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Baby Jey Find a Cosmic Connection on “Crop Circle”

The Edmonton indie rockers combine their small town sensibilities with glitter and big production.

by Stephan Boissonneault 

In the early 90s, numerous crop circles in Southern Alberta began appearing, almost out of thin air.  It got to be so much that a group of UFO investigators from Edmonton looking for an answer made the headlines. Was it aliens from another galaxy, kids playing a prank, or sentient wheat fields? The cause was of course never discovered, but Jeremy Witten of indie rock outfit Baby Jey has always been fascinated with the rural and cosmic. With one eye to the sky and the other fixated on small town communities, the band — made up of Witten, Aladean Kheroufi, and contributing musicians, Cameron O’Neill, Philip Holtby, and Maria Martire — used these unexplainable phenomena for inspiration on their latest album, Crop Circles

The accompanying music video for the lead single from their new album Crop Circles is directed by Laura La France and features the members of Baby Jey galavanting through a corn maze dressed to the thrifty nines. As groovy and synthy funk plays in the background, the band experiences a filmed “dream sequence.”

We spoke with Witten about his alien beliefs, shooting “Crop Circle,” and persevering after being discouraged from finishing the song by a Canadian country legend.

Where did your fascination with crop circles come from?

We wanted to find an aesthetic that we felt suited the album. Crop Circles is more danceable than our previous album Someday Cowboy. The songs have stronger hooks, and the instrumentation is more electronic and less acoustic, with lots of drum machines and synthesizers. There is still a pedal steel guitar on this record, which has become a recognizable part of our sound, but there is no acoustic guitar, banjo, or mandolin as there was on the last record. Crop Circles is like Someday Cowboy but with glitter and bigger production. 

The song “Crop Circle” isn’t about crop circles at all. It uses the word “crop circle” as shorthand for a social circle in a small-town farming community. A couple has split up, with one person remaining in the small town, while the other has moved to New York. There’s a subtle alien double-entendre in the lyric when one of them says “When I lay in the flattened grass and look up at the stars, I still wonder about how alone we are.”

Do you believe aliens left these crop circles? What did your research come up with?

It is categorically true that aliens have been making crop circles on the regular for a very long time. Crop circles have been appearing in Alberta, at least since the late 1980s. There was a proliferation of crop circles in southern Alberta in 1991 and again in 1993. It’s no coincidence that the members of Baby Jey also “appeared” on Albertan soil in the early 1990s. 

There are also radio interviews with Albertan farmers on the album?

Yes, when crop circles started showing up in the province, it was all over the radio. Since we’re an Edmonton-based band, I was particularly drawn to the recordings that mentioned “a special team of UFO investigators from Edmonton.” The synth sounds in the background are from a Fairlight CMI, which I got turned onto after listening to Zoolook by Jean-Michel Jarre.

Can you tell us about the video shoot day? Any funny stories to report from the corn maze?

It was funny to show up at the Edmonton Corn Maze with a group of people, a bunch of costumes, and video equipment. We were worried they wouldn’t like us running around among the children and families, but they were happy to let us hang out all day and film. There are many outtakes where ordinary corn maze attendees would walk around the corner and accidentally end up in the shot, look surprised, and then dart back out of sight. It was a very fun day.

Is there a story in the music video? It looks like the crop circle is a portal to another universe.

The idea was to create a dream sequence with strange characters from other worlds, or maybe twisted versions of people we knew. You see me running around in slow motion as if looking for something, and maybe I find it? It sort of just goes off the rails, like all dreams do. The best dreams are when you feel like you entered another universe for a while.

Did “Crop Circle” influence the overall sound of the album? Have you been sitting on it for a while?

I set up a meeting with award-winning songwriter Ralph Murphy (RIP) in Hollywood in 2017 to show him a demo of this song. I was in LA because I received a travel grant to attend a songwriting conference there. Ralph Murphy was 73 at the time and he’d had a long career as a songwriter, including writing songs for Randy Travis, Jimmy Buffett, Shania Twain, and Kid Rock. As he was reading my lyrics, he started shaking his head and said, “Throw it out, throw it out, this song is never going anywhere.”