Interview: Born Without Bones' Scott Ayotte Talks Eight Years of "Baby", Live Shows, and What's Next
One of my favorite albums that I've discovered in 2021 so far has been "Baby", the sophomore record by Milford, Massachusetts alternative band Born Without Bones. Filled with heartbreaking lyrics, catchy guitar riffs, choruses made to be sung along to, and vivid storytelling the whole way through, this album is the full package; my only regret is that I listened to it for the first time just before it turned eight years old.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for many fans of Born Without Bones, specifically when it comes to their second full-length, stumbling upon the LP years after its initial release and immediately becoming obsessed with it. Now, nearly a decade later, the band is celebrating signing to Pure Noise Records and their upcoming EP "Pictures of the Sun" (pre-save here), which will include one new song ("Disappearer", out now) and re-imagined versions of some of the band's older material.
Earlier this week, I got the opportunity to talk with Scott Ayotte, Born Without Bones' vocalist and guitarist, to take a look back at "Baby" for its eighth birthday as well as a look ahead into the future at what's to come for the band. If you haven't already checked out this band and this album, hearing Ayotte's insight so many years later is sure to get you to press play, even if you are just a few years late.
Thanks so much for doing this with me! To start, can you introduce yourself to the readers?
My name is Scott Ayotte, my pronouns are he/him, and I sing and play guitar in Born Without Bones.
Your record "Baby" was released eight years ago this month. Congratulations on that milestone! What are your general thoughts on the record, almost a decade after its release?
Thank you! I’m really thankful for how ambitious we were when we made "Baby." We were practicing three times per week, we spent our own money to record with J. Robbins, we pressed the record on vinyl ourselves, we booked our own tours...we were very self-sufficient.
We were very isolated for those few years in a way, but it’s because we were trying to protect the thing we had built together. We made some of the hardest decisions we’ve ever made as a band, some that would have broken up a lot of other bands.
I’m glad that people have come around to it. We were all so damn proud when we were finished.
The tours that followed were the worst we’ve ever played, so "Baby" kind of felt like a failure at the time...it took a long time for the album to start resonating with people. I wish I could tell my 21-year-old self, “don’t worry, this is gonna pop off in a few years!"
Definitely more of a slow burn of a record! In terms of the album in general, I've heard a lot of people call it a "concept album" and talk about the story that it tells/the characters that it involves. Do you agree with that categorization?
When I think of the term “concept album”, I think “rock opera”, which "Baby" is not. I could be confusing the two, but when I think of a concept album I think of “Tommy” by The Who or “American Idiot” by Green Day where a story is being told with characters.
I do think "Baby" is a heartbreak record, which might make it conceptual? If it is, then all of our records are concept records.
“Say Hello” was thought of as an intro to the types of songs I write. I wanted to make something that showed all the different sides of my musical personality.
“Young At The Bend” is all about the pains of growing into adulthood. In terms of the songwriting on "Baby", I was a super lonely and lost kid at the time.
I was the only person in my friend group not in college, I was reeling from a few breakups. I felt hurt and alone, and that’s what I wrote about. A lot of the record lyrically sounds like it’s about a romantic relationship but that’s only half true.
I was missing my friends and feeling distant from them. Songs like “Sync” and “Cancelled” cover that best, I feel.
To me, there are some clear parallels between this album and Broadway musicals - the most obvious being the "reprise" track and lyrics that are interconnected, but I just think that the record as a whole has a theatrical-type feeling. Was theatre an inspiration for you at all for this album or any of your other work? Do any of you have a background in theatre?
I don’t think theatre was much of an inspiration for "Baby", to be honest. I love theatre myself, though, my high school had an awesome program...I played drums in the pit for Aida one year, actually.
A lot changed rhythmically for us transitioning from "Say Hello" to "Baby" with Jim [Creighton] joining on bass and myself and Pat Murphy splitting up the drumming duties. Typically when I demo a song I keep the rhythm relatively straight, whereas Jim really makes songs dance a lot more.
I had never really played with a bassist with myself on drums, so it was a huge growing period for the rhythm section in terms of our songwriting. We weren’t really a band until "Baby" was being worked on, and we worked really hard on playing dynamically, which I think is inherently theatrical.
We’re obsessed with working out dramatic moments in our songs, the album cover also gives off that theatre vibe, too. Our buddy Josh Smith is the one who chose the fonts used on the cover to give it this old 50’s movie, Broadway show-type flair that worked perfectly with the photo.
Speaking of the "reprise" track, what made you want to include both "Rough Terrain" and "Rough Terrain (Reprise)" on the album? Did they always have connected titles? Were they always in those places on the tracklist, with the former as the opener and the latter as the second to last song?
Well, "Reprise" begins with how "Rough Terrain" ends, in a sense...it’s the same riff. I was playing "Rough Terrain" on an acoustic guitar sitting on my bed one night, got to the end, and thought, "damn, this could be a whole other song."
When I got down to writing it, calling it “Reprise” was the vision. Christian [Holden] from The Hotelier at the time told me I should’ve called it “Rough Terrain Pt. 2”, but I wanted to do what The Beatles did on "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and call it a reprise.
For sequencing, I originally wanted “Stone” to open the album and have “Rough Terrain” be second. I’m the only one who advocates for chill openers and I’ve been voted down every time, which is fine! I think a ripper for an opener is usually the way to go.
A lot of the two songs' companionship comes from the guitar chords. I was starting to use jazz chords in my songwriting and when I found a sequence that was really fun for me, it usually inspired more than one song.
So these two tracks definitely sound like companion pieces, in a way. Coincidentally enough, my favorite song on this album is "Rough Terrain (Reprise)." I really love the darker, more dramatic tone that it has sonically and lyrically compared to the rest of the record. What is your favorite song on "Baby", and why? Has your favorite changed at all in the years since the album was released?
My favorite is probably "Cancelled." I think it became my favorite from playing it at shows over the past few years; it’s always a high-energy song and it’s structurally really solid.
I thought “Sync” was my favorite originally...it was the closest we had gotten to writing a Foo Fighters-sounding song. "Stone" is also really special to me because it marks the beginning of me incorporating more jazz influences in my writing.
Jim's favorite is "Cancelled" as well. Jonathan [Brucato, guitarist]'s is "I Was in Love."
Solid choices for sure! Probably the most iconic or most well-known song on this album is the title track, "Baby." Do you wish there was another song that people recognized the most from this record? Have your feelings on this track, specifically on the vulnerable lyrical content, changed at all in the years since its release? Do you enjoy playing it live, or would you rather retire it?
I’m at peace with "Baby" being the song people resonate with. “Stone” in recent time has sort of taken over which is sort of relieving.
I don’t think I realized at the time that singing lyrics like the ones in "Baby" were vulnerable. I was a lot more outward with my emotions then than I am now.
It’s certainly not the most comfortable for me to sing now, but luckily nowadays the audience takes care of some of those lines for me. I don’t think we’ll ever hard retire it, but it might be a song that we only play at headlining shows in the future, similarly to “The Camera Turns”...it feels like a waste to play when you’re allotted a shorter set time.
I hope “I Was In Love” gets some more love in the future. We have a new version of it coming out in August on the "Pictures Of The Sun" EP!
I'm really glad that you brought up live shows and audiences because this next question really is about the community around this band. Even close to a decade later, people love this album, as shown by the number of people who are still praising it, recommending it, and discovering it for the first time in 2021. I love that you've been able to keep this album alive, from a test press auction to a "baby" nameplate necklace and album cover flags. Do you have any other ideas for ways to continue to keep the album alive?
Pure Noise Records just dropped killer represses on vinyl of both "Baby" and "Say Hello" (link to purchase here) earlier this month! I’m sure we’ll do an anniversary run of the album where we play it front to back at some point, the 10 year anniversary isn’t too far off.
The first five years the record was out, almost no one knew about it. It felt super random when it started gaining steam.
Since then, it seems like it gets more popular every year, which mystifies me...it’s not a light I like to stare at for too long. It’s only been sort of recently where we felt we could take a victory lap with "Baby", so I think it still has a lot of life left in it.
The world needs nothing more than a 10 year anniversary tour for this album, truly. "Baby" finds itself right in the middle of your discography, the sophomore album between your debut "Say Hello" and your most recent full-length "Young at the Bend." How does it compare to your other two LPs, in your eyes? Can you rank all three?
While I was recording "Say Hello", I remember calling my mother crying about how it wasn’t turning out the way I wanted it to. I didn’t really have much musical self-awareness at the time.
I thought I was making some sort of indie music like Kimya Dawson or something, but everyone around me at the time assured me that I was making pop-punk or radio rock-type music. When we went to J. Robbins for "Baby", there was a focus on keeping things raw and underproduced; I wanted to go backward, production-wise.
It’s funny, "Baby" sounds more like a debut record to me than "Say Hello." "Say Hello" is really playful, upbeat, and produced which makes it sound like it might be the second record when the band is trying to break through.
I had my own hangups about how "Baby" came out - I felt like maybe we went too far in the other direction. There are things about "Baby" sonically, however, that make those songs some of my favorite recordings of ours; I love how the drums and vocals sound in particular.
Both of those elements have a roomy atmosphere that makes it feel more alive and present. With "Young At The Bend", we knew we were making darker songs.
I was writing a lot about financial insecurity, my own struggles with mental illness, stuff like that. It was a little too heavy for some of our audience but it translated well to the live show.
In some ways, we were paying homage to the hardcore scene in Massachusetts, something we all grew up in to an extent. We approached songs like “Young” and “I Am A Ruin” as if Nirvana were making more hardcore-leaning songs.
For me personally, it’s hard to rank them. "Say Hello" was the jumping-off point for the band. I look back at that time and don’t understand the person that made that record - I was young, hyper-motivated and was jumping off a new cliff every few months during that time.
"Baby" is when we really became a band and developed our sound. Working with J. Robbins was a dream come true, he did “Emergency & I” by The Dismemberment Plan which is an all-time favorite for me.
"Young At The Bend" marked a new type of songwriting collaboration between us and "Wishing (You) Well" is probably my favorite song of ours.
2. "Say Hello"
3. "Young At The Bend"
1. "Young At The Bend"
3. "Say Hello"
1. "Young At The Bend"
3. "Say Hello"
Once again, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me and celebrate the eighth birthday of "Baby!" I wanted to leave this question open for you to talk about anything else that you'd like to mention.
We just signed to Pure Noise Records this past year! We made an EP back in May where we made new versions of some of our old songs as well as revived a song called "Disappearer" that was originally cut from "Baby."
"Disappearer" and a new studio version of "Baby" are now streaming everywhere. We’ve written a ton of new songs for the next full-length which we should be recording towards the end of the year. Thanks so much for the interview!
Huge thanks to Scott Ayotte and everyone on the Born Without Bones team for making this amazing conversation possible. As mentioned earlier, their new EP "Pictures of the Sun" will be released on August 27th via Pure Noise Records.
The band also has a brand-new merch store, where you can pick up new apparel as well as new vinyl pressings of their first two records. Their discography is available to listen to wherever you stream music, and you can keep up with the band on Twitter @BornWOBonesBand, Instagram @BornWithoutBones, and Facebook @BornWithoutBonesMA.
Be sure to let me know who you want to see interviewed on the site next by tweeting me @JENSESSlON! To be the first to know when new content is posted, you can follow the blog on Twitter @StrawbSkiesBlog, Instagram @StrawberrySkiesBlog, and Facebook @StrawberrySkiesBlog.