L.A.-based musical duo The Belle Brigade is a reporter's dream. Far from having just one angle to hook an article around, they come with four or five. For one, they are siblings. Members Barbara Gruska and Ethan Gruska are the son of songwriter Jay Gruska, who has written for Dusty Springfield and Michael Jackson, among others. They are the grandchildren of legendary Star Wars composer John Williams. They have toured with major acts like Jenny Lewis, and... oh, yeah, Barbara is queer.
They were recently granted a spot on the soundtrack for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part 1). This should be a huge source of exposure for the siblings, exposing an even greater crowd to the sunny hooks and crystal-clear production of their self-titled debut. The buzz single "Losers" (see the video above) is actually more inspirational than the "Hang in There" kitten overcoming dyslexia to get his law degree, and "Sweet Louise" will make you fall in love with a girl you've never met.
Below, the duo sound off on queer rights, Barbara's mystery fiancé and what, exactly, a lesbro is.
Zack Rosen: Let's say I was going to describe you without mentioning that you are a queer/straight brother-sister duo with a royal musical pedigree and a spot on the new Twilight soundtrack. How would I do it?
Ethan Gruska: We weren't even together [musically] growing up. We'd do a lot of stuff separately in our musical lives. Then three years ago we started to do it together. It was the best thing for both of us. People know that we have fun making the music we make. That's the purpose: have it sound fun, have the fun come through. That's what we hope people would know.
Barbara Gruska: And it was Ethan's birthday yesterday.
ZR: Is there any brother-sister tension that comes through the band? Have you ever gone after the same girl or anything like that?
BG: I am engaged; I have only have eyes for one person. I think that we have similar tastes. We're both very attracted to beautiful, smart girls, but we've never fought over a girl.
ZR: That's impressive, because anyone in the presence of Jenny Lewis tends to fall in love. And I think you guys sound like Jenny and Johnny, but without the sexual overtones. Do you have any less-explored influences?
BG: We were listening to stuff we grew up with -- Brazilian, classical, jazz -- we've always been into that. The stuff we've recently discovered is our friends. We have a buddy named Blake Mills who played all the guitars on our record. He's a crazy genius. We're inspired by him. Also the guy who plays bass, Bram Inscore. Hanging out with the people we play with has always been a big inspiration, musically.
ZR: Your music has strong classic rock influences and bright production -- which, like your tour mates Blitzen Trapper, is one of the sounds of indie music right now -- but has a wider appeal. Do you feel any tension between songcraft and accessibility?
BG: I don't think we smooshed our songwriting for that to be the result. It's just that that's something we would want. I think it comes through in our songwriting. It's not like it's an intentional thing. The songs on the record are the songs we wrote. It comes out naturally when we write music together. It's not like the mastermind intention behind.
ZR: Ethan, do you know what a "lesbro" is?
EG: I think that that's me.
ZR: So you've heard of it?
EG: I can guess, but I'd love a definition.
ZR: It's like a faghag, but without the codependent dynamics.
EG: I'd take it as a compliment. I hope I'm that.
BG: He's a lesbro in a literal term: brother of a lesbian.
ZR: Ethan, have you ever heard feedback from our community, anything like, "Thanks for being an ally"?
EG: No, never got a response like that, but I definitely am one. I've never gone out there publicly and made a statement, but I definitely am.
ZR: Barbara, who is your lucky lady?
BG: She is an incredible jazz singer. She plays in a bunch of bands in L.A. We've been friends and had mutual friends for almost 10 years. She's just the greatest person in the world.
ZR: Can I ask both of you who Louise is?
EG: Actually, that story is not a personal story of ours. When I was in college, a friend of mine went through what that song is about with a girl named Louise. The way it was told to me was kind of awesome; it was really funny and deep. Me and Barbara decided to write a song about it, so it's not our Louise but a friend's.
ZR: Is "Losers" a song about queer power? It functions really well as a queer or "It Gets Better" anthem.
EG: There's a lot of everything power. It's just supposed to be uplifting for anyone who feels like an outcast in any way. It's not directed at any group of people; it's not supposed to be any lesson for anyone else but us, a mantra for ourselves to stay strong.
ZR: Barbara, when I was 16, that song would've meant something really important to me. Did you have any intentions with it?
BG: My general philosophy is non-exclusive in terms of human and civil rights. I don't think about one factor of what I personally identify as. It's the whole thing. I feel like we're all the same. That's the goal: for everyone to truly understand that seriously obvious concept. Obviously it totally works for that, and I really hope that if somebody just came out and heard the song and it helps them -- I seriously hope something like that would happen, but it's really for everybody.