Storytelling through sound

Women standing next to a car.
Mt. Lebanon native and Dormont resident Jennifer Baron was a founding member of the Brooklyn band The Ladybug Transistor in the 1990s. / Photo: Katie Krulock

Jennifer Baron was clearly destined to become a musician; her family’s musical legacy began well before she was born. Several generations ago, her ancestors immigrated from Croatia to western Pennsylvania. They formed a tamburitza ensemble, a tradition in southern Slavic cultures, where small family bands perform folk music. Her family’s band played for the steel workers who lived in boarding houses along the river. The strong musical tradition passed down through the generations and lives on today through Baron, founder of two musical groups, The Ladybug Transistor which she co-founded with her brother, Jeff Baron, in Brooklyn in the 1990s, and her current project, The Garment District.

Baron grew up on Parkway Drive and graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in 1987. Music was an integral part of her youth. “Vinyl records were our first toys,” she said. Her parents, brother and cousins were all interested in music and spent a lot of time listening to records, attending concerts and learning to play instruments.

“Living in Mt. Lebanon was great, because we had such easy access to the T to go see local talent at places like the Syria Mosque,” said Baron. “The city and culture were a huge inspiration to me.”

In her teenage years, she took guitar lessons at Lawrence Music in Castle Shannon and participated in high school theater. Her brother, Jeff,  was also heavily involved in music, often playing shows at the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center with his band. Later, they even opened a show for Nirvana.

After high school Baron moved to Brooklyn, co-founded an indie band called The Ladybug Transistor, and performed in international tours. She moved back to Pittsburgh in the early 2000s and soon after began her current project. She plays guitar and keyboard and composes all the lyrics and music for The Garment District, which features a rotating lineup of musicians to accompany Baron. Keeping with the family tradition, the lead singer on their newest album is Baron’s cousin, Mt. Lebanon native Lucy Blehar.

The 2023 album, Flowers Telegraphed to All Parts of the World, is meant to be a full journey album that flows organically. Each song on the album weaves in and out of indie-pop, psychedelic rock and many more genres, giving it a unique and multi-faceted quality. It touches on what Baron calls “the narrative of sound.” You can find the album at Vinyl Remains on Washington Road, and at Needle and Bean on Castle Shannon Boulevard.

When composing the songs, she wanted to convey meaning through the sounds, not just the lyrics. Baron said, “Music is so interesting because it’s a permanent art form, but it’s not physical. You can’t actually touch it.”

Some of the lyrics are personal to Baron, while others describe the world as she sees it. Her biggest inspirations come from photography, ’60s and ’70s films, vintage design and clothes, public access TV and a wide range of music.

Two women musicians standing in a parking lot.
Baron’s newest group, The Garment District, has released its newest album, Flowers Telegraphed to All Parts of the World. /Photo: Nicole Czapinkski

The Garment District recently performed at Spirit Hall in Lawrenceville, in a lineup that featured two other bands and a colorful light show, and they plan to do more live shows in 2024. Their next performance is slated for Friday, April 19, at The Funhouse at Mr. Small’s in Millvale. Baron continues to see live music as critical to the art form.

“There used to be such an unmediated, direct experience of live music, which continued all throughout the ’90s when I was in New York with my bands,” said Baron. “You weren’t seeing and hearing everything first on streaming and social media. You went to a concert for the first-hand live experience. That’s how you connected with the music and with the bands—it formed a direct relationship with their music.”