Beach Fossils sound like a band you could easily fall in love with – quirky rock songs propelled by jangly guitars and post-punk rhythms behind the mumbled Stipe-like vocals of Dustin Payseur.
But until recently, the Brooklyn-based indie sensations were less a band than Payseur’s obsessive solo project. Arriving in New York five years ago from his home in North Carolina, the thin, studious-looking guitarist quickly became a fixture within the thriving Brooklyn dream-pop scene.
“I moved to New York to make music, but when I got here, I was really intimidated,” said Payseur from his Brooklyn apartment recently. “I didn’t know why anyone was going to care what I was doing when there were so many good bands around.
“But people here are actually incredibly nice, and as far as musicians go, everyone that moves here does so for the same reasons, so instead of being competitive, everyone gets along really well and helps each other out – we’re all here for creative purposes.”
Beginning with Beach Fossils’ 2009’s self-released and self-titled album, Payseur proved his creative worth by playing all of the instruments. A 2011 EP, What A Pleasure, followed, and he began performing live with musicians who have evolved into the current lineup, including drummer Tommy Gardner, guitarist Jack Doyle Smith and bassist Tommy Davidson.
Although Payseur initiated Beach Fossils as a solo project for his own songs, he wholeheartedly admitted that he prefers a band situation on all fronts.
“We’ve had many different members over the years, and I’m the only one in the band from the beginning,” said Payseur.
“It’s not that I don’t like being in a band – it’s really what I want to be doing.
“They’re my friends and we’ve become extremely close with touring and traveling together all the time. Either they become your best friends or your worst enemies.
We have a great lineup now, and it’s definitely a band, not a solo project. They’re all more talented than I am.”
But he still needs his time on his own.
With a few weeks off the road between tours, ahead of a European jaunt that will see the Beach Fossils make their Israel debut on September 17 at the Barbie Club in Tel Aviv, Payseur was spending the downtime in his apartment by himself writing and recording more songs.
“That’s what I’m always doing if I’m not performing – I record as much as possible,” said Payseur. “It’s not particularly for any project, I just like to record songs in general.
In many instances they wouldn’t fit or work as Beach Fossils music. Some of the stuff I record is a lot louder and more aggressive, and I don’t really know what to do with it yet. I just want to get it out of my system.”
He recorded home demos of over 70 songs before deciding on the final 12 that appear on Beach Fossils’ breakout album released earlier this year, Clash the Truth.
“I started to get ambitious, thinking I’d go into the studio and record a double album,” he said. “But at the last second, I realized that was a horrible idea, nobody was going to listen to a double album, so I cut it down to one. Recording is the first step, the rest is narrowing it down and kind of figuring out what you want to say.”
Payseur must be saying something right, because over the past three years, Beach Fossils has become a Brooklyn buzz band.
One reviewer of Clash the Truth wrote, “While Beach Fossils seem to fit in nicely with other rooftop party bands in the musically-conscious borough, at the core of the band’s hazy, fuzzed-out vocals and circular song structures lies a beating punk rock heart,” and concluded the review: “Beach Fossils have delivered an album of shimmering guitars and an ebulliently bouncy rhythm that is simply a beautiful listen.”
Creating a winning indie album is one thing, but even indie pop musicians from Brooklyn need to eat. And Payseur was adamant that today’s post-modern era of DIY marketing, promotion and touring is the realization of the heady ethos set out back in the early ‘80s post-punk infancy.
“It’s kind of like an ideal situation now, and so much better than it used to be – like the punk bands of the ‘70s and post-punk bands of the ‘80s wished it would have been like,” he said.
“Back then it was so hard and complicated.
Think about an indie band going on tour in the ’80s without the Internet – it was a different world.”
Thanks to the cyber version of the oldschool fanzines, music fans are now able to become familiar with new artists via YouTube, MySpace and loads of other artist outlets that cost virtually nothing and provide endless exposure. It’s a far cry from an unknown band driving a van into a town to perform in front of 75 in-the-know fans in a dimly-lit punk club.
“I feel lucky to be part of something at a time when anything is possible,” said Payseur.
“It’s no longer all or nothing – either being The Rolling Stones, or playing by yourself in the garage. Now, anybody that plays music can get a shot at getting their music out there.”
And because Payseur signed Beach Fossils to a small Brooklyn label (Captured Tracks) he’s been able to exert control and influence on the band’s direction instead of taking strongly-worded suggestions from company executives.
“I have good relations with everyone I work with, they’re all really good people, and everyone’s working together for the same outcome,” he said. “It’s like there’s some faceless executive behind the scenes that’s making stacks of money without really doing anything.”
“On the other hand, our kind of music wouldn’t necessarily have landed us a big record deal, or if it had, I wouldn’t have been happy with it. There would have been so much pressure to write a hit song or something. And it’s not like the record labels pay as much as they used to. For us, touring is our livelihood, and it’s enough for someone if you live a modest lifestyle and don’t want a mansion or a sports car. I feel like it’s a really good time to be in a band and making music.”
As the conversation ends, Payseur expressed his eagerness to make his maiden journey to Israel and as he hangs up, you can imagine him hitting the “record” button on his home studio system and begin laying down another new song.vv