Brooklyn’s Bad Galaxy is the alt. folk group lead by songwriter Alexis Pastuhov. Releasing their self-titled debut album in 2017, the group is returning strong this year with a series of singles, the first being the excellent “Never Been Afraid”. Inspired by the life of writer/reporter Stephen Crane, the track’s dark, grooving folk-rock gives life to the inspiring narrative.
Alexis was kind enough to take some time and answer some questions for us about the inspiration and writing process for his latest track:
IR: How did you initially discover Badge of Courage, and what attracted you to the subject matter?
AP: I actually stumbled across the book at a thrift store in Maine. I was already mildly aware of Stephen Crane and, like a lot of people, had read The Red Badge of Courage when I was younger. That of course is the book that he is best known for. But for me, it isn’t really even his writing that fascinates me most about his life. The biography Badge of Courage taught me that in addition to being a brilliant writer, Stephen was also a fearless journalist. He lived a very courageous life, and would go to extreme lengths for the sake of capturing stories and documenting the lives of people on the fringes. He was also a reckless, and ultimately tragic figure, which are characteristics that I’m admittedly attracted too.
IR: You’ve stated you rarely “approach songs from that angle” in reference to “Never Been Afraid” – was this the first time you’ve written a song inspired by the life of someone else, who you didn’t know personally?
AP: Oh dang, you picked up on that, haha. I was hoping no one would notice! Well, to be honest, I really like to leave perspective up to the listener, but yeah, this is one of the first times that I’ve explicitly written a song about another person. A lot of my songs are written from the first person perspective, but they’re not always autobiographical. I really consider this song to be an homage.
IR: What was the biggest challenge for you when tackling a song from that perspective?
AP: That’s a great question. I think that simply finding the angle or arc of the story is the hardest part. Trying to essentially capture a persons life in a single song is tough because it’s hard to know what to focus on or where to even begin. I just knew that I wanted to write a song about him, and contribute my own little commemoration of his life and his story. Once I decided on a couple of specific events and the types of images that I wanted to conjure, the song began to slowly unfold. But I definitely wrote a lot of verses that ended up getting scrapped in the end.
IR: As you wrote the song, did you have a sense of the musical tone you wanted to use to convey the story?
AP: Yeah, musically I was trying to create a sense of urgency. I wanted the song to have a dark edge to it, and I think that the lead guitar and piano parts really help to create that feeling. But mostly, I just wanted the lyrics to paint a picture and to kind of be transportive, by shining a light on all these little details of his life.
IR: I hear some Latin/flamenco influence in the verse melody – was this a purposeful direction you went in based on Stephen Crane’s time in the Spanish American War or the Havana references?
AP: I hadn’t really considered that when writing the vocal melodies, but musically I did want the song to generate a kind of warmth. Like a humid night in a tropical city. And we did throw some bongo drums on there, so that added to the overall vibe as well.
IR: As you are planning on releasing a collection of singles this year – do you see there being any kind of connecting threads between them, either thematically, musically or narratively?
AP: I’m excited about these upcoming singles. It’s been a ton of work, but on June 19th, I’ll be releasing another song called “14th Parallel”.
All of these new songs are kind of connected by this theme of escape, both mentally and physically. A desire to be somewhere else, or feel a different way, or to see things from a different perspective. They all kind of beg the question “If you could be anywhere, where would you be”?