After filming a stripped-down rendition of “Kimmi” in a South Austin studio, Bathe spends a much-deserved moment to themselves in a nearby glade. Prompted by the photographer, the two wade carefully into the river. Dressed casually in denim, Vans Classics, and muted greys, they’re in sync in more ways than one. An effortless air hangs between them, the kind that emerges only after years of friendship and making music together.
Collaborating on and off since their time at UPenn, Devin Hobdy and Corey Smith-West spent five years searching and refining their shared vision. In 2018, the duo put out “Sure Shot,” immediately pulling listeners and publications like Noisey, Okayplayer, and COLORS to their “Surf R&B” sound.
The band prefers to meet people where they are rather than prescribing too much to their own music.
“I want people to take away whatever they want from it or whatever they need it to be,” explains Smith-West, guitarist-producer. “If someone listens to our music while they’re washing the dishes, and they don’t really pay attention to the nuances of the track — that doesn’t really bother me. If someone wants to sit down, analyze every lyric and every production decision, and have a thought-out discussion, that’s fine too.”
Hobdy, singer-songwriter and designer behind the band’s artwork, chimes in with more intent.
“I think that a lot of music really zeroes in on these really monumental moments…these moments that seem to have all of this importance attached to them.”
And that careful balance and keen sensibility have been distinct markers for the Brooklyn-based duo that’s redefining beach music and R&B.
Their debut EP, titled I’ll Miss You, is a panoramic sweep of emotion, landing somewhere between new love and farewell — depending on who you ask.
Cited by VICE as one of their 33 Essential Albums You Probably Missed So Far in 2019, the 7-piece EP is confidently arranged with cinematic, instrumental-heavy partitions like the lead-off track “Hazel” and intermission “Caught Up.” Each of the other more lyrically-leaning tracks sets quite a scene in its own right. “Dealer” fictionalizes a romance with the protagonist’s weed dealer. “Sure Shot” is inspired by the artists’ fathers as a telltale of the joy and impending weight of being young and Black in America. “Kimmi” draws on the unknowns of modern dating and a rare empathy for someone who has ghosted you and may never text back again:
You could hit me back next July
And I wouldn’t mind, no
And you probably think you need to explain
You don’t need to say a damn thing
But girl if you do
Don’t tell me the truth
Don’t tell me the…
Awash with emotive writing from Hobdy and multi-instrumental production by Smith-West, Bathe’s music rescinds into a deeper context when talking about their heritage and identity.
“My grandfather was a Blues guitarist in Jamaica,” Smith-West begins when asked about his drive to make music. “I think I’m one of the first people in my family to have the opportunity to make music and have a platform to get it out into the world.”
Hobdy, whose mother graduated from Berklee College of Music, recounts his first memory of wanting to be a musician. “I was maybe five years old in a jazz club with my mom ‘cause she’s a jazz singer. And I just remember being surrounded by like all incredible musicians and all these people. It’s realizing that like, oh — this is probably something that I want to do for a very long time. Looking back on that memory, I feel fulfilled and like that it’s come full circle. It’s one thing to be a third-party spectator but it’s another to actually be in the center.”
There’s an obvious cohesion there. Though the complexities in their music are best told by those in their close circles. Childhood friend Derek shares his interpretation of Bathe: A sonic glimpse of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. A warm vacation fling knowing full well it’s going to end. A song to both cry and dance to. A brief getaway from America. A personal tribute to Black masculinity, head above currents.
When asked about what scares him, Smith-West answers with optimism, “Nothing scares me because, you know, I got my best friend. I got music. I got a really cool community. I got my family and I think I’ll be right no matter what.”
Read on for a Q&A and listen to the live-recorded single of “Kimmi” — out now via Level.
How do you think music connects people?
Devin Hobdy: Music is one of the few mediums that can truly transcend culture, language, and locale. I think that it’s beautiful that I can come to South By and artists from Spain have listened to “Sure Shot” and are really able to point out the things that really made it like personal and wonderful to us. I think that that’s really a testament to how transcendent music is and how connected we really tend to be.
What’s your earliest memory around music?
Corey Smith-West: My mom got me my first piece of music I ever owned. It was a tape cassette with the singles from the “Men in Black” movie. Like the original one with “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” on one side and “Men in Black” on the other side. And I thought that at the time, Will Smith was the greatest artist in the history of the universe. I could rap every line of that song. And I was like, yo, I just want to be Will Smith and like “Will Smith, if you’re out there, hit me up, let’s build.”
What advice would you give your younger self?
DH: You will not write a great song on the first go around. It will probably suck. You will probably be dissatisfied with it. That does not mean you should scrap it and move onto the next idea. It means that you just need to sit with it. You need to sit in the muck for a bit, and you need to just work through it, and at the end you might get something that’s not the greatest song that’s ever graced the planet, but you will get something that you are proud of and something that someone else probably needed to hear.
What drives you to create music?
CSW: There are so many talented rappers and talented bands. Even just specifically in our circle of friends and collaborators, there are just so many people that every single time I get frustrated and hit a wall creatively, I just need to listen to something that they’re doing. I feel really thankful to be like here making music right now. It was really beautiful to be able to open up my phone, go on Instagram and just see all my friends making such great stuff.
DH: All my best friends make music. One of my best friends, Derek over there, I’ve known him since childhood. Music has been such a vital part of our lives that it almost feels like the ideas of music and friendship are intertwined and can’t be pulled apart.
How do you define success?
CSW: Most important thing to me is making something that will be around for a very long time, hopefully. I grew up really like a student of music history, reading about different scenes like Motown, the Neo-Soul scene, New Wave, Punk scenes in England in the ‘80s, and in the late ‘70s with the psychedelic rock movement. That was music that was true to them but ended up just painting that time period. When you hear the music from then, you don’t just listen to a song, you’re thinking about that time. To be able to make that mark too, in our little corner of the world and our brief time in the grand scheme of things — that’s really cool to me.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.