Tuesday, 19 June 2012
New Beard (Interview Pt. 1)
I can't remember how I stumbled across New Beard, neither can I remember which song I heard first. What I do know is that since getting my grubby little mitts on their album promo I have listened at least once a day without fail and like fungus the album has grown on me even though I loved it on first listen.
After a successful EP release last year, the band are currently gearing up for the release of their full length debut ‘New Beard City’. Rather than me going on and on about the band myself, I caught up with front man Ben Wigler a couple of weeks ago and quizzed him instead...
DDMB - Hi there and welcome to Dr. Dan's Music Blah. How are you doing?
BW - Hi Dan! Ben Wigler (vocals) here. I'm doing pretty well - chugging hot tea & honey and Airborne health formula because I have a cold. Tony (our drummer) and I went out to see Prometheus (the Alien prequel) last night at midnight as part of a birthday celebration planned by my girlfriend Bridget. I've been spending most of the day on twitter and Facebook trying to work out my problems with the film, which was probably my most anticipated movie premier of all time, and I wasn't entirely thrilled with the result.
DDMB - So tell us all a bit about the band (who are you, how long has the band been together and where are you based?)
BW - The current line-up consists of five musicians - TubaJoe Exley (also of Gato Loco, Red Hook Ramblers) on amplified Tuba, Tony Waldman (also of Edensong) on drums & Japanese-lyric vocals, Maria Christina Eisen (Holly Miranda, Dub as a Weapon, Underground System) on tenor/bari sax, synth and harmony vocals, Yazan (founder of Shouldertap records) on blazing lead guitar, lap-steel and lead harmony vox, and myself (formerly of the band Arizona) on lead vocals and an ever changing arsenal of accompaniment instruments. The core line-up of Tony, Joe and myself has existed since 2010, but we added Yazan at the top of 2011 and have been getting increasingly more serious. We all live in Brooklyn except Joey who lives in Harlem like a good brass guy;)
DDMB - I'm intrigued by the fact you don't have a bass player, instead opting for a Tuba player. How did that happen, and how do you think it adds to your sound?
BW: I like to describe Joe as a combination of Jamie Jamerson (famous Motown bassist), Cliff Burton, Les Claypool, and Geddy Lee - except on the tuba. He's a master of applying effects to his tuba, from synth octaves to delays, phasers and looping. He provides all the low end of a bass guitar, but also has the expressiveness of an amazing singer. His notes don't sustain forever unless he uses a delay to do it, so there's really a vocal quality to what he does that appeals to me tremendously as a singer.
I have a great friend from Paris named Cyril Besnard, who made some videos for my old band Arizona and in general was one of our biggest supporters for the 5 or so year that AZ struggled to bring our dreams to fruition. When the band split up and I started to put New Beard together, he suggested that we use a Sousaphone instead of a bass, or at least try it. I wanted to impress him by taking his advice, and hired TubaJoe for our first gig, just to try it. After that first gig, TubaJoe and I knew we were going to be band mates for a very long time - there are no hired guns in New Beard (not that there's anything wrong with that). TubaJoe joined up immediately after that gig, and I twisted Tony's arm into splitting his time between New Beard and Edensong. After Tony and Joe recorded their parts for the New Beard City LP (the drums were tracked live in 3-4 days, and most of Joe's takes are live as well) - we grew even closer as a band and it became everyone’s true passion project.
I'm a bass player by trade (I play in Dima Drjuchin's Corrupt Autopilot, Greg Barris' Heart of Darkness Forgiveness Choir, and Edensong, a progressive orchestral-metal that Tony writes music and plays drums in). So I'm a big fan of bass guitars but once I found TubaJoe, I knew that I never really wanted to ever play with another bass guitar player in my band. It would either be me playing bass in other bands, or TubaJoe providing the lyrical low end to songs New Beard would arrange together.
DDMB - And what would you say are your influences?
BW - It may sound odd, but classic-era Metallica is the biggest influence on Tony and me. I've never loved them for the heaviness, but rather for the ambitiousness of their harmonies and complexity of their arrangements - we're talking mainly about the ‘And Justice for All’ album, which is the album that made me want to be a musician. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Nirvana's ‘Unplugged in NYC’ record, for its rawness, and for the impression it made on me early in life. It was the first album that got me singing along.
As I got a little more sophisticated, I learned to really love Yes & Neil Young, and was introduced to the Kinks by my former AZ band mate Andrew Dunn. I'm also a big fan of ‘The Fragile’-era Nine Inch Nails. Lately, I've been really into Hot Chip, MGMT (Andrew Weingarten was briefly the bassist in Edensong!), Dungen, Fiery Furnaces, and Deerhoof. And I also really really like Belle & Sebastian.
Tony and I are also huge fans of classic video game music like the Final Fantasy series, while Yaz and TubaJoe both bring a lot of funk and soul into our equation.
DDMB - Do you consider yourself to sound like any of them?
BW - The only band I guess I've wanted to sound like is Dungen, and I was extremely lucky that Gustav Ejstes, their lead singer/musician/studio wizard, was available and interested in mixing and in many instances co-producing New Beard's debut album. Not that New Beard City sounds like a Dungen record, but the influence is there and the sonic palette has a lot in common. I think Dungen's music is the most beautiful music I've ever heard, and it was a big influence.
I never spent a huge ton of time listening to Coldplay, but I have to admit that Coldplay probably is the main band that switched me from being a thrash metal rhythm guitar player into a singer/songwriter type. It's cheesy, but I have to admit it.
When I did move away from being an instrumentalist and into singing, I would say my biggest influences are Jon Anderson from Yes and Neil Young, with splashes of Belle & Sebastian. Pre-crapfest Chris Cornell is also in there somewhere as I can get quite aggressive with my vocals. I love the jazz meets indie meets metal meets who-the-hell-knows aspects of Deerhoof and that is in there as well.
Well, that’s it for part 1 of the interview; the second part will be here tomorrow at some stage.
You can keep up to date with everything New Beard through the following social media/web outlets: