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Interview: Beach Fossils

Photos by Tamim Alnuweiri

I’ve loved Beach Fossils for a really long time, so the chance to interview them before their Dr. Martens show at Elsewhere and talk about what changed in the making of their latest album, Somersault, was pretty cool. We also talked about how many “posts” we need to put after “shoegaze” now, (perhaps accidentally) normcore younger cousins, why we can’t stop thinking about our elementary school cafeterias, whether New York’s still got it (it does), and most importantly, their true feelings on both the beach itself and kickstarting the “beach” band-name trend. Not that I had any doubt, but now I have concrete evidence that they are probably, almost definitely, the chillest guys on the Brooklyn scene, and have pretty dope style to boot.

Nikki Barnhart: What was new about making this album from anything in the past?

Dustin Payseur: There were a lot of huge changes actually, the biggest one being that it used to be just a solo project for me, and then, you know, Jack and Tommy, we wrote together for this record. That alone is a huge difference. Stylistically—we’re always listening to and getting into new things and we were sharing songs and getting inspiration from textures. So, I think a big thing was that we weren’t even thinking about an album, just a song at a time, and we had no idea if it was going to work with the other ones in an album context, but that doesn’t really matter because the point is that we’re just making something that we like.

Tommy Davidson: It was the first time that Dustin was releasing on his own label, Bayonet, with his wife, Katie Garcia, the manager. Because of that, we were able to take our time. We were able to spend that much more time saying, “oh, here’s a writing session we did for a few months” take off three or so months, and come back to it. Address these two years, maybe, of demos and really wrap our heads around what was the best version of all of that, down to eleven songs.

Jack Doyle Smith: I think the blessing of this album is getting to take our time. We had so many songs and we had like a whole album finished of different songs and we just trashed all of those.

NB: And you feel like that gave you the freedom to really come into yourself?

Jack: I think that’s how it became so new-sounding.

Dustin: I mean we had a finished album 3 or 4 different times and none of those songs made it onto the one we put out. We just kept being like “oh let’s write some more” because it never felt finished. We just kept writing to the point that literally all of those songs, we lived with them for so long, that they just got phased out. We didn’t throw everything away though, it was a lot of recycling.

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Nikki: Yeah I was gonna say, did they kind of factor into other songs? Like bits and pieces, rough drafts?

Dustin: We would reuse ideas, it was more like a sketchbook. We would record like a whole thing, and then say, “oh I don’t know if I’m feeling this, but the bridge really works.”

Tommy: Mix and matching different parts, like mosaic style, did really get the end result of what we wanted. All these old jam sessions, all these old demos we put together, but in the end, it’s about trying to trim the fat like, “this is the best part of this song, this is the best part of that song” and they work together, to make a whole new song.

Jack: It’s a totally different experience than what I’m used to, but I feel like now I would never do it any other way because it’s been a part of my life for four years now, that it’s all I wanna do.

Dustin: I think in a big way, I never had any formal training with music, but I have this really fucked-up, backwards approach to making something—I’ve never had anyone show me, “this is how you write a song”—they don’t show you that anyway, it’s such a personal thing.

I thought it was really funny that a lot of people come up with a chord progression and then they come up with a vocal melody and the lyrics on top of that, and then they build a whole song around that. It’s the complete opposite of how I do shit. It’ll be a bass line, and then like some guitar thing, and then we’ll be like, “okay, this is a cool part,” you’ll just like save it for later. Before you know it, it’s a couple months go by and we have all these different parts and we just match them together and change the key and the pitch and the tempo and make it fit. I never think about vocals, or lyrics, like ever.

Nikki: They’re kind of like an afterthought?

Dustin: In a way. I just get so caught up in the music, that’s the most important part to me.

Jack: At least this record was. Completely after this record was finished, he did all the vocals.

Nikki: Your lyrics are always super dreamy, and a little surreal, so it makes sense.

Dustin: I have it in my notes on my phone and I always write something down when I have a conversation with someone that said something that stuck with me or like something throughout the day—I keep all these notes, and after a while I make lyrics out of that. But they’re not in lyric form or anything, I come up with the vocal melody and then I look at the notepad, and say, ‘okay this can go with this. This will match the mood of the song.’”

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Nikki: It’s always so interesting how people compose lyrics, because even being a writer, I think songwriting is so hard—

Dustin: It is! It’s crazy. It’s really backwards.

Tamim Alnuweiri: You have to be so concise but still emotive.

Dustin: I think honestly one of the worst things is constraining yourself to rhyming. Which is what a lot of songwriters do, and I do it also, but the other day, I just got on this huge Red House Painters kick—and I’m like, he doesn’t fucking rhyme anything. That’s why his lyrics are so good. Cause they’re just honest and pure and upfront. There’s restrictions when you try to rhyme stuff.

Jack: Cause you’re not saying what you really feel if you’re just trying to rhyme.

Dustin: Yeah exactly! Cause I don’t read poetry that rhymes, I think it’s corny.

Nikki: Exactly, that’s the first thing they tell you when you get to middle school English, and the teacher’s like “Okay we’re going to write poetry, but it doesn’t have to rhyme,” and the kids are like, “what??”

Dustin: Yeah, but they do it anyway! [laughs]


Nikki: Yeah but you gotta get out of your comfort zone!

Tommy: A philosopher said this, “anything too stupid to be said, is sung.” You ever heard that?

Dustin: Well, it’s so true! Sometimes they’ll be certain songs when I listen to them and I’ll be like, these are the best fucking lyrics I’ve ever heard in my life, how did anyone ever have this thought, it’s amazing, there’s this like transcendent moment you have with it, and I’ll sit with a song for like years and feel that way, and then sometimes you just read the lyrics on their own and without the music, it’s like—they’re not that good!

Jack: That’s what music is!

Dustin: It’s like a film, you have to have all the elements together.

Tamim: You guys are kind of in many ways, the pioneers of what the Brooklyn music scene, especially with the DIY stuff and whatever they’re calling you now, post-shoegaze, whatever.

Dustin: I don’t know either!

Tamim: But you guys are kind of hometown heroes so how does it feel now, in this type of venue in Bushwick?

Dustin: Honestly, I think it’s cool, I like this venue, I really like Rami [Haykal]. I heard about this venue, way before it existed. We played one of the final shows at Glasslands, and Rami was talking about how he was going to do a new space, and it was gonna be like, out in Bushwick, and it was gonna be a bigger thing and I was like, dude that’s perfect, because there’s nothing like that out there. I think it’s sick because honestly, we were just talking about this, how Glasslands was just a warehouse space that they turned into a really great place for artists, you see this place, and obviously when they moved in, it was a raw space, but they turned into something cool.

I think it’s great, I think New York still has everything has everything it’s always had, I think it’s constantly shifting, but it still has the same energy, it still has the same vibe, genres come and go, spaces come and go, but the community and the music and the passion, it’s all still there, it’s still strong and really important. I don’t know, I love it, I’m so happy I live here, it’s the best place.

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Nikki: That is so refreshing to hear because I feel like everyone always lamenting the bygone times or whatever…

Dustin: But dude, people just wear rose colored glasses, like everyone thinks about the past as the best thing ever. I think about the past and I’m like yeah, all these DIY shows were awesome, but at the same time, we weren’t getting paid for them, and I was like struggling at a job I hated, and I was like sleeping on floors on tour, and it was like the formative years to us, character building! You could say those were the best years, but whatever, you know, shit changes and you gotta fucking deal with it. Just keep going forward.

Nikki: Your music itself has always been so nostalgic and so dreamy. What inspired you to make music that sounds like that? The way I describe your band to people that haven’t heard you is, “memories of the summer being played out into the winter.”

Tommy: Excellent.

Dustin: I think that’s really good actually. What’s funny is that we usually release our albums, aside from Clash the Truth, in the summer—

Nikki: They always sounded winter-y to me.

Dustin: —but yeah, they’re always written in the winter. I always think it’s funny that whenever we start dropping singles, everyone’s like, get out your sunglasses and your surfboard, time to go to the beach! And I’m like, dude, you’re just basing this off the name! Listen to the fucking song for a second, listen to what I’m talking about.

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Nikki: Even the name, it’s like a fossil at the beach, something from the past.

Dustin: I’m not even a beach fan, t b h.

Jack: You can dabble now.

Dustin: I don’t like the sun!

Tamim: Honestly, it’s not that fun, there’s sand everywhere, it gets into every orifice.

Dustin: There’s no shade, everyone’s loud, and you’re sitting out there and…like no.

Tommy: I like to raise my Vitamin D.

Dustin: I have a severe Vitamin D deficiency.

Nikki: But you guys started the whole beach name fad.

Dustin: Unfortunately.

[all laugh]

NB: Didn’t you find the name by looking up two random words in the dictionary, or something? I read that one time.

Dustin: Well yeah I had like a notebook, now I keep everything on my phone, but before I kept everything in a notebook, like words and phrases, just like would write stuff down and ‘beach’ and ‘fossils’ were in there, and I already had the demos made and I had to send it out to labels, but I couldn’t think of a name, so I was like, “fuck it, just Beach Fossils,” I honestly didn’t really expect people to really hear it anyway, so yeah that’ll be the name.

Tommy: We’re gonna go with the 1975 but it was taken.

Nikki: You guys are kinda contemporaries with Washed Out, and you guys know the story, of how he got this masters degree in library science, but couldn’t find a job, so he moved back home and started making music in his childhood bedroom, and that’s why it sounded so nostalgic. Is there something similar like that for you?

Dustin: Well the nostalgic stuff, I do always picture a place from my past when I’m working on stuff, specifically the cafeteria of my elementary school. I don’t know why!


Tamim: So I guess lastly we want to ask you a question about aesthetics…so let’s talk about normcore, post-post dadbods, I don’t know.

Dustin: I don’t fuck with any of that! But wait hang on speaking of normcore though, for Thanksgiving I went back home to North Carolina, and I saw a bunch of cousins who I haven’t seen in a few years and they’re all getting like bigger now, and they’re all like 13 through like 19, and one of my cousins was dressed super-normcore, and I couldn’t tell if it was on purpose or not. I was like I think she fucks with Frankie Cosmos but I can’t tell…?

She just had a big orange cardigan and a shirt tucked into high waisted jeans that were like rolled up with Nikes…

Jack: It’s funny how popular clothing stores like even ones in SoHo, or whatever, they all come and go into that style now.

Dustin: It’s true! It’s that scene in Devil Wears Prada, and she’s wearing her clothes and she’s like I don’t really care about fashion and Meryl Streep—and it’s like the same thing, like my cousin maybe doesn’t know what normcore is, but she was rocking the style, somehow.

Nikki: Do you talk about your outfits before the show or anything?

Tamim: It’d be cute if you did!

Dustin: Jack and I, we share a lot of clothes, we’ll be at the thrift store texting photos of some shit and being like, “this is cool!”

Nikki: My friend is playing a gig tomorrow, and he doesn’t know what to wear. What would you advise him to wear?

Dustin: Just wear whatever he feels comfortable in! Just whatever he thinks represents himself, don’t wear pieces of other people, you know, just be himself. Honestly you can wear fucking anything if you wear it with confidence. And if you don’t wear it with confidence, that’s still your fucking personality cause you’re not a confident person and you’re being yourself by not being confident.

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