The instrumental sound of the Babylonian Tiles
is a swirling, keyboard-heavy mix of psychedelia and goth rock, with occasional touches of blues and even a dash of soul. Over this complex stew floats the vocals of founder and band mastermind Byrna Golden
, whose style has been compared to Indian and Asian music, but whose musical foundation is rooted in jazz.
Byrna Golden comes from a musical family. Her mother, Shelley Moore, is a celebrated interpreter of jazz standards, while her father was something of an amateur music historian. Golden learned a lot about note bending and vocal improvisation from her mother, but when she started getting involved in the L.A. music scene, it was primarily as a keyboardist rather than a singer. Her instrumental style was unusual even then, as she had years of classical piano training and couldn't help but add flourishes that were definitely not part of the genre as practiced in the L.A. club scene. Beginning in 1981, Golden played with a variety of local punk bands, some of which opened for major acts like Redd Kross, Social Distortion, and T.S.O.L., but none of which had any releases of their own.
By 1985, Golden had become interested in putting together a band to play a mix of psychedelia and goth rock, but it took her some time to find other musicians who shared her vision. It wasn't until 1989 that the Babylonian Tiles, then composed of Golden with guitarist Tim Thayer, drummer Brian Schreiber, and Marcus Mindte, played their first gigs. The group immediately became a presence on the L.A. scene, and in 1991, released a tape-only EP called What Do Your Parents Think of the Colours You Enjoy. While it was slightly crude, it received wide local distribution and was sold at shows and eclectic local stores, and it consolidated their fan base. The Babylonian Tiles' first real album wasn't until 1993 when Basking in the Sun at Midnight was released by the influential but poorly distributed Nate Starkman & Son label. (It was re-released only a year later by the Saint Thomas label, because demand had far outstripped supply. Saint Thomas also re-released What Do Your Parents Think on CD.) Shortly after the album's release, Mindte became the first of several bassists to leave the group, and he was replaced by Richard Cleary for the band's 1995 U.S. tour and the subsequent album, Green Midnight Glow. There was no real change in the band's sound on the album, which was dominated by the interplay between guitar and keyboard and Golden's odd, coolly detached singing style. (Her vocals have aptly been compared to Nico's early work, and the contrast with the high-energy music is the kind of dynamic you either love or hate.)
The nation-wide tour did wonders for the Babylonian Tiles' profile, bringing the band invitations to participate in several compilation albums. Among the performances that resulted was a cover of the tune "Ballad of the Hip Death Goddess" by the Boston psychedelic band the Ultimate Spinach. The song's author, Ian Bruce-Douglas, heard the cover and flipped over it, writing "As far as I'm concerned, Byrna Golden is the hip death goddess." Golden was delighted, and has used the phrase as her nickname ever since. Another fan was Steve Farmer of the Amboy Dukes, who played several shows with the band and co-wrote songs with Golden for a planned album. The band was already in the recording studio when a dispute with the record company led to the album's cancellation, and authorized versions of those tracks have never been released.
Richard Cleary had been playing in the Babylonian Tiles while working in other bands, and when schedule conflicts became a problem, it became obvious that a full-time bassist was needed. Texan Christian Ramsey auditioned and joined the band, playing in a heavier, more assertive style that deepened the sound considerably. It was this version of the band that released Teknicolour Aftermath, which is probably their most musically complex work to date. Unfortunately, Ramsey left the band in 2000, and after auditioning other bassists for a while the Babylonian Tiles elected to continued as a trio instead. The group remains active in the Los Angeles scene and occasionally tours more widely, but as of 20002, no further recordings have seen the light of day. ~ Richard Foss, Rovi