Before Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear were household names in the indie folk rock scene, there was Beachwood Sparks. Hailing from Los Angeles, this sextet (with a few lineup changes throughout the years) has brought seamless harmonies mixed with a lighthearted American west coast sensibility that makes you feel like you’ve been chilling at the beach since the late 90s. And after a 10 year hiatus, the band is back with The Tarnished Gold, out now via Sub Pop, an album bassist Brent Rademaker claims is the Beachwood Sparks’ best yet.
“It’s the one that gets down to the real nitty gritty of it in – in a good way,” Rademaker explains. “We were obviously singing about telling friends to be happy, and we’re singing about wanting to be happy. We’re singing about a lot of cool stuff, but a lot of it is putting forth imagery of where we’re at and the kind of style we just are. The music reflects these guys that really know each other and have for a really long time.”
He continues, “Instead of trying to put a sound on it like we have done in the past, especially with the first two albums and the EP, I was a real force behind really trying to make it sound like a lot of records I really liked Notorious Bird Brothers. And I’m just proud of it because it came out really good. I listen to it more than I listen to the other albums, and that, to me, says something. I remember when we got the mixes back, we were all talking about it. It was a little bit plain. Those weren’t the exact words, but that was the feeling. But then three days later or a week later, everyone was like, ‘Hey this is really good.’ We never listened or recorded from this point of view before.”
But did it really take 10 years for these musicians to get to this stage in their music? It gets a bit more complicated than that. After extensive touring for four years, the band just felt like they needed to take a break – not necessarily from music but from each other. “Things were starting to come at odds with the type of music we were trying to play,” Rademaker explains. “So in the meantime we took a break, and three of us worked on our own music separately away from the Beachwood Sparks music. Farmer Dave , Jimi and Chris and I did our own things. And after those years, there were a lot of moments when we wanted to get together. But they were just a bunch of false starts because something good or bad would happen in somebody’s life and we wouldn’t get back together. But now I guess all the stars lined up, and we were able to get back together over the summer in 2008. And by then we had enough momentum to actually go in and record in 2011.”
The Tarnished Gold is a clear example of the creativity that can stem from a group of musicians who have known each other as long as they have. For Rademaker, the album not only symbolises the return of Beachwood Sparks but is also a long awaited reunion among family. “It was just a feat to get together, get back in the studio and make it all line up,” he says. “With everything going on in our lives outside of Beachwood Sparks, it was a major feat to get everybody together. I never went to my high school reunion or family reunions. But I imagine if you do something like that, it’s pretty tough. So that’s what this was like. Not only do we have Chris, Farmer Dave and myself, we also have to get Aaron , Knight, Neal Casal, Dan Horne and Jimi Hey and Tom . We just wanted everyone who ever played on our records to be there. We needed to work with everyone’s schedules, and that was alone was something to pay attention to.”
But after they all finally made it into the studio, Beachwood Sparks spent two weeks recording songs like ‘Sparks Fly,’ ‘Mollusk’ and the album’s title track, which they wrote in 2010. However the band hit a snag when it came to production. “Tom and Farmer Dave did all the mixing,” he says. “ about six months of mixing. So they took forever.”
Despite the long recording process, Beachwood Sparks managed to produce a record that appeals not only to the California locals but also those who don’t necessarily get to enjoy the sun every day. “We want the listener to get the same thing we get out of it,” Rademaker conveys. “When we go to that good place of playing together or writing a song or whatever, that’s what comes out. So they hear it that way, and they go to that same place when they hear it. I was talking to someone , and they said that’s what they do with our music and envision what California looks like through it. I think they listen to it the same way I would when I put on Script of the Bridge by The Chameleons or something like Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division, and I see Manchester as a grey place but you can still experience a range of emotions through the cityscape or the landscape. I think any band doing anything honest will reflect where they are. Whether they are the beaches or the canyons where frequent or even if you’re a band in a rehearsal hall in Brooklyn, that space around you will resonate in your sound.”
Being a band for over a decade, Beachwood Sparks have experimented with more than just psychedelic folk and tapped into the mariachi sounds of Mexico with ‘No Queremos Oro,’ a song that combines Spanish lyrics with a bit of English monologue thrown in. “I thought the whole concept of being a California band was really reflected in Chris and Ben Knight and Farmer Dave’s heritage,” he says. “We were recording in Eagle Rock , and there are a ton of mariachi bands around and food trucks that are blaring that kind of music. The patio of the studio was adjacent to a workshop where they are playing Spanish radio, and it was so cool. It sounded like something from the Verve or the Stone Roses but in Spanish. They really have this killer 80s kind of production. So Dave and Chris set out to write this song. So instead of hippy dippy California, Beachwood Sparks music, where we take acid mushrooms in the canyon, let’s show what Los Angeles living is all about. It was a ton of fun to make. It’s crazy because we were able to create that whole thing live. It was everyone in the studio playing at once. And after that session was over, it was cool to hear that it sounds pretty authentic.”
Since releasing The Tarnished Gold, Beachwood Sparks are slated to play Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this weekend as well as at San Francisco’s The Fillmore on 7 October. Although the band has yet to announce more dates, Rademaker does hope to take the new material to their fans all over the world soon.
“We always put an effort in our music to tell people, ‘Look at what we’re doing. Look at why we’re singing about our loves and our lives and trying to spread happiness through living through nature and just coming from a real good place in your heart,’” he explains. “We don’t want the money. We know we’re not going to make a lot of money. You need to understand that when you see us, you’re not going to get some flashy bullshit. We don’t want the gold. And I think the title track of the album, ‘The Tarnished Gold’ sums up lyrically what it’s like interacting with us and being in Beachwood Sparks. It’s all right there in that song. That’s why we got back together.”
The Tarnished Gold is out now via Sub Pop.