Beach Fossils: Interview
Late last year and in the cocoon of a New York recording studio, Beach Fossils were busy finishing off their new album, Somersault. However, reality has a way of puncturing the fulfilment and serenity of any moment.
As they downed tools they could not help but be drawn to the TV screen as they witnessed the grim conclusion of the US presidential race and wondered how they were going to navigate their way through the dystopian surrealism of the Trump world order.
Their response, like so many other American artists, has been to keep creating and to keeping giving expression to those things that bring hope and understanding.
Somersault, is a collaborative and inclusive work which brings together a collection of different voices and talents. It’s Beach Fossils’ most expansive and mature work to date and we caught up with founding member Dustin Payseur to discuss the merits of collaboration, his struggles with depression, working with Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and getting a slap on the back from Martin Scorsese.
Q. Hello, Dustin, for a bit of colour, just tell us where you are right now and what you have been doing today?
I’m actually in my apartment in Brooklyn and I’ve literally just woke up. It was a very late night last night so I’m feeling a little bit dreamy and a little bit spacey. This interview should be interesting!
Q. Somersault is coming out 2nd June. Tell us a bit about the album – the collaborative writing process and your musical evolution.
This is the first Beach Fossils album which has been more of a collaborative project. Normally and on past records, it’s been me in a room writing everything by myself – drums, bass and guitar etc. and then weaving it all together. I always enjoyed doing it like that but this time it worked out differently.
For example, when myself and Tommy [Davidson] and Jack [Doyle Smith] would be on tour we’d always be messing around at sound checks and stuff like that – trying out new things and seeing where they went. This then evolved into us all writing the songs together and what came out of that was really positive – so we decided to make an album out of that body of work.
We didn’t give ourselves a deadline for this album and just figured the record would tell us when it was done. The record has now spoken and here we are.
Q. Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell guests on Tangerine. How did this collaboration come about and what did you feel Rachel brought to the project?
My wife Katie works for Secretly Group and they’re doing the new Slowdive record and she was in contact with them about this thing and that. I was working on this song and I wanted to have a feature on it and I was trying to figure out who would work well with it – like, who had the right voice with the specific range I had in mind.
Anyway, Katie suggested that I email Rachel from Slowdive and ask her to do it. It seemed so simple when she said it but I was a bit unsure whether she’d be up for it haha! However, after a bit of coaxing by Katie I got round to emailing Rachel and she got back to me almost straight away and said she’d be happy to do it.
The way it worked out was mostly through email after email. When the vocals came back it brought the song to a whole new level. Voices are such a unique texture and everyone’s got a different sound and I just felt that Rachel’s was perfect for this song.
Q. Somersault will be the first release on Bayonet Records which you set up with your wife, Katie Garcia. Can you tell us a bit about the reasons behind setting this project up and your ambitions for it going forward.
Having a record label has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. I was always looking at people setting up independent record labels and it was just really inspiring.
Once I moved to New York and got with Captured Tracks it was this really close knit family – every time someone got signed they would always come to New York and we would hang out. Mine and Katie’s place during this time was the place that everyone would crash at after they got signed so it was always this really nice community.
I always wanted the opportunity to provide the same sense of community for artists that I believed in - if I ever reached a point where I could start a label of my own. So I sat down with Katie and we worked out all the pros and cons and we made the leap. We’ve only put out a handful releases so far but it’s going really well.
We welcome all types of music so long as the artist is genuine and it does something to me emotionally.
Q. Where were you when Trump was elected and what are your thoughts on the situation?
That had a massive impact on us. The night of the election we were in the process of recording the album and as the night was going on and it was becoming clearer and clearer that Trump was going to be the winner we just had to stop working.
We came into the studio the next day just feeling devastated by it all and that’s when I wrote the lyrics for Saint Ivy as a way of dealing with my feelings about the situation. I feel like everyone in New York was feeling pretty much the same and I just remember this feeling of sheer deflation
However, it’s a case of just trying to speak out against what is going wrong in the world and not letting Trump and people like him from closing down expression and discourse.
Q. Trump’s healthcare plans will take mental health support away from millions of people. As a person who has struggled with mental health issues can you please tell us your thoughts on this situation and a bit about your own personal journey with depression.
In terms of Trump’s America and the health care situation, it’s cruel and it’s absurd and it’s barbaric to people who have suffering from mental health problems. It’s very dangerous to the prospect of people’s survival.
In terms of my own experience, I can look at it through the prism of my relationship with music and creativity. Music is the thing that helps me deal with depression the most. It is probably the major reason why I so obsessively started writing music when I was young – it was something that would fill up my time.
The act of making music is a meditation and I focus on something creative to try and get myself out of a hole. I think this applies to many artists in all different forms and mediums. It applies to all people – it could be music but it could also be running or climbing or yoga or anything that speaks to the inner most parts of people.
I get people coming up to me after shows and they are hearing some of their own experiences in my music and I think there’s so much important music out there like that because music was the thing I could channel my confusions and isolation through. It was always comforting to know that someone out there was feeling similar things to me.
Depression is one of those things that people sometimes brush off and say thing like ‘smile more’ or ‘pull yourself together’ but it doesn’t work that way. Depression and anxiety is a very real and dangerous thing and it can’t be put down to ‘going through a phase’. It needs to be taken seriously.
Q. Thank you for sharing.
On a lighter note, you made an appearance on the Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s drama series, Vinyl. How did that come about, how was the experience?
We met Scorsese on the first day of shooting. It was a thirteen hour day or something and at the end he just came up and said ‘hey, you’re doing a really good job’ and I was in a state of shock – like, did Scorsese just come up to me and give me a slap on the back? It was quite surreal.
We got asked to be a fictitious band on the show and Mick Jagger’s son was the lead singer in the fictional band so that was pretty cool. We’d never done any acting or anything like that before but we’re big fans of Scorsese and the whole New York music scene in the 70s. I was very happy to be a part of it and it was a really unique experience.
I don’t know if I’ll ever act again or, more pertinently, whether I’ll ever be asked to act again after people see it but was definitely a really cool thing to do.
Q. Coney’s Island – three things you’d want if you found yourself stranded on a desert island?
An enormous supply of water – I’m thinking of survival first…obviously.
I’m thinking of my computer but then I’d have to consider how useful it would be when the battery died. At first, I could use it to try and contact people and let people know where I was and try to get some help – hopefully I’d have access to some sort of roaming wifi service! After the battery dies I could use it as a tool to dig things up or use it to reflect the sun to passing cruise liners and shipping boats.
The last thing I would take would be the book Dao De Jing which is an eastern philosophy book so that I would be able to meditate, keep sane and collect my thoughts in between all the digging and light reflecting SOS calls!
Q. What does the rest of 2017 hold for you?
A lot of touring!
We have some new bands members and we have a new keyboardist which we’ve never had on our live performances so it will be exciting to see how it works out.