Discovery: Bora York
ABOVE: REBEKAH AND CHRIS BARTELS. IMAGE COURTESY OF BEN WOODIS
Stepping into the wonderful world of dream-pop is Bora York, a young Minneapolis group skilled in crafting soft synth hooks backed by inescapable beats. Fronted by the husband-wife team of Chris and Rebekah Bartels, the upbeat tempos and thoughtful lyrics that weave in and out of the record are a testament to the environment it was created in—there’s a love story hidden in there somewhere. From the impromptu jam sessions that brought the Bartels together to the friendships that pulled the remaining members of the band into the project, music has served as a force to live by for Bora York.
Bora York’s debut album Dreaming Free is set for official release on March 22. In addition to touring close to home, the members of Bora York are planning a summer tour and considering their general direction for the future. Last week, we called the Bartels to discuss Bora York’s unplanned genesis and some of the hidden secrets behind their music.
MEMBERS: Chris Bartels, Rebekah Bartels, Charlie Wirth, Brian Seidel, Bjorn Nilsen, and Jamie Kauppi
HOMETOWN: Minneapolis, Minnesota
BAND NAME: Chris Bartels: It’s pretty random. Rebekah and I went on vacation last May up north in Minnesota, and when we got back our friends were asking where we went. One friend thought she overheard either New York or Bora Bora—completely off. She was like, “Bora York! That can be your new thing.” It’s completely random, doesn’t really mean much, but we thought it was a fun name.
FROM FOLK TO DREAM-POP: Chris Bartels: It just happened. I put out [my solo EP] Morning’s Gold as a folk-pop EP in late 2011; it was actually part of a senior project at school for me. You had to record and produce an album, and it could be your music or other people’s music. I chose to do my music. Originally I was planning on this new record being another folk album. The songs I started writing were more folk, but there were a few songs that I messed around with. I added synth elements and other electronic elements to it, and I just expanded on those for fun. I don’t remember a lightbulb moment; it just gradually changed from what I thought would be folk into what it is now.
EMBRACING POP: Chris Bartels: We don’t try to shy away from the pop melodies; we just go for it. Rebekah and I write lyrics and vocals together, and we mold those with indie, ambient, dream-pop music, and that’s what became the Bora York style. I think as we move forward, you’ll definitely be hearing more of Rebekah’s voice and a little less of mine. I really think her voice is special.
MUSICAL HISTORY: Chris Bartels: I started playing guitar when I was a junior in high school; that would have been nine years ago. I started writing songs pretty soon after that, and I began recording terrible demos on my old PC desktop. From the start, I had an interest in recording and the production aspect of it. I’ve had some formal training in music, but I gradually started experimenting in music production with an emphasis on recording. My true love is still writing music and playing songs.
Rebekah Bartels: My family is awfully musical; we’ve been singing together since we were little. I was going to go to school for music; I studied classically for a solid year and decided that wasn’t really where my heart was. I didn’t want to leave my voice, because in classical training it started to sound like they wanted me to sound, and I wanted to make sure that I kept my own personal style. I started writing and playing guitar at around 18 and 19. I mostly just write acoustic pop; since we dated and got married, Chris has gotten me into more indie music and synth and those kinds of sounds. It’s been fun to collaboratively work on a song—it’s kind of cool that our musical talents are in different areas. We complement each other, and the other guys in the band as well.
BUILDING THE GROUP: Chris Bartels: Ever since I picked up a guitar and started doing music, Charlie [Wirth] and I have been doing it together. I’ve been playing music with Charlie long before Rebekah and I even met.
Rebekah Bartels: The rest of the guys we had played with in other bands, or they were friends of friends. We started hanging out, and we started feeling the chemistry; plus, they were great musicians. We played with most of them at our church, too, so we’ve been playing there together for a while.
PERSONAL STORIES: Chris Bartels: “Open Tales” is about Rebekah’s and my relationship. We’ve had some really cool friends and mentors throughout our relationship and in our marriage. They’ve really encouraged us and given us great support. Anyone would know that a relationship or a marriage is definitely not easy—you really have to work at it. If you read the lyrics of that song, it’s probably not obvious, but it’s definitely relating to all of that encouragement and support we’ve had.
Rebekah Bartels: A lot of moments in it were just to remind ourselves of that one time we had, that special moment in our relationship when we said, “We’re going to support each other, we’re going to lift each other up. We’re in this together.” It’s about how that’s going to help us get through whatever comes.
Chris Bartels: The title song has a very similar theme. It’s not as personal or as influenced by Rebekah’s and my relationship; it’s about that idea of not settling in life, of dreaming free. That’s the basic theme of it: living out a dream even if you know it’s going to be tough.
“LEMONCHOLY”: Chris Bartels: “Lemoncholy” is meant to be the transition song between “Settling Close, Traveling Far” and “Dreaming Free.” “Settling Close, Traveling Far” is actually a darker song, if you listen and read the lyrics. The last line sums it up; it’s in the eyes of someone looking back on life who maybe didn’t really dream free, or who settled and is thinking of what could have been. I didn’t want to end the album that way. That’s a very honest song that a lot of us feel from time to time—what could have been, or what could be. But I didn’t want to end on that, and “Dreaming Free” is more hopeful. So “Lemoncholy” is that bridge; for the feel and style, I left the synth, the big drum sample, and the big beats from earlier in the album. I wanted to end it more ambient and mellow.
MUSICAL MEMORIES: Rebekah Bartels: I was trying out for a band with a worship group, and at first I was just playing guitar, but I wanted to try to be a singer. I played a song, and they just kind of stared at me; I didn’t know what to think. They said, “Don’t you want to lead this band?” I feel like in that moment, they really gave me confidence. That summer, I was playing with that band and I wrote a song for everyone to sing with me. Everyone was singing it super strong the first time we played it, and I just felt like, “Whoa, this is huge; I can do this.” Now it’s going to be fun with this record to hear people sing along with me.
Chris Bartels: We actually met playing music together. It’s cool that we get to play music together and that we met that way. That was obviously a moment, when I first heard her sing. It was like, “Dang.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Chris Bartels: We’re trying to write new stuff—we obviously don’t want to be done after Dreaming Free. This time around, we know what Bora York is; we’ll probably stick to the theme, but I really don’t like putting it in a box. If I had been committed to this being a folk album, who knows where we would be now. We’ll totally have the rest of the band be more involved in the writing process the next time around. It’ll still be dreamy Bora York, but who knows what the feel will be on the next album.
INSPIRING OTHERS: Rebekah Bartels: We hope people are inspired creatively, because when I listen to a record, I just want to do more. It makes me want to write more, or do art. I always want to create when I listen to music. That’s another thing we want: for people to be inspired to create, just by listening.
DREAMING FREE IS OUT MARCH 22. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT BORA YORK’S WEBSITE.