Renowned for her prowess on the drums, LA-based Steph Barker bears a volatile, youthful energy suited to the instrument. When her creative enthusiasm spilled over, she decided to front her own solo project, Baby Bulldog. Launching herself from behind the kit and into the throng of learning instruments and productions skills to help realise her own indie-pop compositions, Barker’s positional shift to the front of stage mimics her drive to bring queer narratives into the mainstream of music.
When Barker stumbled upon her Middle School’s band, she felt an irresistible pull toward the cans. Capitalising on this intuition, the New Hampshire native went on to study at the esteemed Berklee College of Music, ensconcing herself in all things drums and earning a scholarship in the process. Later moving to New York to play with a slew of underground artists from A.W (fka Allison Weiss) to Cultfever, it wasn’t until she arrived in LA that she was afforded the practical space and creative drive to start her own project; “I had all this other creative energy but I didn’t have an outlet. I finally had space in my apartment for the first time to even have instruments set up, so I was like, OK I’m gonna try this. I’m gonna channel my energy here and try to learn other things”. Raiding Craigslist for ex-loved instruments, Barker’s noodling procured her 2019 track ‘Work on Things’ which represented a personal validation in achieving her own sound.
The debut self-titled EP was composed, recorded and produced by Barker alone in her apartment out of both a necessity to learn and, also, a hint of pride; “I was so new at this and embarrassed and didn’t even know if I could ask anyone for help. I wanted to challenge myself because I thought I could do it and the best way to find out was to just do it”. Although reluctant for assistance, Coast Modern’s Luke Atlas ended up a mentor for Barker, she being confident enough to confide in one half of the duo she’d played heavily for after meeting through the ever-reliable Craigslist; “He’s just been there for feedback, to listen to everything and see what’s going on and give constructive criticism for everything. Seeing how his process works with production and writing was a major influence”.
Having played for an assortment of artists from Kate Nash to Miya Folick, usually hidden behind the kit, the transition to the foreground of the stage offered up a fresh challenge in itself; “I was nervous. It took me a while to even listen to my voice because I hadn’t heard it that clear before. Getting out of my comfort zone and getting used to that was important but it’s completely different to being at the back and looking off into the distance playing drums”. Acclimatising herself to new instruments is another battle for Barker, albeit one she is driven to overcome; “Because I’m limited on other instruments it’s sometimes difficult to get what’s in my head out. I just need to go back to the theory because I know some theory, I used to know a lot of it… IN SCHOOL”.
Baby Bulldog’s follow up EP, Rodney, named after her 250 dollar car (not purchased on Craigslist) is set for an imminent release, aiming to both refine and expand on the colourfully diverse range of indie-pop presented on its predecessor. As a taste of what’s to come, ‘Lonely’ bears a brooding punk nature to its verses before driving home a devastatingly danceable synth hook in the chorus. It’s Barker’s devastating honesty that’s also been maintained, now feeling idiosyncratic to her song writing; “It’s just what comes naturally. I’m very to the point; this is an open book and it is what it is. There is no hidden meaning and I think that’s just the best way that I can convey my experiences and emotions”.
This honesty is made all the more important by Barker’s endeavour to continue to diminish the distinction between LGBTQI music and that of the mainstream; “I happen to be a queer person so even just having those stories told within the mainstream, with every other song that’s out, that’s the biggest thing. All these stories are either love stories or tales of being broken up or just everyday things where it’s just trying to integrate, which I think is starting to break down now anyway. What people perceive when they hear it, it doesn’t have to belong to a particular niche. Anyone can listen to it and take something from it”. Buoyed by the shifting landscape she hopes to inspire other budding musicians to express themselves freely regardless of demographic or gender; “I would think other queer people would be comfortable with writing about whatever they wanna write about. Whether that’s as bluntly and open or still having a different meaning to it, I hope to just motivate people to write whatever they want, no matter where they belong on the spectrum”.
As Barker’s childhood photos used as her album art insinuate, she has managed to maintain a vibrant enthusiasm for music after already achieving so much. Always at the forefront of her mind is her grandfather who planted the seed for her musicality without even her knowledge. Though unable to appreciate what his influence has borne in the flesh, he remains the talisman for Barker and Baby Bulldog alike; “My Mum’s Dad basically taught himself everything. He would just play piano by ear, he also read music, would play the banjo, the guitar and the mandolin. He was always very musical. I was in elementary school when he passed, so in my older years, when I actually started playing, we never really got to connect so I definitely try to think of that and embody that now”.