Ryan Zimmerman, drummer of Brave Baby, loves to tell the story of when the band’s lead singer, Keon Masters, got stiffed on a tip carrying luggage at the Francis Marion Hotel just hours before the group played to a nearly sold-out crowd at the Music Farm a few blocks up King Street.
“Something is really funny to me about him getting stiffed dropping off a bag, then later that night going out on stage like, ‘What’s up, Charleston!” Zimmerman said, laughing.
And he’s right, that’s such a perfect way to sum up this indie rock group of guys in their mid-20s, who work mundane jobs by day and create music by night.
It even fits the band’s name. “Brave,” as in, they’re serious musicians, they’re confident and they’re really going for it, but “Baby,” perhaps acknowledging that they may have a long way to go still.
Like many other young artists in the Holy City, members of Brave Baby make ends meet by working in Charleston’s robust hospitality industry. Masters is a bellman, guitarist Christian Chidester works at Poogan’s Porch and bassist Jordan Hicks and keys player Steven Walker are both Uber drivers.
“We make money off of tourists. And that’s just living in this town, it keeps it coming in, and it allows us to do what we do,” Walker said.
Zimmerman explained what it really means to be a recording, touring band based in Charleston these days.
“I don’t think there’s any shame in working other jobs because it is our hobby in some ways. For instance, Brave Baby did a lot of touring last year and ... we were like, ‘Cool, we made a little bit of money.’ Divide that by five, pay for the van and all the hotels, and we literally made nothing,” Zimmerman said.“So it’s like, for a band to make it to where everybody can quit their jobs and work it, you have to be pulling in $200,000 for everybody to be able to make a little money and pay their rent.”
While the goal is to get to that point of self-sufficiency, Brave Baby and many other local bands rely on the hospitality industry not just for flexible employment, but to book them for local gigs at bars, events and restaurants.
That’s part of the reason Brave Baby has partnered with BACE League for their concert this weekend at the Charleston Music Hall to celebrate the upcoming release of the band’s sophomore album, “Electric Friends.”
BACE League is a local nonprofit organization comprised of residents, artists and professionals in the food and beverage industry that formed last year in response to the city’s moratorium on late-night bars on King Street. Spokesman Elliott Smith said the main emphasis has been on ensuring its members are appropriately represented in city council’s discussions about preserving the quality of life downtown.
Recently, the group has taken up another cause: rallying young people in Charleston to register to vote and become more engaged in city politics.
“This is honestly part of a response to city officials,” said Elliott Smith, BACE League spokesman. “When the midnight bar closing things came about, city officials said, ‘Look, if young people are upset about these kinds of things, or even concerned or interested in them, we’ve got to start hearing from them and they’ve got to start voting.’”
After running into Zimmerman at Royal American one day, Smith said he realized a big concert featuring Brave Baby would be a good platform for BACE to reach that younger demographic.
“He was saying things that were so in line with our mission statement, talking about what an active art and music scene was starting to develop in Charleston ... and that (Brave Baby) really wanted to stay in Charleston because something is happening here,” Smith said. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to do, figure out how to promote a quality of life in Charleston that attracts and retains talented people. And nightlife is an important component of that, and a strong music scene is a component of that.”
The discussions surrounding the moratorium helped those in the food and beverage industry realize how critical a role they play in the creative community, and vice versa, said McKenzie Eddy, owner of King Dusko on King Street and a BACE board member.
“What I’ve experienced talking to other businesses involved, is that there’s not a division of business owners and this creativity,” she said. “They are part of this culture, they understand the young creatives. These people are working in their restaurants and bars ... so, it’s all integrated.”
Not only have the businesses sponsored the production aspects of the concert, the organization will also set up booths in the reception area and outside the venue where people can register to vote.
“When we were getting involved, it was like, ‘OK, do we really want to do something political?’ And the more we thought about it, it was like, it’s actually not political,” Zimmerman said.
“We obviously love being here, and if we want to continue to living here, we need to pay attention to what’s going on,” he said.
“In part, that’s getting people to vote,” added Walker, the keys player. “Not slamming it down people’s throats, but getting them to understand that we actually do have a lot of people here in the creative class, but it just doesn’t have a voice.”
In a lot of ways, Brave Baby’s music is reflective of what life in Charleston means to a group of young people trying to figure out adulthood, themselves and their voices as artists.
The forthcoming album, due out this summer, is still sunny and upbeat like their debut album “Forty Bells,” and there’s still a healthy dose of the band’s signature reverb-heavy sound. But it’s clear that Brave Baby has matured to some degree.
“The last record was a lot about childhood, this one was more about facing real life,” Masters said. “I think the second batch was better because we had discovered who we were. And we had done a lot more touring.”
“We didn’t feel as much of a need to overcompensate,” he said. “On the last album ... it would be drums, bass, two guitars, a couple keyboards, and like 20 vocals. We just went background vocal crazy on everything. I’d said the new one is drums, bass, two guitars, a ton of keyboards, and trippy soundscapes, and a couple vocals.”
Masters’ voice also has grown up a bit. It’s still smooth, but not as sing-songy, and there’s some more edge to it that adds a certain mystery to tracks such as “Find You Out.”
Overall, with tracks like “Plastic Skateboard” and “Atlantean Dreams,” the band is simply stating their happiness, with their places in life and with each other, despite the challenges of trying to succeed as independent artists in a city like Charleston.
“In so many ways, if you think about it, a utopian society is very service-based,” Zimmerman said. “In Charleston, everybody serves each other in some way, and helps each other out. And we’re just like, making music and going to the beach and then, taking somebody’s bags to their room or washing their dishes. In the realm of planet Earth, I mean, we’ve got a good gig.”
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.