Beach Fossils Frontman Dustin Payseur Knows Who He Is, And Embraces It
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.
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.
"[The song] is about sponsorships in the indie music scene and how corporations want to dominate indie rock," he says. "Not many people talk about it and it's about my frustration, about how it's a load of shit." Then again, as is Payseur's m.o., he's self-aware, laughing about the whole thing, knowing that, ultimately, you have to keep the lights on. "At the same time, [licensing songs] is something I participate in because, well, it helps fund my lifestyle."
This worldview has worked so far. "Things are better at this moment than they've ever been in my entire life," he says, smiling. He looks beyond me, out the window at nothing in particular. "I just got engaged. I just finished this record. I'm about to go on tour. My family is supportive. There's nothing I can complain about."
Except, maybe, that band name.
Beach Fossils perform at Bowery Ballroom Saturday, February 23. Their new album, Clash the Truth, is out now.
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