Pop singer Donna Lewis, best-known for her 1996 hit “I Love You Always Forever,” lives in Bearsville and has a 16-year-old son. Composer and producer David Baron lives in Boiceville and has an 11-year-old son. Together the two musicians have created a haunting music video that delves into the tragedy of immigrant families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We want to plant a flag as parents who care about what’s happening in the country,” said Baron. “I don’t know if music changes things….”
“You feel things deeply from music,” Lewis said. “This music does that.”
Around the time outcry first arose over families torn apart at immigration detention centers, Baron sent Lewis a stirring string composition that inspired her to write the words and tune to “Bad Bad Love.” She recorded the vocals in the studio at her house, and Baron mixed the song and strings in the studio in his basement.
As a parent, Lewis found herself imagining the thoughts of a mother who decides to leave an abusive husband and take her children north, only to be separated from the kids upon reaching the U.S.
I know they’re frightened without me
They need me
I’m just the victim of a bad bad love
Did I do the right thing for you, my love?
Then Lewis turns to the child’s perspective with
Pull me back
Pull me back
Pull me back.
Baron’s wife, Ginny, chose images for the video — barbed wire and children’s faces, for example — and sent them to an artist in England. The animator told Baron the song also applies to crises in Europe. “People there have been separated by war and migration. In the U.S., we have the extra separation of the children in these detention centers. But there were also European children evacuated in World War II, put on trains and separated from their families for months.”
Lewis doesn’t have high hopes that the song will make it big. “We always love to have success, but you just never know,” she said. “‘Bad Bad Love’ is not about having success, but it’s very meaningful.”
“It’s more important for me that music affects a few people and integrates into their lives,” agreed Baron. “I want people to hear and see it.”
Baron grew up in Woodstock, back when all the local recording happened in the Bearsville Studios opened by Albert Grossman. Now, he pointed out, musicians record in the area’s plethora of private studios. In the 1990s, he produced records with his father, location recording pioneer Aaron Baron, later working with musician Lenny Kravitz. These days, much of his commercial success comes from writing music for TV and film, especially in the form of sweeping string compositions that pack emotional power. He’s composed background music and produced recordings for Gregory Colbert, Simone Felice, and Simi Stone, among others. He also played several instruments on Meghan Trainor’s chart-topping “It’s All About the Bass” in 2014.
“I’ve worked on things I thought would be successful and weren’t,” said Baron. “And others…I didn’t think anyone would listen to Cycles, which is all soft, cinematic music.” The first album of his own music, it featured string sections, grand pianos, and several of the rare analog synthesizers he’s collected over the years. His studio walls are lined with synthesizers, including a Moog Modular from 1967 and a 1976 Arp 2500, of which there are only 25 left in the world. “I use them in my music all the time,” he said. “When I was in my 20s and started doing TV music and had a rent-stabilized apartment, I spent all my money on synthesizers.”
Lewis, who was born in Cardiff, Wales, reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “I Love You Always Forever,” which, according to her bio, “was the first song ever to get a million spins on American radio and the third best-selling tune in the history of Atlantic Records.”
“I thank God for that song,” Lewis said. “It gets so much exposure, and people cover it. No one was interested until I came to Atlantic, and Jason Flom loved it.” Although she has continued to write, record, and produce, she took time off from performing once she had a child, when she moved upstate full-time. “When we were doing a lot of traveling in the early days, we’d come back to Woodstock and relax. I have a little studio at home, and I’m very comfortable there. We have a community of great people, and Archie is happy in public school. We just stayed.”
“The talent that’s been aggregated here is astonishing,” said Baron. “It rivals Nashville or L.A. Musicians come here because they can’t afford New York City. When I want to record with a string, bass, and rhythm section, I can call it in the morning and have everyone here at 1 p.m. This culture is nourishing for doing creative work, and it’s good for our kids.” His son, Oskar, also musical, received a bass for his eleventh birthday.
Lewis and Baron have worked together for about a year, most recently on a cover of Kate Bush’s 1985 single “Running Up That Hill,” to be released at the end of August. “It’s easier to get attention from covers than from original material,” said Baron, who researched Bush’s hits and discovered no one had done a cover with just strings and voice. He used all local musicians to play the string arrangement, including “a cellist who lives two miles from here and violinists from Kingston. There’s nothing like it in the Kate Bush cover world.”
Meanwhile, “Bad Bad Love” is easily accessible online, going straight to the human impact of U.S. immigration policy and getting deep under your skin.