Jul. 18, 2012 - Issue #874: Musician’s Survival Guide: Songwriters on Songwriting
Wed, Jul 25 (8 pm)
With Little Scream
Edmonton Event Centre, $35
'Before I got involved with Beirut, I had the worst view of world music imaginable," says Paul Collins, bass player for a band that's about as worldly as it gets in successful popular music.
It's not just that it takes its name from Lebanon's capital, but one of the most often-discussed elements of Beirut is the American band's faraway influences: there's Balkan brass and mariachi strings at play, as well as myriad other instruments and sounds; pretty much everyone in the band plays at least a few instruments from different musical families. And from that border-crossing of influences, all moulded and corralled by Zach Condon's indelible voice from another time, the band's been always treated with a certain sense of import, praised as much for its exotic stripe as for its own songwriting merit.
About six years ago, all of that passport-stamping sound was unknown to Collins, living in Santa Fe, his vision of worldly sounds skewed by a constant bombardment of what he dubs "ponytail music."
"Like silly, Spanish-fusion with, y'know crappy synthesizers and whatever you can think of," he says, on the phone from the band's Montréal tour stop.
Collins' views shifted when he joined the band when Condon first formed it to tour his debut, Gulag Orkestar, an album crafted and recorded mostly in Condon's bedroom. The guy played almost everything himself on that album, but Collins notes that after six years as a band, Beirut's latest album The Rip Tide took more of a full band approach—right down to recording it with the band playing together in the room, instead of piecing an album together track by track. It's a first for the band and one that Collins found a welcome shift in process.
"This one, I enjoyed more because I was way more involved," he says. "And we all were. It was much more of a team effort in that sense, where you really felt your presence being appreciated and heard."
The Rip Tide is also the album where discussion of influences has ebbed, somewhat replaced by talk of a band finally capturing a defining sound for itself free of its influence's pull. Condon's still chief songwriter, of course, and the abundant brass isn't going anywhere. But there are other instruments slowly factoring into Beirut's as the process opens up, like the instruments Condon can't play—most curiously, guitar.
"He famously has avoided the guitar throughout his life," Collins says. "One, his dad was really insistent that he played it, so of course he's going to rebel, and another, he had a skateboarding accident at a young age that screwed up his wrist, so it was particularly hard for him to play the big frets. That's why he did the ukulele, initially. That and a love of the Magnetic Fields, of course."
Still, in a band that's managed to latch together a traveller's passport's worth of influences into a cohesive sound, Collins points out that he still doesn't see what Beirut does, what Condon writes, as world music.
"I still, to this day, don't really think of it that way," he says. "I just thought about it as great pop music."vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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