For the benefit of the household’s four-legged flatmates, there’s a set of entrance instructions pinned to Rhea Caldwell’s front door. ‘Don’t knock, text,’ says the sign. ‘Don’t look the dogs in the eye.’ After I follow the first instruction, Baby Blue’s frontwoman and chief songwriter opens the door. Dogs Wagon and Noa mill about in excitement to investigate me, the new intruder. I follow the second instruction, handing out calming pats and heartfelt greetings with my eyes obediently averted. Rhea then takes me through the kitchen to the narrow back sunroom, where we sit to chat through sophomore EP Do What You Like. With the Autumn morning sunshine streaming through the window, I feel soothed and softened in all the warmth and light.
Five tracks of psych-rock purpose-built to be mentally transfixing and personally cathartic, Do What You Like shines out with forthright lyrical vulnerability. Rhea seems to let her music function as a processing and healing tool, for the benefit of herself and the listener. It’s a generous gift. Who doesn’t love songs that help you make sense of yourself? Who doesn’t love songs you can read deeply into, pulling out their goodness to serve your own evolution?
As we talk, Noa hangs close by, while Wagon prefers to stay outside to wrestle with a coconut. We cover the territory of Baby Blue’s foundational first few years, including the release of last year’s debut EP In My Mind and tour supports for bands like Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Benjamin Booker, Husky, The Ocean Party, The Courtney’s, Chastity Belt and Leah Senior. We touch on Baby Blue’s evolving lineup of musicians, including Dave Mudie (Courtney Barnett, L.A. Mood, Gumboot), Nathanael Riley (19th Century Strongmen, Captain Apples), Cordelia Crosby (Gena Rose Bruce), Andrew Campbell (Jim Lawrie, Lipsync Chicks), Perrin Date (New Band), Liam ‘Snowy’ Halliwell (Jade Imagine, No Local, The Ocean Party), Jesse Williams (Girlatones, Leah Senior) and Josh Coleman (Gumboot). “With all the lineup changes, which is just the reality of bands now anyway, I’m still coming to terms with being the face of Baby Blue,” says Rhea. “People seem to think it’s just me and a backing band anyway, so I’m catching up with that. I’m getting more comfortable with the idea.”
We settle into talking about the EP, track by track, entering into each song with the lyrics I found most compelling.
I Like You
Why do I have to apologise for how I feel? Why do I have to apologise for being so intense?
Yeah, why should I? Pure psych-pop pleasure, I Like You is catchy and fun despite the groanworthy subject matter. “I wrote this song when I had a whopping big crush on someone,” says Rhea, unabashed. “We went on a few dates, then afterward, he started acting coy and stopped responding – the classic story. So we hung out and had ‘a talk’ about it. I said, ‘I just like you. If you’ve got a problem with that, that’s the problem.’” Talk about calling it as you see it. Rhea’s directness is her gift. “It was definitely for the best,” she says. “He still ghosted me, and after a little while, I finally made it to the point where I knew I deserved better.”
You’ve got to stop looking at the big picture, I know it’s hard, slow down and focus on the things that make you feel good
You can thank Rhea’s mum for this advice. Somewhat counter-intuitive yet instantly liberating, Big Picture is a jangle-surf musical version of a mindfulness mantra. Forget worrying about the future. What can you focus on right now? What can you do in this moment to feel better? As winter closes in, Big Picture throws a lifeline out into the fear.
“I wrote this after I’d chatted on the phone to my mum,” says Rhea. “I was having a freak out thinking, ‘I’m never going to be able to afford a house, I’m never going to be able to do the things I want. I’d just broken up with my partner at the time, and everything sucked! Mum said, ‘Rhea, stop looking at the big picture. Go make a cup of tea. Slow down!’ She’s always said that to me – slow down, stop growing up so fast. I was relaying that message to myself, knowing that other people will hear it and might find it useful.”
Like a little philosophy or therapy session, Big Picture could be powerful if you take the message seriously. “Some people write lyrics knowing that other people will take them and interpret them in their own way, and that’s their decision, and their art,” explains Rhea. “For me, if I’m going to sing something for a long time, I need to feel like it’s clearing something out of me and that I believe what I’m saying is important in some way.”
Rhea’s mum doesn’t yet know she’s the song’s creative inspiration. “Mum will cry when she hears it, ” says Rhea. “She’s the one at my gigs clapping loudly halfway through a song, so she’ll love this.”
Time flies, we’re all going to die, are you going through with your dream life?
Driven by Rhea’s relentless guitar riff, Dream Life asks all the hard questions. Are you doing it your way? Are you settling? Are you focused on what you want?
“It’s a funny song,” reflects Rhea.“That was me having a weird, intense, non-relationship with someone in a relationship – I fall in love with everyone FYI!” At this point, Noa starts to whine and grumble, seeking smooches. Is she channeling the subconscious pain of this type of dilemma – one of the worst? Perhaps. ”It was tormenting,” says Rhea. “We’d have conversations where I’d hear him talk about his plans for the future, and I thought to myself, ‘Are you going through with your dream life? Is this what you want?'”
Noa whines again in her own moment of sadness, so we bend down to administer soothing pats. “Nothing was happening, we were just toeing the line through the intense chemistry, tossing up over these types of questions,” says Rhea. “Ultimately, it was for the best it didn’t work out.” It’s still a good question though. Are you living it?
Snakes And Ladders
I know that you’re trying to climb that ladder, I see why you’re talking to me now
Shady and forceful, Snakes And Ladders calls out a character for their calculating lack of authenticity. “It’s about the type of person who you think might be using you, when it suits them, to gain something,” explains Rhea. “When you see them, you get that instant feeling of being brought down, like sliding down a snake.”
I wonder aloud if this experience reflects on life in the music industry, yet Rhea is fair and balanced in her reply. “There’s a lot of good in the industry, and I don’t get too caught up in the negative realms,” she says. “I think I’ve got a good gauge on people, so I haven’t found myself in trouble yet. Everyone has the right to do things their way.”
Fire And Ice
Say goodbye to your future. Do what you like.
Released in February, Fire And Ice channels a sitar-laden 60s psychedelic classicism that would sound perfectly at home on The Beatles’ Revolver. “My friend Sarita (Mcharg) is a sitar player and doctor – I know right?” says Rhea, as she watches my eyes widen in awe of this woman’s skillset. “I organised a jam for Sarita and Fabian, just to play together, and with Nathaniel and I, to see what happened. It sounded so otherworldly, so transfixing, we recorded it pretty quickly after.” This type of psychedelia is where Rhea feels most comfortable in her music making. “It suits the wacky, layered type of way I like to present the idea,” she says. “And when you’re watching it live, it gives you the chance to float away. There’s something in it.”
There sure is Rhea. We finish the chat, and I amateurishly survey the inside and outside of the house for the right photo backdrop. I’m a rookie photographer, while Rhea runs her own music photography business on the side. Anxiously wielding a borrowed DSLR, Rhea reassures me that it’s perfectly okay to use the auto mode for now. Showing a gracious lack of concern over my skills, Wagon and Noa get themselves in on the action too.
Listen to Do What You Like, out today via Neat Lawn, recorded and mixed by Paul Mayburry and mastered by Adam Dempsey. Grab the limited edition vinyl while you can, and check out the Do What You Like national tour dates below.
Do What You Like National Tour
Melbourne – Curtin Hotel – 6th July
Castlemaine – The Bridge Hotel – 13th July
Adelaide – Exeter Hotel – 14th July
Sydney – Marly bar – 19th July
Wollongong – Rad Bar – 20th July
Ballarat – The Eastern – 4th August