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Interview: Dustin Payseur of Beach Fossils

"Oh, we're always going to be jangly!"

By

Dustin Payseur of Beach Fossils
Skip Bolen/Stringer/Getty Images Entertainment

Beach Fossils are four-piece, Brooklyn-based band that began as the home-recorded work of Dustin Payseur. In 2010, Payseur released the self-titled Beach Fossils debut; an LP of jangly, guitar-chiming, warm-hearted indie-pop steeped in unexpected sadness.

Interview: 12 July 2010

When did you start making music?
"My dad had a home studio, and my mom and dad had a bunch of instruments around the house, so I picked it up early. I think I was 10 when I started recording on four-track tape-recorders. The stuff I did isn't something I'm particularly proud of. Over the years, I've recorded a bunch of albums by myself as recording exercises. Pop music, folk music, electronic music, psychedelic music. I don't know what I'd call this one, I guess it's a blend of all of the above."

Is Beach Fossils the first 'band' you've been in?
"I've been in bands before, but this is definitely the first one that's ever gained any momentum. It's the one I've actually liked the most, and it seems to have the most promise. But, I definitely remember making the decision to stop recording by myself, form a guitar band, and hit the road. I guess that's what I'm doing now."

What differentiated this from other 'exercises' you'd undertaken?
"I guess it was my first attempt at making pop music. Things I made before were more like experiments in sound and texture, seeing what I could do. It was like taking a painting class, just messing around with colors, seeing what I could come up with. This is more like me trying to paint something in my own style. Which turned out to be pop, plain and simple."

Is it hard to hew towards two-minute pop-songs?
"It's actually really fun. There's more obstacles, I suppose, when creating pop music, because you really have to focus on the structure. But, within that structure you've created, you still have to let it flow. It's important to still let things be free, to let it breathe. You don't want to create such a classic pop structure that it sounds like a million people who've come before you. You want to do things in your own way."

What pop classicists did you study?
"Anything from free-jazz —things like Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry— to Ravi Shankar, Miles Davis, The Byrds. Just blends of all different kinds of music. I didn't want to stick too closely to one sound, to structure too much what the Beach Fossils sound would be."

How do you feel, then, about being tagged as a 'surf' band?
"It's a little bit annoying, but on the other hand it doesn't really matter what we get classified as. We're just going to keep doing what we're doing, and not worry if we come out with an album on which we've really changed. Other people might get mad that we're not always going to be the beach/surf band they want us to be, but they're the ones that classified us as that in the first place. It's important to us to not stay in the same sound, to independently evolve, keep moving, keep creating. I don't ever want to feel like I'm making an album that has to sound a certain way, just because everyone thinks that's what we are."

So that distinctive, singular sound —those magical jangling guitars— might just be for this LP?
"Oh, we're always going to be jangly! The way we play guitar will never change; we don't really play any chords. But, generally speaking, the guitars parts are becoming more complex, the songs are longer and stranger, there's a lot more parts. It's just a change from me recording solo to me working with a full band. Of course it's going to change in a completely new way."

Is your music actually 'summery'?
"Not to me. I started recording it in spring of '09, but I ended up recording in almost all of the seasons. Half of the record I made in winter. So what sounds 'summery' to other people is just a sound that I like, a sound that reflects the way my mind feels, and my attitude to life in general. If I had to describe that as a season —if I have to be a season— I'll pick autumn."

I'm surprised the world regards the record as summery; it seems so melancholy to me.
"There's a lot of different moods and emotions on there. I didn't want to limit myself in what I wrote about. There's love, and there's heartbreak, and there's loneliness, and there's being at one with yourself, and there's being at one with nature, and there's being relaxed and being stressed, there's life and there's death, there's eating and there's starving; there's everything I was going through. I could never put it down to one emotion, be it happy or sad."

What was your goal in making the LP?
"I wanted to make sure I was proud of literally every second on the album. I can't stand albums where it's just going so great, and it's building up, and then along come a couple of songs that just bore me to death. I wanted to create something that I could listen to from beginning to end, and enjoy every second of it. And I think I've accomplished it. I didn't worry too much whether other people were going to get into it, which makes it lucky that there's been so much positive feedback."

Has that been a surprise?
"It actually has. I just recorded these songs in my apartment, in my bedroom. I lived in a loft, and I didn't even have walls; I just had tapestries separating me from my roommates. I had to wait until all of them were quiet to record; but, then, there I was, in the next room, singing and playing instruments, and they can clearly hear what I was doing. I felt totally on-the-spot when I was recording. I was doing something so personal, and that made me feel so vulnerable. Now, knowing that a lot of people are listening to it, and a lot of people are enjoying it, it's strange."

What did your housemates think of your music?
"I don't think they liked it. Probably it just annoyed them. But, I didn't really mind too much. That's what I moved to New York for, two years ago. I grew up in Charlotte, and ever since I was a kid I thought about moving to New York. So, I just had to try it, and once I got there, it was going to be cheaper to live in a loft, and I just had to say 'f**k it!' That's still how I feel. Like I have to do this. I gave up school for this. So did my bandmates. We've sacrificed a lot to do this. All of us feel very passionate about it."

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