How to Refresh Your Band with Dustin Payseur of Beach Fossils
On the cusp of the release of the band's third album 'Somersault,' we ask the band's vocalist to explain what went into keeping their sound fresh.
Photo by Rebekah Campbell
When Dustin Payseur finished his touring commitments for the second Beach Fossils album, 2013's Clash The Truth, he wasted no time making his life-long dream come true: he started his own record label. He and his new wife, Katie Garcia, who was the manager at Beach Fossils' then label Captured Tracks, had everything planned out. Then in November 2014 they announced that Bayonet Records was officially a thing.
Launching his own label meant many things to Payseur. It was a new home for his band as well as a home for any band he was hoping to help out. And in what seemed like no time he built an impressive roster that included Warehouse, Lionlimb, Red Sea, Laced, and Frankie Cosmos, who has since graduated to Sub Pop. But above all, Bayonet meant he had the freedom to do as he pleased. So if he needed a few years to make his next Beach Fossils album or wanted someone to lay down some smooth-ass saxophone riffs, he could do it without anyone telling him he couldn't.
Beach Fossil's third full-length, Somersault, out June 2, marks a new chapter in the band's life. Written almost entirely with bandmates Tommy Davidson and Jack Smith, the album makes Beach Fossils almost seem brand new. Although their trademark indie pop traits like guitar jangle and Payseur's pensive, reverb-soaked vocals are still in effect, they've expanded their scope, which allows them to do just about anything—like dabble with jazz ("Rise") or become yacht rockers ("Social Jetlag"). Noisey called up Payseur and asked him for some tips on how a band can refresh their career should they feel the need to.
1. Take your time.
I think that was the key part of the entire process of making this record. I didn't really care how long it would take for this record to come out. We were writing songs piece by piece and just being patient with ourselves. I know some people work really well under deadlines, but for me it's just so crushing that I can't get anything done. So I kept telling my bandmates that it doesn't matter how long it took, we just needed to work on this thing until it was ready. With Clash The Truth there was this sense of a looming time frame, because being on Captured Tracks I was held more towards a deadline. Like there would be meetings, which meant there was some pressure to get it out in a specific time frame. And for this one I'm putting it out on my own label, so I can take as much time as I want. So I let myself relax, which definitely made me feel more creative.
2. Start your own label.
It's just something I've always wanted to do. It's been a major goal pretty much my entire life, just to be able to put stuff out on my own. Growing up I was a fan of Dischord and Stones Throw, and just being a part of Captured Tracks, where I felt that sense of community, I always loved and respected that. I always hoped that it was something I could create on my own, this community of artists where everyone knew each other and worked together. The whole point behind [Bayonet] is to be as artist-friendly as possible, and see everything from the artist's perspective. Because knowing what it's like to be on the other side, I know what I like and what I don't like with the music industry. So I try to give the artists what I want to be given.
The way Mike [Sniper] runs Captured Tracks is great. I feel really, really lucky that Captured Tracks was the label I was on. If I wasn't starting Bayonet, I would have 100 per cent put this record out on Captured Tracks. I had a really positive experience with them. I have a ton of respect for Mike and everything that he does.
3. Collaborate with your bandmates.
That's huge. I never really did that before. There were a couple of songs here and there where I would collaborate with a bandmate previously, but definitely not for a whole album. It was never something I even considered. So when we started working on songs that became Somersault it was just us messing around in the practice space and coming up with some ideas. And these things started growing into songs naturally. Before we knew it, we had written this album together with the exception of one song, which I did completely by myself. At first I thought we would write a few songs together, but it just worked so well that we kept going with it. We were getting together every single day to continue. I go through patches of writer's block and having them around was this extra push to keep going. I'm really glad that it happened in this organic way.
4. Go heavy on the strings.
We all listen to a lot of classical and jazz, where there are all of these different instruments that can take the music to a whole new level and make a song feel larger than life. It's definitely been on my list for years. I wanted to have strings on Clash The Truth, but I just couldn't figure out how to do it. So finally to be able to work that out on this record. But going back to having to do things by myself, I am very controlling when it comes to the creative process. I didn't really trust anyone else to write string arrangements on top of my songs. It also seemed like a headache to hire someone else to do it. So we decided to do it ourselves, even though none of us knew how to do it at all. We just sat down and started rearranging these parts, and did it all in one sitting, which is honestly terrifying. So we had to look online to see what the range was for violins and cellos and played it on keyboard to put it on sheet music. But I'm glad we did it ourselves, because if someone else had done it I think it would have felt alien to me.
5. Embrace new, unlikely instruments like the saxophone and flute.
I just think about sonic textures and what a different instrument can add to this blank canvas of a song. We were keeping a list of instruments that we wanted on the record. I had wanted to put the flute on a song for ten years, but I could never figure out where it would fit. I think the songs on this record leant themselves better to the flute. We knew we wanted to have the harpsichord, the flute, the saxophone, pedal steel, and we tried to figure out what songs could use them. We had to write some songs around the idea that a flute could fit on it. And it also goes back to collaborating with other people, even outside of the band. It was all stuff that came together on a day's notice too.
6. Don't be afraid to feature spoken word vocals.
I felt like "Rise" needed a voice on it, and a spoken word part just felt natural. Spoken word is kind of a bold move, and it was something I didn't feel comfortable doing myself. Gavin Mays, who's Cities Aviv, he had come by the studio a few times, and he was showing me some of his new music and I showed him some of ours, and I just asked him on the spot if he wanted to put something over the song. He liked it and I just said say whatever you like, and he nailed it. I feel like the texture of his voice just fit perfectly into the song.
7. Ask Rachel from Slowdive to sing on your album.
Obviously I love her voice. She has a huge range; she can sing really low but also very high, which is exactly what we needed. "Tangerine" is in a weird range for singing. Honestly, it was hard to figure out a vocal melody for that song. It took me a long time. I actually called up Caroline [Polachek] from Chairlift and had her come by the studio, because she's really good with jazzy progressions, and this was kind of jazzier song. So she helped me figure out a vocal melody. She sang the part in the chorus that Rachel ended up singing. I was really thankful that she helped me out, but we needed a voice to fill it in and I was with my wife Katie, who runs Bayonet with me. She also works at Secretly Group, so she's been helping Dead Oceans with the new Slowdive record. She said I should reach out to Rachel to see if she'd be interested. So I emailed her and from there it moved really quickly. She liked the song and was happy to contribute to it. And it worked perfectly.
8. Work with one of the hottest producers in music.
Jonathan [Rado of Foxygen] is fun, man. I really enjoyed working with him. I feel like when Beach Fossils works with anybody it's more like a hang out session than it is work. I feel like it's 90 per cent fucking around and ten per cent working. That's what we did when we went down to his studio in L.A. We had already recorded the entire album in New York, and then went to L.A. to see what new textures we could get from him. Because I really like the way he records drums. So we did all of the drums with him and we redid certain guitar and bass lines. In the end it's this bizarre mix, because we ended up working in six different studios on this record. It's like each instrument in a song is from a different session and we just put them all together. The theme is like we were on a hunt for different textures, and Rado is the best at getting great textures. He just gets a really nice, warm sound out of instruments that you just don't hear on other records.
9. Show love for your hometown.
In a big way that is what this record is about. And I guess not even on purpose. This record is the past four years of my life in song form, and by default it's about New York because this is where I live and this is where I've experienced all of the stories on the record. Honestly, this city is my favorite place in the world. It gives me a ton of creative energy and always keeps me moving forward. It's also the place that got me started with putting my music out in the world. I don't feel like I ever want to leave New York.