Last week, I met up with Charlottesville’s own Borrowed Beams of Light to talk about their second full-length album, and their show on August 31st at the Southern with Grandchildren (from Philadelphia) and Carl Anderson. The band hadn’t finished practicing when I arrived, so I sat down on a couch in their current practice space, which the band shares with C’ville garage rockers The Ha-RANG!#. I got to hear a version of “The Ballad of John and Yoko” the Beams were preparing for a Fridays After Five concert on September 13 (opening for Charlottesville folk band The Hill & Wood), as well as two songs off their new record, played with the same three-guitar velocity familiar to any attendee of a Borrowed Beams live show.
While Beams live shows will remain as raucous, joyful, and loud as ever, the band’s studio recordings have become softer and more thought-out, showing the band’s maturation at the hands of Adam Brock’s singular vision. The band’s current lineup is: Adam Brock (guitar, vocals), Marie Landragin (guitar), Dave Gibson (keyboard, guitar), Jordan Brunk (bass), and Ray Szwabowski (drums).
The show at the Southern starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8 (and you can buy them early!)
JM: When are you planning on releasing the new album, and have you thought of a name for it yet?
DG: There will be a couple songs and hopefully a video sometime in mid-September so we can get the buzz going a few weeks in advance.
AB: We’re sending the record to the pressing plant next week. So that means that we won’t get it back until the second half of October, and so we’ll do some release shows at the end of October into early November.
For a title, I think we’re going to go with On the Wings of a Bug. [Laughter] I think other people think it’s kind of joke-y, but I was just trying to re-appropriate other parts of language, awful-sounding stuff like, “On the Wings of Love” or “On the Wings of a Dove” and turn it around.
JM: You’ve had some time to get started on this record, since Borrowed Beams’ last album came out in 2011, and you released an EP in 2012. When did the whole recording process for this new record begin?
AB: I was demoing up until I went to South Africa in January, and when I came back, that was when I decided to start recording. I have another [member of] Borrowed Beams of Light who doesn’t play live with us anymore. His name is Nate Walsh, and he is a winemaker in Northern Virginia. He has a really nice old farmhouse, so I sent him a bunch of the demos and went up to his place a few times and re-demoed them with some new parts.
In March and April, we went out to White Star Sound in Louisa, which is the studio where Invisible Hand records. Adam Smith [Invisible Hand frontman] engineered for a little while, and I played some drums. Dave played a little bass, and my friend Nate played some guitar, and we got some basic tracking done that way. Ray played drums on a few songs.
RS: It was during finals, too, I remember hiding it from my law school peers, because anything you did that was extra was looked down upon. I just didn’t tell anyone.
AB: We started doing overdubs here, did a few at Dave’s house, and did some with Jordan on bass and Marie on guitar over at their house. It’s been kind of a hodgepodge, but the drums and bass for the most part all were done in the same place, so the album still sounds like it belongs together.
DG: The one thing that I think is interesting about this record is that more than any other Beams release so far, it’s more of a singular vision than it has been in the past. The last EP was split between full band songs, and Adam and Nate songs. I like all the songs on it, but it’s weird to listen to sometimes, because it’s jarring how different everything sounds. This new one is really cohesive-sounding, it’s got a really cool vibe, and I can hear a lot of Adam in it.
JM: Your last full-length, Stellar Hoax, had a concept behind it, which was the Voynich Manuscript. Does this album have a similar idea behind it?
AB: I don’t think so. I demoed a bunch of songs when Marie and Jordan went to France. It was sort of a strange moment in the band’s trajectory [because] we didn’t really know the fate of the live band. And though there’s no theme, really, they all came out kind of feeling a certain way, and they have a much chiller vibe than the live band gets.
Though I was thinking about this earlier today: I talk about animals and insects a lot. Which is really funny, because the very first Beams song on the very first Beams EP, I sing a line, “We’ve got animals and insects,” and now on this record, I sing about either bugs or animals or plants or machines, and I think it’s just something that’s in my head. So [the title] On the Wings of a Bug is fitting, because it’s just about… people and animals and how we’re all these weird machines.
JM: I’ve seen you cite the Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, and the Beatles, of course, as influences. Are there any specific releases that have affected the sound of this record, something you all are listening to?
AB: I’ve been really obsessed with the album Tusk. I got really interested in Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar playing and the way he structured songs, and that’s been a really big influence.
Someone else said Talking Heads, or Modest Mouse. I’ve also always been a big fan of Destroyer’s lyric writing, like the way he phrases things. I feel like the live band hits more on classic rock than contemporary rock a lot of the time, and I think the album is going to be a cool mix of both of those things.
ML: I hear Prince on the new album.
JM: I hear some late-era Wings, too.
DG: The new album’s a lot smoother than some of the past things have been. A little less power pop, and a little more smooth.
AB: I like the way the live band doesn’t sound like the record, and cuts loose and has three guitars blaring. The recordings are a little more reserved. Some people like albums to sound like a live band in a room. I think that works sometimes, but I always came from the school of mid-era Beatles recordings, where it was all done piecemeal and you can use the studio as an instrument a little bit more.
JM: So, Dave, you’ve had a big year with Hibernator Gigs. What’s different with putting out your own record, as opposed to what Borrowed Beams were doing before?
DG: It’s crazy to think about, that it’s been almost two years that we’ve been doing this. The video arm of Hibernator Gigs has been around for almost two years now… The first Hibernator Gigs video we made was the “King and Queen” video [for Borrowed Beams] with the puppets, and that was November of 2011.
The record label part of Hibernator Gigs started being active around the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. In this year already, we’ve put out our first two releases, which was our Weird Mob EP and the Songs in the Key of Bob compilation, and [the new Beams album will be] the third. I had originally planned on trying to put out four things, but that was back when I was fooling myself that we would be able to afford that.
JM: Was the fourth supposed to be the Weird Mob full-length?
DG: Yeah, but I think that’s probably just going to get pushed to the beginning of next year. We’ll see how that goes.
AB: The first thing [Borrowed Beams] did was the self-titled EP [in 2009]. I had a friend who was interested for a while in putting that out [on vinyl] after the fact, and eventually got cold feet and bailed. But, he is the guy who put out Stellar Hoax [which] was a collaboration between [him] Speakertree, and World Records, which is an offshoot of Funny/Not Funny. Funny/Not Funny proper did the Hot Springs EP, and this next [album] is going to be [on] Hibernator Gigs.
DG: Every release is on a different label!
AB: When Dave said he was doing Hibernator Gigs, I asked him if he was interested in putting it out, and he said he was, so we just thought we’d go with that. And I think that being in the band gives you a little more impetus to push [the record], because if it does well, you benefit from it as a band member, you benefit from it as a label owner, and it’ll help Weird Mob, it’ll help the other releases. Keeping it in the family always helps because it benefits everybody’s project.
JM: Dave and Adam, you’re also in Weird Mob. How do your side projects affect what you do in Borrowed Beams?
DG: I run Hibernator Gigs with my wife Renee, and since we’re putting this Beams record out, we can only focus all of our energy on one thing at a time. I really want to focus our video-making and our press-bothering and my rehearsal on Beams for this period of time. Weird Mob is sort of on the backburner until the Beams cycle slows down again.
AB: [We’ve been] going on six-month cycles where Beams gets attention for six months, and we do some touring, and we do some press, and when I sort of get depressed about never making it anywhere with this band, and we just move on to Dave’s band [Weird Mob] for awhile.
JM: Marie and Jordan, you spent some time in France this year, and thought about staying there. How did that affect the bands you were in?
ML: Well, the reason we came back [from France] is that Jordan and I are in another band, Corsair. And right before we moved to France, we got a record deal with a small label, and part of the contract was to write another album. So we were like, okay, we’ll stay [in France] as long as Jordan’s visa lasts, and then we’ll come back and write the Corsair album. And simultaneously still continue on with Beams, because we love being a part of Borrowed Beams of Light. It affected [the new album] a little bit, because there are less solo guitar solos. So, that’s different, but we still think it’s a killer album. The songs are really, really good. Right, Jordan?
JB: Yeah! Anytime you travel, you get a broader perspective on everything.
JM: Marie and Jordan, how are you balancing your time with Corsair with your work with Borrowed Beams?
ML: Of course, our primary focus is Corsair, and—Sorry, Adam—Beams is second. I don’t think it directly affects what Borrowed Beams does, because, for me anyway, the way the songs are structured are totally different than the way Corsair works. It’s almost a different part of my brain. And I think that being in Beams is easier on the one hand, but also harder, because it’s easier. So I have to force myself to think less while playing. And in turn, it’s a lot more fun, because I can pull back more and relax.
JB: By relax you mean drink more? [Laughter]
AB: Jordan can play songs in his sleep, so if you ask him this, it might be a little different. Jordan is one of the best bass players I know, probably up there with Matt Gibson from the Extraordinaires and Chad from The High Strung. He does this shit blindfolded with earplugs in.
JB: I do like to wear earplugs.
JM: Speaking of Corsair, I know almost all of you have other projects besides Borrowed Beams, like Adam and Invisible Hand or Dave and Adam in Weird Mob. Ray, do you do anything else?
RS: I pretty much quit all my other bands.
AB: He’s in law school now [at UVA]. That worried me for a little while, too. I was like, “Ray’s going to go to law school, while it’s good for him, it’s bad for the band…”
RS: When I got into law school, I flipped out and gave both of the bands I was in—which were the Beams and the Lone Rangers—the same message, which was: I don’t really know how much time I’ll have, and I urge you to hire another drummer that can fulfill the duties. The Lone Rangers took me up on it, and the Beams just ignored me, which was probably the right thing to do, because it all worked out.
JM: Your next show in Charlottesville as a full band is coming up August 31st at the Southern. You haven’t played live with this lineup in awhile, but do you have any memories of other shows you have played here?
AB: I think we’ve had some really good shows at Random Row, and that’s very nostalgic, because that’s disappeared.
ML: The one we did last year, in September right before we went to France…
AB: It was the Hot Springs EP release and we played with Corsair. That was a good show.
ML: Corsair did a Joe Walsh cover and I picked the wrong song.
AB: It was supposed to have been, “Life’s Been Good.” Ironically enough, the reason I picked that was because I used to live down East Market St. years ago, and this crazy guitar-playing Australian girl [Marie] moved in next door. We were all hanging out one night, and we went over to her house, and we met her for the first time, and we jammed. We played that Joe Walsh song, and that’s why I wanted to play it. And then [Marie] went and learned a totally different Joe Walsh song [Funk 49].
ML: Corsair learned the wrong song, but Adam Brock came up like a champ and did it anyway, and it was amazing. That was one of the most fun shows.
JM: You’ll be playing the show with a band called Grandchildren, can you tell us more about them?
AB: Borrowed Beams haven’t actually played with them yet, but the Invisible Hand has either played with them in Philadelphia or been asked to play with them. I’ve listened to their songs and I like their songs a lot. They’re baroque and cinematic, and I don’t think we sound completely alike, but I think we both approach things from the same angle.
I’m excited about [the show]. This band hasn’t played as this lineup live in Charlottesville as a full band for a really long time, so I’m hoping that we get some people out and I think it’ll be fun. We’re going to debut some new jams.
JM: Any final thoughts?
ML: Buy the album. Come to the shows. Buy the album.
AB: The Beams has been the perpetual side project, but I’m getting kind of older, I’m tired of doing that, so we’re going to make a really big push for this record, and we’re going to try to play some really good shows. We’re really proud of this album.