Interview: Beardyman

By on Thursday, 25th November 2010 at 12:00 pm

Starting off small, beatboxing to his friends, Beardyman has become one of the hottest properties in underground music. His unique way of performing with looping sounds, manipulating his voice and using an endless supply of electro gear has gained him a cult following. Next year he is finally releasing his debut album, read below to find out more from this truly original artist.

For those who haven’t heard you before, how would you describe your sound?
It depends on the gig really, so it’s hard to say. I make live music, of many different genres in many different styles, all live, using about half a ton of synthesizers, sound-loopers, FX units vocal manipulation tools and other things. Generally I sway towards dance music genres. I started out as a beatboxer but I now incorporate so much technology into my shows that you could hardly call it beatboxing anymore.

Most of the sounds in my shows come from my mouth and are manipulated live to become what ever I want them to be. It’s at times comedic, at times ridicu-sick, at times disgusto-bad, at times trippy and psychedelic.  I take people on a musical journey when I play, from hip hop through jazz, gabba, techno, drum ‘n’ bass – not in that order. It depends on the night, I play whatever are the most popular underground genres in whichever country I’m in at the time.

You’ve been on the live circuit for a while now, why has it taken so long for an album?
I’ve been touring pretty much constantly for the last five years so it’s been hard to find the time to record. But more importantly, I’ve been looking for a way to capture the vibe and the flow of what I do live. It’s only recently that I’ve finally found ways to record, letting my creativity flow uninhibited into the computer multi-tracked and fully editable.

The technology just hasn’t been there until recently, and I wanted it to be right, no reason to rush something out for the sake of it. Pretty much the whole album’s been made by jamming out ideas using live-looping which has enabled me to plough through uninterrupted recording/composition sessions without having to stop and think about what I’m doing and whether it’s necessarily the ‘right’ thing to do. I think conscious thought gets in the way of the momentary truth you spit out when you’re improvising. Subjective truths are short lived.

The album is a mash of a variety of styles, where do you get your inspiration from?
I get inspired by all sorts of stuff. Not just music. Some of my biggest influences are, in no particular order, Chris Morris, Bill Bailey, Raymond Scott, Rahzel, Tim Exile, Jon Hopkins, Chris Rock, Richard D. James, Reggie Watts, Victor Borge, Joni Mitchel, David Bowie, Kate Bush, Noisia, Q-tip, D’angelo, System Of A Down. So I suppose I probably try to emulate them and many others, but I can just as easily get inspired by something random on Youtube which makes me rethink my whole shtick.

There are incredible beatboxers out there, who weren’t even old enough to talk when I started out. Scary, but very inspiring. Stylistically though, I made a conscious decision to give this album a relatively cohesive sound rather than make it the baffling psychedelic shuffle-button journey I originally wanted to do. So even though it’s an extremely musically diverse album, most of the tunes on it make you screw your face up and dance around. But there’s drum ‘n’ bass, dubstep, electro, techno, IDM, hip hop, raggastep, even a late 70s Fleetwood Mac style one. I was [going to make it] way more diverse but I think that would have been a bad move. It’s mental enough as it is.

How did you first get into beatboxing?
I’ve always been a beatboxer, but when I was young I didn’t know what it was called. People used to tell me to stop doing it, it was annoying to them. If only I’d grown up in the Bronx, life would’ve been tougher but I’d have been rocking shows at age 8. But I ended up beatboxing for mates in parks and at parties when I was a teenager, it was literally just a party trick.

It was only at university that a mate of mine who knew I beatboxed and did a little himself came bounding into my room with the Rahzel album in his hands insisting that I and everyone else in the room had to hear it. He turned off what we were listening to and stuck on Razhzel doing ‘If Your Mother Only Knew’, we were all blown away. I had been practising a little up until that point using guitar FX pedals to enhance the sound, but after hearing Rahzel and then seeing him play live, I knew it was time to put some effort in.

I got some random gigs after I did a set as part of a comedy sketch show I was in where I had to be a character who was socially retarded but the best beatboxer in the world, and gigs started coming. And the rest is history.

Do you prefer your live beatboxing or performing your new material?
I don’t really do that much solo beatbox anymore, it just doesn’t fire me, it’s too limiting. And I haven’t actually performed any of my new material live yet, I’m going to wait until people start asking me to do it. I improvise, and I find that helps me to do what the crowd want, better than planning things. I’d rather keep doing that until people start asking me to perform stuff. I’ve never been the kind of performer to be like ‘This is a song I wrote about a girl, it’s really deep and shit’. I’d rather do improvised stuff live, but if people start asking me to perform the songs on the album, I’d love to.I’ll never do it the same way twice, I’ll always do wildly different versions of what’s on the album.

You played a lot of festivals this summer, do you have a favourite?
Yeah. Several. Bestival. It’s an incredible festival, small yet large. It was a bit rammed this year but no less fun, it’s brilliant. Costumes and fun people. Fuji Rocks in Japan was absolutely mental, Japan is next level. Their festivals are so well run, with incredible sound and a wicked vibe and a whole fish on stick as a festival snack.

Also Shambala in Canada; naked people, incredible lighting and decorations, permanent partying structures which are used once a year, all out door, no alcohol, but such amazing sound and such a wicked vibe. Dopeness.

You have a long tour early next year, will the performances be as interesting as the album?
Yeah, the tour will be nuts. In typical me-style I’ve set an impossible challenge in the name of experimentation and advancement of partying technology. Using technology and techniques developed in my Edinburgh comedy shows, which will be out soon, and at my clubnight Battlejam, which we’re now making into an interactive online TV show, we will be sampling people live, working off Twitter suggestions and streaming many of the shows to the whole world.

It’ll be absolutely nuts. I’ll be performing some of the stuff from the album but it’ll be mainly improvisation based and all about jamming and making things up on the spot. Which is really quite insane, no-one does that, not in the way I’ll be doing it, or on the scale I’ll be doing it either. It’s bonkers, I must be off my nut.

What do you have planned for the rest of 2010?
This year has been insane, pulling a crowd of 15,000 at Bestival was proof I’m doing something right, but I’m gonna keep experimenting and pushing boundaries and expectations. I’ll be touring the UK, Europe, Japan, America, it’s gonna be insane.

Also, my new computer based live-looping system which rivals Ableton will be coming out. At first just for me to use, so watch out for that, Battlejam TV will happen, that’s the live streaming interactive club-night type thing. I’ll be doing more podcasts, an essential mix, more recording, more innovating, some more comedy shows then maybe some sleep. There’ll be DVD’s out too. Holidays are for the weak, I am strong like lion.

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