Beach Fossils Frontman Dustin Payseur Knows Who He Is, And Embraces It

Bad band names

Dustin Payseur is walking down the sidewalk of Franklin Avenue in Greenpoint. The Beach Fossils frontman, who lives a few blocks away, has a brisk gait, but his brain moves quicker than his feet shuffle. He talks about different topics—what to eat in the hood, how he spends the nights he's awake till 6 a.m., why philosophy appeals to him—jumping from one subject to the next and the next and the next. He explains why he's a vegetarian—wait, no, he eats fish, so he's a pescetarian. He hates labels. He doesn't want to be defined. He's aware that he complains too much. He talks of how grateful he is to play music for a living. He never thought he'd actually make money.

Streetlights shine through the misty haze as Payseur verbally races through his thoughts. It's about 10 o'clock on a weeknight in early February, and a few weeks after this evening, on February 19, Payseur's band Beach Fossils will release Clash the Truth, the group's second LP and first full-length in about three years. On February 23, they'll play for a sold-out crowd at the Bowery Ballroom.

That new record—a shimmering collection of melodic punk rock—didn't come together in the easiest fashion: Writing it took about two years. Payseur formed about 75 songs—yes, 75—in order to get to the final track count of 14. But inside those 14 are a hodgepodge of catchy melodies and dreamy riffs pulled from all parts of the recording process. Toss in a few trips to the park to write poetry for lyrics, and gradually, sluggishly, Clash the Truth came together.

Payseur (right) wrote 75 songs for Clash the Truth.
John Pena
Payseur (right) wrote 75 songs for Clash the Truth.

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Bowery Ballroom

6 Delancey St.
New York, NY 10002

Category: Music Venues

Region: Lower East Side

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Beach Fossils play Saturday, February 23 at Bowery Ballroom.

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The struggle to get the record together is a bit of a surprise, considering how quick Payseur's brain works in conversation, but maybe that's his obstacle. He tells me how he overthinks everything, and then overthinks some more. He then overthinks that. Don't follow? Don't worry. He has trouble, too.

"When you're working by yourself, you become so familiar with it that it doesn't even sound like music after a certain point," the 27-year-old says between sips of a vodka soda ("it tastes like nothing") at the Pencil Factory, a quiet Greenpoint bar. In the candlelight, he's delicate in the way he speaks, moving swiftly through sentences but speaking in particulars, carefully placing his hands on the table to make point after point about his creative process. You don't hear a lot of "ums" around this guy. "You can't really pull [what you create] apart and see what's inside until you've stepped away for awhile."

Payseur remembers how, growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, he never really expected to be anything but a musician. And, unlike most kids with similar dreams, Payseur actually seems to have figured out how. It started when he moved to New York five years ago to challenge himself.

"The music scene in Charlotte wasn't very big," he recalls. "It was a dead end. This band I was in got a feature in a local magazine."

The name of that band? He smiles, but refuses to say.

"It's really bad," he says. Bad band names might be a trend for Payseur. Later in the evening, he tells me how he wished Beach Fossils were called something different because people associate it with a "bunch of bullshit." Regardless, that band-that-shall-not-be-named from his early days was "voted best band in town. We weren't going anywhere."

New York got him somewhere. Clash the Truth finally was recorded—but still not without obstacles. The studio in which they initially worked was called Civil Defense in Gowanus, but then Hurricane Sandy hit and destroyed it. ("The vocal booth looked like a fish tank.") Luckily, the band had packed up the masters before the storm and finished at Excello Recording in Williamsburg. The process took about three weeks. Producer Ben Greenberg, a 27-year-old New York musician who also plays in The Men, enjoyed working with someone like Payseur, whose work ethic is "rigorous."

"He's got an incredible amount of energy," Greenberg recalls. "He's always thinking and moving and making jokes and coming up with ideas. We would wind up trying out 10 different guitar sounds rather than two or three."

Payseur talks to me about his goals as a musician and with this record, but is quick to note how he doesn't think he's special. "I was just recording the music and asked myself, 'how can I capture the way I feel most?' But that's like every musician from the beginning of time." He pauses. A lanky guy, he sports a red long-sleeve button-down and skinny jeans. I notice his pierced left ear. After a moment of thinking, he comes to the conclusion that the way he makes music is simple: "You want to look back in 40 years or whatever and be like, that's who I was when I was 25. Or who I was when I was 26. And that's exactly how I was feeling at the time. You don't want it to be full of shit."

That's the challenge, isn't it? Nobody ever wants to be full of shit. I ask how he avoids that. He counters by explaining "Generational Synth," Clash the Truth's second track, one that's built on a bouncy, driving bassline as Payseur's soft shoegazey layers of vocals rumble through lyrics about making it on your own and not being apathetic.

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2 comments
BeachFossilFan
BeachFossilFan

Dustin Payseur and Beach Fossils,

Please do not close your hearts to the oppression of the Palestinian people.  There is a profound moral obligation to refuse to play in Israel, and even though the financial rewards might be considerable, we sincerely hope you choose to act according to your conscience.


Last month, the esteemed Professor of Physics, Stephen Hawking, chose to publicly support  the boycott of apartheid Israel.  He joins Desmond Tutu, Roger Waters, Alice Walker, Ahmed Kathrada, Naomi Klein, Judith Butler, John Berger and many others who agree that Israel's system of oppression cannot be brought to an end without ending international complicity and intensifying global solidarity, particularly in the form of the boycott.  On the growing list of artists who have joined the boycott are Faithless, Leftfield, Gorillaz, Klaxons, Massive Attack, Gil Scott Heron, Santana, Pete Seeger, Pixies, Tindersticks, Elvis Costello, Cassandra Wilson and Cat Power. They understand it takes a boycott to work for justice, and that “dialogue” or performing in Israel while also speaking out against it has failed.


You might want to read Professor Ilan Pappé's “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,”  Pappé is also a strong advocate of the boycott of Israel.


Music cannot build bridges between Israel and the millions of Palestinians whom it oppresses.  Bridges can be built through the boycott, as was the case in South Africa, with the ultimate result being that the rights of all people are respected.


The purpose of the boycott is to exert pressure on Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians,  by ending its occupation and blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees who are prevented from returning to their homes just because they are not Jewish; and abolishing institutionalized discrimination including more than 50 laws [1] preventing equal rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.


The boycott builds on a historical tradition of popular resistance around the world: from within Palestine itself to the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Historically, boycotts work.


Roger Waters wrote:


Where governments refuse to act people must, with whatever peaceful means are at their disposal. For me this means declaring an intention to stand in solidarity, not only with the people of Palestine but also with the many thousands of Israelis who disagree with their government's policies, by joining the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel.  This is [however] a plea to my colleagues in the music industry, and also to artists in other disciplines, to join this cultural boycott.  Artists were right to refuse to play in South Africa's Sun City resort until apartheid fell and white people and black people enjoyed equal rights. And we are right to refuse to play in Israel.[2]


Desmond Tutu has this view:


I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid.[3]


“International Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions against the Apartheid regime, combined with the mass struggle inside South Africa, led to our victory … Just as we said during apartheid that it was inappropriate for international artists to perform in South Africa in a society founded on discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity, so it would be wrong … to perform in Israel“.[4]


Today, due to the boycott call and its international magnitude, it is impossible for any international artist to play in Israel in a political vacuum.  Your performance will be interpreted and used by supporters of Israel and by the state as an endorsement of Israel’s regime, whether you want it to be or not.


Billions of dollars are lavished on Israel annually by western states, particularly the United States and Germany.  Taxpayers in those countries are in effect subsidizing Israel's violations of international law at a time when social programs are undergoing severe cuts, unemployment is rising, and the environment is being devastated.  


Please join in the struggle to end western complicity in Israel's violations of international law and respect the Palestinian-led call for cultural boycott.[5]  This is not only good for Palestinians, but also good for those around the world struggling for social justice and against perpetual war.


 
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