Heather Golden Schwalb and Emma Rose Jenney were in Europe, on tour with their band, Beau, on Friday, November 13. That was the same day that terrorists in Paris launched a series of coordinated attacks that included the massacre of some 90 music fans at Le Bataclan – a packed concert venue where American rock band Eagles of Death Metal were about to take the stage. Beau were scheduled to play a festival in France the next day; instead they holed up in Holland until it was safe to make an exit, cutting the tour a bit short. The girls are barely into their twenties, but that icy grip of fear felt eerily familiar: Born and raised in Manhattan, they vividly remembered all too well that such a thing could happen on American. soil. “There was this feeling of helplessness. Musicians, and fans of musicians, young people, old people… everyone was targeted. There was nowhere safe to be,” recalls Golden Schwalb. “That feeling is something I think we really related to because we were here for 9/11.”
Jenney adds, “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so connected to an attack since 9/11. It was heartbreaking and difficult and shocking. Our families were worried.”
“The messed-up part is that, for a second, it scared a lot of people who are creative. I think it’s really important for musicians and writers to continue to express themselves and not be muted,” says Golden Schwalb. “The first thing we did when we found out about [the attacks] was sit down and write a song for the victims.”
Beau has been inspired by a long tradition of compelling folk melodies with the bigger picture in mind. Both Golden Schwalb and Jenney were raised by artist parents in Greenwich Village, the epicenter of Beatnik counterculture, and spent lots of time a kids exploring the neighborhood’s rich history, getting to know many of its vibrant residents. “Having cultural experiences here has influenced the music totally,” Jenney admits. “We can just walk down the block and see a live performance so easily. It’s all around us and it kind of always has been.” Golden Schwalb agrees. “So many artists hang out here, go to the cafes, talk about who knows what for hours, daydream, play guitar on the streets,” she says. “We are very lucky to have grown up in such a romantic place.”
Having been surrounded by musicians and artists for as long as they’ve been alive, the duo never really had any idea that their parents’ Bohemian lifestyle was out of the ordinary. As their lifelong friendship flourished, so did their creative tendencies. “We’ve met so many incredible characters,” says Golden Schwalb. “It makes perfect sense that we were pushed naturally to take [an artistic] route. We could’ve been poets, but instead we were obsessed with melody, not just words and ideas. We just put it together and then we had songs.” For the most part, Golden Schwalb acts as lead vocalist; Jenney is more the music “nerd” of the group – she loves her collection of tube amps from the Sixties, was keen on learning analogue recording techniques, and was drawn to her older brother’s indie rock records just as much as the 45s in her father’s in-home jukebox. As she discovered new music, she shared it with her best friend. “I was constantly inspired by the stuff she was listening to. Sometimes all we’d do was sit and listen to music for hours,” Golden Schwalb recalls.
The pair settled on making their own music because, as Golden Schwalb explains, “When we were younger, we realized you could change an entire atmosphere by putting on a song. You could change the mood – you could change your mood.” They had formed a loose-knit crew in lower Manhattan they dubbed the Downtown Dropouts, which Golden Schwalb explains was “made up of all our friends who didn’t really go to college but were able to use their resources to grow artistically and do things and create.”
Beau began to take themselves more seriously when Gildas Loaëc, a friend who also happens to be the founder of music-meets-fashion record label Kitsuné, signed them after hearing some songs they’d recorded during practices with their iPhones. They flew to London to track their record, This Thing Reality, which will see its release in the spring of 2016. The record’s title contrasts with its dreamy content, but also makes clever use of the dichotomies in human relationships – a wistful look back at a first love, tempered by the sting of ensuing heartbreak. It’s a strong debut from two young women who draw as much inspiration from the folk-singers of their Greenwich Village origins as they do from modern living; think a rose-tinted, acoustic version of Haim.
Writing collaboratively, Golden Schwalb says their lyrics “often consider the world, as much as [they act as] a diary entry from us.” Their first single describes two birds flying with one wing to the gates of Heaven, an apt metaphor for the copacetic relationship between the two songwriters. “We’re constantly inspiring each other,” Jenney says. “[We’re] like yin and yang. Everything I don’t have, she has; everything she doesn’t have, I do. There’s a lot of that even in all our similarities.”
“There’s this openness when we write together, when we’re thinking about certain melodies, hooks, and styles. It’s kind of like there are no rules anymore,” says Golden Schwalb
Beau are currently wrapping up a residency at newish Lower East Side venue Berlin that concludes on December 15. Golden Schwalb says the shows have given her more confidence in her performances, while Jenney feels that playing these gigs is a way of coming full-circle. “Growing up, I would walk around the Lower East Side and look at all these bands playing. I just always wanted to know what it was like to play a live show and have that be a part of my life,” she remembers. “I was always really intimidated by it, and the fact that we are doing that now is just amazing. I definitely feel like we accomplished something that I didn’t think I would be capable of before.”
Now, she recognizes that along with that fantasy comes a lot of hard work. “This isn’t like sitting down in an office and being told what to do; it’s finding your own way and getting fucking lost and trying to find it again somehow, just messing up a bunch of times and feeling okay with it and feeling more accomplished because you did it yourself,” Jenney says with a laugh. “We were trying to make something perfect and with all its scruffiness and dirt, it is perfect. I think everyone can be creative and feel that there’s this light within us all, and when we choose to put it in focus, brilliant things can come out of you that you didn’t even know were there.”
Beau wrap up their residency at Berlin on December 15.