The siblings grew up in a musical family, but did not begin playing together until two years ago when they formed the The Belle Brigade.
“All our life [music] has surrounded us on both sides of the family,” said Ethan. “It was a very important part of our childhood.”
Their father is Jay Gruska, a songwriter and composer, and their grandfather is John Williams, the renowned film composer. Barbara said they still receive feedback on their music from their father, and their grandfather also enjoys their work.
Boston bears special significance to Ethan and Barbara. “Our mom’s side of the family originated from Boston after Ireland,” said Barbara. Also, “Our grandfather [John Williams] was the conductor for the Boston Pops Orchestra for many years, so it is an important city to our family.”
The Belle Brigade will perform at Café 939 in Boston on Monday, March 7, the fourth stop on their national tour, after Minneapolis, Chicago and Denver. “It was a great response [in Denver],” said Ethan. “We know a few people [in Boston],” said Barbara. “One of guys in the band actually went to Berklee College of Music so he knows a bunch of people — we’re excited.”
Barbara has played in Boston before with other bands and has even toured with Inara George and Jenny Lewis. However, she says that playing with her brother is “the best experience in the world…it feels like home—I love it.” Ethan is equally as excited about their music. “Growing up she was always my American Idol and still is,” he said. “It is amazing to work together.”
The siblings co-wrote each song on their album together, but it was actually a lyric from one of Barbara’s old songs about their younger brother Eli that originated the group’s monker “The Belle Brigade.” “It just stuck,” she said.
The group’s self-titled debut album will be available on April 19. Barbara and Ethan said that their favorite song on the album changes often. Currently, Ethan likes “Losers” the most “because it is really fun to play live,” he said. “I’m actually very lucky; I’m very happy with the way that every song that turned out.”
Ethan provides vocals and plays guitar and piano for the band while Barbara also sings vocals and plays the drums and guitar. Their backing musicians include: Bram Inscore (bass), Blake Mills, (electric guitar), Aaron Arntz (piano) and Jimi Hendrix/Joe Cocker keyboardist Mike Finnigan (Hammond B-3 organ).
The Belle Brigade’s music is inspired by Fleetwood Mac, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles and Stevie Wonder; however, they are hesitant to collaborate with any of their idols. “I don’t want to just look like an asshole in front of somebody that I love, so maybe working with just our friends is probably the best thing,” said Barbara. But since The Belle Brigade is already one of The Los Angeles Times’ “Faces to Watch” for 2011, it seems that this Los Angeles-based group will be just fine.