Welcome back to This Friggin Guy!, a totally irregular column dedicated to sitting down with our most beloved Portland musicians, asking the hard-hitting questions, upholding the finest journalistic integrity and, of course, cursing as much as fucking possible.
This week, I proudly present This Friggin Guy: with Jeff Beam!!
Let's get straight to it!
Hello Jeff Beam! Jeff Beam, here is what I know to be true about you:
You have released 9 full length albums and one EP.
You are also in a cover band called Keanu Keanu with Dominic Lavoie and Dan Capaldi
This one time, at Empire, Britt Daniel came over to see your show after his show and then he played your guitar and a good time was had by all.
We have met precisely one time, in Dan Capaldi’s home studio in Falmouth, the day after the aforementioned Spoon after party. You seemed tired that day and were staring out the window wistfully, in the manner of a very deep and sensitive musician type.
As of this writing, your new album, “Is Believed to Have Been,” is available online at jeffbeammusic.com
In support of this album release, you have a show on December 18th at One Longfellow Square.
You just participated in Spencer Albee’s Beatles Night at the State Theater, and, why, you ALSO performed with the Fogcutters for Big Band Syndrome at the State this past weekend!
Given the data points compiled above, it is true that you, Jeff Beam, are a multi-faceted artist with your hand in many pots. You are versatile. You are kind of an oddball. You’re WILD and self-taught. Jeff Beam, you are embraced by this music community like a fat grumpy cat named Jeff Beam to the soft and lavender-scented confines of a spinster's ample bosom.
Jeff Beam, tell us what else we should know about your current projects. What is Jeff Beam into right now?
It was a pretty good year for me. Playing with Spoon was a life highlight, totally surreal. Britt said they'd bring me up on stage with them the next time they're in town, too. I feel a little sheepish about getting that much press for a cover show, but it is what it is. At least it was for a band I deeply respect. Covers really divide this town - I don't think there's enough emphasis on original music in this town, but it can seem slightly hypocritical of me to say that and then get inked in Rolling Stone or Pitchfork for covering a band. I do think there's a lot of value in playing covers, and it doesn't have to be a battle of originals vs. covers, but rather a balance of the two. Learning covers can really help expand your musical vocabulary, and playing them at shows can give your audience a point of reference. The Beatles Night stuff is a fun annual thing, I'm always happy to be involved with that. Keanu Keanu is another story - the band's whole goal is to get the attention of Keanu Reeves and to have him hear us play. We will retire as soon as that happens.
The Fogcutters show is another life highlight, and I'm extremely honored that they chose me as a guest artist this year. My songs do better with more instrumentation, more moving parts, so it's extremely gratifying to hear my music performed by such a big band - and by such talented musicians, at that.
And of course, the new album. It was a longer and harder process to finish this album than anything else before. I went through 5 computers while working on it. Had to keep transferring it, so it's a miracle it all made it to the finish line in one piece. I think I'll be proud of this one for a good while. It's more orchestral & symphonic, more of a baroque/chamber pop feel than before. I started out playing really distorted bar chords on electric guitar, so I'm really happy with where I've ended up. Central Maine can be unforgiving in its lack of musical diversity. Anyway, I feel like with this record, it's the first one that really sounds like me rather than my influences. I think my influences are probably still evident, but I think I've made this new sound all my own.
And I'm psyched to say that there will soon be a corresponding music video for each of the 9 songs on the record. PLUS, there's a remix album almost ready to go; I got Maine artists (SPOSE, Herbcraft, Dave Gutter, Afraid, others) to remix each of the 9 songs. Really fun way to collaborate with local artists that I deeply respect. The last part will be a "live in the studio" version of the album featuring my live band, since I play nearly all of the instruments on the album.
As far as what I'm into right now, I love the most recent Alabama Shakes record. Sufjan Stevens' newest record is gorgeous. Sean Morin's new instrumental piece at Big Band Syndrome was incredibly exciting to hear. David Bowie's new single is a beast. Thom Yorke just debuted a few new Radiohead songs, and they're acoustic and haunting in a Neil Young kind of way. Henry Jamison's new album is going to make some serious ripples. I feel like there's been a wave of great new music, and I think that's a trend that will continue well into 2016. You can tell that people are feeling inspired to create, and that in itself is inspiring.
Jeff Beam, I do so hope that you invite me to join you for a cocktail on the divan at your posh retirement villa as you bask in the halcyon glow of Keanu Reeves' one-time attention to your cover band that totally plays this song.
To the Questions!!
Question 1: If HOLLYWOOD called you tomorrow and said, “Hello, is this Jeff Beam? Mr. Beam, we are making a movie adaptation of your favorite book and we’d like you to do the soundtrack,” what book would they be making into a movie, and what five songs would you put on the soundtrack?
The movie is never as good as the book, but I think it'd be cool if Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle was made into a mid-70's Stanley Kubrick kind of film. 5 songs for the soundtrack:
Station to Station by David Bowie
Gun Has no Trigger by Dirty Projectors
Capture the Flag by Broken Social Scene
All We Have Is Now by The Flaming Lips
It's The End of the World As We Know It by R.E.M.
Question 2: Congratulations, you’re the new parade director for the City of Portland! What new parade are you planning and who are the Grand Marshalls?
Ethan Strimling owed me one, so I'm glad he followed through and made me Parade Director. First of all, we're bringing back ticker tape. That's step #1. There's a big list of parade honorees that we have to get through - Stephen King, George Mitchell, Joshua Chamberlain, Rob Caldwell, Joe Bornstein, Howie Day, Slugger the Sea Dog, Ray Lamontagne, Johnny Fountain ... Jaw Gems are the Grand Marshalls for every parade.
Question 3: How come you never call anymore?
I don't call but I snapchat alllll the time. (no I don't). Actually, I now communicate exclusively with smoke signals. This text was all transcribed from smoke. There's an app for that.
Question 4: We have short attention spans, we the music consuming public - what one song would you tell us to listen to on your new album “Is Believed to Have Been,” if we only had time for one, and why? Where can we listen to that song?
A co-worker of mine said to me the other day "Who makes albums anymore?" He was half-kidding, but half-not kidding. It's up to artists to stand firm against new trends that follow consumerist principles rather than musical ones. Everyone listens to music for different reasons, but I personally love a collection of songs. It paints a more complete picture of where the artist is at rather than hearing one song and moving on to something else. That said, our current state of instant gratification and chronic ADHD is very real and a bit understandable. A lot more goes on in a day than say, 20 years ago. A lot more distractions, too. So it's probably a bit unrealistic to think that someone will have the time and patience to listen to my whole album. So, if I had to pick one song for someone to hear, I'd choose "Clairvoyance". It's one of my favorite songs that I've written. I think it balances being catchy with also being musically interesting. Lyrically, it's as close to a mission statement as I've ever put down. And, Sam Peisner, great longtime friend & the bassist in my band, worked extremely hard on an animated music video for the song. It's just as worthy of your time if you muted my song while it played - reminiscent of Monty Python, early Of Montreal videos ... very psychedelic, mysterious. You can hear "Clairvoyance" at jeffbeammusic.com, and you can check out the music video below:
Question 5: You told me that you think that “Is Believed to Have Been” is your best album yet. What are the things you’ve learned about making albums over the past 8 years that you’d tell someone who is making an album for the first time? What tweaks would you make on your previous records if you could turn back time, Cher style?
Actually, I wouldn't change a thing. I think it's all part of the learning process and the creative growing process. To me, my first record is filled with cringeworthy stuff, from the lyrics to the tightness of the performance, but I'm still proud of most of the music. There's no way I'd be able to make Is Believed To Have Been if it were my first record, so I'm thankful for the ability to gain perspective and improve each time I take a stab at making a record.
One of the best lessons I've learned about making a record is about perspective. It's a blessing to be able to record something, put it down for a while, and come back to it later with fresh ears (and maybe a new mindset). This record took about 3 years from start to finish, so I had plenty of time to reexamine things along the way. Someday, I think I'd like to start and finish a record within a week, but that's not what happened here. Editing and re-editing was absolutely essential. I recently listened to the first draft of the album and compared it to the final draft, and there's a world of difference.
Also, it's wise to reflect on "mistakes" when they happen and to not assume they're bad; this is how spontaneous moments occur within the somewhat controlled environment of the recording studio.
My mantra when it comes to making albums is that it needs to be something special, something that maybe can't be completely replicated in concert. The album is dying, so it needs to present something unique. I think albums get stale when they're just a recording of exactly what a band sounds like live. If I want to hear that, I'll hear a live recording or better yet, go see the band in person. With me playing all the instruments on the album, what I've made with my records is a one-time performance that would be impossible to completely recreate. My live band (Christopher Sweet, Kate Beever, Sam Peisner, Scott Nebel) are some of the best musicians in town, and while we strive to sound like the recording, it's going to naturally sound a little different, and that difference defines who we are as a band. But the album is its own entity, its own little world.