At Zürich Openair at the end of August I had the pleasure to see US indie-rock band Beach Fossils live for the first time. After the concert, singer Dustin Payseur, guitarist Tommy Davidson and bassist Jack Doyle Smith kindly granted me an interview. Among other things, we talked about the making of their new album Somersault (2017), their participation in the HBO TV-series Vinyl and the difference between concerts in the US and in Europe.
Thanks a lot to Beach Fossils and to Joshua Clark from Secretly Group label for making this interview possible.
The Liberation: First of all well done for your show before. It was the first time I saw you and I really enjoyed it!
- Dustin Payseur: Oh, thank you. Awesome!
The Liberation: Your third album Somersault was released in June 2017, four years after Clash the Truth (2013). Meanwhile you’ve been going through some changes in the line-up of your band. How did this affect the new record?
- Dustin Payseur: During the Clash of Truth tour, and starting on that tour, every night like during sound check or whatever, when we were practicing, we would start jamming on songs. You know not really with any purpose, just for fun. And then it kind of started turning into songs and ideas. And we were like “hey we should start recording these” and just very naturally it started turning into an album. And before we knew it we had a handful of songs and kept working on them and now here’s the album.
The Liberation: Yes, great.
- Dustin Payseur: It was pretty fast I guess. I mean there was a lot of downtime, we were touring, I had just started a record label like there was a lot of stuff going on keeping us busy individually but I feel like the way we created was just really natural.
The Liberation: Ok, yes. So the change in the line-up didn’t affect the band in any particular way?
- Dustin: Not really, no. I mean, you know, I guess our dynamic has changed a little bit like it brought us closer in a lot of ways, positive and negative ways I guess. (laughs) It’s more like a family or something.
- Jack Doyle Smith: Yeah. He used to write all the albums himself, this is the first time we were trying to write together, it was the first one that was really collaborative.
- Tommy Davidson: I think it took longer because we had to learn how to write together, how to balance that. It was the first time any of us had written together.
The Liberation: Ok. So how would you say Somersault differs from the other albums other than for the collaborative writing?
- Dustin: I guess you know I never wanna make the same album twice, I always wanted it to sound like something different. Cause it’s like, if I’ve already made a record that sounds a certain way it’s already out there so why repeat it? So yeah with this one we wanted it to be a reflection of a wider variety of the things that we like rather that one style. And we listen to so many different types of music and we were just making playlists of productions ideas and stuff, sending songs to each other constantly at five in the morning saying “oh listen to the bass in this song, listen to the drums in this song”. It wasn’t even about a vibe like a style it was more just like textures and ideas about productions and stuff like that.
The Liberation: And how has the album been received so far?
- Dustin: Great! Yeah I’m really happy with how it’s come out and how it’s been received, sure.
The Liberation: Great! How do you usually compose your music, do you think about the lyrics first or the melody itself?
- Dustin: It’s always the melody.
- Jack: Yeah. Yes, we have a full instrumental list and we work on the lyrics afterwords.
- Dustin: I mean the album was so instrumental that we were already mixing.
- Jack: Yeah, that was a challenge for sure.
- Dustin: We would go and mix for twelve hours and after that I would take a cab straight to our studio in Brooklyn and put vocals on the songs so that we could mix the next day in the mixing studio. It was so great.
- Jack: And you got sick too, that was the worse.
- Dustin: Yeah I was so sick.
- Jack: He had a terrible cold and he had to go and like fight.
- Dustin: Yeah I had two days of mixing and I couldn’t even breath and I was like “How am I gonna do this?”. There was one time when we came from our studio we were mixing at, which was in Soho, went to our studio in Brooklyn after mixing for like twelve hours, recorded all night and slept for probably two hours and then went straight back to the studio mixing again. Really insane. (all laugh)
The Liberation: For Somersault?
- Dustin: Yeah.
The Liberation: Wow!
- Jack: We weren’t dealing with any kind of deadline, it was the only hard deadline we kind of needed to meet.
- Dustin: Yeah we kind of needed the deadline. I don’t really like deadlines when I write but t a certain point when the thing is almost finished you need a deadline for that finishing polish. But that was crazy, yeah! (Laughs)
The Liberation: It sounds crazy! (All laugh)
- Tommy: It was a very intense process. Had to be done.
The Liberation: Worth it!
- Tommy: Worth it, yeah.
- Jack: It’s a baby.
The Liberation: You starred in the HBO TV-series Vinyl.
- Dustin: Yeah, that’s right.
The Liberation: Can you tell me a bit more about it?
- Jack: Well when was it, when does it start?
- Tommy: Yeah we’re gonna be in 3D next year. (All laugh)
- Jack: No it was just a really random thing. We received an email one day from… you (Tommy edit.) had already worked with her husband, Megan Curr’s husband.
- Tommy: Yeah it’s kind of a small world. I had a solo project a few years ago and this woman’s husband was the director of that and so she knew me directly through that and she also knew you (Jack edit.) through Kevin Tracks right?
- Jack: Yeah I think so. She’d maybe seen us live or something. That would be a good think.
- Tommy: She was in the casting department.
- Dustin: We didn’t think we’d be acting or anything. They were like “we need a band for a scene in a pilot episode in the show”. We were like “cool that sounds fun” and we did it and it was really fun. And I thought that was the end of it and then like six months later they were like “oh the show was picked up by HBO, it got the green light, are you guys available to attend the filming?”. And we were like “yes”, they wanted us for more episodes and we kept showing up.
- Jack: We needed that distraction from our album of course. (laughs)
- Dustin: It was funny cause we were really right in the think of it, working on Somersault and then we’d got to go and do these fourteen hours a day of filming. It was cool ’cause none of us had ever done anything like that. Such a huge production. And it was a fun experience.
- Jack: It was really interesting to see how professional it is, it’s nuts. It’s so much different than what I thought.
The Liberation: So it’s different than the music world?
- Jack: It’s like different and the same, you kinda have your green room.
- Dustin: What’s funny is that after years of touring like you show up somewhere, like us today you show up at the festival, you know exactly what to do. Nobody has to tell you anything you’re just set up, you know how to play. But we were there and they were treating us they same way like we were actors and knew what we were doing.
- Jack: Yes and say this shit that we had no idea of.
- Dustin: Literally every five minutes I had to keep being “what am I supposed to do? Where am I?”
- Tommy: The secret that we weren’t aware of is that apparently she was the only one who knew we didn’t have any experience. Everyone else was like “do this and that” and at times we were like “ok, do they know we are not part of this world?”. It was kind of stressful.
- Jack: We we’re just tricking them daily you know. (laughs)
- Tommy: Yeah.
- Dustin: Yeah. I think there were some people there probably silently thinking “how the fuck did these people get a job?” (All laugh)
The Liberation: Yeah
- Tommy: You know we were acting next to like…
- Dustin: Great professional actors.
- Tommy: Yeah, yeah. The actor Ray Romano was there hanging with us and he was like “How do you guys know one another? Do you also play music together?” And we go “Well we’re a band. We were cast all together.” “So you guys never acted before?”. And we were like “no”.
- Jack: “So wait you’re all actors, you’re all in a band and you all got cast together?”
- Dustin: Mmh we’re not all actors.
- Tommy: Through the band first.
- Jack: Yeah you were almost right.
The Liberation: Did you receive any other casting opportunities?
- Dustin: Well, not from them.
- Jack: No, not so far. Maybe we’ll try again some day.
- Dustin: I wanna start making movies though.
- Jack: Yeah, we kind of always wanted to do that.
- Dustin: I have a dream I wanna make like low grade, like B horror movies. That’s kind of the next thing I want to start doing, make really cheap horror movies.
- Tommy: You’re gonna make Beach Fossils into a multimedia. (Laughs)
- Dustin: Yeah! You know those where there’s just too much blood? You know where like just one thing happens and then everything’s covered. I wanna do one like that. It’s funny.
The Liberation: I’d be curious to see that! So you come from the US, what does it represent for you to come and tour in Europe?
- Dustin: I don’t know I guess in a way it almost feels embarrassing right now cause the US is like such a fucked up state. But I think people that know who we are, and people in the indie-rock world and stuff obviously know that we are not representing that side of America. I think we’ve been pretty vocal about it. Also I mean I’d like to think, maybe I’m just trying to be positive here, I don’t think that that is even a representation of the American people in general you know. People have been very good at protesting, they’ve been really good at speaking out against everything they’ve seen. Honestly I’m proud of how many people have been stepping up letting their voices be heard. And as horrible as it is it’s also kind of uniting people as well, people are celebrating diversity more than ever.
- Jack: I think coming from the US to here it’s almost kind of inspiring to see how well some things work over here. It’s kind of like a breath of fresh air for us.
- Tommy: Yeah because there’s no better time where you feel like you wanna leave the US more than now. (All laugh)
- Jack: We feel kind of guilty because we have responsibilities there you know.
- Tommy: Our first show in Europe was last week in Norway. We went to Norway from the US it was kind of heavenly. Big difference.
- Jack: Everyone’s smiling.
- Tommy: It goes a long way.
- Dustin: Yeah, exactly.
The Liberation: So how does the American public differ from the European one you’ve seen so far?
- Dustin: I mean I guess it’s hard to say because the only part of Europe that I really know and I experience is from the music side, you know. So it’s like festivals, shows or something. So we’re kind of with like-minded people every night so that’s the representation that we are getting. But I guess one thing as far as the audience I’ve noticed that seems really different from the US is that the crowds in Europe are very respectful like in a different way. In the US it’s like a very physical thing like when we play people are jumping off the stage. Like our shows are very wild like punk shows and stuff, people moshing, but in Europe everybody sits.
- Jack: You can tell they are interested.
- Dustin: Yeah, it’s just a different way of appreciating music.
- Jack: Yeah. We’re also kind of a newer band over here.
- Dustin: Yeah I guess we haven’t toured Europe a lot. We’ve been here a few times and it’s been a long time since the last one too.
- Jack: We’ll catch up. (Laughs)
The Liberation: And do you actually play differently depending on where you find yourselves?
- Dustin: Yeah, I think so. Like if the crowd is going really crazy, then I focus less on exactly how it sounds and I’m more like having fun. And it’s loose you know when you play, it’s more like a punk show. Whereas when the crowd is silent I definitely focus a lot more on playing and how it sounds. You have to be able to adapt to the audience and what the audience wants. Cause if we were at a show and the crowd was going crazy and we would just sit there quietly playing our songs it would be weird.
- Jack: It would make them slow down.
The Liberation: Yeah, definitely.
- Tommy: Yeah sometimes people at festivals wanna hear more energy stuff whereas in a club show the crowd would be more responsive to slower stuff. But sometimes at festivals it doesn’t really work that way.
- Dustin: It’s kind of like actors talk about being in a play vs being in a movie I guess. A play is so based off of how the crowd is responding whereas the movie side of that here would be us in the recording studio, us by ourselves so it’s kind of a different thing. So you just have to feel it up.
The Liberation: Do you have any future projects?
- Dustin: Yeah, we all kind of work on stuff on our own. You know Tommy is always busy working on his electronic project called Bruce Smear. And literally every time I hit him up I’m like “you wanna hang out?” and he’s like “I’m working on tracks I can’t”.
- Tommy: Yeah, in between touring I usually try to dig in working on that.
- Dustin: And yeah, like Jack is always doing a lot of jamming with friends and stuff and other people.
- Jack: Yeah and little bands.
- Dustin: He’s been teaching his girlfriend how to play bass.
- Jack: Yeah. Now she’s playing in LA. She has a residency. She’s playing keys in a band.
- Dustin: Yeah she’s playing keyboards, that’s cool!
The Liberation: Really? Wow, nice!
- Dustin: And then yeah me, you know, I’m always working on different things. I’m busy with the record label and I’m busy with a lot of different things. It’s nice to have things to focus on that aren’t just the band, so you can like stay sane. Yeah.
- Tommy: It works for any project. The more things you do that don’t sound like Beach Fossils the more fresher you come back to it.
- Dustin: Yeah and you can also take ideas. Like for me I did an industrial project and then I was in a punk band on the side while writing Somersault. And then after I would get all that out of my system and come back and write Somersault, it was totally different. I wouldn’t have written those songs otherwise maybe.
The Liberation: Yes cause you take a step back and then come back to it.
- Tommy: Reset, you know.
The Liberation: Yeah, interesting!