In Conversation: Beach Fossils

“You can’t be sitting in the middle anymore. It’s times like this that create social change.”

In June this year, Brooklyn's Beach Fossils released their long-overdue fourth album ‘Somersault’. After spending four long years working on it, completely revising their creative approach along the way, the new album marked a huge, majestic evolution for the band.

There’s still the same dreamy charm lurking in there somewhere but this time around they’ve ditched the breezy, almost-minimalistic indie-pop jangle for shimmering pop hooks, lush compositions, and utterly emphatic orchestral arrangements.

After a sold-out show in Bristol, we caught up with the band to discuss the new album, upsetting indie-rock purists and the role of the arts and music in vocalising discontent in Trump’s America.

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“I get that they’re putting money into your project and they want to turn a profit or whatever, but I don’t know, it’s just weird when art becomes a project with a timeline and everything. I just don’t like that idea so I just decided I was going to take over,” front-man Dustin Payseur explains when asked why he decided to release Somersault on his own label, Bayonet Records, instead of the band's usual home – the cult indie-rock imprint Captured Tracks. “Not being on a label kind of just meant I could take as long as I wanted to perfect the songs.”

Little did they know that this new-found freedom would mean it’d be four years between their last effort ‘Clash The Truth’ and the release of ‘Somersault’: “I didn’t plan on it taking that fucking long, that’s for sure. We could have put out like four albums in that time but we were just perfectionists with it, we just knew we had to get the album to work and that’s something you can’t plan out. You don’t know how long that’s going to take because music isn’t a tangible thing, you have to let it tell you when it’s ready.”

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You don’t know how long that’s going to take because music isn’t a tangible thing…

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In this time spent labouring over the new record, they were far from quiet though. They toured extensively, spent days upon days in the studio working on upwards of 50 demos for the new album and appeared in Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger's TV show Vinyl as a fictional punk band called The Nasty Bits.

Whilst all this was going on the dreamy, reverb-soaked indie-pop sound they helped to coin – and consequently became figureheads of, amongst the likes of DIIV, Real Estate et al – became mass-produced by a seemingly never-ending wave of copycat bands who just bought their first Electro Harmonix Cathedral.

“When a sound becomes oversaturated it kind of just completely loses its meaning, it starts to feel dated,” Dustin says as we begin talking about how ‘Somersault’ – with its huge pop melodies, guest rappers, string arrangements, flutes, saxophones and the works – felt like Beach Fossils trying to distance themselves from the oversaturated ‘jangle-pop’ scene and previous expectations in general – upsetting a few old fans as a result.

Jack Doyle, the band's bassist adds: “We didn’t want to make just another Beach Fossils record, we wanted to make a record that was outside of what we usually do or were expected to make.”

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We wanted to make a record that was outside of what we usually do or were expected to make…

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Collaboration was a vital part of the creative process behind ‘Somersault’. As well as being the first album with all members of Beach Fossils helming the songwriting duties, the album also boasts guest features from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and Memphis rapper Cities Aviv. The latter particularly splitting opinion amongst their fanbase, Jack says: “A lot of people either love it or hate it. Some of the die-hard Captured Tracks people were hearing a rapper and were just like ‘What the fuck is this? What’s going on?’”

“To be honest I kind of like filtering out those close-minded people,” Dustin adds, seemingly un-phased and almost relieved at shaking them off. “I don’t want those kids coming to a show if that’s going to be their attitude, I just don’t get it, especially if someone’s proclaiming to be 'a lover of music'. If a flute or a fucking harpsichord, or a rapper is going to turn you off then get the fuck out. I feel like people just get like that with indie-rock, which is honestly the weirdest thing to be like that about.”

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The commodification of music and art has presented us with this notion that the products of such things are made solely with the consumer I mind, and with this we get the illusion that bands release albums purely for their fans listening pleasure. Amongst criticism from indie-rock purists for the new direction, Dustin rejects this: “It sounds really selfish but I don’t make music for other people. I just make it for myself. I make an album I want to hear – I don’t care if people that previously liked us feel alienated by what we do next.”

Given the current unrest on both sides of the pond, inevitably the conversation drifts on to politics. ‘Somersault’ isn’t an outright political album – it instead takes a much more nuanced approach. In ‘Down The Line’ Dustin sings ‘I don’t want your Wall Street / Don’t got no degree / Written on the concrete / A.C.A.B’ and the video for ‘Saint Ivy’, and the album in general, aims to reflect the diversity of life in New York, which feels inherently political given the dramatic racial tensions plaguing America right now.

When asked about the importance of musicians incorporating politics into their music and using their platform to bring these ideas into public discourse, Dustin seems torn: “There is some political music that’s extremely important, like Kendrick Lemar for example. It’s obviously so important when you hear it and they just fucking nail it and they say things in a way that no one else has done before,” but on the other hand we begin discussing how sometimes it’s far too easy for politics in music to come across as more of an empty PR move than a genuine, subversive statement.

He argues: “There’s a fine-line of sounding cheesy and cliché and just regurgitating the same shit. You have to be really careful about that because if you’re just saying the same stuff as everyone else then you’re not really adding anything to the conversation.”

With this in mind though, Dustin reasons: “It’s so personal now so how can you not say anything about, you know? The Trump administration has been the most surprising thing I’ve ever lived through.”

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Things are just getting to a point where it’s so extreme now…

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On the polarising extremes of the political narrative at the minute, Dustin says: “Things are just getting to a point where it’s so extreme now – with the last US election the left and right weren’t faking it anymore. Everyone on the right was saying all liberals are a bunch of socialists and then you had Bernie Sanders come along and actually talk about socialism and be very blunt and honest about it, and I’m like ‘fuck yeah, that’s cool’, and then on the other side everyone is saying that everyone on the right is racist. No one’s really hiding about stuff anymore.”

This growing divide between the right and left, and the subsequent loss of a centrist middle-ground is a conversation that’s just as pertinent on our side of the pond as it is in America. When asked whether this is a good or bad thing, Dustin says: “I just feel like there’s no need for a centre, especially right now. Shit is so extreme, you can’t just be sitting in the middle anymore. It's times like this that create social change. People aren’t complacent anymore.”

In ‘Saint Ivy’, Dustin sings ‘I wanna believe in America / But it’s somewhere I can’t find’ which is a sentiment we can easily imagine to be widely felt across the US as the country begins to spiral out of control, seemingly regressing. To conclude our conversation we asked Dustin if he had a message or some parting words of advice to the disenfranchised and oppressed out there, who feel at a loss or riled with discontent with the way things are going:

“Just keep powering through. It’s exhausting but you can’t give up, you’ve got to be present. You know the whole ‘Silence Is Violence’? I fully believe that. You can’t just not say anything. I think getting in the streets is so important and I think artists that have a platform and a space of privilege have to actually go out and say something. Especially white male artists. It’s not the fault of minorities that they’re being oppressed and it shouldn’t just be their duty to have to change it.”

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Beach Fossils’ 'Somersault' is out now on Bayonet Records.

Words: Jack Palfrey

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