Beach Fossils
Let the Notes Fall Where They May
by Kevin J. Elliott

It’s rare that philosophy finds a way into the creation of indie rock. With upstart bands constantly concerned with mining the past for inspiration or trying their best to become the “next” wave of the future, coping with and enjoying the present, the here and now, seems an idealistic, prospect. Dustin Payseur, who began Beach Fossils as a solo entity for exposing his poetry and potent breeze-pop, is perfectly satisfied with an afternoon in the grass, soaking up the sun, taking pleasure in the little things. Songs like “Golden Age,” “Daydream” and the buoyant “Vacation,” from his self-titled Captured Tracks debut, aren’t loaded with the nostalgia and nonchalance of youth—instead he’s enjoying such juvenescence, living in the moment with enthusiasm.

At least that’s what comes across in his music. Each note falls where it may, never sounding forced, never sounding planned, even when Beach Fossils are the closest approximation to a Galaxie 500–early REM hybrid we’ve heard in quite some time. It would be just as easy to approximate Payseur’s sonic approach to that of his peers in Real Estate or a number of other tropically themed slacker types favoring mellow times over actual effort. But the singularity in his brittle voice and wispy, yet intricate, guitar playing sets him apart from the pack. On the surface it’s one of those background records, completely inoffensive and lacking in an emotional connection. Get a little closer, though, and the puzzle starts to take shape, melodies emerging beyond the simple cadence of Payseur’s vocals. All of a sudden Beach Fossils project muted optimism in ebullient, blissful, effortless songwriting.

It’s been more than a year since the songs that make up his debut were recorded all by Payseur’s lonesome. In that time, he’s recruited a band that believes in that same philosophy of the moment, and the results (according to my recent talk with Payseur) have evolved the Beach Fossils vision further than he’d ever imagined years back as a Taoist teen in his native North Carolina. Talking to Payseur on the phone from his current home in Brooklyn, I had the chance to discuss, among other things, his attraction to free-jazz, the pitfalls of being lumped into the lo-fi movement, and his continued inspiration at each step his band takes.

I’ve read in interviews that you’re very much influenced by free-jazz and classical music, so I’m curious, since the album does not have any clues towards that, how those fit into your music?

Dustin Payseur: I feel like there’s a lot of different ways you can be inspired. I take a lot of different elements from it I suppose, if not musically then creatively. I think I put that influence into the way the songs are structured or maybe how they’re not structured. The freedom of it all to fall together organically is really what inspires me. The way free-jazz is done and classical music is made is inspiring because there are so many different layers on top of each other. They blend and harmonize even though each one is doing something different. There aren’t really chords in my songs. It’s more single notes interlocking and interweaving to create one single sound.

Your parents were both successful musicians? Did they encourage you at a young age to pursue music or was it something you chose for yourself?

DP: I wasn’t necessarily encouraged to go after music. There were instruments around the house and I took up an interest at a young age. It was never something that I was told I should do or had to do. It was just there and I liked it.

Before Beach Fossils, did you play in any other groups in North Carolina? If so, how did that experience help in forming your vision for what you do now?

DP: I played in a lot of bands in Charlotte and I played in a few bands when I moved up to New York. It wasn’t really my kind of thing. I always wanted to have more control over songwriting, and when there’s more than one person involved, it always ends up in fights over who gets their sound in. It was always difficult for me to collaborate with other people and make something that I was proud of, so I started Beach Fossils as a solo project just to get my ideas out there. I always wanted it to be a full band, but I just had to meet the right people. Now I have that, and we’re writing songs together for a follow-up album. Everything is really natural.

Lately there have been a lot of bands in your camp conveying a sense of nostalgia through lyrics about hanging out or through chords and notes that tend to rely on a particular breeziness in execution. From what I can gather, you’re doing the same, which is reflecting on easy times. Did you have a fairly idyllic childhood and teenage years? Are those memories that you put in the music or is it something else?

DP: It comes from all over. I’ve been into Taoism for years—ever since I was a teenager—so I’m very influenced by that. The sense of nature and letting things come together, the sense of relaxation—it’s really difficult for me to put a word on something so abstract. It’s not about memories or nostalgia at all, it’s more about the here and now and accepting what you have. I think it’s important to make the most of each experience that you have, just be in it and be one with it.

What I find most intriguing about your debut is that it sounds so effortless on the surface, but honestly the notes you are playing, the patterns and textures are pretty involved. Is this contradiction something intentional when you start recording your music?

DP: It’s actually a fairly easy process because I don’t really sit and think about what is going to come out. It’s the same when I’m writing poetry. It’s always been a stream of consciousness. When I write poetry, I always write down the words before the sentences are even structured in my head, so that it comes out in the purest form. I like to have that abstractness on the page before there’s anything tangible. That’s pretty much the same way I approach songwriting: letting the riffs flow out and mingle with the other ones. I want it to come more through me than from me. I’m not sure I know how to explain that one either.

Well, I was going to ask about your poetry because it seems to be an important part of the aesthetic of Beach Fossils. Does your music start as words and progress from there? Is one element more endearing to you than the other? Are they something you can separate from each other?

DP: Usually the words come last, almost always. I write the songs as music first, then whatever emotion or feeling comes through in the song gets matched up with lyrics that I have afterwards.

I’ve heard that your live band is a bit more frantic and messy than the record. Was this just a natural direction for the songs to head or did you force them to be more raucous in the live setting?

DP: As a group, when we sit around and write songs together, it’s very low-key, very mellow, very casual, and very relaxed. The songs come out in a more slow and beautiful way. Live, I just think we get excited. We move around a lot, and we do a lot of bumping into each other, bruising each other. Our bass player always goes wild. I actually gave the bassist a black eye during the first show of South By Southwest. I suppose we just become more aggressive on stage. We all have this energy and let loose when we’re up there, not trying to control ourselves.

Most, if not all, of the debut was played and recorded by you, correct? Now that you have a full band, do you envision the next recordings to be different? If so, how?

DP: I feel like there’s a very mature sound to the new songs, opposed to the album that just came out. The songs have evolved in a way. They are more dynamic and have more parts and changes. At the same time, since I’ve been playing with this band for almost a year, they have a sense of what I’m trying to achieve, so they’ve taken that on. It’s very comfortable.

Is there some plateau or ambition that you are striving to achieve as Beach Fossils? Do you have a dream or wish of what you’d like the future to sound like?

DP: Not really. I think it’s better to not really think about it. That way it’s more exciting when the time does come, when we’re working on it then, rather than thinking about the past and thinking about the songs we’re going to make in the future. I’m all about the present moment. I feel that’s what’s important. That’s all it is. That’s really all the past and future are—the present.