By Wilhelmina Hayward on July 5, 2017
Beach Fossils are releasing their new album Somersault on Bayonet Records, a label frontman Dustin Payseur and his wife recently launched together. Before they gear up for touring season, we had a conversation about the band’s unique songwriting process and finding the bandmates that make collaborating a fluid experience.
Let’s just dive right in. Can you talk a bit about your origin story with Beach Fossils and what has the journey been like from your last album to Somersault?
We’ve been through a lot of different changes over the years. In the beginning, it just started as a solo project, not necessarily by choice. I had moved to New York and I didn’t know anyone, so I was like, “Well I might as well start making music, I’ll just do it by myself.” I had kind of always recorded by myself anyway — recording on 4-tracks and teaching myself all the instruments and playing the parts myself, so I was already kind of used to it. Over the years, different members have come and gone. We finally got to this line-up that we have now. We would just get together and mess around with music a lot, and it sort of organically worked out that we were writing together; it wasn’t really on purpose. I had intended to just do this record the same way as all my other ones, to just do it by myself, but these little pieces of songs started coming out and I was loving how it was working out and I thought we should just make an album together.
Can you talk about your songwriting process as a solo project, and what it was like collaborating with your current line-up?
Doing it solo, it’s really nice because it’s always different and I don’t really have to think about it. It’s just really natural. I usually start with a bass line…. until something sounds right, or feels like it can be a good foundation for something. It’s almost like, a lot of the times I feel like I don’t even really have a choice in what I write, it’s like I just start hearing everything, you know? I hear the guitar parts, I hear the vocal melodies, I hear all this stuff and I just have to start recording it before I forget it.
Talk about how you found each other — it sounds like you have to be operating on the same frequency to be able to write songs in that manner.
We were all in different bands on Captured Tracks. The label is almost like a creative community, a little family that just kind of brought everyone together. Everyone on the label knew each other. Jack was playing in a band called the Craft Spells and we took them on tour, opening for us in 2011. We would just be jamming together every night because we shared a van together and I just remember thinking that every time we were playing, there was a really good chemistry between [us]. Then we had some lineup changes and I asked him to play with Beach Fossils immediately. And Tommy, he was playing in a band called Hoop Dreams. They came up to New York, and I remember watching him play guitar and he had this really weird style, I really like the way he plays. He’s one of those people who talk before they think, and he treats an instrument the same way. I think we all have really different playing styles that complement each other.
Let’s go back to the creative process. You described it as “almost like channeling” something – how does that process work for you?
It definitely comes in waves. It’s unpredictable, too. I feel like I don’t have any control over the creativity.
I don’t work well with deadlines, hence it’s taken four years to make this new record. It’s kind of like, I can only do it when I’m feeling it, like when you feel hungry or feel thirsty, you don’t choose to feel that way, it’s just there. I don’t try to press the creativity if it’s not there. I feel like the only time that works for me is with lyrics, but it doesn’t work very well with music. There are huge parts of time where I’ll be going to the studio and I’ll be recording for 17 hours and nothing can take me away from it, I’m just in there, I’m working and I’m hardly sleeping. And then after I finish up a couple songs, I just don’t have anything for a little while, I just go totally blank.
Speaking of lyrics, do you write completely on your own, or is that a collaborative process?
I do, yeah, that’s one thing that… I definitely want to always keep that one my own. I feel like they’re always insanely personal…that’s something that has to be done alone.
So, it sounds like there was a deadline, at least for the lyric writing process…
Right, yeah, I always think of lyrics as an afterthought. I listen to a lot of instrumental music, I listen to a lot of jazz and a lot of house music where it’s more about the way it makes you feel than what it’s saying. And so, when we’re working on a song, I feel like the music already says everything I need to say because I’m purposefully channeling a lot of emotion into the music and into how it sounds and feels. I kind of wish I could just put it out like that sometimes. But it does make a big difference when the vocals go on top of it finally, so I just try to ask myself what I was saying instrumentally here in this part; how do I translate this into a message?
What are you trying to convey to your listeners on this album?
I guess it’s just about being open and honest. You know, sometimes being alive is really hard, so I’m just going to write stuff that makes me feel better and can help other people. I was worried that if I put lyrics that were a little too heavy, I’d be bumming people out or something.
But then I got to a point where I felt you just need to write what you know, so if I’m depressed I need to just use it as a tool for creativity instead of letting it hold me down.
Is performing live a cathartic experience, or can it be really difficult at times?
It’s like a therapy session. I don’t think there’s ever a show where I’m not really thinking about the lyrics, and I’m not transported to the moment I was writing the lyrics. It always still feels like a raw nerve…and I like that. And also to have people come up to me after shows and be like, “I love this song and the lyrics” or “I totally know what you mean with this.” I’m just happy to be able to share that, it’s beautiful.
When and why did you start Bayonet Records?
That’s been a huge goal of mine, ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to have a label. When I had a 4-track recorder, I’d just be recording songs in my bedroom on cassette, and as soon as I finished a few songs, I would…draw a cover and put a fake record label name. But I always really loved the idea of having my own label and when I got older and started learning more about independent labels. There always just seemed to be a sense of community and a real DIY power behind it, that you could just feel it like you just knew that there’s a community there, that these people are doing it because they believe in it, because they love it.
Everything just kind of came to together at this one point. I had finished my contract and I was working on a new record, I finally found some artists that I really liked and I was talking to my wife about it; we just decided to start a label on our own. There’s no way that Bayonet Records would exist without her, she’s unbelievable at how hard she works and how much she knows about the music industry. I couldn’t think of a better person to run a label with.
Is there a big difference when recording for your own label? Does it give you more freedom, or does it alter your creative process in any way?
Yeah, I think the biggest difference is, for one thing, I don’t have the deadline looming over me…I mean, at the end of the day, a record label is still a business, so if you have someone putting money into what you’re doing, they expect you to do it on a timeline. And I freeze up when I get deadlines, that’s hard for me.
What does life on the road look like for you guys now, and are you touring soon?
We just got new members in the band and so we’re in Los Angeles right now practicing with them [as we speak]. You know, we’re like a bi-coastal band now, I guess. We’re announcing the tour pretty soon, I think they’re still being finalized, but we’re pretty much touring from the summer through the end of the year. And I think next year’s going to be crazy; we’re just going to be on the road all year. I’m really looking forward to that. It’s one of those “grass is always greener” things. When we’re in the studio we want to be on the road, and when we’re on the road we just want to be in the studio.
Beach Fossils – Somersault
Standout Track: “This Year”
Follow on Twitter @beachfossils