Twenty minutes away from the Hollywood Sign, Dre Babinski, aka Steady Holiday is peacefully tucked away in the Los Angeles suburb of Eagle Rock. She’s surrounded by chickens in her backyard, sitting in a foldout and strumming her guitar as she sings “Can’t Find A Way,” her gentle November single from her forthcoming album Newfound Oxygen due February 17. Soft chords provide a mesmerizing backdrop for a tranquil admission. “I can’t find a way to fall in love with you,” Babinski coos. It’s a relatable hook that doubles as an indirect description of her initial relationship with Los Angeles after relocating there from her hometown of Fullerton, California in 2011. Now, Babinski isn’t even trying to fall in love with everyone else’s glamorized version of LA.
“My life is getting really small, in a good way,” Babinski says. “Living in LA feels like, not a status symbol but like people are here for a reason — to get a job done and to make it big or whatever. For me, it feels like the place that I’m from, and all of my people and all my things are.”
Cultivating a community didn’t come easy for Babinski. Growing up in Fullerton just 30 miles east, she struggled to fit in, chronically hesitant to express herself because what she loved sat in direct opposition to what her peers unanimously dubbed popular. It was Orange County in the late ’90s and early 2000s, so she was surrounded by surfers and skaters who loved hardcore emo, punk, and ska. Babinski, meanwhile, obsessed over classical music and playing the violin. She picked up the instrument in fifth grade. The same year, her mom recognized the spark in her daughter, and the family began regularly attending local orchestra performances and taking in the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.
“I knew I was connecting with it, but I also knew it wasn’t cool,” Babinski says. “Part of me was like, maybe I keep this low-key. Not a secret, but like, this is not the thing that I broadcast and wear on my t-shirt at school. It felt like a very personal interest and not something I had much of a community around.”
Babinski held resentment toward her hometown. Age bred perspective, though, and she can now see what she gained from obscurity. She didn’t feel like a product of her environment. And she wasn’t, in the traditional sense. But really, she was. She grew into an acute lyricist because her adolescent restlessness expedited the development of an introspective lens. “The boredom bred a lot of creativity and made me ask myself a lot of questions about identity,” she offers.
Beginning in high school, Babinski’s search for identity became a team sport. She was invited to join a hodgepodge high-school band that encouraged her to indulge her love for violin, and the summer after high school, she met new bandmates who became her chosen folk/prog-rock family in Orange County for the following nine years. They exposed Babinski to the likes of David Bowie and Neil Young, and being around people who enthusiastically owned what they liked gave her permission to do the same.
“I was a part of something, both musically and also in a group of friends, in a culture,” she says. “We were young and barely had the internet and made mistakes. We cut our teeth. We spent all of our time together, and we booked our tours and did everything at a very scrappy, DIY level.”
Babinski moved to LA when the band decided to call it quits, and she relied on that scrappy mentality — working at a restaurant and becoming a plug-and-play instrumentalist for touring LA bands such as Dusty Rhodes And The River Band and Hunter Hunted. They demonstrated for her the clarity and professionalism necessary for success. “I was taking notes the whole time,” she says. Still, her insecurities lurked.
“I was getting a little disenchanted with just playing the violin,” she continues. “It took longer than it should have to realize, I think I wanna write songs. I had a hard time admitting that. It comes from a place of being afraid to share any unfinished stages of anything.”
Eventually, Babinski started sharing her musings with the bands hiring her and opened herself up to their feedback, which was the boost she needed to branch out on her own as Steady Holiday. If nothing else, Los Angeles gifted Babinski proximity to like-minded artists — valuable sounding boards — that she desperately lacked in Fullerton. The vast LA music scene allowed Babinski wiggle room. Babinski’s favorite thing about LA is its boundless physical space, and by 2016, she had finally decided to claim her space with her debut solo album Under The Influence.
“I don’t like to make waves / In the shallow end, I never learned to swim,” Babinski sings in the album’s ethereal track “Open Water.” “I’ll get the courage one day.” And she slowly accrued courage over the next few years, between Coachella sets and subsequent LPs Nobody’s Watching (2018) and Take The Corners Gently (2021). The musician once afraid to share her music serenaded her grandpa through the telephone in the evocative video for the anecdotal ballad “Love Me When I Go To Sleep” and goofily danced for TikTok in the video for the melodic, upbeat earworm “Sunny In The Making,” both Take The Corners Gently standouts.
But something was still missing.
“[Newfound Oxygen] is my fourth record, and there was a time in the middle where, I felt like, Alright, I have a label and a manager and an agent and a publicist. I had all of the things that I thought were going to open doors for me,” she says. “I was resting on my laurels and refreshing my email going, Well, where are the opportunities? I was looking for validation in all of the stupid things that I thought would make me feel like I’m not invisible in this industry.”
With Newfound Oxygen, Babinski realized she didn’t need mass approval; she just needed good friends in Ari Balouzian’s garage in Burbank, California — harkening back to her formative band days.
Babinski wrote the 10-track album before sending a cold Instagram DM to Balouzian, whose film scores she admired. They brought others into the process, including Azniv Korkejian and Gus Seyffert, and recorded over five days last February. Balouzian’s dog, Hope, wandered in and out, and his sister was often found reading in the lawn. Birds are heard chirping on the stripped-back track “My Own Time,” a testament to Babinski redefining what she wanted for herself and embracing simpler pleasures. She doesn’t recall circling LA on the map in 2011 as the destination that would fulfill her grandest dreams, but if she had, that dream might have looked like the making of Newfound Oxygen.
“My dreams, they would haunt me, a lifetime ago,” she sings in “The Balance,” her next single releasing in January. “Now I’ll climb a mountain with plenty of rope / Because dreams without failure never happen.”
Babinski knows what her dreams look like now. Thirty minutes northeast from The Kia Forum, twenty from the Hollywood Bowl, and fifteen from Crypto.com Arena, Babinski staged “the most special show of my life” at the unassuming Bob Baker Marionette Theater on November 12, raising funds for the LA youth to take theater field trips. She incorporated puppets into her set, unleashing her playful and silly side that she had shut off for so long, and stood firm in her voice. Hopefully, she encouraged kids in the intimate crowd to find power in their voices — to be brave enough to, you know, tell people you like the violin.
“It was the most myself, the most comfortable, I’ve ever felt on stage,” she says. And that sentiment extends beyond the Bob Baker Marionette Theater and into her next chapter, beginning with Newfound Oxygen.
She adds, “I’m proud to live in LA. I really enjoy my life in LA. I think I could enjoy my life pretty much anywhere, but what I have right now, I feel so lucky. I feel so lucky for my very small world.”
Newfound Oxygen is out 02/17/23 via Steady Holiday.