Local pop outfit Cry Baby had already played shows and recorded a song together before singer-songwriter Jamie Gray officially joined in 2019. Call it a combination of good chemistry or pandemic-era songwriting sessions, but this summer, the committed five-piece released its debut album, Everything I Didn’t Say.
The cohesive new record is 18 minutes of singalong-worthy tunes that bring you back to the 1990s, when boy bands and girl groups ruled the world.
Gray is joined by bassist Joey Haines, guitarist Carter Long, saxophonist Josh Kozic and drummer (sometimes rapper) Matt Allegrezza to elevate dance-driven bedroom pop with full-band instrumentation.
“We just go back and forth and bump a lot of heads and hate the song until it is great,” Haines said of the band’s pell-mell songwriting and recording process for the new album, which was largely the result of having more time to create than the band ever had before.
“We were playing so much pre-COVID, and we were comfortable with the songs,” Gray said. “When we didn’t have shows, we knew we should use the time to write, but stretching that mindset was much harder than we thought it would be.” During sessions, either nothing happened, lyrics and melodies were rewritten on the spot or scratch vocals ended up being the final take. In the end, the collective love for a quintessential pop song came through on Everything I Didn’t Say.
The band’s varying musical influences — be it jazz or TLC — play to each other’s strengths. “It helps when we are working on the structure of a song,” Haines said. “My go-to listening is not what Carter’s go-to listening is. He has a completely different approach and will push me to change things. In my head, the same thing loops over again, and he will say, ‘No, you need to cut that and change it.’ ”
Cry Baby appreciates that the pop genre can just throw things out there with the purpose of creating easy listening. “If it sticks, then it sticks,” Haines said. “In some moments the album is revealing or true, but it’s kind of a guilty pleasure experience.” Dancing to a pop song is not usually about pensive reflection, after all.
The mental anguish that came with everything hanging in 2020’s balance may have been begging for care-free music, but the social unrest and tragedies of the protests and pandemic were not.
“We were in the studio one day and there were protests going on downtown,” Long said. “We were watching the news and our friends were getting tear-gassed, and we thought, ‘What are we doing here working on pop music that is supposed to make you have fun when people are being killed? What is the purpose of this music? Can it affect positive change?’ ”
Perhaps the answer for Charleston could be unearthed when the local music industry is recontextualized, not just as a relief for an ailing cultural community, but as viable employment.
“Gig work in general — you have nothing there to stabilize you if you are trying to do music full time,” Long siad. “You can’t get healthcare. You can’t get unemployment if you can’t do shows. There’s no backbone. It’s not treated as a real thing. Even if you get signed to a label, which is a way you can get security, then they own your art. You don’t get to decide where you fit in.”
And the never-ending chase for booking management — “It’s like dating,” Haines said. “You’re always in the talking phase, you’re never in the committed, you’re-on-my-roster-phase. We realize we have to do it all ourselves. Everything has a catch so you just have to prove yourself and do it.”