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This piece is part of the Algorhythms project: artists telling stories about music they discovered from humans. Because where we discover music is an important part of its impact, and not all music is discovered through an algorithm.

Broken Baby's Amber Bollinger on Patti Smith

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If there’s one thing that defines LA-based duo Broken Baby, it’s that they’re hard to define. Self-described as a “modern-day rock juggernaut,” Broken Baby is one part punk, one part alternative, and always vivifying. A glimpse at Broken Baby’s album art provides a hint to the duo’s diverse ethos: it ranges from trippy illustrations to vintage-style collage to dreamy lo-fi portraits. The uniting thread is a certain boldness that aptly reflects their music. “Whatever you want to call them, Broken Baby’s music is sonic lightning,” wrote Kerrang in 2019. Backed by vocals and guitar from Alex Dezen, frontwoman Amber Bollinger’s voice moves deftly between sharpness and delicacy. The duo co-writes their lyrics, and never misses an opportunity for commentary. On “Royal Pigs,” a popular 2019 single, Amber sings: “What’s it all matter now / to these Royal Pigs / From broke to bleed / on a paper cross / This is my body / What does it cost?” 

Broken Baby’s eponymous debut LB came out in 2018. “I think we were just throwing stuff at the wall on the first album,” Amber said. “We just had so much to say—a lifetime's worth! It was messy. Necessarily messy.” Two years later, the pandemic has put the band’s touring plans on pause, but Broken Baby has been steadily releasing singles. Their latest release, “Manic Panic,” speaks to the current moment. Disco- and protest-punk-inspired, its lyrics are as fiery as they are catchy: “Yeah I got a prison and a purpose / And a microphone in my hand.” 

For her Algorhythm, Amber recalls her introduction to punk rock, which started from a place of curiosity and grew into genuine awe...

While I was living in Cincinnati, I would drive up to Columbus on the weekends and stay with my boyfriend at the house he shared with his bandmates. His circle of friends were all really knowledgeable about music — most of them were in bands. I grew up listening to whatever my parents listened to on the radio, whatever was popular — Billy Joel, Phil Collins, Lionel Ritchie, Eurythmics, Michael Jackson, The Beach Boys. I had not acquired the taste for punk music yet, but that’s what his friends were playing and listening to. I wanted to be in on the conversation. He suggested I read PLEASE KILL ME: The Oral History of Punk Rock by Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil. I remember studying it like I was going to be quizzed. 

At the same time, my boyfriend would make me these eclectic and amazing mix CDs. One of the CDs he made me was kind of like a soundtrack to that book — Television, David Bowie, Velvet Underground, Nico, Ramones, Johnny Thunders, New York Dolls, Blondie, Patti Smith, etc. I didn’t immediately fall in love with Patti Smith. I feel ashamed to say that I was swayed by how she was described in PLEASE KILL ME — she’s a poser, a wannabe. But I gave in to “Land: Horses / Land of a Thousand Dances.” It confused me: Soft, spoken word one moment, bursting into loud inaudible words the next. It was also empowering! Her voice is so sweet, so innocent, and simultaneously powerful. I had never heard this kind of music before, but at the same time I had? It felt intimate, sexual, like a diary, but opened up to these glimpses of these familiar pop moments. There were no rules and whatever alternate reality I just dropped into, I didn’t want to leave. So I’d listen to it again and again. Each time just as multidimensional as the first time I had heard it. I’ve been in love with Patti Smith since.

Those mix CDs changed the course of my musical appetite. I still have those CDs tucked away in their paper sleeves. They’re all scratched up and warped, but I keep them because it changed everything.

Check out the “Manic Panic” music video on Broken Baby’s YouTube channel — and listen to our full Algorhythms playlist here

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