Concert Addicts: Congratulations on your recent album release. How does it feel to step out for the first time as a solo artist, after nearly a decade with Hey Ocean?
David Beckingham: It feels good. As a songwriter it’s been nice to explore my own voice a little bit, over the course of an entire record. In terms of the rest of it: the organization, being a small business – which is what it is to be an independent artist – doing all of that alone is new territory. Making decisions as one person can be hard when you’re used to having a collective helping to bring different angles of perspective. It’s been a chance to face my own weaknesses and look at them, which is a great thing but not necessarily easy to do. But I’m super happy to be doing it at this point in my life.
CA: Do you feel your solo sound differs quite a bit from Hey Ocean? In what ways is it different or similar?
DB: Hey Ocean! was really collaborative on a lot of material, but the stuff that I wrote primarily alone, you can kind of tell which songs those are. Overall I don’t have any big poppy, funky stuff on my record. That never really came from me so much and it’s just not really my tempo right now. I do love pop music in the traditional sense and my songs aren’t avant-garde or experimental. My stuff’s perhaps more introspective and confessional but mostly falls into the traditional pop realm.
CA: Your album Just When the Light comes on the heels of a challenging time for you personally. What has it meant to you to make your debut solo album at this particular time of so much change in both your personal and professional life?
DB: It’s been a good clearing out of things, and it’s a nice place to jump from into the next phase of my life. I heard someone say recently (on a TED talk I think) that when you go through something big you either grow or you grow a tumor. It’s a bit dark but I get that sentiment. We can push through and learn from challenges or let them make us sick. Making a record was my push through.
You might have read about the vocal injury; that came at an interesting time. Hey Ocean! did decide to break up and then we softened that into a hiatus later. But at the period where we thought we were broken up, I hurt my voice. I was wondering: am I going to play music again, am I going to be able to sing, what’s going to happen? This record wasn’t going to be able to happen years ago. So it’s nice that it has. It feels good.
CA: You give strong images of spaces – both natural and city landscapes – in your songs, sometimes accompanied by a sense of nostalgia and appreciation, and at other times frustration. In what ways are you influenced by Vancouver as a city, and by the West Coast generally?
DB: I’m totally inspired in nature. I am a nature boy at heart. So I need to get out and go to the forest and talk to the trees a little bit, and go to rivers, and be in nature. The longer I immerse myself in a trip situation, in the bush or something, the better I feel, the less I worry about the silly things and the more I connect with being a real human being – which isn’t your job, it isn’t your possessions. It sounds hippie-dippie but it’s true. We’re constantly inundated with pressure and bullshit messaging about what to value, a lot of which comes from a consumerism-obsessed culture and none of which will actually make anyone happy. So I go to nature for a reset and that’s important for my process in general, just to be able to do that from time to time.
“Places” references Vancouver spots; there’s a verse about this legendary old Vancouver bar where we used to play called Richards on Richards, and it references cities growing and changing and love being left behind, not in the rubble but in the old spaces that aren’t there anymore. That could happen anywhere, but Vancouver is definitely a city that loves to build.
CA: Your music video for “Soldier” references that theme; you’re playing in an old warehouse.
DB: That was an old Alsco Linen building. They used to clean the fur coats of Vancouver’s wealthy people in the 60s and 70s. They had these industrial machines. I think they actually moved to a building down the street – and then the old building, they might use some of it for linens still, but they also rent out space to my friend’s graphic design company. So I was visiting him there once and he said, “want to come see this crazy back room,” this beautiful warehouse.
There was natural reverb in the space and there were all of these old coats that had been left behind – these spooky, kind of mouldy fur coats. There was this outfit of a small boy, this tweed coat with shorts and a hat on a hanger together. I just pictured this little kid who’s an older man – or even dead now – wearing that thing and I felt like wow, that’s such a trip. I love old things. There aren’t a lot of old things in Vancouver so it was very cool to be there.
CA: The arrangements on your album can be quite lush and layered. I like that you managed to keep that sense of using harmonies even on a solo album.
DB: Yeah, I didn’t want to limit the record just because I might not know how to make it happen live. So now I’m trying to figure out how to do it all live, and it’s not necessarily going to sound like the record and I’m okay with that now. I can’t afford to hire a six or seven piece band and hit the road for months. I mean maybe one day I will, but for now I’m probably going to keep making records that sound lush and where I don’t hold back on harmonies/ arrangements – because I love harmony.
CA: Do you have a preference between putting something out in a recording studio and performing live?
DB: Recording is like a calm, loving relationship with good communication and excitement and not a ton of fear. And then playing live, for me, is like a love-hate fight, where huge insecurities get thrown around, but it’s also super rewarding when you figure it out. With live shows, especially if I haven’t played in a while, I’ll be up at night thinking about it a month before for not even a crazy huge show – there’s just something about it. Every artist has that point where they feel like a faker, like who are they to be doing this, and I think live is the place where that comes up the most for me. But when I do have a good show it’s literally the best feeling ever, so it’s kind of this beautiful, frantic, terrifying relationship for me. I’m hoping that’ll change.
CA: Are there any artists who have caught your attention recently?
DB: I’ve been really into Andy Shauf. His new album The Party is great. Musically and arrangement wise it’s kind of a masterpiece. It’s lyrically pretty poignant too; it’s a bit of a social commentary. I listen to tons of old music though and am never on top of what is new… probably why I’m still crazy about the last War On Drugs album. So good.
CA: What’s on the horizon for you? Are you exploring any new musical directions?
DB: I’m going to tour…. The beauty of touring is you’re not doing the record totally, you’re learning to play with the band and the songs tend to evolve and the show tends to evolve so that’s nice, it’s at least a permeable thing that can mutate in fun ways. So I’m excited to do that; I’m doing some festivals in Vancouver this summer.
I also have this backlog of songs that I want to get out… and I’m definitely already thinking about a new album. As I make demos some of the vision will come together. I want to actualize the songs a bit more before I hit the studio than I did this last album, so I’ll do a lot of demo-ing at home.
Also, I want people to get at me about house shows. You can message me through my website. It’s nice to just play at people’s homes and do an intimate thing too.
JUL 9/16 | KHATSALANO MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL | VANCOUVER, BC JUL 23/16 | HIATUS MUSIC FESTIVAL | VANCOUVER, BC AUG 9/16 | VANCOUVER URBAN WINERY (SOLO ACOUSTIC) | VANCOUVER, BC AUG 13/16 | THE COPPER OWL | VICTORIA, BC