If our mid to late twenties are a time of turmoil and self-exploration, our early thirties are when things begin to come into focus, and the first notes of resolution land. Growing up is a daunting concept – one which most of us have to face, and which many artists have tackled in many mediums – but there’s a certain kind of satisfaction that falls into place when you realize you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. It’s a common story, and one that Dustin Payseur knows all too well.
The Beach Fossils guitarist and vocalist’s life has seen a fair amount of change since he released his last record in 2013. Done is his association with Captured Tracks, the influential Brooklyn-based indie label that released his band’s first couple of records. Instead, Payseur doubles duty as the co-owner of Bayonet Records, a label he founded alongside former Captured Tracks A&R Katie Garcia (the pair happen to be married) that is slowly building up a reputation for itself as a home for confessional, dreamy indie rock. And yes – the band has seen yet another lineup change, with drummer Tommy Gardner moving to China after spending six years with the band. But throughout this game of interpersonal musical chairs, Payseur has understood that music and art serve many different functions for many different people; there’s simply no wrong way to approach it.
“I was reading a story that said something like throughout the Great Depression the one thing that stayed going totally strong was entertainment, because people are always looking for some kind of release or some kind of escapism in a way, I guess.”
Payseur is easygoing but energetic – his conversation style curious and probing, but never hurried. He’s at his studio in Brooklyn on a Thursday afternoon in early October, and it’s apparent that his life is in a good place.
“On the first record the lyrics and the mood and stuff and everything was a bit more escapist,” Payseur says, his voice trailing off slightly as if reliving the moments that informed his earlier work. He holds a pause for several beats before snapping back into the present, assured and focused.
“I guess I’ve grown a little more comfortable to sort of turn it further inwards. My music is more of my diary now.”
Beach Fossils play Washington DC’s 9:30 Club on Tuesday, October 24, and Brooklyn Steel on Saturday, October 28. Somersault is out now on Bayonet Records.
Brightest Young Things: Hey, Dustin. How are you? It’s José from Brightest Young Things. Is this still a good time to speak?
Dustin Payseur: Hey, how’s it going? Yeah, yeah for sure. I had this event in my calendar, but I guess my manager had printed it wrong and it said “Brightest Young Thugs,” so I was like really excited that I was maybe considered a bright, young thug. [Laughing]
BYT: You know what, I think we can make an exception for the byline for this one. [Laughing]
Speaking of Young Thug, he’s playing in D.C. this weekend for the All Things Go festival. I had the incredible fortune of living in Atlanta for a couple of years, and caught wind of him when he put up that Black Portland mixtape with Bloody J. I was so confused and amazed by it, and loved how raw and loose it was. Then I saw him play the 9:30 Club in April of 2016, and it was super cool. He wore the purple leather jumpsuit that Eddie Murphy wears in Raw. It was unreal.
Payseur: Yeah I’d love to see him – I haven’t seen him perform. That sounds so sick.
BYT: Yeah, it was. Are you a big rap fan?
Payseur: I am, definitely. I think that’s the one kind of music that we all have going on in the van while we’re on tour. It kind of keeps everybody going, keeps everybody in like a good mood on the road.
I really like the new A$AP Ferg record – it’s really good – and like that ASAP Mob collaboration that came out. Those are both great. The new Wiki album is awesome. The guy who mixed our album – we were doing it at XL Studios – and they were working on the Wiki album during their break on working on that record, so we were in there. Those guys were coming through while we were there as well, and it was cool to listen to it when it came out, you know? That studio has such a vibe, and you can tell they made it there [at XL] in New York.
It’s a new studio, but we’re friends with the dudes from there, so he mixed our album and Wiki’s.
BYT: That’s awesome. Speaking of the new album, Somersault is in some ways a very radical sonic departure. If I were to describe the sonic aura of Clash the Truth, I’d say it’s a cool blue or perhaps forest green. But Somersault is definitely tangerine or orange – appropriate given the title of one of the songs on the record. It’s a lot brighter.
Payseur: Yeah, actually almost the whole time we were recording the album, we were going to call the record Tangerine, and then we ended up changing it so it’s just the song title. Then you know ‘Somersault’ became the album title, but we were thinking of – what we actually had in mind – was to make the cover art of this little salt shaker we had in the shape of a tangerine and stuff. [Laughing]
BYT: That’s funny. I know that you’ve talked about a lot of the lyrics on this album and how they reflect the fact that you’ve come to terms with decisions you’ve made in life, and in particular mistakes.
How did that sort of realization or self-awareness come about and and was there a specific event in your life that led you to come to that kind of perspective? Or was it just a produce of being in your early thirties and growing up?
Payseur: Maybe it’s all of that. Like I guess for me music in general has always been a form of therapy; not only writing it but also listening to it; both sides – taking it in and putting it back out there. It’s very therapeutic and it’s a way that most people deal with things, through music, you know? I think that’s also a reason why sort of happy pop music is so big.
BYT: Is there anything that you would consider off limits as a topic?
Payseur: I don’t think so. I mean I try to be just really honest with however I’m feeling, you know? I like to put it out there. I guess there’s certain things that are huge parts of my personality that I don’t really include much in the music. A sense of humor is a massive thing for me. And some people are really good and super tasteful at putting funny lyrics in their music like Jonathan Richman or Jens Lekman, and people like them, you know? They’re so good at being really self aware and including funny lyrics in their music. But I think I’ve tried to do it a few times, but then scrap the lyrics because the music sounds a little too somber or a little too happy or something. You need to find a good middle ground where you can put that in there and I haven’t quite worked that out yet.
BYT: It’s exciting to hear you mention Jens Lekman. I think one of the funniest songs, that’s nonetheless so beautiful and heartfelt is “Your Arms Around Me”. To start a song with ‘I was slicing up an avocado when you came up behind me’ is just so odd and perfect and hilarious. You sort of do a double take. What was that?
Payseur: Yeah. it’s so good, you know. It’s so honest – I love that you know it. I just think it’s nice to sort of break down the boundaries. It’s almost like breaking down the fourth wall in a way, I guess. Certain people talking about things and going into detail, like quoting a brand by name. Talking about how you’re walking down the street drinking a Dr. Pepper or something like that, you know? It just makes it so human and relatable. It’s almost as if stripping the poetry out of something helps it become more poetic, in a way.
BYT: Absolutely. That’s something that I’ve been struggling with a little bit with in my own writing recently. I went and saw Big Thief perform and it was amazing. And I wrote this review where I kept searching for ways to convey this otherworldly experience in human terms. It was so hard because you’re trying to convey something that was ethereal and transcendental, but it’s an experience anyone can access for $15 at the Black Cat. It’s weird to try and explain that. [Laughing]
Payseur: [Laughing] Right, yeah. It’s funny – there are some music blogs that were so good at capturing the feeling – they would really write about music in such a poetic way where you agreed about it and you were clear on what things sounded like before you even listened to them. Altered Zones was one of those back in the day. But they hadn’t really said anything that made sense at all. [Laughs[ It was pure like an alien language, you know? But sometimes its the only way to express yourself.
BYT: Yeah! Have you ever read the Big Ghost album reviews? It’s some of the funniest shit.
Payseur: Yeah I remember that. Isn’t that the one where they bash on Drake like every time?
BYT: Exactly – that’s exactly the one [laughing] I’m just going to read you the opening line:
‘Ayo whattup yall…the Hands of Zeus aka Thor Molecules aka Phantom Raviolis aka Cocaine Biceps… otherwise known as The Blog King n the Inventor of the Slap…is now officially back in the building namsayin.’
Payseur: [Laughing] That’s great. That’s so great.
BYT: Yeah, so that’s what it reminds me of.
Speaking of of people such as Jens and Jonathan Richman, is there anyone that that you looked up in terms of your performance style or sonic aesthetic while you were growing up? I know for example Mac DeMarco is very, very strongly influenced by Jonathan Richman and James Taylor. But do you have anyone that you see as your sort of North star or anchor?
Payseur: I mean early on, like the first the very first stuff that even got me into really playing music was metal. That was how I learned to play – you know bands like Left Hands; I had a bunch of their music, and played on Marshall amps and Washburn guitars, so I had a Marshall amp and a Washburn guitar. [Laughs]
Then I got really into punk and that was a lot more about actually having a message, and having something to say. It was more politically charged and sort of a mirror to society in a way. That was an inspiration for me, and it still is. In a huge way if you ever watch live performances of like Dead Kennedys or like Bad Brains or something like that, that’s the ultimate live show in my opinion. It’s so much power and energy but they’re also really charismatic you know? It’s just all around great performing.
BYT: How do you ensure that you bring that back to the stage each show. Are you doing this consciously? Or do you get wrapped up in the energy of the performance?
Payseur: Yeah, I think the important thing is that you start to find your own voice after a while, and your own style. You shouldn’t work on crafting it too much, you know? It’s kind of important to sort of ignore that and just roll with it because that way it’s more natural and it’s you being yourself rather than someone who’s looking in the mirror and pretending like they’re somebody else. You need a starting off point – everyone needs a starting point – but after a while you know it’s going to become your own thing.
BYT: In the vein of something becoming your own thing, you now own and operate Bayonet Records. Congratulations.
Payseur: Thanks man, yeah. It’s a huge project.
BYT: You’ve signed some really cool acts – which we’ll get to in a second – but how has owning a label changed your perspective as an artist and as a comercially-minded individual?
Payseur: I don’t think it has too much, I would say though that in a way it changed when I signed with Captured Tracks just because like, I was kind of always around. I didn’t really know anybody in New York at the time when I signed with them. So, I spent a lot of time hanging out at their office and being a fly on the wall, you know? They didn’t really mind having me around and my now wife, she was the label manager at Captured Tracks for a few years and that’s how we actually met. So I would get a lot of understanding of the way the music industry works and the way that record labels work from just being around them all the time and talking to them about that.
I always wanted to start a label and it it sort of gave me more insight into how things are run and and it made me think a lot about how to run a label and make it very artist-friendly, you know. That’s the one thing that Katie [Garcia, Bayonet co-founder] and I always talk about – making sure that the label is something that the artist feels really comfortable with. That’s the reason I put my own music out on it. I want people to feel like we don’t leave anything in the dark; the whole thing is about being very transparent with the artists that we sign and letting them know thatyou know what it’s all about. Because I feel like so many people in the music industry are not so much in the independent industry, but some people around treat it more purely as a business rather than taking in the fact that this is people’s art and you have to be sensitive to that.
BYT: Right, it’s a human endeavor. That’s a really cool and refreshing perspective to hear particularly because you know you: it’s not just that you have like a professional interest in it and a commercial interest in it, but ultimately it’s the best way to attract quality artists if you’re a small label. You lead with empathy and consideration.
Payseur: For sure. But also, I only really work with people I can be friends with. Like even within the Beach Fossils team, like the booking agency and you know the manager and all that kind of stuff, I really only work with people that I think are genuine and that I actually go and hang out with on the weekends. And it’s kind of the same: I only really only want to sign artists to the label that are people that I think are genuine and people that I’d like to hang out with, you know?
BYT: Yeah. Absolutely. You signed Frankie Cosmos and released Next Thing. Was she your first artist besides yourself on the label?
Payseur: Um she was one of the first. I think before we signed Greta we had Warehouse and we put out a release by this band Red Sea; we also had Jerry Paper. So those were the first launches, yeah.
BYT: I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Greta before she played her first headlining show in DC. She came to mind because of her connection to Bayonet, but also as someone who writes these these lyrics that are so funny and really lived-in, in isolation.
Payseur: Yeah she, she’s so good. The way she writes lyrics – when you listen to it, it sounds just so easy. You hear a certain line and it’s almost how the job of a stand-up comedian is to point out the things that you think about in everyday life but you never really learn to say it so well.
And yeah, when she turned in those songs to us, Katie and I had just both listened to it like a bunch of times in a row and like the first time I listened to it, a few of the songs literally made me cry and I was like ‘wow this album is so special, I can’t believe I’m one of the first people to hear this.’ So I was really proud to put that out.
BYT: I had heard a lot of her stuff that she had self-released or put up online but it just blew me away. It was so impressive again it’s – you express something so complex and real in such simple terms.
Payseur: Yeah, and she’ll do it in a minute and then it’s over. [Laughs] It’s so simple and straightforward and I love it.
BYT: Beach Fossils had a supporting role on Vinyl on HBO. How was the acting on a TV show for you?
Payseur: [Laughing] Uh, it was interesting. Yeah we were just approached – originally they just needed a live band for the pilot episode and uh I was like ‘cool, this is fine I don’t even have to act, I can just go up there and do my thing.’ They wanted a band that was going to be really energetic and kind of like a trashy punk band. I can definitely do that, that’s the kind of stuff I love and so we did it. And then like a few months after they had reached back out to us and and asked us to be in some more episodes; that was not something I was expecting . I thought we had already finished and I was like ‘yeah I’d love to’ you know. And it sort of grew from there into small speaking roles.
I mean it was fun. It was extremely intimidating ’cause like you know – it would be it’s easy for me to just go play a show or like work on a song or something like that; it just comes really natural and I don’t think about it and I don’t get really any anxiety when I’m going out on stage. But with this it was all these cameras turned on me and I was just thinking about how expensive it is if I fuck up a line. [Laughing] It was like so much pressure, but it was nice. Everyone there, including the cast and the crew were all so friendly. It was a really cool experience I I was very happy to be a part of it.
BYT: Did you guys compose original music for your role in that? Or were you playing Beach Fossil’s music?
Payseur: The songs were already being written. They hired a team of people, including Lee Ranaldo, to write these songs. So they already had them for us when we got in there we were just kind of like miming them.
BYT: Yeah was that was that weird for you? Playing someone else’s music?
Payseur: Nah, it was cool! Like I was definitely you know – because they would email us the songs like a week before we had to go in and shoot it – they would just ask us to learn it because that was the whole point. They didn’t want somebody that didn’t really know how to play, they wanted it to look real. We would just learn the songs and you know yeah it was cool I mean I was happy I was happy to do it.
BYT: Any more acting gigs on your horizon? You thinking about that?
Payseur: : [Laughing] I mean I don’t have anything like coming up like that. I don’t actively like seek it out, like I haven’t even had the time to really think about that. But if something else came along I would definitely consider it because it was fun.