B.J. Snowden and Body Breaks Are Just Ahead of Their Time

The “outsider” artists and friends catch up.

Julie Reich is one-half of the Canadian microtonal rock duo Body Breaks; B.J. Snowden is Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter and performer who became known as a legendary outsider artist with her song “In Canada.” Body Breaks has a new album, Bad Trouble — out this Friday via We Are Time Records — so to celebrate, the two hopped on the phone to catch up.

— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Julie Reich: How have you been? How are things going?

B.J. Snowden: I’ve been doing OK! I’m a grandmother — this is my third grandchild.

Julie: Congratulations! Is it a boy or girl? 

B.J.: It’s a girl! The oldest [grandchild] is a girl, then the next one down is a boy, and now the youngest is a girl.

Julie: Congrats. When were they born?

B.J.: The baby was born March 11.

Julie: Oh, my gosh, that was so soon. A lot of people are having COVID babies!

B.J.: I know! We were just talking about that the other day.

Julie: Because, you know what? They just can focus more on their families, because people aren’t working as much.

B.J.: That’s true. 

Julie: What’s going on with [live shows]? Are people performing now?

B.J.: No, not yet. Although one of my friends is setting up to do some disc jockey work down on the Cape, which you couldn’t do last year. So things, I guess, are slowly opening up. 

Julie: Yeah. Things for us will probably take longer, because they’re still rolling out vaccines [in Canada].

This is a topic that I think about, because a lot of musicians are really missing out, obviously, on the performance stuff. But I’m thinking like, Do you want to go back to how it was when no one is getting paid that much to perform? Yes, we want to perform and we want to get back to it. But it’s an opportunity now to raise the question about how people are being treated when they perform.

B.J.: I miss it too. It’s hard. I try to brush up on my songs, but I don’t even have a place to practice as much anymore. 

Julie: I know, a lot of things have happened and it’s hard to be motivated, and stay focused and wanting to do it. But I did see you posted this video with the green screen, and you did a live online performance. And you had outfits! I loved it!

B.J.: [Laughs.] Thank you. My buddy knows how to do all that stuff. He does disc jockeying, but then he does this too, and he said, “We gotta do something!” 

Julie: I loved it. Do you find that’s something you would do again?

B.J.: Yeah, that’s the only thing you can do right now. [My buddy] said, “People can’t go out, but at least they can watch you!” 

Julie: That’s true! I like the whole idea of the costume changes, too. I mean, it’s easier when you’re at home. You can pause it, take a break and then film the rest.

Being a DIY person — maybe you relate, too, because I feel like we share this kind of outsider artist vibe. It’s not too outside of our realms to be doing things that are different, you know, creatively finding solutions, and to be working within our own rules. What do you think? In terms of being DIY and how that affects how you perform, or how you perform in this time. There’s no rules, right? We can do things differently.

B.J.: I know how to break the rules because I went to school for it. I know what I’m doing, when I’m doing the right thing. 

Julie: I do notice that with your music, too, because you obviously are trained — you’re trained classically in piano. So tell me about that, actually. Tell me about the rules that you break.

B.J.: Sometimes I play some chords that are out there, but I know what they are from going to Berklee. Sometimes I’ll take a melody and go off the melody, but I know what I’m doing when I’m doing it. 

Julie: It’s amazing. It’s so subtle, but you have full control, and a lot of people don’t realize that. I’m putting out the new album, and it’s a microtonal rock music — the artist who wrote the music, Matt LeGroulx, is a genius. He is prolific, he writes so many different kinds of music. He wrote the music and I just did the vocals, but we brought it together in a way where I was thinking at first, like, Oh, I could try and do microtonal vocals. That may be album number two, but I brought it kind of together, because I had to sing within that world. But it sounds very accessible. It sounds like regular, very catchy songs, but the the tunings are microtonal. So there’s that element there — there’s still rules, but they’re outside the normal [sound] people would expect in Western music.

B.J.: Exactly.

Julie: It’s fun to do that. I feel like it inspires me to break the rules a bit. What made you want to do that too?

B.J.: I don’t wanna sound like everybody else, you know what I mean? A lot of people make a lot of money in music, but they’re not really musicians, they just go along with what the record producer wants. I can’t get into that. I don’t like a lot of the music that’s out there on the radio. I like jazz and stuff like that, and some of the people back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, like Neil Sedaka and Carole King, James Brown, Stevie Wonder. But some of these other people that are out there, I don’t know.

Julie: It’s not innovative to me. I like to also hear something new and different. That’s what excites me. I don’t want to hear just a generic song that, you know, will be some kind of hit. I want to hear somebody breaking the rules a little bit, and something interesting that I would want to listen to again and question like, How do they do that? And that’s one thing I love about you, too, the way that you sing. Sometimes I notice you’ll hold certain notes for extended periods of time, and I love it. It just so awesome.

I’m sure you get asked this question a lot, but why do you love Canada so much?

B.J.: Number one, I took a trip — I’d been to Canada before, Montreal and stuff like that, but I thought it was very interesting when I went to the Maritimes. It really made me fall in love with Canada. It’s so pretty and woodsy, and the people up there are friendly. Especially on Prince Edward Island, oh, my god! I have a lot of friends up in Prince Edward Island. It’s pretty up there, and it’s just really relaxing. And my mom and I would spend maybe a month there, but a month goes by so fast. My grandmother comes from Nova Scotia. 

Julie: OK, well, then that makes sense. You have literal heritage. You’re part Canadian.

B.J.: Yeah, I’m a quarter tone!

Julie: [Laughs.] That’s amazing. I wanted to ask you what some highlights of your musical career have been over the years?

B.J.: I went on the Jimmy Kimmel show, that was that was an accomplishment.

Julie: How did that happen?

B.J.: I don’t know! I don’t know how that happened. I was just sitting there watching TV and the phone rang, and there was this lady and she goes, “Oh,my name is so-and-so and I’m from the Jimmy Kimmel show” — the show had started up, it was a brand new show on ABC. She says, “Can you send out a CD?” So I said “OK,” and didn’t think anything of it, but I sent it out. And then I didn’t hear from them like two or three years.

Julie: Wow!

B.J.: And the she calls back and says, “I know you probably think we’re kidding around, but no, we really want you on the show.” So then I said, “Well, I’m on vacation now.” So she says, “OK.” Then a couple of weeks later, they called up and she said, “Let’s try to get you in tomorrow.” So I said, “OK.” Then she called me back and she said, “Check online, I have all your reservations,” and everything like that.

Julie: So they planned it for you. They booked it.

B.J.: Yeah, everything was complete, and I was supposed to take the 8 AM flight out the next morning.

Julie: That’s so quick.

B.J.: Yeah, I know. So I flew out there and somebody picked me up in a Mercedes.

Julie: Oh, nice, fancy!

B.J.: So I called up [the woman] and she came over [to my hotel] and she gave me a keyboard, but the keyboard was a modular toy keyboard or something. I told her, and she went back and got me another one. 

Julie: So you’re telling me that they gave you some new keyboard that you just had to figure out? Because I know on your keyboard there are specific settings you use like the drums and things like that that are presets, right?

B.J.: Well, I don’t really preset them, I just look at it and know what I want, and then I put the sound in the thing.

Julie: Wow. So you had to do that same day with just some other random keyboard?

B.J.: Yeah, but I didn’t really feel comfortable with keyboard. I did the best I can. So I just sat there most of the time, and they came out and gave me some goodies, you know, like nice melons and stuff like that.

Julie: As they should.

B.J.: I was just waiting there in the green room, they call it. Then finally I went out and I rehearsed, and then I went back in the green room again and then they go, “OK, we’re going to film it.” They had had a substitute for Jimmy Kimmel, and then finally when it was real, he came out. They actually tape at about 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Then Friday night they ran it, and I was home by then.

Julie: How did you feel about what they showed, and how they showed it? Were you happy with them?

B.J.: Yeah, they were very nice. 

Julie: Do you get nervous when you perform? It doesn’t seem like it. You’re so full of life and confident, you always do a great job.

B.J.: Well, I was nervous there, knowing that there’s a national audience. 

Julie: I can imagine it must be so cool to be on Jimmy Kimmel. Was he nice to you?

B.J.: Yeah, he was very nice! I said, “Thank you so much for letting me perform on here,” and he said, “Well, you’re good!” 

Julie: That’s really sweet.

B.J.: [Separately,] I was walking down the street once and one of my neighbors said, “Do you go by the name B.J. Snowden?” I said, “Yeah.” “You were on TV last night.” I said, “Really? I was sleeping!” “No, you were on TV?” I said, “What show?” She said, “I don’t know, but I saw you.” Then a couple of high school kids said they saw me on TV, and they told me what it was — they said it was the Jimmy Fallon show. I checked it out, and surely enough, I was on there. They played my song “In Canada” — on the “Do Not Playlist.” [Laughs.] 

Julie: [Laughs.] Oh, well. Any press is good press. That’s the whole thing about being outsider — sometimes the mainstream doesn’t get it. We’re just ahead of our time. 

(Photo Credit: left, Natalie Logan)

Body Breaks is the microtonal rock duo of Matt LeGroulx and Julie Reich. From their homes in Montreal and Toronto, respectively, the DIY lifers behind projects like Bile Sister, EXPWY, and Galaxius Mons have developed idiosyncratic approaches to bedroom recording that culminate on their collaborative debut. Their first full-length album Bad Trouble is out June 18, 2021 via We Are Time Records. 

(Photo Credit: Natalie Logan)