September 11th, 2008 | Interviews

christine hale

Download: Beachwood Sparks ‘Confusion Is Nothing New’


(from Once We Were Trees on Sub Pop)

So are you guys back together? Why are you playing shows all of a sudden?
Aaron Sperske (drums): We kinda missed each other.
Brent Rademaker (bass): Totally. And we never really broke up. We just sort of scattered. We stopped playing music the way we started playing music. It was just fun and easy and natural. We’ve been talking about playing together again for a while now.
Christopher Gunst (guitar/vocals): It’s like that old adage that says if there’s something you let go and then it comes back, it proves to be a meaningful part of your life. You let your grip loosen and see what happens and then it comes back together and it’s as natural as that.
The Sub Pop anniversary show was the show that made you do it.
AS: We wanted to do it but didn’t have the means because of our long distance situation. Sub Pop made it happen. We wanted to get back together for shits and giggles and good times.
CG: The A&R guy Tony is one of our best friends. So it wasn’t complicated. It’s easy. As we all talk to each other, we also are talking to Tony. He knew we were thinking about playing again and offered us the anniversary show. It sounded like a good little goal to force us to do it. Otherwise it may have been another year of just talking about it.
It sounds like you have a pretty ideal relationship with your label.
CG: They’re so great because they only put out the music they like so they’re behind it no matter what. They’re there to support you because they like the kind of music you make. You could really get that feeling at that show because it felt like a backyard party to celebrate the guys who started it. The energy was strong and good.
BR: We wouldn’t be where we are without it. No matter what you needed, they supported you. We didn’t even sell very many records on their label, but if your van breaks down in the middle of nowhere, they’re the first people to help you.
So why the hiatus?
CG: When we started putting out records we got into this cycle, right? Of recording and tour and then when the tour’s over, you come home and do the same thing again. After three cycles you forget what you started for and some of the inspiration for the band gets lost because you’re not leading an independent life. Everything is based around the band, so it’s really hard to create things that matter for you. I think that people are all feeling that. I was sort of craving this life of self-searching, getting into living in the country and building something with Jen. You know—cultivating things beyond just being in a band. Cultivating a life. It’s a natural thing. You want to have inspiration. We were all craving a new inspiration. We went off into different things.
AS: Really after the Beachwood Sparks, I didn’t have inspiration for playing music for four years.
What were you all doing?
CG: We still stayed in contact. Brent was putting out a record under his own name. And Dave did the same. I started Mystic Chords of Memory with Jen.
AS: I just hung out around Little Joy. It was a whole Norma Desmond moment for me, really. It was the natural ebb and flow. You can’t be on all the time. Those years really helped me find who I ultimately am as an inspired artist. I believe in what I do in a different way now. It doesn’t define me. It’s not an ego trip. It’s an inspired enthusiasm. There’s no persona left for me.
Now that you’ve had time to get back some inspiration, are you missing the band?
CG: Yeah! I missed hanging out with Brent and playing songs with the guys. I missed the music and the elements that we create when we’re together that aren’t really there if you’re doing other things. There’s something really inherently different with each group of people you play with. I missed that mostly. It’s the unnamed thing that we create when we’re together and playing and making music and the feelings that come up around that, you know?
You’re all in different parts of the country. Do you have lives that allow you to do this?
AS: I’m hand-to-mouth. Indigent one day and on top of the world the next. There isn’t anything that allows me to do anything other than my decision to make it happen. I make it a priority. You don’t do it after all this time for any other reason than you want to do it. Because it’s what I do well and it’s what brings some sense of meaning to my day.
CG: I’m studying Buddhist and transpersonal psychology right now through a holistic program. I also have a job working with kids. When you work with kids, you get to get out. You have breaks.
What about Los Angeles? Do you think you made any effect on L.A. music?
AS: I don’t think we inspired people in L.A. It seemed like our final descent in 2002 coincided with this party subculture disco-punk bullshit. None of that stuff was inspired by us. That’s bright lights and city nights. We were more about breathing beauty.
BR: We really weren’t important. It’s funny because we didn’t make music that sounded right for that area. Our songs were about the country.
Do you identify with being a part of Los Angeles in any other ways?
CG: I consider myself a Californian. I consider that before being an American almost. My family was in California before it was a state. I personally have ties to that area that go back multi-generations in my family. There’s some sort of energy in that area—it’s a part of me. My great-grandma lived in an adobe in the Robertson area. It’s still there! She used to tell me stories of how there wasn’t anything outside of the adobe ranchland. A dirt road went all the way to the ocean. This was not that long ago! Only a hundred years ago!
AS: I think our biggest inspirations were L.A. bands.
BR: It’s important to me because it’s where we all met.
CG: That’s why it means a lot to us.
You really care about each other, don’t you?
CG: We really do care about each other.
AS: I can say without embarrassment that there is a mutual respect, admiration and love that we have for each other that seems to be stronger than the first time. We all realize the only reason to do this is because we all want to and not because we’re chasing a carrot. It’s the illusion that most bands run on for many years. The goal of world domination and hit records and smashing success. I don’t know about all bands. I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t have any silly notions about being signed.
BR: Yeah, we’re really detached from all that.
It seems like a really boring life to seek out fame.
BR: Totally. But you’d never realize how easy it’d be to slip into it. I was never like that. That’s what I don’t miss about L.A. The dude with the scarf coming up to me and asking me to play his cassette for Sub Pop. I never did that stuff. I never asked for anyone for anything.
CG: I just want people to be happy with themselves.
BR: We’re lucky to play the kind of music we play. Really chill stuff. Imagine the energy those metal bands have to work up every night.
Does it feel weird to you that the type of music of you play is more relevant than ever?
BR: You know, I’m pretty detached from what’s going on musically. In Tampa, I feel like I’m in the most unique band in the world.
It seems like you’ve been in a very safe bubble. Playing the Big Sur show gave you a little bit of a taste of how things have changed. Shows happen in Big Sur all the time now and country music is popular again.
CG: Yeah! We’re not the only ones! The show helped us come full circle. In the beginning we wanted to do it for fun so people can dance and enjoy themselves and have fun.
BR: It was still a small show, though. A few people came down from San Francisco and a few people came up from L.A., but overall there wasn’t a huge crowd or anything.
CG: It was really fun. We tried to play Big Sur a long time ago. Nine years ago. And there were two people and the power went out. We played a couple Neil Young songs acoustic and that was it. Maybe three friends were there. It was cool to see young people digging the kind of vibe of nature, music and having fun.
AS: It’s funny how you lose yourself. Chris has no expectations. It is what it is and that’s what it’s meant to be. And I feel that when you approach things that way, you don’t get so gutted in the whole experience like we did before.
Dave isn’t going to be playing with you much, right?
CG: Dave is a touring member of other bands. Jen is playing electric piano and organ and our friend Dan Horne is playing pedal steel. Dave is gonna try and make a couple shows if he’s in town!
People say that you guys were ahead of your time in taking cues from the past. But it’s not that you’re doing something retro. It’s more like you’re doing something classic and meaningful. Something that gets attached to songwriters of the ‘60s and ‘70s like Gene Clark.
CG: We were pegged as retro yet people wouldn’t really listen to it. It was easy then to say ‘This is just retro bullshit’ but it seems that a lot more people that form bands now are taking inspiration from the past. At the time we were too rocky for the country lovers, too country for the indie lovers and not heavy enough for the rock lovers?
AS: It’s funny that we got called retro so much. I rarely read articles about bands like White Magic and Joanna Newsom where they call them retro. They’ll usually cite cool references. I never thought we were trying to recreate something.
CG: There was a conscious decision to make music that was inspired by things like Gene Clark and the Flying Burrito Brothers, but we weren’t going to make a cover band. They’re our own true feelings. What inspired us the most about those records was that they were something real and they’re singing about soulful real things in their life and that country music is white man’s soul music.
AS: Music is more relevant than ever. As the chasm widens between politics and all that, the things we create out of love are the only things that are real. I find that music speaks to me in this day and age ever stronger. Music is sustenance for me. An element that I couldn’t live without. And maybe it was always that way, but I never had that sense like I do now. I’m a true believer. When music is done right, it’s got a holy quality to it.
BR: We’re attached to reality now. We care about the music and the people it affects. And the stories.
I can tell you about a time I was affected by Beachwood Sparks at a tiny little pub in London.
AS: I want to hear this story.
I had just moved there so I was sitting sad at a pub by myself and your Sade cover came on all of a sudden and it totally comforted me to hear a little bit of home in such a far out place.
CG: I love this story. Cool degrees of separation, too. I liked that Sade song and we just recorded it just for fun and it made it on the record. It’s pretty amazing for someone to hear that and then think something good so far away.
BR: That’s good to hear about it being played at a pub and not an Urban Outfitters!
AS: Can I tell a story now? We played the Reading Festival one year and At The Drive-In was the big band on stage. It was a rainy miserable English day. Mud up to your knees. We go on late in the day. Long day. We start playing and in the first song, the clouds break and the sun shines through orange golden light. God’s fingers reaching down. On our last note the clouds went back. That was the only time of the day we brought some California sun with us.
For the Sub Pop anniversary, they let you donate your profits to charity. What charity did you give to?
CG: We donated to the Farm Sanctuary which is a group that rescues farm animals and helps them. It puts a bit more compassion in the world. There was a big tornado recently in the Midwest and they helped these pigs that were starving and sunburned in this flooded area.
BR: I wish we could just play for charities.
CG: Yeah, how can we do that?
BR: Like if someone would just cover airfare and fly us out and the rest would go to charity.
CG: Brent, we could only do that if we didn’t support ourselves on it.
But you don’t anymore. You have so many other things that matter in your life.
BR: There was a time where we tried to make the band our job. That’s what made us tire of it. I’m married and own a house now. Things are great. The band is the icing on the cake. I just weed-whacked my garden and it looks amazing.
CG: Totally. Back then when it was our bread and butter, it got a bit serious and our grip got tighter. But now it feels like we’ve let go. And maybe the true intention of the band and why we started will actually come out now.

—Katie Byron