Inspired by the 1988 Bill Murray movie of the same name, we bring you the fourth in a series of interviews called Scrooged.
One Thirty BPM: Talk about your early musical memories or any exposure that made you interested in being a musician
Beach Fossils (Dustin Payseur): Oh man… I don’t even know. Like, when I was really young I liked really horrible music. (laughter)
I think everybody did, right?
Yeah, it’s kind of a part of growing up. I remember the first time that I was actually moved to tears when listening to music was Miles Davis, it just totally blew my mind because I hadn’t really listened to much jazz at that point, I was a teenager, and I just started getting really into it. I was like ‘oh my god, this is the best music ever.’ And I still think so, jazz is probably my favorite genre, aside from classical. It’s all stuff I can listen to and never get tired of and it never seems pretentious.
But yeah, Miles Davis and I guess the same goes for when I first started to listen to Bob Dylan, too. It was the same kind of feeling.
Describe your interest in music. I mean, you were talking about listening to that stuff when you were a little bit younger. Were you interested in being a musician at that time or was that something that came along later?
Yeah, I was playing music at that time. I’ve been playing since I was a kid.
Did you take lessons?
No, I didn’t take lessons. But my parents are musicians, my grandfather is a musician, and all my parents friends and stuff used to come over to our house when I was a kid and everyone would play music. So, I just had a lot of exposure to that growing up, as a child there were all these instruments around so I picked it up at a young age.
Was there a point where you decided you wanted to pursue it seriously as a possible career path… or have you still not decided that?
Yeah, that’s kind of how I felt right when I started. When I was nine or so, I started playing guitar and started recording it. I guess my dad liked watching me do that, or something, and bought me a 4-track to see what I would do and I just started recording stuff all the time. Like, I wouldn’t do my homework because I wanted to record on the 4-track and was totally ready to drop out of high school any minute and just do music.
My parents were always like ‘yeah, it’s fun but you shouldn’t take it that seriously. You’re going to be disappointed and there is a slim chance that you’ll ever make it playing music,’ and I was like ‘I don’t care.’ (Laughs) I never really had a backup plan, you know, so regardless, even if nobody cared I would definitely still be doing it.
Your debut full-length I actually had the pleasure of reviewing for Consequence of Sound, like a year ago or so…
So I listened to it a ton, both because I wanted to and for the review. I thought of it as a very non-New York sounding record, like I live in California and it seemed almost like a bridge between the two places. When you were writing it, did you ever think about it in those terms, because it was so different from the typical Brooklyn sound?
Yeah, I don’t know. I didn’t really want to think of music I was making as part of a movement or part of a particular sound. When I was recording it I was listening to a lot of psychedelic music and twee music and I wanted to combine the two, I guess. And the record was the product of that, which makes sense because psychedelic is the California-sound, super dreamy and relaxing.
Yeah, well, it’s an awesome record.
One of the other things I noticed in the album was your strength in combining the music and lyrics to create a mood. In “Youth” in particular, there is that line ‘I don’t know what I feel but I feel it all tonight.’ It almost feels like a meta-insight into youth. Is the arrangement of the song something that brings out your lyrics, or do the lyrics come first?
I usually write the songs first. And while I’m writing the music, I’m thinking something and feeling something. And what I feeling about at the time or thinking about my current situation or thinking about a memory — it’s just sort of coming out in the way I play guitar or the way that I arrange the song. Afterwards, I listen to it and the lyrics… I try not think about the lyrics too much because I don’t want them to be… I don’t know. I don’t want them to be forced, however the song makes me feel…
Yeah, yeah. I try to let it come out as naturally as possible.
Lyrics usually come last, unless I have an idea in mind which will shape the song before I’ve even written music or lyrics.
Do you have any specific examples where you wrote like that?
Some of the new songs on the EP – the new EP – it’s like a collection of love songs because that is an emotion I’ve been feeling really intensely lately. Except for the last song on it, “Adversity,” which, musically not lyrically, is like the punk song. It’s like the Crass song. The lyrics are super anarchist and really anti-government. It’s the first time something like that has been incorporated into the Beach Fossils music. I mean, I played punk music when I was younger and that will always be a part of who I am, I mean, I love punk music. I used to listen to it all the time.
I think it is a part of all of us.
Totally, it’s something that is not going to leave. Punk music was the first music I listened to when the lyrics were actually speaking to how I feel, more than anything I had listened to before. I mean, before that I liked metal a lot and the lyrics are so cheesy. I couldn’t relate to any of that.
So, What A Pleasure EP is out March 8th, the opening cut is the wordless “Moments,” and right away you can hear a more polished recording technique. Was that a decision or the result of better resources?
I’m not really sure, because I’m still recording on the same exact recording equipment that I made the debut on and I’m doing it the same exact way. I guess I was more careful making sure things didn’t go into the red while I was recording. Focusing a little more on production.
I think of every album I do as a concept album. The first Beach Fossils album, I mean, I had already recorded six or seven albums before that under different names. This was just another project I was doing for myself and all of a sudden it was the first album I had ever done that people were interested in. I remember reading some reviews and they were like ‘it’s cool but all the songs sound the same,’ and I was like ‘yeah, but I kind of did that on purpose.’ (laughs) I had an idea in mind. So the way that the album sounded and the way I produced it, I was focusing on the texture of the guitars and vocals and how the bass would sound and the live drums… the new one doesn’t have any live drums, it is all programmed stuff. And, the first album, all the bass was done on guitar. This one is done on the actual bass.
I saw the band, well, I saw 35 seconds of the band one time.
It was when you guys played with Here We Go Magic at the Troubadour. I covered that show, but more to cover you guys, and I got to the door and realized I had left my camera in the car. And, it was like a twenty minute walk back to the car, so by the time I got in I caught the last moments, but I remember the standing percussionist and it was a different vibe than the album. It was pretty percussion-heavy.
Yeah, well now it is even more percussion-heavy. I mean, even the new EP the percussion is different. Now, we play with a full kit, our drummer — I feel really lucky to be playing with him. He’s a jazz musician. He plays jazz saxophone and is amazing. He can totally rip it up like Ornette Coleman or anybody else. It’s amazing the way he can pick up any instrument and totally school anyone in the band. (laughter) So, to have him sitting on drums is pretty awesome. I mean, I’ve always loved crazy drums and jazz drumming and stuff like that. But on the album, the drums are super-minimal. The whole concept is to make it as minimal as possible. Then in the live setting, we make it something else. The album already exists, so if you want to hear it like that, just listen to the album. Realize that we are going to play it however we want live.
I read that you collaborated with the bass player (John Pena) on songwriting for this one?
Yeah, the bass player. We were almost 50/50 on this album.
How has that transition been? I mean, your first album was more or less a solo project. Is it hard letting go of control?
Not really. He had been there in the live band since the beginning and he contributed on two of the songs on the album, the LP, and we began writing together all the time. It really helps me, because when left to myself I can get really bad writer’s block. I’ll invite him over to work on music and the second we start playing something songs will just come out and it’s so much easier. He is coming from a similar place musically and he’s super picky. He hates everything. When it comes to music he’s the most cynical person. So when he does like something, I usually really like it, too. (laughter) I like the fact that he is really picky. I trust his taste. So yeah, writing with him is cool.
Also Jack Tatum, from Wild Nothing, contributes. Uh… he’s pretty incredible, right?
Oh yeah, man, he’s an amazing musician. He’s an incredible songwriter.
Well, he was in town, he was actually looking around New York for an apartment and he was staying with me. And we were like ‘hey, let’s work on some stuff,’ because we had talked about it for a while. So yeah, we recorded a song [“Out In The Way”]. The original idea was that we were going to start a side project together, but we were both busy. I went on tour right after that and he was on tour after that, so that was the only song we got to do. We were just going to put out a record of that, but I was doing this EP and I was kind of pressed for time on the release date for it, so I was like ‘do you mind if I throw that song on there?’
It’s a great song! It combines your sounds, too. Like it sounds like a Wild Nothing song, but it still sounds like a Beach Fossils song.
Yeah, it’s funny, I’ll get together with him and we’ll talk about music and we love the same exact stuff, but we just have different approaches on it and writing styles. It was really interesting writing with him — it was really quick. It was actually, like, the fastest I’ve ever written a song with somebody. It just came right out.
Well, maybe in the future you will get to work with him more.
I’d like to.
So this, it an EP, all be it a long-ass EP. (laughter) Is there a follow-up LP on the horizon?
Yeah, we’ve actually recorded a song for it already. Totally finished. And, we are working on new songs for it.
Our sound keeps getting more stripped down and more minimal, I guess. The EP is more minimal than the LP and the new music is even more stripped down. We’re just trying to see how much open space we can have with the instruments. It’s like we are challenging ourselves to see how minimal we can get it but still be emotionally powerful.
Well yeah, and it kind of showcases the songwriting more. That was something I noticed more on the EP, is that you are not hiding the songwriting behind any walls. Not that the LP did that, but some people might have had a hard time getting through the more lo-fi sounding recording, which can hide the fact that there are really good melodies and instrumentation at the core.
The EP was the first time I’ve ever recorded something where the quality was that clean. Ever since I was a kid, recording on the 4-track, there was no way it was ever going to sound good, you know? And forever, everything I would touch would sound super-crunchy. So that was a challenge for me, to be like ‘what if I did something that sounded cleaned-up, because these are pop songs, let’s see what they sound like on the surface.’
Would you say at this point that you’ve made the commitment to music as your career path and do you have any non-musical ambitions?
Um, yeah, just writing. I write poetry, I haven’t really done it as much recently because I’ve been so busy with music. I did a book before and self-published it, and I’ve worked on another book over the years, but it’s kind of taken a backseat.
I got my college degree in poetry writing and I feel the same way, man. I write about music now and that pretty much consumes all my time.
I love poetry, man. It’s the best and it’s so much fun, but I just get swamped with the music thing and the poetry kind of fell behind. Maybe if poetry started paying the bills I could focus on it more, but that’s never going to happen.
Not a lot of professional poets in the world.
Yeah, no way.
So my last question is that this style — this dreamy, nostalgic thing — it’s pretty popular right now. Well, maybe not popular, but in style. Why do you think artists are so fond of looking back more than looking forward? Do you think the future is bleak, is that the attraction to focusing on memory and the past?
The thing is, a lot of the time, my music is described as nostalgic and people say that my lyrics are me looking back. But really, I am writing about a situation that happened, but romanticizing it in a way that I would like it to happen in the future. Or, a lot of times I am just writing about situations I would like to happen to me that haven’t yet. Maybe it sounds nostalgic, but my head is always in the future. It’s hard for me to focus on the present and I rarely think about the past. I’m always thinking about what’s coming up next. I dunno, somehow it comes across as nostalgic.
I’ve never thought about this aspect before until you mentioned it, but maybe the nostalgia-feeling just means that the song is well written. Like, if you can invoke that feeling that this happened to someone, or yourself, maybe it just means that it is affecting.
Yeah, I suppose so. I’m not really sure.
Yeah, me neither (laughter)