Mixing it up

Beach Fossil’s Dustin Payseur on creating a new sound

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Beach Fossils
Rebekah Campbell

For Dustin Payseur, changing the sound of Beach Fossils wasn’t a matter of abandoning what had come before.

Rather, the frontman of the Brooklyn indie-rock outfit says moving from the low-fi sound of its first two albums to the lush pop songs of Somersault, released in 2017, is a matter of embracing music he’s long liked — and bringing the full band into the recording mix.

“I’d always loved that kind of music,” Payseur says in a recent phone interview of the orchestral pop, complete with arranged strings and horns. “But we never really had the budget to do it.

“Budget aside, I never knew how to get people together to do that. How do you find a harpsichord player? I didn’t know. We ended up calling all these people and got them into the studio and it was great.”

The strings, harpsichord and flute were added after the guitars, bass and drums had been recorded on each track. But the songs aren’t standard Payseur compositions with the orchestral elements dropped on top. 

“It’s a little bit of both,” he says. “This album is the first I’ve written with other members rather than a solo project. The dynamics of writing were different because of that and we definitely made space in the songs for that stuff.”

In large part, Payseur says, he’d never written with his bandmates because Beach Fossils had been touring for much of the previous four years.

Plus, the band took some time off to become the punk band Nasty Bits in the short-lived HBO ’70s music industry drama series Vinyl.

Before that, Payseur, who started Beach Fossils as a way to expand his solo work, wrote all the songs.

“I played music in high school, but it was dramatically different than Beach Fossils,” Payseur says. “I’ve got recordings in pretty much every genre I could think of. This is the one that stuck or that people liked the most.”

That genre, or more specifically the sound, is lo-fi, recordings that are of lower fidelity than usual, a method used by, among others, Pavement and Beck to create rougher, more immediate records.

“In lo-fi music, there’s a lot of character and this mysterious sound,” Payseur says. “You listen to lo-fi jazz records or Beatles demos and there’s something in the grit in it that feels so personal and intimate.”

The lo-fi approach also occurred because Payseur didn’t have any gear other than a guitar and pre-amp when he made his first two albums. 

“Even the bass on the first record is on guitar,” he says. “I just played it on the lower strings. That means the bass player [now] has to play really high on the neck live. That’s actually kind of fun.”

On the other side of sound, the songs from Somersault require a different approach for the band to make them sound similar to the recorded version on stage.

“We re-create as much as we can with keyboards,” Payseur says. “We do have a trumpet player. We’re thinking about doing an orchestral thing for some shows, but not for a whole tour.”

Beach Fossils is back to touring hard, having played Europe in the late summer and taking all of four days off before playing its first U.S. show of the fall.

Their live set includes a handful of Somersault songs. Peyseur says he still believes in playing a lot of a new records, even in the era when records don’t sell.

But the set also includes plenty of material from the first two albums.

“We do a lot of songs people want to hear and deep cuts people might not be familiar with,” Payseur says. “But we don’t always play the popular songs that people call out for. We’re playing for ourselves and playing what we want to. It’s kind of selfish. But I think that’s how you get the best shows.”

And, Payseur says, with plenty of touring under the band’s belt, Beach Fossils should be road tight every night.

“Or we’ll just keep drinking and we get a little loose,” Payseur says. “We try to mix it up that way.”

ON THE BILL: Beach Fossils. 8 p.m. Friday, April 19, Oriental Theater, 4335 44th Ave., Denver. Tickets are $20-$175.