Beechwood’s Gordon Lawrence, 24, looking not unlike a young Thurston Moore, hair covered by a plaid cap, sits with his bandmates in a back booth of stalwart East Village bar 2A. They’re directly above cool-kid underground venue Berlin, where, a few weeks prior, Beechwood held an album release for their debut LP, Songs From the Land of Nod (Alive/Naturalsound Records), a darkly shimmering rock ’n’ roll record of bruising timelessness.
Drummer/vocalist Isa Tineo, 25, a dark beanie obscuring his head/face tattoos, perches on a stool. His visual counterpoint is Beechwood’s newest, member Sid Simons, 21. The bassist’s blond shag is straight off a Sweet album cover, and his faint Australian accent and easy demeanor make him an effective foil for his more formidable-seeming Jersey-bred bandmates.
The allure of Beechwood’s powerful onstage rock star insouciance — which is only somewhat less pronounced offstage — can come across as slightly studied, an assertion the band contests, bolstering the denial with tales of their shambolic misspent youths. But at least they’re studying the right bands. Over two-for-one happy hour beers, the trio share teen tales of skateboarding over the George Washington Bridge to see bands in Manhattan; then, a few years later, being escorted out of Arlene’s Grocery during one of their own gigs (“We started rolling around, and things got knocked over, broken. We were just younger. Honest aggression. We’re more composed now”); and various other angst- and substance-fueled shenanigans.
While Beechwood exude an honest cool that can’t be bought, any hipster factor is shattered when Tineo leans into the tape recorder and shouts: “We’re going to take over the fucking world!”
If the heady, garage-y, spooky compositions on Songs From the Land of Nod are any indication, Tineo could be right. Of the provocative title (the song “Land of Nod” closes the record) Lawrence explains, “There are biblical, childhood, and drug references. There was a two-year period that led up to that album. I went through a lot of stuff, physically, emotionally.”
“I put myself through something that I’m through now. But at the time…the biblical reference, East of Eden…” he says haltingly. “I could see what Eden was and where I wanted to be, but I felt I was constantly outside the gate looking in. I felt that way, honestly, my whole life. Outside. Trying to get in and not knowing how. Eden was being happy. Being OK. Not waking up every morning and wanting to die. Or not waking up at all. Not being able to fall asleep.”
The lanky singer, polite and soft-spoken, declines to elaborate on his issues, but the hazy melancholy and changing tempos of “C/F” — referring to the guitar chords — was one written from the depths. (On the lighter side is a more jaunty entry, Beechwood’s most popular song on Spotify, the two-minute pop-dream “Heroin Honey,” written and sung by Tineo, which, he clarifies, is “about a girl, not drugs!”).
Beechwood seem to possess the rock ’n’ roll knowledge of their combined ages, which is 70. They easily cite Brian Eno, Jim Carroll, and other darkly creative underground icons. Names are not dropped, but leak out. Actor (Last Days, Boardwalk Empire)/musician Michael Pitt insisted on directing the band’s surf-guitar-ish rave-up “I Don’t Wanna Be the One You Love” video after catching a Beechwood soundcheck at a small Brooklyn club. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong met the group at Armstrong’s own party, and he asked to hear Beechwood music. “A lot of that shit finds you when you have good energy,” says Lawrence. “We’re just very intrigued. We resonate, on a certain level, with that stuff.”
Beechwood began, as the best do: in the basement, and for all members, with a strong paternal influence. “My dad was a painter. He hung out, on the outskirts, with Steve Albini and Urge Overkill in Chicago,” begins Lawrence, who named the band after the street he grew up on. “We went to see Elliott Smith, the Stones, when I was a little kid. When I got a guitar, instead of lessons, he gave me the first Ramones record. From there, I found out about the Stooges and bands like that. He introduced me and took a step back and let me figure out shit. I was ten years old and going to see Gang of Four.”
Simons, who has been in the band about two years and was not on Songs From the Land of Nod, credits his dad (stage name Mike Lezbian), the singer for the Scavengers — “the first punk band from New Zealand” — for starting him off on the musical good foot.
Tineo’s father was an influence on his son — and countless others. “My dad (JuJu Gigante aka Jerry Tineo) played a really important part in music, in hip-hop. In the early ’90s he was a drummer in a famous group called Beatnuts. They were iconic. My dad started traveling with that group when he was 19, 20 and hasn’t stopped. He’s played every genre of music, I grew up with it all — there was no genres…”
Gordon jumps in… “It was ‘diggin’ in the crates.”
“I just knew what I liked and what I didn’t,” says Tineo. “But rock ’n’ roll specifically was the first genre of music that found me. I’m Dominican. Gordon grew up with rock, but rock found me. The shit hit me like a ten-ton truck. It fit my lifestyle, the way I wanted to live my life.” Tineo’s dad taught him beats, but the drum set “didn’t speak to me until rock. My dad also bought me a guitar, which I didn’t end up learning until years later.”
Beechwood’s founders “learned to play, more or less, with each other,” says Lawrence. “Isa and I met through mutual friends who all skated together. We’d all meet up at some local skatepark for the day and then hang out afterwards, try to find someone over 21 or with a fake ID to buy us some 40-ouncers from the bodega, and then go out looking for some party or whatever at night.” The pair’s first recorded endeavor, Trash Glamour (2014), was cut in Lawrence’s parent’s basement. “In my head, it was Exile on Main Street, but we were in a basement. It sounds awful,” Lawrence confesses.
Sartorially, musically, and interest-wise they’re from the Deuce/Vinyl era of NYC. However, they claim, vociferously, they were not born in the wrong era. “I’ll fucking answer for all of us,” Tineo jumps in. “Only because I have words of wisdom I want to pass down. It’s a great question for us, especially as far as what we like and our music. I’ll give you a little story. I stayed with [Ramones manager/punk author/publicist] Danny Fields for a little while. I posed that question to him, myself. I was a lot younger, I was 17, 18, a teenager, whatever.”
He notes my eyebrow raise.
“No, really, I lived with him. For real.”
“He likes having young little handsome boys around,”’ Lawrence adds, sotto voce.
“I told him, ‘I have the Ramones tattooed across my stomach,’ ” Tineo says. “And this is Danny Fields. I told him I should have been born when the Ramones were around. And Beechwood — he’d never even seen us — I told him, ‘We’re the best!’ [Fields] said, to enlighten me: ‘You, know, you wouldn’t have been the Ramones, or you wouldn’t be as great as you are now, because there’s only you, only one of you, one of your band. Only you can do what you’re doing now.’ ”
Indeed, their septuagenarian fore-musicians are revered but not imitated. Live, Lawrence and Tineo switch instruments; they all write songs. Rife with prolific creativity, youth, and constant change, a next record, Inside the Flesh Hotel, is in the can and will be out this summer. It aurally showcases a happier headspace for the Lawrence, and marks Simons’s writing and recording debut.
As Tom Petty, Bad Company, and Joe Walsh play over 2A’s PA, Beechwood concur that “music is just as shitty today now as it was back then. There’s just as much need for a good band like as there was back then for the Ramones. The Ramones were listening to Styx on the radio, and I’m listening to…I don’t even know,” Lawrence laughs.
There’s one cover song on Songs From the Land of Nod, and it’s lyrically telling. The Kinks gem “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” resonates as much musically as it does lyrically for the band: “I don’t want to live my life like everybody else / And I won’t say that I feel fine like everybody else / ’Cause I’m not like everybody else.” Production on Land of Nod comes courtesy of Lawrence’s uncle in Chicago, who has a “Brian Jones/Brian Wilson vibe” that’s evident in the album’s intricate, creative layers, and the scary-beautiful intensity of dark, driving songs like “This Time Around.”
Reasonably apt comparisons to bands like Suicide and the Velvet Underground pepper Beechwood’s press kit. Those references, Lawrence points out, often come from older journalists. “When people listen to something, they want to put it in a certain context that makes sense to them. You experience through the filter of your past, a reference point,” he notes. “We’re not doing anything new, not starting some new genre. We’re just playing rock ’n’ roll music the best that we can. The guys writing these articles grew up going to the Ramones. When they listen to us, it’s a compliment, knowing that the same energy they felt as a kid going to see those bands is what they’re feeling when they see us.”
“I think we’re a really great band, and [comparisons are] OK for now. But you know what?” the irrepressible Tineo offers. “I think we’re going to make such a mark on music that other bands, any other great band, will be compared to us at some time.”
Beechwood play Thursday, March 29, at the Kingsland, Brooklyn.