When Ringling College of Art and Design teamed up with Semkhor Productions  to create the Ringling College Studio Labs Post Production Facility, speculation ran wild as to what Hollywood studio or independent star might bring their latest cinematic vision to Sarasota. And with a blossoming digital filmmaking program earning accolades from the likes of The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, who could blame them? But even as the Sarasota Film Festival came rolling through and the Studio Labs opened its doors to visiting filmmakers, a local band cut its first album.

It can be difficult to separate Babyl the individual—a singer/songwriter
named Ben Jacobs—from Babyl the band—Jacobs plus drummer Paul Shuler, bassist Jack Berry and guitarist Thomas Nagy—but maybe that’s the way Babyl likes it. Even when asked point-blank to define who or what Babyl is, answers remain enigmatic. “Babyl’s a project or an artist that wants to exude passion,” offers Jacobs, “that wants to connect sonically and visually.” On one hand, it’s a less than helpful response. But on the other, it’s the perfect rejoinder from a veteran frontman who is as comfortable being at home writing original music as he is leading jam-band covers of crowd favorites. Jacobs jumps genres like hopscotch and does it all wearing oversized sunglasses and a custom-made Sergeant Pepper jacket. “Babyl was predicated on just having fun, being humorous and being spontaneous,” Jacobs says. “Personally, that’s how I connect with the audience.” But after years of experimentation and expression, this album will finally serve as Babyl’s formal introduction.

Though performing prolifically, Babyl’s recorded discography is near nonexistent—not counting the innumerable cell phone and social media snippets taken from gigs around town and spread outside of Jacobs’ control—and this is by design. “I’m too much of a perfectionist,” he says. But at the Studio Labs, he found all the equipment and support he needed to make the album he wanted. Though as yet untitled, the band has selected a lean tracklist of six to eight songs for final inclusion in its sonic debut, winnowed from material written in the past four years of steady gigs and touring, which Jacobs now views as an extended rehearsal for the production battle to come.

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.


But performance is still far different from production—something Babyl came to find out. Inside the concrete expanse of one of the three soundstages found at the Studio Labs, the musicians arrange themselves in an intimate circle, playing to each other, not an audience. On the other side of the rectangular window over their shoulders, the sound engineer waits in the editing booth, master of a thousand knobs, dials, levers, switches and esoteric doodads with even more esoteric functions that will ultimately capture and crystalize Babyl’s raw performance. The air fills with palpable energy born of every available brainwave repeating and reinforcing that one all-consuming thought—“We’re making an album!” Reality quickly steps in. “It’s probably one of the most frustrating things to do,” says Jacobs, “because it’s never completed, it’s never finished.”

As the chief songwriter, much of Babyl’s music stems from Jacobs’ piano, and perhaps this leads to his intense perfectionism. Sometimes there will be months before he even lets his fellow band-mates hear what he’s working on. “I would completely immerse myself in the track,” he says. “I would listen to it a million times, and I sort of become that track until it’s completed.” Then he will take the song to Babyl, where the individual instrumentalists leave their marks.Studio recording with Babyl can follow a similar trajectory. Not a live album, songs are rehearsed and recorded over a painstaking process that sees each individual instrument and a vocal track recorded independently so that each component part can be practiced and performed to perfection, as opposed to praying for a run-through where not a single person slips up or loses time. “It’s a fun process,” admits Jacobs, “but it’s arduous.” Sometimes after spending 30 hours on a single song, everyone listens to the result and everyone has a say, including the producer and the engineer, but then Jacobs needs his time alone with each track, to mull it over and live in its sound for a while. And every member of the band knows they’re on standby, that Jacobs could call at any moment, having woken up at three in the morning to the revelation that a horn section is needed to take one of their songs to the next level. “And we’ll throw it at the wall and see if it sticks,” he says. “We have enough creative freedom that we can
add or subtract anything.”

Still, there remains one song that eludes Jacobs, the Moby Dick to his Captain Ahab, a song he’s struggled to record for three years now but is “absolutely” dedicated to finishing and seeing on Babyl’s debut. “It’s always bested me in the past, but I refuse to let it get the best of me this time,” he laughs.

But if it does, the Studio Labs will be there for Jacobs to give it another shot on Babyl’s sophomore album. “Semkhor and Ringling have done a phenomenal job,” Jacobs says. “For any professional artist that wants to do it right, you don’t have to go to Nashville or LA—we have the tools here.” 

Look for Babyl’s debut release in September 2019.