Q+A: Five minutes with Beacon
Last month, celebrated Brooklyn duo Beacon shared their latest album, Along The Lethe. Mostly created amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic, the album sees the band ponder the allure of forgetting tragedy, inspired by the uncanny experience of history seeping into the present. The result is arguably Beacon’s most eclectic work to date, from the ambient garage formulation of Harm, to the damp piano trip-hop of Until Next Time and the downtempo house of Nova. The album returns them to the looped electronica of their early days, while maintaining the band’s current trajectory. Significantly, the project marks an important shift, with Beacon leaving the major label system in favour of an independent self-release. We caught up with them to discuss the process behind the album, and to find out how they’ve embraced releasing independently.
Beacon, welcome to The Playground! It’s great to chat with you. Set the tone for us. How did you guys start making music together?
Thomas: We met in art school on the first day of classes and bonded creatively over just about everything: directors, music, painters. A few years later we started jamming together, performing improvisational synth and guitar sets in student galleries and after that, things are pretty well documented!
Jacob: A big part of our earlier years revolved around the blossoming live scene in Brooklyn. Weekly shows were a thing in the beginning, long before we really started recording. It was such a huge learning experience, and a lot of what the band would become can be credited to those first few years.
When you first started out, you would self-release music on Bandcamp. What did that experience teach you?
Thomas: We were just beginning to release music at the time that Bandcamp was getting credit for being a label alternative. The most helpful thing about Bandcamp as a retailer, then and today, is that it gives us direct access to our fans. Even though we’ve done label deals since then and obviously streaming has taken over, we’ll always put everything on Bandcamp. We buy a ton of music on it ourselves as well.
Coming to now, you’ve recently left your long-time home at Ghostly to self-release once again. Why did you feel now was the right time to break away from the label system?
Thomas: There are so many more options for releasing music now than when we started. I hope upcoming artists explore all of those options available to them, particularly the kind of deals where they can retain ownership of masters. The distribution route we went with makes a lot of sense for where we are currently at in our careers: complete creative control, shorter terms, and no forfeiture of ownership.
Do you think self-releasing is a strategy more new artists should pursue rather than trying to get signed straight away?
Jacob: I’m not sure there is really an umbrella statement you can assign to this. It really depends what you’re looking for out of music, your goals and expectations. Though I will say that having more options can only benefit artists.
Getting into the music; the new album Along The Lethe sort of picks up on the songwriting formula of Gravity Pairs, but returns you musically to the more abstract, looped stuff you were doing before. How did you approach the sound of this album?
Thomas: Great question. Gravity Pairs was about breaking some of the rules we had set for ourselves in the five years since our debut and expanding what was possible in the studio. Along the Lethe builds on the experience of that experimentation and the wider palette of sound we introduced, while reaching back to some of the foundational rhythms, structures and melodic direction from our earlier studio practice.
Jacob: There was a lot of digging into new techniques and processes on the production side. I think some of that has to do with the extended period of time we got to spend writing. Every new record venture is a chance to explore new territory, and from the earlier stages experimentation was driving a lot of the demo creation.
Could you take us through your writing process?
Jacob: It’s a mixed bag. We don’t really have a singular process. Tom and I have different approaches and ideas that drive how we write, which is why the studio remains a place of discovery and surprise. Mining new sounds is a big part of it. We spend a lot of time with gear searching for those sparks that may lead to something that a whole song can be built around.
Did you feel a greater sense of freedom with this record, knowing you were going to put this out independently?
Thomas: Releasing this record independently gave us a deeper reverence for the process, which I think ultimately brought us closer to the music itself. From the smallest tasks like approving the vinyl hype sticker to building out the wider global team that helped activate the release, we were able to see and touch every aspect of releasing an album.
If there’s one thing you hope people take away from the experience of Along The Lethe, what would it be?
Thomas: Even though the record reckons with the challenges of the last two years, I really hope people hear the joy we experienced creating it. It was a blast.
Jacob: Making a record is such a blur of energy and emotions. In the end, if people connect to the music in a way that is real and personal then we’ve accomplished the main goal.
Do you have any plans to tour the album live? Where can we see you?
Thomas: Yes! We’re answering these from the hotel in Chicago before our show tomorrow night. From there, we’ve got a few more dates in the US and then off to the UK and Europe in November.
If you had the power to turn back time, and write any song in history, which one would it be and why?
Thomas: I don’t have to go far back at all. Dean Blunt’s ‘the rot’ is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.
Jacob: Lou Reed “Sad Song”. It’s perfect. Not much else to say.
Catch Beacon live during these upcoming dates:
Nov 17 – Budapest, Hungary @ Turbina
Nov 18 – Glasgow, UK @ The Hug &w Pint
Nov 19 – Manchester, UK @ YES
Nov 20 – London, UK, @ Nells
Nov 27 – Detroit, MI – Willis Show Bar
Watch the music video for Beacon’s Harm below.