Interview: Five Minutes with Beach Tiger

Image credit: Honey Trap

Have you ever reach that point in a relationship where you ask yourself ‘Where Do We Go From Here’? What about taking it one step further – when you reach that point in your career, your life plans? The final, step leads you to ask that same question about humanity and its overall future. Is there a possible positive outcome lying ahead? Taylor McCleskey, aka Beach Tiger, has taken that uncertainty and twisted it into an indie-pop melody that both acknowledges and provides comfort to the issue. 

Pre-save ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’

Beach Tiger was previously a collection of musicians working together, however Taylor chose to take the project on himself, turning it into a solo undertaking and enlisting other accompanying musicians when needed. Currently based in Greenville, South Carolina, the musician is looking forward to sharing his upcoming album, Yenta, which will be officially released on the 21st of May. If that seems too far away, you just need to wait until Friday for the official release of ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’.

Set the tone for us. Why the arts?

I’m going to start out deep on you and say that Alan Watt’s, the famous philosopher, talk on “What Do You Desire?” has shaped a lot of my thinking on THE ARTS and what I spend my time doing. It’s fearlessly answering the age-old question, “What would you do if money were no object?” Now, exciting as his talk is, it REALLY comes down to what did God wire you to do. For me, it’s music, and the reason I know that to be true is because, man, for most of my musical journey I have sucked. No lie. My wife and I recently discovered that the reason for my success, on any level, is because I’m just stupidly driven. Prodigy? No way. I’ve just done it for so long, and the only reason I have done it for so long amidst all the failures is because I just absolutely love it. When I get in the zone creating a new song, look out; I lose all concept of time and reality. Nothing else in my life has really ever been like that. So, yeah, if you want a one-sentence summary for this question to conclude… I daily choose THE ARTS because even when I sucked I didn’t care; I just wanted to keep moving forward.

Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?

Definitely the sound. Back in October of 2019 my good friend, Kyle Patrick (The Click Five, solo artist, producer), persuaded me to participate in a gruelling writing exercise with him called a 90/30. Now, in 2019 I had taken a hiatus from the tunes due to some frustrating circumstances, so I think in a way he was just helping me get out of my rut and get me back in the game, but what happened next absolutely changed my life and career, so, honestly, I owe a great deal to him and the concept of the 90/30. It’s simple and daunting all at the same time. You have 90 minutes to come up with a song idea, and you do it for 30 days straight. So, inside of this pressure cooker, I always start with the sound. Sometimes I’ll search for a drum loop that evokes a certain vibe while other times I just start noodling on the piano until something sounds cool enough. Once I have a progression going that I’m happy with, I’ll loop it, and then it’s full throttle for me. If I’m feeling it, I throw in some bass next, but most of the time a melody will just jump out at me and I’ll start singing lyrics in a sort of stream of consciousness way. Even at this point, the IDEA of the song has yet to really be created. I basically start exploring and create the map as I move along rather than the other way around. And when you only have 90 minutes, you are forced to trust your instincts, which can make you feel vulnerable and uneasy at times, but ultimately gives you the best results.

Does your material feature any collaborations?

Probably not in the way that you’re thinking. Typically when someone asks, “Hey man, we should write or jam together sometime,” I sort of cringe. It’s nothing personal to them, but I just don’t do well sitting in a room with another person creating a song from the ground up. I think the biggest reason is I’m such a people pleaser that I end getting bulldozed, or I get impatient with their style/form of creating and I just start staring at the clock wishing for a reason to escape. I feel trapped; claustrophobic. That’s probably the reason I never moved to Nashville and did the traditional songwriting route. There’s no way I would thrive, or better yet survive, in those writing room situations. So, because of that diva-ish fear, all my music creating begins with just me in my little, bedroom studio. There I feel safe to explore weird sounds or try interesting vocal melodies that I would think twice about if another human was around. Now the flip side to that is I love bringing people INTO my music realm who I know will help me take the tune into the stratosphere. With that in mind, I must mention Micah Nichols (my animal of a session guitarist and aux keys genius) and Neil B. Young (the man behind the curtain making these songs sound so good). These two guys are so good at helping me realize the full potential of my songs. For lack of better words, they are helping to produce, but it’s more than that. I have a tendency to move too quickly at times and I need some people around me to pump the brakes when I’m overlooking something I shouldn’t. It also helps to have a guy like Micah in my corner where I can just give him notes such as, “Play a solo here in this section,” or “I need something that feels like an arena-sized guitar texture,” and what he comes up with always leaves me catching my breath. So, in that regard, I do like collaboration; collaboration on my own terms. That’s my second diva-ish comment (in case you are counting).

What’s on your current playlist?

So, this is funny for me. I love this question because even though I make alternative/pop/indie-rock, most of what I listen to is what I call modern-retro country. So, I’m referencing artists that are newer but they’re going for the old-school sounds of Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams (to name a few). The main artists I listen to in this genre are Brent Cobb, Tyler Childers, and Sturgill Simpson. I’m a southern boy from the United States and there’s something deep-rooted in me to vibe with this kind of down-home troubadour. It’s the music I grew up listening to and I always return to it – especially on long drives or when I’m kicking back with the fellas over a few beers. I just connect with it so easily. Also, from left-field is my affinity for roots-reggae music. I. LOVE. IT. You can ask my wife – at home on our SONOS system I always have some chilled out reggae music going on in the background. It’s funny to me because I don’t make reggae music and I don’t make modern-retro country music, but maybe that’s the thing. I don’t want to always listen to the style of music that I’m making day-in-and-day-out. Now with that said, I do like a good dose of yacht rock music. So, if you’re ever at the ole Beach Tiger manor you’re going to either be hearing modern-retro country, reggae, or yacht rock – for sure. Oh, and how could I forget The Beatles. I got our family a subscription to Sirius XM just so we could have The Beatles channel. We’d press play as soon as we woke up and it would be on until we went to sleep that night.

Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.

So far Beach Tiger has mainly been a studio band with a few live shows sprinkled in from time to time. I absolutely want that to change moving forward, but even before the pandemic, we rarely toured. I think true touring bands would laugh to learn that we thought going out for 1 week was considered a real “tour”. Actually, that’s a true story. Nathan Hussey from All Get Out literally called me out for that and, in a comedic way, explained that 1 week is merely a warm-up for him and his crew. But when I AM on stage I really aim for a lot of raw energy. I want the audience to be a part of an experience. Even though we might have a few backing tracks I don’t want it to ever feel like we simply stepped on stage, pressed play on a laptop, and coasted on auto-pilot. I don’t spend a lot of time talking between songs, as I feel that can sometimes really stunt the momentum, so I find other ways to get the room involved. Actually, at one of our last shows before the pandemic hit, I rented two confetti guns. It was a smaller room, so when those cannons went off it created quite the spectacle (funny side note: I forgot to plug them in, so I missed the main musical moment I had been dreaming about pulling the trigger on but it still elevated the mood once they did fire). And truly, you NEED to give your fans a memorable experience because it takes a lot to get people out of their houses these days. I’m speaking even before the pandemic. I know firsthand how hard it is to turn the TV off, get up, get out of the house, and spend your hard-earned money on an evening, so it has to be something special.

What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?

Lately, I have been inspired by the 60’s and 70’s; a lot of yacht rock vibes, Beatles, Stones, etc., but even with that in mind, I’m gunning for a project that feels eclectic. I almost want to call myself a gypsy songwriter because I don’t want to get stuck in just one vibe, or one sound. I think I would go crazy if I got pigeon-holed into one style or mood. I’ll refer back to my 90/30 style of songwriting because inside of those pressure cooker sessions anything goes. You only have 90 minutes to get the idea started, so you have to trust your instincts, and honestly, whatever comes out first, you just have to roll with it. So, if that’s a reggae backbeat feel or a soft, whispered acoustic jam that wants to come out, you just have to see it through. This practice has broken me out of my shell and allowed me to take chances I never would have in the past. For example, I penned a 90’s hip-hop song one time. Now, chances are that’s never going to see the light of day but I DID IT! And the reason it will most likely stay locked on a hard drive is because I actually rapped on it, and I don’t think the world is ready to hear me flow (myself included). So, it’s just the willingness to “see what happens” and to take a chance. I admire Beck for that very reason. His tunes can sound so different yet they all have a cohesiveness to them because it’s his vision and his writing. I want that freedom. Now when it comes to a more concrete “technique” to shape my original sound – I made the conscious decision to write from the piano, which was not my main instrument by a long stretch, instead of the familiar feel of the acoustic guitar. And not being a pianist by trade, I’ve had to fumble my way and explore a bit to find what I’m looking for, which in the end has always led to some really rad stuff that I definitely would not have achieved had I played it safe with my past skill set.

Take us through a day in the recording studio.

The project, Beach Tiger, is my main pursuit and takes up the main chunk of my energy, but I also do session work for other artists, so every day I’m stepping into my studio at some point. If it’s a Beach Tiger day it’s usually revolving around songwriting. After completing the initial 90/30 back in late 2019, I came up with a ten-year plan that I’m calling The Beatles Ten journey. Being a huge Beatles’ nut and realizing the songwriting potential I have if I just force myself to sit down and create under a regimented schedule, I am taking a page out of the early Fab Four book and following their early release plan, which was a single every 3 months and a full-length album every 6 months. It wasn’t long before I realized just how expensive it would be to make two albums a year, so I’ve shifted the angle of the ten-year plan into: I’m going to CREATE a single every 3 months and a full-length albums’ worth of material every 6 months. Other days I’m working on adding parts to other artists’ songs or writing instrumental music for TV, film, etc. It’s pretty rad that you can still make a living in music without being a superstar in this day and age; you just have to diversify yourself, which I think is a blast. And hey, I wouldn’t mind a bigger space, some cooler toys to play with, but at this point, I’m already living the dream, so most days I’m as happy and content as Jimmy Buffett on vacation.

Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?

Oh, for sure. I can go back to the very moment. It was early high school and I was crazy into pop-punk music. I went to see my favorite band, New Found Glory, and I remember from the start of the show until the very end being utterly enthralled. I couldn’t move; I couldn’t look away. I loved every single second of what was happening; the energy, the passion, the all-out chaos, and the amps being cranked to the max. Something changed in me that night. From that moment on my future was set in stone, “I am going to be a musician.” Now, no one told me just how hard it was going to be! Thus again enters my “stupidly driven” spirit. I should have quit long ago, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Thank you New Found Glory. Thank you pop-punk music. You changed my life.

What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?

Beer. Ha. I wish I had a more clever answer but that’s the truth. People don’t tell you how much waiting around happens in the life of a musician, so you have to fill your time somehow. Reading that back sounds a bit depressing; it’s not, but I should also add that I like to have some leisure activities with me on the road. Stuff like Wiffle Ball bats, so you can play a pick-up game of baseball, frisbees, books… I hate when I spend too much of my time staring mindlessly at my phone, so I like to have “real-life” things around to bid my time. A buddy of mine once said, “I’m not a musician; I’m a full-time mover.” It can definitely feel that way. You spend more time setting up gear in the studio and carting stuff on and off the stage than you do actually making or performing the tunes.

Any emerging artists on your radar?

Interestingly enough, I’ve never been good at discovering new music, which feels backwards because I’m still at the stage in my career where I depend on those brave people to give me a try. My wife actually called me out on that recently (sweetly). I’m the kind of guy who finds something he likes and then wears it out over the next month or so, and typically its music from decades ago. But let’s take a look (as I thumb through my recent Spotify search)… My close buddies have recently turned me onto a stellar band out of Seattle called The Dip. It’s retro R&B and I was in love from the moment I heard the first note. It’s the kind of music that would pop up on a Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats’ Pandora station; makes me want to crack an IPA, sit back, and bob my head. In the same vein, but a tad more modern-feeling, “Timebomb” by Finish Ticket gets lodged into my brain for days whenever I hear it – great tune.

What gets your creative juices flowing?

The moment the newly-created melody aligns with the music I’ve had on a loop for half an hour. Too many times it’s happened where I am VERY close to calling it quits on an idea when suddenly – BOOM – it magically falls into place and it just feels so right (or “so choice” as Ferris Bueller would say). At that point, it’s game on; everything changes. Ideas for accent instruments and song structure just blitzkrieg. At that point, the time vortex begins and I lose all touch with reality and time. Many-a-time I’ve tried the method of “let’s get two drinks in and see what happens” but typically I get in such a jolly and reflective mood that I wind up killing my evening watching 90’s sitcoms or digging up old photographs. 

Any side projects you’re working on?

I ALWAYS have a few side projects going on. I think it helps keep my creative sanity. A few years ago, when I was taking a hiatus from Beach Tiger, I spent almost a year creating and designing a board game called “Musicians are Monsters” whilst writing and recording music under a moniker called Kit Kazar (pretty fancy of me to slip in that college word “whilst”, amirite?). Presently, an old bandmate and I are talking about re-activating our first group, which was called The Tarlatans, since we’re living in the same city again. The music styling is more Americana and folk-minded, so it would be a fun change-up from what I typically do nowadays. Thank the Lord for my wife who keeps me on track with Beach Tiger. That’s the main focus here now and moving forward, but without her, I’d probably be in 16 different bands and barely eating or sleeping.

How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?

I feel like by now I’ve definitely hit my 10,000 hours as a musician, and with that has come a lot of confidence. Years ago, I was easily intimidated by other musicians and artists; whether I was in the same room as them or just listening from afar. It made me tense up and kept me from really feeling free to make creative decisions. I would always talk to myself and say, “Will ‘so-and-so’ think this is good,” or “I’ll never be at their level,” but all of that has changed now. I’m not saying I’m the best songwriter alive, or that I can whip up a better keys section than the next person – what I’m saying is I’m finally happy with myself as an artist, which allows me to celebrate with other people when they break through a barrier or achieve some award or opportunity. I can genuinely sit back, be happy for them, and not lose my mind in “comparison”, which can go a long way, especially when promoting your music. In the past, I would get crushed if a music blog, critic, an average Joe etc., rejected my tunes. Now, I just think to myself, “Hey man, if you love what I’m doing, “Great!” If not, “Great!” it doesn’t affect my feelings or drive towards my lifelong pursuit.

Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?

When I started The Beatles Ten Journey January 1 of 2020, I set out to RELEASE two singles and two albums per year. But again, discovering the harsh reality that my wife and I are not trust-fund babies, we’ve switched that to CREATING two singles and two albums per year, so for now, 2021 is all about the upcoming album “Yenta”. This is my masterpiece (thus far). I love this thing from cover-to-cover; it’s my baby, so I need to put as much effort into telling the world about it as I did in creating it. That was my mistake in the past. I would spend so much time, effort, and money on a project and then just upload it to the Internet half expecting by random chance it would be the next viral sensation and THAT would carry me to the “next level”. I’ve wised-up and discovered, through failures, that it takes just as much elbow grease, if not more, to spread the news as it does to create the product itself. So, that’s what will be facing outwards from Beach Tiger HQ, but behind the scenes, I’ll be working on material for the next album(s).

Famous last words?

The same thing I say every New Year’s Eve… This is going to be our year.

Follow Beach Tiger:


By Sarah Britton