite rural compared to that big “City That Never Sleeps”? 

(SB)-I grew up right outside of Utica in New Hartford, NY, and Upstate is really dear to me. I personally think my time in New Hartford, Syracuse, and Albany really helped shape me as a person. I just really love coming from a very suburban place that allowed me to figure out what I wanted to be. I still visit all the time because I think going Upstate allows me to connect to a part of me that the city could never get to. Being from outside the city helps keep me grounded and makes me appreciate the littler things in life. It keeps me from being so “go, go, go” all the time (though I know I’m still a very anxious guy). I’ve been a suburbs guy I guess. It is a big part of me.

 6. In listening to your stuff, I can definitely sense an acoustic-pop flair that has the warmth and invite of a Jason Mraz or early John Mayer. Now was that just a type/style of music you fell into naturally, or as you grew into it did that require experimentation? Did you secretly start as a psychedelic punk rocker and just scale back?

(SB)-I think I definitely fell into it naturally. I believe that every songwriter just naturally writes and sings in a certain way, and mine just happened to be that singer-songwriter style. I have played drums in punk rock bands and hard rock bands and I definitely love that style of music, but I have always been in that songwriting vein musically. A lot of people use the Jason Mraz/John Mayer comparison too, but for me, I have slowly drifted away from that. Nowadays I feel the music I love (and play) has a more Americana and “southern-pop” feel. To me, the new record, Said & Done, is a more pop inflected take on bands like Dawes, Bahamas, Rayland Baxter, or Ryan Adams. Still songwriter-y, but tracks like “Tightrope”, “Worth”, or even “Someday” come from an Americana beginning stylistically.

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7. Now in that music/lyrical creation realm, what comes first for you? Is it a process where the words of the song shape themselves out of a place or idea and just need to have the chords built around them? Or does the music come out in chords or particular riffs and the words come after?

(SB)-I have always been a “music first” guy. It allows me to find the meter and flow of the song while giving me a chance to decide what I want to say. Usually, if not always, the lyrics come from personal experience. You could point at any song and I could tell you “oh that’s about so and so” or “yep that’s about such and such”. Said and Done is basically about one person in particular, but the songs also come from numerous experiences with different women in my life. Each song is like a melting pot of real events, but some songs are more about one person and others are about a culmination of people. I take a lot of pride in lyrics because the music I gravitate to is all about that. Lyrics can usually take the longest time to gather together, but I always find it is absolutely worth it. The best thing to hear from any listener is that they loved the lyrics or that they identified with them. To me that sends me over the moon with joy.

8. Going back to the description of the album again for a moment, is there anymore you’d like to add about that journey you took in the creation of making this record? I’m always so intrigued by such vulnerably human journeys of discovery, and I think what most catches my attention is how you were influenced by the Southern United States. How did that come about exactly, and what did that part of the country infuse into this record?

(SB)-The trips and tours came about after my desire to play some shows down South. I have some family from the area and I knew my music would fit well there. Lo and behold, it totally worked out better than I ever could have expected I met so many people and learned so much that it really inspired me. The Southeast helped me really discover who I was and what I wanted to say musically. You can hear it in the songs; the love for Southern music and particularly a girl named Georgia. Every state from Alabama to North Carolina can be heard in this record. Each one has a special story and imparted a certain wisdom on my music that I still feel is very crucial to who I am. I just think the south made me look at myself in a certain way and the Americana music I heard really inspired me. I traveled the South both alone and with my good friends Luca DiFabio and Brad Goodall. Both trips just made me feel at home. The music, the food, the people; everything was welcoming me with open arms. It allowed me to grow in a brand new way. It’s a second home and a personal proving ground.

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9. In this grand realm of music and album creation, when you boil it down to the real nuts and bolts of what goes into it all…. what does music represent to you? Is it a great burst of catharsis and really being able to unload that emotional weight out into the world, or is it just that storytelling aspect and wanting to share it with others? I guess to really sum it up, what drives you and inspires you not to just play music, but to create things like Said & Done?

(SB)-I think it’s a little bit of both things you mentioned. I love having music as a release in my daily life, but I also use music to tell stories and say things to or about people I might not normally say. For me, music is a way to collect my thoughts and be creative in a way that I think people can identify with. Most importantly, I use music to connect with people. I long for that connection with others and it’s really vital to me. So music gives me a way to look people in the eye and share experiences.

10. And finally, now that Said & Done is just starting to spread it’s wings and make it’s way out into the world, what are you looking at as far as future musical plans go? What dates will you be playing that you can tell us about, and what are the prospects of making some new stuff further down the line?

(SB)-Well now that Said & Done is literally “said & done” (sorry had to use the pun), the plan is to work to tour a lot. There is an upcoming show on March 24th at Pianos at 8PM with my friends Luca DiFabio and Brad Goodall. We then will be playing in Washington D.C. on March 30th Gypsy Sally’s and Richmond, VA at Reclaimed RVA on March 31st (the Richmond show also includes my friends “The Tide Rose”). There is more shows booked for April and into the summer, so the hope is just to get the record in front of people at shows. I’m also planning on doing some work with some labels and management companies which should be really exciting too. As far as the next record, I started writing it while finishing this one, so things are definitely on their way. I personally can’t wait to get back in the studio and make something brand new to show everyone. Writing has been really fluid so I’m excited to see what happens in the future. Be on the look out though for more Said & Done shows and content in the near future. 

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Thanks so much to Stephen Babcock for taking the time to sit down with me! Like I said in the beginning, if you want to buy his new record you can check him out on Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon, or if you’d prefer to stream it beforehand you can go over to Spotify as well.

As I also mentioned before, look for a review on Said & Done to be here front and center tomorrow!

All photos courtesy of Stephen Babcock’s artist Facebook page.