The four rockers from New Haven, Connecticut have a unique sound: a 90s grunge runs throughout Beijing‘s debut release It’s Not So Simple, blending that same hardcore noise with a lighter, more fluid sound. The instrumental section can hold its own; indeed, there’s a certain beauty to the angsty fast pace and tightness of the band alone. But the lyrics, kicked out by skidding vocals across their noise-rock base are truly the icing on the cake. Beijing is currently working on two full-length albums due out in Spring 2011. Want to know more? Check out my exclusive interview with Thom Smith, who talked to me about the forming of Beijing, their two full-length upcoming releases, and the 60 songs they’re currently working on (yes, 60!)…
Candace Butler: You’re all from New Haven, Connecticut, right? How did you all meet and decide to play together?
Thom Smith: We practice just a few miles north of New Haven in a town called Bethany. With the exception of our bass player Jack, we all grew up in the surrounding area, so we consider New Haven to be our home. In terms of how we met and started playing together, we’re sort of like four star-crossed lovers, I guess (laughs).
Bill and I probably have the most history. We’ve known each other as acquaintances for a long, long time. A couple of years back, I was playing in a band called Swarm the Moon with a couple of mutual friends of ours and they suggested asking Bill if he wanted to play drums with us. Bill came by and played with us, and our playing styles and personalities connected pretty much immediately.
In, like, February of this year, I realized that I was looking for something more serious than Swarm the Moon, so I bowed out and luckily Bill wanted to keep playing with me. At that point, I started to look on Craigslist for folks—sketchy, haha—and pretty much found Eric within, like, a day. We started passing songs back and forth and then hung out for a little bit and clicked in the same way that Bill and I had.
From there, we were auditioning bass players, and even keyboard players for a while, with no real success. Finally, I was down on a family trip to Jamaica in late April and started talking to my brother-in-law Jack about music. He’s actually a guitar player, but I convinced him to come and play bass with us. I guess we were pretty lit because he didn’t remember the conversation when we got back to Connecticut (laughs). Anyhow, he took my word for it that the conversation did indeed happen, and in May, he practiced with us once and everything felt right, so we asked him to join the band, and that’s really when Beijing was formed.
We recorded about a month later, released our EP about another month after that, and started playing shows. And now we’re back in writing mode, so we can get back in the studio soon. I guess we’re still sort of a baby as far as our band lifecycle goes.
CB: What was the first song you all wrote together?
TS: The first song we wrote was “Glitch,” which ended up being the first song on our EP. I had originally written the guitar in that song for my last band, but it never made the cut because it was just so different than what we were doing. Eric’s vocal melody really brought the song to life and changed the feel of it pretty drastically. We knew right away that it was a song that was going to sort of lay the groundwork for our overall style. Honestly, it’s still one of our favorite songs to play.
CB: Did you start off with original songs off the bat or play any covers first?
TS: We’ve always done originals. Playing covers just doesn’t really interest us that much. Every once in a while we will actually break into completely impromptu covers at a practice, but they usually don’t last more than 30 seconds (laughs). We have talked about doing a cover someday, though. Maybe after we finish writing and recording this next batch of songs. If I had to guess, it would most likely be a Bryan Adams song.
CB: What is your songwriting process?
TS: I guess I should start this by saying that we write too many songs to keep up with, lol. I would say that, on average between Eric and myself, we tend to write a few songs a week. We joke that the easiest way to tell the difference between a “Thom song” and an “Eric song” is that we use two different sounding drum machines. Jack writes as well, and is the person behind “New Beginning,” which a lot of people seem to like the most out of our songs, so I think maybe we should start having him write more, too, haha.
There isn’t necessarily a set process, but it’s usually something like this…someone comes up with a loose skeleton of a song and records it either with an acoustic or with an electric against a drum machine and passes it around via email to see what everyone thinks. Nine times out of ten (maybe even ten times out of ten), we all like it and whoever wrote it usually does one more pass at it to flesh it out a little bit more. At that point, it gets added to “the queue,” which is probably about 60 songs deep right now.
When a song reaches the top of the queue, sometimes just Eric and I will meet up to get the structure to where we want it and come up with some lead melodies, et cetera…Next we all work on it together at practice. The songs almost always change pretty dramatically at this point. We all add our sound to it and it ends up feeling like Beijing after that.
CB: You’ve noted that It’s Not So Simple is a tip-of-the-hat to the challenges and ups-and-downs faced by all. What kinds of ups and downs do you face as a band?
TS: A lot of Eric’s lyrics deal with life and love, which I think everyone can relate to. I remember hearing that lyric the first time and how much it resonated with me. It seemed very natural to be the title of the EP. We’ve been pretty fortunate so far to have many more ups than downs as a band. Honestly, the worst problem we have had so far has been all of this awful New England weather lately, which has been leaving us without power at our rehearsal space. Other than that, really our biggest challenge has just been trying to get our music out there, which isn’t so simple.
CB: How often do you all get together and practice?
TS: We always get together at least once a week, almost always on Tuesdays. Sometimes Eric and I also get together another night to work on new stuff. We all practice/write/screw around on our own a lot more than that, but we pretty much are religious about getting together on Tuesdays.
CB: Any funny stories from recording sessions?
TS: Recording was a real learning process for us. We are so lucky that Jack has such a great ear and is so knowledgeable about the recording process. We basically piled into his garage for a day and banged most of it out. One funny thing that happened was that I had pretty much nailed all of my guitar tracks in one take, but the next day, we listened back to them and they were all clipping, so we had to throw them out and start again. Actually also, all of Eric’s vocals got done in his apartment on his eight track recorder and were emailed to Jack haha. I think that what we learned in recording “It’s Not So Simple” is that next time around, we are going to spend a lot more time to dial in sounds and experiment more with things like mic placements and stuff.
CB: Now, you’re working on two full-length albums anticipated in Spring 2012. The two separate releases have very distinct sounds, right? Can you explain?
TS: We probably spoke about that publicly too soon haha. We are still definitely considering it, but we’re leaving open the possibility of just doing one full length.
We started working on some darker, heavier stuff over the last few months and were thinking that it would be cool to release 2 albums. One of them being really bright, and one of them being really dark. At our last practice, we started doing something really, really heavy and decided that it didn’t really feel like us. Well, I guess I should say that at least for right now it didn’t feel like us. We may end up revisiting that one once we’ve had a chance to grow some more.
In any event, after we agreed that we were straining too hard on this new song, we started looking at what we had already done and realized that the songs that used to seem really dark to us, now felt like they could fit in with our other, more energetic songs. So I guess at this point, we are just going to keep writing until the end of the year and then take a good listen at what we have to determine if it makes more sense to do one album or two. I don’t think we’ll really know one way or the other ‘til January.
CB: Anything else you can tell us about the upcoming releases? Are you planning to tour in promotion of them?
TS: I can say that we are extremely excited about this batch of songs. We’ve learned a lot about each other as songwriters and musicians over the last 6 months of being a band, and I think that we have evolved quite a bit since the release of It’s Not So Simple. We find ourselves coming out of our shells more and more with every song that we write, so it is getting very exciting to think that we will be recording them all soon. We’re going to be spending more time all around on the recording process, so hopefully that will shine through. We’d definitely like to get out there to some more far away places to promote this. That’s sort of new to us, so I think we are still trying to wrap our heads around how we even go about it. We have met so many cool people all over the world that have been ridiculously supportive of us, so we definitely want to try and play for as many of them as possible.
First published at BeatCrave, where readers voted Beijing their “BeatCrave Fav” for the month of October 2011.