Interview: Beat Connection

Washington collective Beat Connection are set to release their debut album, Palace Garden, on Moshi Moshi next month. I had the pleasure of sitting down with the youngsters at this year’s Sasquatch Festival before they took their newly expanded lineup to the stage, discussing maturing as a band, how their past influenced their present and how it’s time to finally “go big.” See all the dates for their 2012 tour below the conversation.

Beats Per Minute (Erik Burg): You guys were initially a twosome for the Surf Noir EP, slowly building to what is now a proper four piece band. Is the expanded lineup just for performances or is it in studio too? And what brought on this change?

Reed: It’s recorded for the new album (Palace Garden) and live. I guess when we started, Jordan and I didn’t know what the hell we were doing, making music for ourselves. We asked Tom to sing on some of our songs, whom we had known already as friends with no idea of what was going to happen. We didn’t know how to play live, which is why it was just the two of us for a long time. But now we have Jared too on drums.

Jordan: Eventually after a while of playing the older stuff we were just like ‘we should add a drummer’ and so we asked Jared and it just went really well. And then for the next album we just wanted it to have a live music feel so we recorded songs and asked Tom to sing songs. I was a crucial moment, Tom saying yes.

Tom: I was abroad in France studying and they asked me. I was like, ‘do I like these guys?’ [laughs]

BPM: Did you guys just decide that it was time to go big, in a sense?

Reed: What was pretty much it, we just decided we needed to go big! [laughs]

BPM: This is your first tour with the album under your belt and some new material out there. Does that change the way you perform?

Reed: Yeah, totally. For a long time it was like every single show we did was completely different. We were just ‘oh cool I learned how to do this new thing, let’s try it out’ and now finally we have some stability in the live show and the band dynamic. We get to continue experimenting for fun now instead of out of necessity.

Tom: It’s nice to have more songs, obviously. To be able to switch them around and be more versatile.

Jordan: It was fun when we were a two piece and a three piece but it feels like we are a band now and I really like that dynamic. It uses up more of the stage and it makes the experience better for us and hopefully the audience as well.

Reed: We have the ability to change on the fly and do more with the audience now, we’re not tied to a backing track. It’s a lot of fun.

BPM: On Surf Noir you guys were fairly experimental and psychedelic, but based on the first two tracks from the album “Think/Feel” and “Palace Garden, 4am” you now sound much more like a cohesive pop band. Was that a conscious decisions or did that just come naturally?

Reed: There’s definitely still some like psych elements on the album that we haven’t really let out of the gate yet, but it was also very interesting going into this having a cohesive narrative arc. Those two songs represent two different emotions in this narrative on the whole album. Having Tom sing with us and having his lyrical abilities coupled with some other ideas made it real easy to kind of transition into some more straight forward kind of pop oriented songs and some of the crazier songs.

Jordan: I think, honestly, a big reason for it was that when we were making Surf Noir we didn’t really know what to do. So song to song it was so different. The songs that were made later on it sound so much different and we knew how to do so much more. Since then we’ve learned a shit-ton more about about how to produce. It’s allowed us to do a lot more, there’s more stuff on the album that’s more free without singing, so it’s just a better mix all around.

BPM: The collaboration with Chelsey Scheffe on “Think/Feel” turned out great, is stuff like that, features and collaborations, something you’re wanting to do more of in the future?

Reed: That’s the only one of the album. We worked with a horn section on the album, who we perform with, and Chelsey will be here [at Sasquatch] to sing with us. It was fun, there was a while where we thought there might be doing more collaborations, but it was nice working with just friends. The horn section, they’re really good friends with Jared from school at the University of Washington.

BPM: Before you became Beat Connection proper you did a lot of DJing and talked about playing a lot of house and disco music. Was there a certain genre or artist that influenced you in particular?

Jared: I think because we all worked on this one that the influences are just all over the place. There’s elements of Paul Simon, some more psychedelic stuff, trap music [laughs]. Maybe that makes it sound too diverse but it all comes together.

Reed: The influences we had then and the influences we have now aren’t necessarily different but some of them are stronger back on Surf Noir than they are now. Record labels similar to DFA and stuff like that, not necessarily strictly house music but electronic music that was more disco influenced. But even that didn’t come through that much.

BPM: Which is funny you mention, cause everything I’ve heard from Palace Garden reminded me of Holy Ghost! in a lot of ways

Reed: Yeah the drums and everything on there, totally. I think there’s elements of our music that are hard to tell because they are merged. We might think ‘yeah the hand claps on this disco album are cool’ and then we put it in a different context. Jared especially, with his jazz background, there’s some parts where he knows some samba beats.

Jared: We have some more rhythmic latin kind of beats that we played with. We were thinking about the live show a lot more this time after we went on the tour with the three of us. Just seeing what other bands were doing with the audience, trying to be tight but bring in elements of different genres and show people it was less based on the computer.

BPM: So is it more stressful now with Palace Garden about to come out and being on tour or was it more stressful trying to put everything together and make the album?

Jordan: It’s less stressful now. When we were finishing the album it was at the beginning of March and we were finishing our quarter at school and we were playing SXSW and it was the first time we were ever playing as a four piece really and so it was learning how to play the live show, finishing the album, finishing school all at the same time.

Reed: Everything just happened at once.

BPM: Surf Noir just seemed sort of like a project, you put out this album for free and it was what it was. But now Beat Connection seems like a full time thing even though you’re still in school. Is it still just for fun or is it something you really want to make a career out of?

Tom: Full time fun! [laughs]

Jared: It’s all about that, though. We’re all friends, we’ve all lived together and that’s the good thing about our vibe.

Jordan: I think we’re trying to make it as full time as possible. Even though we’re going to school and some of us have to work, we do as much as we can to put as much attention on it. When we made Surf Noir we just wanted to put something out but now it’s like ‘we have an aesthetic, this is how we want to put it out’ and we’re definitely very much concentrated on it.

Beat Connection 2012 Summer Tour

6.14 San Francisco, CA – Rickshaw Stop
6.15 Santa Cruz, CA – Catalyst Atrium
6.16 Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour
6.17 San Diego, CA – Casbah
6.18 Phoenix, AZ – Rhythm Room
6.20 Dallas, TX – La Grange
6.21 Austin, TX – Red7
6.22 Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s
6.23 Baton Rouge, LA – Spanish Moon
6.26 Tampa, FL – The Orpheum
6.27 Miami, FL – Bardot
6.28 Orlando, FL – Will’s Pub
6.29 Atlanta, GA – The Masquerade
6.30 Raleigh, NC – King’s Barcade

7.1 Washington, DC – DE9
7.3 Philly, PA – Kung Fu Necktie
7.4 New Haven, CT – Bar
7.5 New York, NY – Knitting Factory
7.6 Cambridge, MA – TT the Bears
7.7 Montreal, Quebec – Il Motore
7.8 Toronto, Ontario – Drake Hotel
7.10 Pittsburgh, PA – Brillobox
7.11 Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop
7.12 Chicago, IL – Schubas Tavern
7.13 Detroit, MI – Majestic Cafe
7.14 Milwaukee, WI – Cactus CLub
7.15 Minneapolis, MN – 7th Street Entry
7.17 Denver, CO – Hi Dive
7.18 Salt Lake City, UT – Kilby Court
7.19 Boise, ID – The Reef
7.21 Seattle, WA – ????
7.22 Vancouver, BC – Media Club
7.29 Portland, OR – What the Fest?