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Profile: Beach Fossils at Bottom Lounge

By Ellise Shafer

Photos by Christian Wade

Nov 7, 2018

Brooklynites Beach Fossils may be considered the pioneers of bedroom pop, but after the critical success of 2017’s Somersault, the band has reached new heights that are difficult to confine.

The last stop on their co-headlining east coast tour with Wavves and opener Kevin Krauter brought them to Chicago’s Bottom Lounge for two nights. Before Wednesday’s show, WNUR got the chance to catch up with Beach Fossils about touring in Asia, the indie music scene and what Post Malone really smells like.

From left to right: Tommy Davidson, Jack Doyle Smith and Dustin Payseur of Beach Fossils.

Beach Fossils had its genesis with the self-titled solo project of lead singer Dustin Payseur in 2010 and eventually added touring members, most notably Zachary Cole Smith, who eventually left to form DIIV. Clash the Truth was released in 2013 after bassist Jack Doyle Smith and guitarist Tommy Davidson joined, but it was not until Somersault that the Contemporary Beach Fossils Experience (as put by Payseur) was born.

“Writing with other people definitely changes stuff up rather than just writing by myself because we all have a different style,” Payseur said. “I don’t think that what we make together would sound like any of us by ourselves.”

Although their mellow, synthy sound and ocean-related name seems to lend itself more to LA than their native New York, Payseur likes to think of their sound as an antithesis to the hectic nature of the city.

“There are certain artists with a very New York sound that’s noisy and abrasive like the sound of the city,” Payseur said. “For me, making Beach Fossils sound pleasant was almost escapism from living in New York.”

Last year’s Somersault was the first of their albums to be released on Bayonet Records, a label started by Payseur and his wife. Payseur said that releasing on his own label was a natural step, adding to the DIY quality that Beach Fossils’ music has had since Payseur recorded their first album in his bedroom.

Wavves, who co-headlined the tour with Beach Fossils.

It is this DIY approach that has inspired a slew of artists in the increasingly present bedroom pop genre. Payseur said that its rise has allowed for a lot more variety within the industry.

“I just love that anyone who owns a computer now essentially has their own recording studio,” Payseur said. “The cheaper equipment gets, the more creative people have access to the medium. Making music shouldn’t be an exclusive thing.”

Although Beach Fossils started out in a bedroom, their range has since expanded worldwide. Last spring took the band on tour in Asia, where they experienced an entirely different culture surrounding their music.

“[In Asia] they’re very adamant about wanting to meet you,” Davidson said. “They’re very patient and enthusiastic, but a very reserved audience.”

“They’re extremely appreciative in a very different way than they are in the U.S.,” Payseur added. “It’s a little nerve-wracking because we’re used to playing for crowds that go crazy, but they are very silent. They’re really paying attention.”

This observation has affected the way that the band performs now.

“It made us kind of change our live game a little bit,” Smith said. “Now, we have a little bit less dead air in between songs.”

This turned out to be true. Beach Fossils played a 15-song set in pretty much 45 minutes. After an SNL-style introduction of each member, there was not much talking in-between songs except for the occasional exaggerated “Ohhh yeah,” from Payseur. The fast pace of their set lent itself beautifully to the crowd’s bouncy moshing against their lo-fi yet guitar-driven sound. Eventually, crowd surfers emerged, with Payseur himself joining in during “Generational Synthetic.”

However, the highlight of their set was toward the end, when Payseur traded the venue lighting for the crowd’s phone flashlights during an intimate performance of “Sleep Apnea.” Although most people’s phones were in the air not to provide light but to record the song (as I admittedly did), it was a moment that brought together a few hundred strangers.

For the encore, Davidson asked the crowd if they wanted to hear a bop or a banger. The response was unintelligible, but when the band launched into “This Year,” everyone was content. “Careless” followed, and then they played Oasis’s “Wonderwall.” Like, for real. Normally, this decision would make me cringe to no end. But honestly, it was kind of heartwarming. Beach Fossils called out members of Wavves and Kevin Krauter’s band, which resulted in about 15 people on stage, playing each other’s instruments and belting that famous hook. Even though that many people gave the impression of musical cacophony, the cover actually sounded pretty good.

Although it may seem out of place for a band of their caliber to play a cover for their last song, Payseur finds them overlooked in the music world. In fact, he just released a cover of Yung Lean’s “Agony,” paired with a music video he filmed while walking the streets of New York.

Yung Lean is not the only rapper the group has been associated with – there are rumors of a collab in the works with none other than Post Malone. Although this was neither confirmed nor denied in the interview, the band was extremely enthusiastic about their love for “Posty.”

“Right after Stoney came out, I was watching Youtube interviews with [Post Malone] and I was like, this dude is fucking hilarious. He just reminds me of people that we hang out with and ourselves,” Payseur said. “So I hit him up on Twitter and he DMed me his phone number. When we went to LA, we went to his studio and hung out for a week.”

Smith then addressed something that had been at the forefront of my mind: what does Post Malone actually smell like?

“People say he smells bad and I’m like, ‘Dude, he smells so good,’” Smith said. “He’s a millionaire, do you really think he smells bad?”

“He smells like leather,” Payseur added. “He’s fresh as fuck.”

Payseur and Davidson think that the indie genre could actually learn a little bit from contemporary hip-hop artists such as Post Malone.

“I feel like the cultural renaissance in hip-hop right now is embracing much more variety than indie music is,” Davidson said.

“[Indie music] is just become a little stagnant,” Payseur added. “Breaking down barriers in genre is essential, because indie’s not a fucking genre – it just means that you’re releasing something independent of a major label.”

When asked if there is a new album on the horizon, Payseur replied, “We’re always recording. If we’re in New York, we’re recording, whether it’s for an album or whatever. It’s just what we do when we hang out.”

“We’re either at a diner or recording,” Smith clarified, which spurred a debate on the best diners in New York and Los Angeles.

After a six-minute digression, the band agreed that the best diners are Court Square Diner and Champs Diner in New York, along with Fred 62 and Cafe 50s in LA.

Of the milkshakes at Cafe 50s, Payseur said, “Those are fucking flames.” And then, after a pause: “Sorry, we’re way more passionate about diners than anything.”

Although they were strangely passionate about diners (and Post Malone’s leathery scent), I’d say that Beach Fossils are at least equally as passionate about their music. With a solidified lineup, captivating live show and a hunger for innovation, they have definitely outgrown the bedroom. Now, they’re ready to take over the entire house.

Hala at Mahall’s Locker Room

Write-up by Ellise Shafer

Photos by Ellie Auch

July 14th, 2018

Although musician Ian Ruhala – better known as Hala – may be young, what he lacks in age he makes up for in experience. The 21-year-old has been playing and recording his own music from his bedroom since high school. His EP Young Alumni was released in 2015 after graduation and full-length Spoonfed soon followed, produced during his first semester of college. This summer, he recruited band members and embarked on a 16-date tour, co-headlining with fellow indie favorites BOYO.

I crossed paths with Hala at their last stop of tour in Cleveland, Ohio. The basement of a bowling alley called Mahall’s Twenty Lanes served perfectly as the venue, complimenting Hala’s vintage vibe. The specific corner of the basement in which they played was dubbed “The Locker Room,” presumably due to the row of old beige lockers placed behind the band.

Sporting a grey Tommy Hilfiger shirt and a shoulder fanny pack, Ruhala took a seat on one of the vintage bowling benches to discuss his sound, tour life, and balancing college with music.

Ruhala said of his music that although he gets lumped into the “bedroom pop” genre, he doesn’t like to restrict himself to just that.

“I don’t really know how I feel about that term [bedroom pop], but I do record in a bedroom,” Ruhala said. “I don’t know if it’s really poppy. It’s just like guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll through the lens of recording at home, so lo-fi is sometimes attached – but I don’t know, I’m not purposefully trying to sound like shit.”

This tour being his longest and first time headlining in the U.S., Ruhala said that it has resulted in close friendships between the two bands – and surprisingly, a lot of nudity.

“Everybody gets naked, really,” Ruhala said. “We were in the car the other day and my guitarist was just playing his gameboy and then he felt the urge to get naked, so he stripped down.”

Other tour antics have included (sorta) trashing a hotel room.

“We kind of – not really – trashed a hotel room the other night, but we got really drunk and busted one of the beds,” Ruhala said. “It wasn’t like a Van Halen kind of trashing where things were actually destroyed; it was more like ‘sorry about this clean up that you gotta do.’”

However, Ruhala doesn’t always live such a lifestyle – he is also a college student, having graduated near the top of his high school class. A type A student in high school, he said that he has learned to relax in college and as a result, has been able to focus more on music.

“If you really wanna pursue music, in the moments that you have free you’ll find yourself gravitating toward your instrument and just playing it,” Ruhala said. “That could be at 2 a.m. after you study, it could be during the day, it could be playing a show. There’s always time.”

However, Ruhala said that instead of sitting down and trying to write a song, the songs tend to come to him.

“I’ll get a chord progression or I’ll have a sentence that could be a chorus line, and it kind of just happens. Usually it has to do with experiences and the song will find me. And sometimes you gotta do some weird stuff to find it,” Ruhala said. “You can’t write a song about heartbreak and not be heartbroken; you can’t write a song about drugs and alcohol without partaking in it. You don’t want to be a poser. And that’s what I’m big on, I just want to write songs that mean something to me and I don’t wanna write fluff, you know?”

Recording and production also play a large part in Ruhala’s creative process. Spoonfed was recorded entirely in an attic, which Ruhala said played an important role in the final product.

“I’ve done stuff in a studio with other bands, and I can just tell, when you bring an engineer in and pay them, most of the time they’re like ‘this isn’t my own stuff’ so they don’t really care,” Ruhala said. “I want to give [an album] the time that I think it deserves. I’m not too much of a studio wizard but I’m learning every time I do something, and I feel like if I’m happy with it, then that’s really all that matters.”

As the show approached, The Locker Room filled up with around 30 people. BOYO was on first, impressing the crowd with crisp guitar riffs and moody vocals from singer Robert Tilden. As they played, the band members of Hala placed themselves front and center, dancing wildly as a form of encouragement.

A few moments after BOYO’s set ended, Hala took over, and the members of BOYO replaced them in the crowd. Although suffering from a slight cold, Ruhala delivered great vocals and strummed his Epiphone Casino guitar with ease. Hala played six songs in total, contrasting “Problems” from his first EP with recent single “Keep on Loving” and of course, “What Is Love? Tell Me, Is It Easy?”. Midway through the set, Ruhala announced that his parents were in the crowd, having driven from his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. This just added to the already present feeling that being at his show was like being welcomed into a tightly knit group of friends. It was just the right amount of laid-back and intimate, and one couldn’t help but notice the smiles on the faces of almost everyone as they watched Ian Ruhala and his friends play music.

As for what to expect from Hala’s future, there is another album in the works, hopefully to be released next summer. Ruhala said that it will be recorded with all new gear in a different bedroom, and he is looking to change his direction stylistically as well.

“I just want to genre-hop as much as I can. I want it to be the most confusing and incoherent string of songs, but I still want them to blend in some way,” Ruhala said. “I wrote a country song, a sludgy hip-hop song and then I’ve got some poppier songs and some guitar songs. So I just want it to be a mixed bag of pretty much everything because that’s what I’m listening to right now.”

And what exactly is Ruhala listening to right now? Twin Peaks, Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, and Mason Ramsey (yep, the yodeling Walmart boy).

“I really appreciate [Mason Ramsey]. I don’t get why they’re recording him like they did on ‘Famous’ because if they were to record him in a way that was old school like he is, it would sound so cool,” Ruhala said. “I think probably when he’s like 20 and having a mental breakdown, he will make a fabulous record. And like, it will sound so sick.”

Well, if Ruhala’s prediction comes true and Ramsey does end up making that great record at 20, then I suppose they will have something in common.