Beak>: “I want to sound like the samples that Public Enemy would sample to make a record.”
By Jorge Hernandez
New York hasn’t been nice to Beak> the last couple of times the band tried to get the city’s attention. In 2010, when Geoff Barrow (drums), Matt Williams (keys-axe) and Billy Fuller (bass) played their first gig at the Bowery Ballroom, most of the band’s target audience was upstate at All Tomorrow’s Parties. Last fall, when they released “Mono,” a non-album track to promote their newest CD >>, Hurricane Sandy swept them off the front page. Undaunted, Beak> return to Fashion Week-obsessed New York to play the Ace Hotel on February 09 and play the Bowery Ballroom on February 10. The trio then head west for a few shows, playing Los Angeles on the 12th at the Echoplex and in San Francisco on February 13 at The Independent. Hopefully this time around things will go without a hitch and the guys will get to rock fans with tunes from their last album and the follow up, which is a groovier, more accessible mix of krautrock, garage rock, washed out surf punk and spooky, psychedelic pop. Although we get the feeling this won’t be the last we hear from them, whatever Mother Nature or the big apple has in store. We rang up the funny bunch at their studio in Bristol where they were preparing for the European stretch of their tour.
“We prefer always to move forward…’Hey listen to those demos we did back then,’ is not our thing.”
Your last album came together in 12 days. This time, you had a harder time. How did you break through the block?
Geoff: We went bowling and that helped. We had just come off the tour and went right into the studio, thinking we could do it again. But we didn’t like what we heard, so we started over. In the end it just happened when we stopped thinking about it. And then it was a nice surprise. We were happy with each other again, we liked each other and we decide to do it again. The end.
What happens to the unused stuff?
Billy: It’s all coming out on my solo album.
Geoff: We prefer always to move forward and make new music. The ethos of the band is moving forward and not going backwards, really. “Hey listen to those demos we did back then,” is not our thing.
Any chance this material is going to turn up on the Internet?
Geoff: We’ve got enough stuff to bore people with anyway.
Billy: “I’ve got this amazing solo album…”
I heard you guys thought you were turning into a pub pop prog band?
Geoff: That’s exactly what we sound like, and a little bit like my mother ironing.
“I want to sound like the samples that Public Enemy would sample to make a record.”
Suppose in a parallel universe you were in a pub band or a prog band…
Geoff: We’re not that far away from that really, just one extra drink away, really.
Alison Moyet announced recently her new album would be a “pop prog” thing. Are we doomed for a comeback?
Geoff: I just signed to produce a band today and it was proper prog. It wasn’t rough enough to be interestingly heavy. It was really well recorded, so it was very po-faced kind of prog. There’s a place for that. Nothing wrong with a bit of Magma now and then.
You’re definitely rocking the kraut vibe—is that closer to your hearts?
Geoff: I don’t know, it’s weird. I think it’s because we don’t play blues. If you don’t play blues on instruments, people will think you’re kraut or progressive. If you play blues, you’re just kind of “rock.” Obviously we’re into progressive music from whenever, but I want to sound more like Public Enemy than kraut. I want to sound like the samples that Public Enemy would sample to make a record. Also, it’s just what happens when we get in a room, there’s no thought about it. We turn on the machines and we press record and that’s what happens.
Is that how you guys like to work, keeping it to minimal digital? This sounds more analog.
Geoff: It’s a lot more fun that way, because if you gotta tax your brain going “huh…” [trails off]. There’s so much overproduction nowadays, it’s just nice to do it this way, it’s more natural.
Billy: And to get the performance right.
It’s distinct from Portishead (that other band), which is more digital and (in line with your P.E. love), you’ve got scratching, samples and turntables. I can’t imagine a turntable popping up on stage for this tour. Unless you hook one up to your drum kit and scratch with one hand and pound with the other.
Geoff: I think I’m going to bust out a massive back-spinning set, with scratches.
Matt: I’m just going to put on a Converge record.
Billy: I’m going to play my solo album.
“We’ve got dummies that look like us, that travel with us. But we can’t bring them to the States with us.”
Are you packing vinyl or going MP3?
Geoff: CDs, iPod.
Matt: I’m just going to play the radio.
Geoff: Hot 97.
The video for “Mono” is something someone else made. Most bands would freak out and sue this guy. You guys are sending out with your press release.
Geoff: Well, it’s really good, it works really well, so we’re really happy. We’d like to make videos, but we never get it sorted.
Is there someone in the group with a secret desire to direct?
Geoff: Matt—he could make a cartoon of us. We just haven’t gone there. We’ve got dummies that look like us, that travel with us. But we can’t bring them to the States with us. We can’t bring our lights as well, which is a shame.
What’s that about?
Geoff: We bought these disco lights on eBay, they only make them in England, they’re really old. We can’t fly them out, it would cost a fortune.
“We’re going to hop in a hot tub with a bunch of chicks after this because we are so rock and roll…”
So what are you doing instead?
Geoff: We’ve got this guy Spencer who’s doing stuff for us. He did stuff for, what’s her name, she performs mostly in the dark… Hope Sandoval, from Mazzy Star. He’s offered to do the visuals for us. He uses projections and film and stuff, it’s pretty cool.
Geoff: We want to come across the way we record, it’s not rock and roll as such. It’s more like a jazz gig, the way we set up. It’s kind of easy. The idea of walking on stage together and the lights go down, that kind of bullshit doesn’t work for us.
Matt: We’re too awkward to be rock and roll.
And yet here you are….
Geoff: Doing an interview across the world. We’re going to hop in a hot tub with a bunch of chicks after this because we are so rock and roll…