Beach Fossils’ Dustin Payseur on Inexplicably Rowdy Fans and Working With Blonde Redhead
With its 2010 self-titled debut LP, Brooklyn’s Beach Fossils helped to usher in a dream-pop revival, the bread-and-butter of Brooklyn label Captured Tracks. But while bands like Wild Nothing and Craft Spells have mostly stayed true to the pretty, jangly sounds on their first records, Beach Fossils’ new album, Clash the Truth, delivers a kick to the shins—relatively speaking.
Some of the band's followers don't seem to care that Beach Fossils' early songs had named like "Lazy Day" and "Daydream"; when the band plays live, its fans get rowdy. Dustin Payseur, the band’s main songwriter and singer, recorded Clash the Truth with that kind of live energy in mind. The result is a slightly more aggressive record, trading carefree pop for post-punk tension.
Before Beach Fossils play to a sold-out room at DC9 tonight, I spoke with Payseur about crazy shows, his new bandmates, and recording the new album.
Washington City Paper: The new album better reflects this, but—if I remember correctly—I was surprised by how rowdy the crowd was the last time I saw you, considering the more sedate nature of the first record. Do you tend to see your live shows receive that kind of reaction?
Dustin Payseur: Yeah, yeah, that’s pretty much how it’s been from the beginning. Our live shows are always more energetic. …We feed off each other’s energy and feed off the crowd’s energy and that’s just become a thing that’s part of the band now. You know, the lineup, I always choose people that have a lot of energy and that translates live.
WCP: Who’s playing with you currently?
DP: The bass player is this dude Jack [Doyle Smith], who used to play in Crafts Spells. And the guitar player is, his name is Tommy Davidson and he used to play in this band Hoop Dreams. It’s all dudes from bands that were on Captured Tracks already and now we’re just playing together.
WCP: Who’s playing drums with you now?
DP: This dude Tommy Gardner, he’s been in the band now for a few years. Yeah, yeah. He’s a pretty good guy. He’s a really talented musician. He’s probably the most talented guy in the whole band. He plays saxophone and piano. He’s a killer musician. I feel lucky to have him behind the drums. He’s the one who plays drums on the new record.
WCP: Does he have a project of his own?
DP: Kind of on and off. He does a lot of different things. He does electronic stuff and then he also does metal music. But he doesn’t release it, he just does it for fun and shows it to friends and shit.
WCP: How long have you been playing with the guitarist and bassist?
DP: We just started together in, like—it was pretty recently, it’s only been a few months. They joined and then we did a show in Bangkok and a show in Singapore. And then we played a New Year’s Eve show in New York City and those are the only shows we’ve played together so far. I kind of feel like it’s the best lineup we’ve ever had. There’s something about the chemistry. Everybody’s really tight, everybody’s really dedicated. I’m really happy with it.
WCP: How were those Asia shows?
DP: They were great. They were out of control. I had no idea what to expect. I’d never been there before. That was only two dates. [Bangkok] was fun. That show was like the bigger show of the two, it had a lot more people and it was really fun, but the crowd was a little more stiff there and there was also a barricade between us and them, so it was not quite as interactive. … And then the Singapore show, you know, it was smaller, there weren’t as many people there, but it was pretty rambunctious. People were going nuts. It was a really good time. Everyone there was really sweet. I can’t wait to go back again.
WCP: Was that just luck that somebody had wanted to book you over there and you went out?
DP: Well, we had worked on an entire tour for Australia and Asia and we had an entire tour booked, but we canceled the tour to go into the studio ‘cause you know, we had all these songs and I felt like it was more important to get this record out than to do a tour. So, we kept two of the dates and those are the ones we went out there and did. But we’re gonna go back out there again and do a full tour, hopefully pretty soon.
WCP: Have you ever seen any audience activity that has surprised you at a Beach Fossils show?
DP: Maybe. Yeah, a few times, when we were kind of newer, when we would tour, like, a lot of shows in the Southwest—I was kind of surprised by [the fact that] a lot of kids go kind of crazy down there. We played this festival, I can’t remember what it was called, but it was in, I think it was in New Mexico [laughs]. We were super drained and we were playing like a pretty mellow set and we were playing pretty slow and stuff, and on the most chill songs possible, kids were still crowd surfing. It was fucking awesome. They ruled.
WCP: What do you think it is—like you mentioned, even being so mellow, why your crowd reacts that way?
DP: I don’t know. I guess, we have a reputation of shows like that, through touring. I guess maybe people see videos or just word of mouth, people know we put on a rowdy show like that. Me, personally, I used to play in hardcore punk bands, so that was my first impression of playing shows, is, like, you have that interaction with the crowd and people come onstage and people jump off and, y’know, it’s just like that. I didn’t want it to be like, just because I’m playing a different style of music, it should be a different style of show. I love that sort of crowd interaction and I love it when people are fucking hanging from the lights and just doing shit. It makes it a fun experience.
WCP: When did you finish the new album?
DP: I finished it, probably late October, early November. I’d been working on it ever since 2011, when I finished the What a Pleasure EP. We toured that and when we got back from tour, I started working on [Clash the Truth] and just wrote a ton of songs. I was writing everyday pretty much that I wasn’t on tour and in the end, just picked my favorite ones. Kind of nice that I had that much time. But again, I don’t think I want to take that long again because it’s kind of too much.
WCP: How was recording [the new album with producer Ben Greenberg of The Men and Hubble]?
DP: It was great, man. Ben’s a really cool guy. He’s really easy to work with and we come from the same place when it comes to music. We have a lot of the same ethics and morals of the whole DIY aesthetic and he’s just a good dude. In the studio, it was really fun. It wasn’t like there was a separation between producer and musician, it was just friends hanging out, and just working on a project together. It was extremely comfortable and we worked really fast.
WCP: Did he produce and engineer?
DP: He produces a lot of bands. He’s been doing it for ages. He grew up in New York, so he’s been producing bands here forever. It was kind of like a co-produce thing because I had already recorded the whole album at home and then I took it into the studio and we basically redid everything I had done, but in a studio. And, he was pushing for things to be even more energetic because he knew that I wanted it to be—I wanted the album to feel more like the live show, so anytime I was kind of making something sound more chill, he was like, “Give it more life!” And I was like, “All right.” [Laughs]
WCP: Did that really transform the record when you brought your home recordings to the studio?
DP: Yeah, I think so. There’s a difference between the home recordings and the one that we did in the studio. It sounds—you know, I actually love both of them a lot. I love the demos. I think I’m gonna release a limited record of the demos someday. I’m not sure when or if I’m gonna actually do that, but I’d like to, just to show the difference. There’s a quality to both of them, and definitely the one I did with Ben is more energetic.
WCP: How did you end up working with him? He was a guy you wanted to work on the record with?
DP: Yeah, I had wanted to work with somebody that was gonna make it pop a little more. I wanted to go into a studio but I kind of hated the idea of working with a producer because I didn’t want somebody to sort of polish up the sound and make it sound like, “Here’s the studio recording. Beach Fossils went in and cleaned up the sound.” I didn’t want it to be like that. I just wanted to do something that had interesting textures and had good energy. So, I got hooked up with Ben from that and we’ve been pretty tight ever since.
WCP: You’ve recorded a few Beach Fossils songs with different singers, including Jack Tatum [of Wild Nothing] and Kazu Makino [of Blonde Redhead]. Why did you feel those songs deserved different voices?
DP: It’s just really nice to work on stuff with different people. The one that I did with Jack, we actually wrote that entire song together from scratch, so it really was a 50-50 effort. The one with Kazu, I just, you know, something about—I wanted this record to have a female voice on it at some point and I was kind of brainstorming people that I knew and people that I thought had nice voices and I was like, “Oh, yeah, there’s Kazu.” I asked her and she’s a really sweet person, so I feel really happy that she was able to do it. I think her voice is really nice and I think the blend of the voices works really well.
WCP: How did you meet her? How did you become friends with her?
DP: I’d read some interviews with Blonde Redhead where she had mentioned Beach Fossils in, like, three or four interviews or something, and so I reached out to her and was just like, “Thanks, I didn’t know you were a fan, that’s cool.” And she came to a few shows and, after that, I don’t know, we started communicating a lot and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.
WCP: And you guys got to play with Blonde Redhead on New Year’s Eve right?
DP: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right. That was a great show. It was really fun. It was really cool to get to play with them. I respect them a lot and I thought it was nice that they wanted us to be on that show with them.
WCP: On the album, is it just you and the drummer playing the instruments?
DP: Yeah, that’s right, it was just me and Tommy for the whole thing. He played the drums and I played the bass, we did it live in the studio, that way to kind of get a more energetic feel. And then afterward, we piled on the guitar and bass and, yeah, he did some guitar and bass, also. He helped write some of the songs, too, so the parts that he wrote he played himself.
WCP: What songs did he write? Co-write?
DP: We wrote “Burn You Down” and “Careless” together. And he also added some random instrumentation here and there, throughout the album as well.
Beach Fossils performs with Young Rapids and Go Cozy March 1 at 8 p.m. at DC9, 1940 9th St. NW. The show is sold out.