It's easy to make assumptions based on first impressions. Everyone does it. With alternative pop trio Bahari (singer/keyboardist Ruby Carr, singer/bassist Natalia Panzarella, and singer/guitarist Sidney Sartini), you could assume by their golden locks and Southern California stomping grounds that they live a charmed and carefree life.
You could also assume that after meeting in the studio courtesy of the hit-makers behind Eminem, Selena Gomez, and Ellie Goulding that they're one of those manufactured bands. You might even assume that at the young age of 20, they couldn't possibly have much to say.
You could assume all that.... but you'd be wrong.
You see, the trio's 2016 debut EP, Dancing on the Sun, written at young ages of 16 for Interscope Records, sparkled with the bright and dreamy SoCal sounds and uplifting lyrics that symbolized all that is good in the world. Nylon described Bahari's last album as "beachy-pop" that "ebbs and flows like tides and carries with it the idea that anything is possible under the sun."
You may know the name Bahari, which means “ocean” in Ruby’s native African language, from their fan favorites “Wild Ones” and “I Miss You”, both of which have over 40 million streams each. Or, you might recall them as the angelic voices on Zedd's 2015 single, "Addicted to a Memory".
But, that was then and this is now. The band that someone once described as coming from a very unaffected place has been affected. And, for young songwriters finding their musical voice, that's a good thing. A very good thing.
"When we wrote our first record, I think we were aiming to write positive uplifting songs to make everyone happy," explains Natalia. "And that is an honest side of us. But, life isn't always that happy all the time. We've gone through a lot since our first record — we went from strangers to signing with a major label and touring with Selena Gomez in a short amount of time, and then finding ourselves label-free, and also dealing with love, loss, heartbreaks, and the growing pains of, well, growing up, and it's made our songwriting more authentic. It's not all happy and shiny, but it's real."
But, fans need not worry. The band hasn't done a complete 180. "We're still those happy girls, but there's more to us than that," adds Sidney. "Our new music shows more emotions — good and bad. We're 20 years old now — we curse, we drink, we have sex, we get heart-broken, we fuck up — and now we can write about it. We realized it's not our job to make people feel good or just happy through our music. It's our job to make them feel something and connect."
"Kurt Cobain once said, 'Thank you for the tragedy. I need it for my art,'" interjects Ruby. "We've gained a lot of life experience and gone though a lot of ups and downs together, and the down side has only made us better writers who can connect deeper with ourselves and others."
With their newfound musical independence, Bahari has found the space to experiment musically and lyrically and truly figure out who they are as a band. "We're just writing for ourselves right now and because of that we're not holding back any more. We're not afraid to say what we want and be who want to be. And, we're not giving in to anyone's idea of what we're supposed to be. When anything goes, it gives you the space to truly grow," says Ruby.
Take their new single, "Fucked Up," for instance. This is no happy love song. "It's about being with someone you know you shouldn't be with but doing it anyway. Whether it's someone who's not good for you or just not the right situation, but you realized, hey, I'm fucked up, you're fucked up, let's be fucked up together," explains Natalia, who wrote the chorus in just 15 minutes.
The threesome, known for their rich harmonies, has an uncanny knack for being able to write about each other's struggles and emotions. "We know each other so well and we feel each other's pain and happiness and it's sometimes easier to write about someone else than your self. It's nice to have two people who understand the way you felt and be able to articulate it for you. We do that a lot with our songs," says Ruby. Adds Sidney, "It makes us connect with each other even more, and it makes us a stronger band."
Touring with the likes of Birdy and Selena Gomez have also made Bahari a stronger band. "We hadn't been on tour when we wrote our first EP so we didn't know how things would translate from the studio to live. But now, we're writing with how to perform the songs live in mind. We're more aware of writing in those quiet moments a song needs and it's given our music a more dynamic sound and feel. It's made us better musicians too," says Ruby.
Since the time of their studio introductions, Bahari felt that they had just the right mix of musical similarities, and differences, to make their sound complete. They've all been writing songs since they could put pen to paper and picked up their respective instruments at very young ages. The studio introduction was simply meant to be.
"We just clicked right away," recalls Ruby. "Sidney was wearing a T-shirt with a pentagram on it and I liked her instantly for it. I knew she was like me, more of a rebel. Unlike other girls we've met trying to do what we do, we all actually wanted to talk about music and work on our craft together."
Ruby is the old soul raised on whatever records tourists would give her while visiting her small island of Lamu, off the coast of Kenya, where she was raised before moving to Manhattan Beach, California, where Natalia and Sidney were based. Bob Dylan was, and still is, her favorite classic artist, with Ben Howard and Lana Del Rey being current influences.
Natalia's penchant for Dolly Parton's songwriting prowess and Johnny Cash's intensity was a product of being born in Nashville to a country singing mom, though, she has a classic rock side to her as well with her love of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. While the mix of classic rock and country informs her music, the bullying she suffered in her Manhattan Beach high school for having some early success fuels her drive and tenacity.
Sidney, also from Manhattan Beach, grew up the sporty girl with a fondness for Led Zeppelin's intricate musical compositions and classic rock guitar licks, though she's currently enjoying R&B singer SZA's lyrical bluntness. "We come from such different places, but it just works. We feel like we're musical soul mates. And we wanted the same thing from the beginning — not to be some girl group with dance moves, but to be a real band who writes their songs and plays their instruments," she says.
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