GIITTV Introducing: Balto

Following our Preaching From the Pews entry, Balto‘s debut release October’s Road and single “The Railyard” has been causing a storm both online and off – unsurprising, given the quality of his work. Here’s what we said way back when:

“Balto is the work of Daniel Sheron, Andrew Sheron, Charlie Freundlich, John Glouchevitch, Philippe Bronchtein and Sam Budis.

Originally from the United States, Daniel left Moscow, Russia, to travel to Siberia, writing the material for his debut October’s Road on the way. The album unsurprisingly deals with exile, loss and the fragility of experience. Considering the quality of recording, it’s hard to believe the release was recorded by six people in a single night in New York on 15th December 2010.

The most immediate aspect of Sheron’s song is the lyrical content, but his music’s temperament is heavily guided by a resilient guitar – the kind that plucks and strums, but nevertheless resonates the musician’s feeling. Pared with Sheron’s signature vocal, Balto compare to travelling and socially aware singer-songwriters like Eef Barzelay and Bon Ivor. Most refreshingly of all, he produces acoustic music that doesn’t fall back or rely on any genre currently on trend. This is unique within the boundaries of familiarity, and that’s why Balto deserve a place with Preaching From the Pews.

Balto’s single The Railyard is due for UK release this June 27th. Written in an overcrowded, 3rd class sleeper car between Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, it’s a fascinating track, perfectly depicting the images of Siberian wasteland, a beautiful cello solemnly whimpering beneath Sheron’s heartfelt, distinctive vocal.”

In the following interview, God Is in the TV’s Tiffany Daniels spoke to Sheron about recording his album, what he draws influence from, and whether Russia’s any good for his health.

How and why did you first get into music?

I think it’s almost all my parents’ fault – my mother sings, and my father’s parents were both professional opera singers, so there was no way I was taking computer class or woodshop instead of band in elementary school. But there are also home videos of me at 3 with an out of tune guitar singing the Davy Crockett song.


How long have you been playing for? Have you performed in any other bands?

While I played wind instruments in school and stuff, I’ve been playing guitar for about 11 years – writing songs for around 10. I started my first band in the 9th grade – all sorts followed – mostly punk rock and post-rock. Names like Anemic Ninja, Common Era, The Dead Jettsons, Power Owl and Dinomyte. I only really got into playing folk music around my senior year of high school – so around 6 years ago.


What inspired you to play back then? Does that still inspire you now?

You know, I’m pretty sure I can attribute it all to being 11 years old and thinking how cool the older kids were that played in bands. “That must be how you get girls.” It didn’t really help. Hopefully something’s changed since then in my motivations.


Have you always been interested in other people’s lives and social interaction?

I draw most of the meaning I’ve found in life out of the interactions I have with others – I’m not a very solitary creature, and being a hermit is not something I do willingly (though it’s happened more than once).The profound loneliness that a ties a lot of the Balto songs together has to do with being without closeconnectionsfor long periods of time. That said, I shy away from saying that I’m overly nosy about other people’s lives. At the same time, the ideal is to step out of myself and find that aching sense of empathy, which comes when you reveal yourself to someone else and they do the same for you. It certainly leaves you both vulnerable – it’s even dangerous, but it’s about as real as people can get with one another.

Why did you first go to Russia? Did you foresee yourself writing while you were there?

I first went to Russia to study in college – that was more an outgrowth of what I was studying and interested in at the time. It was not fun, for many, many reasons – Russia is a lot of things, but I would not call it light-hearted. That autumn, I found myself writing a lot of really emotional songs in a really uncontrolled fashion. I can’t really explain why, except that I was in a really dark place and needed a way to get it all off my chest so as not to lose my mind, and all this material started spilling out. Then I moved back last year to try to get into journalism, and the same thing happened – I began writing furiously – I got really filled up with ideas. But it’s not a state conducive to holding down a job as a copy editor or an outsourcing telemarketer, and that’s what led to the whole Siberia thing.


Why did you return home to New York?

There were a lot of reasons, some should be left unsaid. I spent a lot of time in limbo, trying to figure out what was important to me, why I was living abroad, whether there really was any point to it anymore, and I realized the best thing for me to do was to go where my friends were. Our bassist, Charlie Freundlich, is a longtime friend and musical collaborator and he had lined up an apartment in New York, but needed a roommate – the timing worked very well and I came back to the USA. It’s been an “I love America” festival of relief ever since (now almost a year).


Who contributed to the recording of the LP?

By the end of college, we had a great acoustic folk collective playing together all of the time, both informally and working on each other’s projects. A lot of the studio band was made up of these friends – so that would be Charlie, who I mentioned already, John Glouchevitch on banjo and vocal (he’s is a fantastic songwriter in his own regard), and Philippe Bronchtein on Piano, Rhodes, Accordion, and vocals. Philippe writes gorgeous songs too, his main project is called Hip Hatchet,and he’s re-releasing a record called “Men Who Share My Name” on Gravitation Records this summer, with a brand-new LP this fall. His childhood friend Jake Nussbaum did some awesome percussion work in the studio, while another dear friend Sam Budish has become our permanent drummer. Lastly, my brother Andrew Sheron played a very important role both in the studio and after, producing the record and killing it on mandolin and vocals. He’s also a monster songwriter with a heavy record to be released later this year and plays all over New York with his own group.


Are those people ‘part of the band’, or is Balto a solo project?

That’s actually a really tough question. On the one hand, I very much see Balto as something tied to my own experience – I bring the skeletons of songs: chords and words and melodies to the table, but then everyone adds a voice. It’s been very much a collaborative effort when we play, and I see the future as holding the opportunity to grow up together, workshop songs, dig really deep and make some really interesting, completely unexpected and spontaneous music. I have the privilege of being friends with a bunch of truly awesome musicians, but they’re not always in the same place together, so Balto’s had somewhat of a fluid lineup in the past few months, but ideally, the touring staff would be mostly made up of the studio band.


Given that October’s Road was recorded in such a short time, would you call it spontaneous? Or did you spend so little time in the studio out of necessity?

A little of both. Besides the budget element,there was maybe one day when we could all be together in New York (between jobs and school and everything else), so there was barely any rehearsal even. But the other guys knew what the record was about, the emotions and events that motivated its writing, and why I needed to make it – they knew me well, and they brought so much to the process and the sound. It ended up being very spontaneous – like I said these songs were skeletons – filled out with flesh and blood on the spot – if we’d had a month to rehearse and record together, the record would sound very little like it does now. I’m not sure that would be a good thing. It needed to be wild and raw and unified, so we told the whole story together in one day. There was some smaller stuff added later, but you can’t really do that much when it’s all live – most of the lead/2nd harmony vocals were just tracked along with everyone else – live with the band in one room.


Do you have any plans to return to Moscow? Will you visit another country for inspiration?

I was just there actually doing a project for Human Rights Watch – aman’sgotto eat sometime. It’s always a different experience to go back and never what you expect. I had almost no downtime to write or play, but I felt again that mad flood of emotion that caused the record.I’m afraid to think I need to throw myself into the meat-grinder in order to find anything worth writing down – but it certainly does help.


Is Balto wrapped up in the experiences you’ve had over the past few years, or will it continue in the future?

The past few years were a catalyst for getting this project running where it is now – it wouldn’t have happened without it, but there’s plenty more to be found – both in the past and in the future.


If you could play the songs anywhere in the world, where would you choose? Will you tour Russia with them?

I would love to play in St. Petersburg – if there was a place these songs would come home to, it’s there. But to tour all of Russia and play shows would be a dream come true. I can only imagine what a nightmare it is to put a tour like that together (what with Russia’s nightmare bureaucracy), but it would be so amazing if we could do it – and the Russians are a great audience in my experience – they’re attentive, appreciative, and open to hearing new things.


What’s next for you, in terms of music?

Touring. We’ve booked ourselves a couple dozen shows across the US and a little bit of Canada for the second half of July and the first half of August – the schedule will be posted really soon. Besides that, I hope to get some half-written songs finished this summer and get into the studio for a new EP by mid-fall. I’d also love to cross the pond and play some shows…


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“The Railyard” was released in the UK on June 27th. For more information on the single, and to act like a sane person and order a copy of October’s Road, head over here.

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