Today I had the pleasure of interviewing a hidden treasure from Portland, Maine, who was kind enough to share his Thursday afternoon with me and give me some insight on what makes Jeff Beam tick.
P&W: Well, first off, congrats on the new album and upcoming tour, this has got to be an exciting time for you.
Jeff: Thank you. Yes, it’s very exciting and busy. Lots of 3am bedtimes, lately, but it’s all worth it. I feel like it’s going to go by quickly, one big blur.
P&W: I can only imagine… So, how did you end up performing psych-rock? Was it a genre you grew up listening to?
Jeff: Yeah, I vividly remember listening to The Beatles on cassette when I was about 2 or 3, riding around in my dad’s truck. From there it was Jimi Hendrix when I was 10 or 11, and from there it was Olivia Tremor Control when I was 16, and from there it’s been Deerhunter & Herbcraft & MMOSS. I just love the philosophy & motive behind psychedelic music. It’s almost always aimed at broadening one’s perspective.
P&W: Very eloquently put.
You mentioned listening to cassettes back in the day, is that one of the reasons you decided to release Be Your Own Mirror on cassette in addition to CD? Do you prefer to listen to music via a certain medium i.e vinyl, cd, mp3 etc?
Jeff: The idea to release it on cassette happened pretty late in the game, just a few weeks ago. It was a quick decision and I just plowed into it and started painting tapes. I guess I did it because a lot of folks my age still have cars with tape decks & no CD player.
Vinyl is definitely my preferred way of listening to music. The sound is much more dynamic & alive. I wish I could put out Be Your Own Mirror on vinyl, but it’s a bit costly these days. I suppose cassette is the next best option; it’s still analog, it’s portable, and it’s pretty easy to make.
P&W: Oh for sure, vinyl is definitely lovely, but releasing a new album on cassette kind of gives you, for lack of a better term, a “badass” status. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one to bring cassettes back into popularity.
Jeff: Hahaha There is definitely a small cassette culture. I’d like to see it grow. Of Montreal recently re-released their entire catalog on cassette.
P&W: Hm, I did not know that hah. Learn something new every day.
So, you recorded this album in a bunch of different locations, mostly in the North East but also randomly in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. How did you end up there?
Jeff: My girlfriend & I went there to a meditation retreat with some of her friends. They’re from the Chicago area, but she met them in India. We went out there for a weekend in December, and our friend Molly was there. I made her bring her cello up from Chicago, and we tracked it in a gazebo on the beach of Lake Michigan. It was like 13 degrees outside, and only slightly warmer than that in the gazebo.
P&W: Oh gosh. Yeah it tends to get a tad chilly up there during the winter…
You actually gave me the perfect segue for my next question. There are a lot of different sounds/instruments and guest musicians throughout the album, how do you think Be Your Own Mirror will translate live? Also, what do you think will be the biggest challenge?
Jeff: Well. My band & I are playing the whole album in order tomorrow night at the CD release show. It’ll be interesting, for sure. A lot of it sounds the same, but there are plenty of differences. The last song, “Destroy All Solutions”, won’t be on piano for the live version. I’d say the whole thing sounds more muscular live, definitely a bit more raw. The layers are still there, but it’s being pumped out by live people. And for the most part, they’re playing instruments & parts that I played on the record, so it’ll inherently sound a little different.
But I like the idea that the record & the live version won’t be exactly the same. Any band can get together in a room and lay down their sound, but if I’m playing all the instruments in the studio, I’m creating a unique document that absolutely cannot be replicated in live form without cloning myself. It makes the album a little more special in a time where “the album” might not be as celebrated as it once was.
P&W: You are giving me some very philosophical answers… I love it.
Jeff: Haha, that’s where my mind is at these days.
P&W: Speaking of live shows, you’re about to kick off a tour. One of the show’s you’re playing is actually with your friends’ group You Won’t! How did you all come to be acquainted?
Jeff: You Won’t! I met those guys in Boston, where they live. I play bass in another band, The Milkman’s Union, and we were on the same bill together back in September. They’re super nice guys, and it looks like they’re starting to blow up a bit. They’ll be playing the Portsmouth NH show of the tour.
P&W: Music just brings people together… as cliché as that sounds haha
Jeff: Haha, music is the best unifier & friend-maker.
P&W: For my last question I was going to ask the quintessential “who influences you”, except you’ve given me such well said answers that I’ve decided to tweak it instead. Who would you like to influence your music?
Jeff: Who would I like to influence my music, very interesting question.
P&W: I know, curve ball!
Jeff: I’d like to be more influenced by classical composers, like Stravinsky. I like the idea that there was a time in recent history when popular music was incredibly complex and didn’t have verse-chorus-verse structure. I’d also like to take a page from performers like Lady Lamb the Beekeeper & Jacob Augustine; both are individual performers who have the ability to captivate the audience. I don’t think I have that ability, I feel like I need a lot of different parts all coming together for my music to have its full impact. But to be able to absolutely captivate a room like they both do, with just their voice & a guitar, that’s the real deal.
P&W: Well, I could talk music with you all afternoon, but I’m going to give you a break. Thank you very much for speaking with me. Good luck with the release tomorrow!
Be sure to check out Jeff Beam’s new album Be Your Own Mirror out Friday, April 6th.