“Crystal clear moments of isolation…”: An Interview With Kimmy Drake of Beach Day

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(Photos by Kimmy Drake)

For us here at Stereo Embers, every day is a Beach Day.

Ever since we heard their debut album Trip Trap Attack, we haven’t stopped listening to this Florida band’s music. A dreamy confluence of The Shangri-La’s, The Misfits and The Kinks, Beach Day are a perfect pop band with punk rock smarts and the preternatural ability to let musical history flow through them.

The band’s sophomore effort Native Echoes marks a massive creative leap forward–it’s a sublime offering of scruffy pop gems, catchy choruses and inspired garage stomp.  Singer Kimmy Drake has the sonorous vocal textures of Ronnie Spector and the punk rock phrasing of Glenn Danzig, making her one of the most irresistible singers around.

With her band about to hit the road, Drake sat down with Stereo Embers for a comprehensive chat about Native Echoes, The Kinks and how to deal with expectation.

Stereo Embers: It’s good to talk to you again, Kimmy. It’s been about a year since the release of Beach Day’s debut album, Trip Trap Attack. I know this is a broad question, but what has the band been up to over the course of the past year?

Kimmy Drake: Oh geez! So much. Well we’ve done a ton of touring since then. Plus we recorded our second record Native Echoes.

SE: As one of your biggest fans, I’m thrilled to see Beach Day becoming more and more successful. How do you define success?

KD: Everyone has their own idea of what exactly success is. I guess for me, success would mean feeling fulfilled in every area of my life. Musically, I have to say I feel really fulfilled. I’m so proud of my songwriting on Native Echoes. I’ve grown a lot over the last year as a songwriter. I feel like I’ve really connected with my muse. But at the same time there’s so many different things I still want to do musically! But right now is a good moment. Be here now is my mantra.

SE: Let’s talk about Native Echoes. How does it differ sonically from Trip Trap Attack?

KD: I feel like everything is much more focused on Native Echoes. My guitar sounds are the same but more exploratory. It’s kinda like I found my sound. On the last record I guess it might be kind of searching for it. I feel like on Native Echoes I found it. Or I’m getting closer! Who knows what will come next.

SE: Why did you and Skyler decide on recording the record in Detroit?

KD: We always knew we would record the next record with Jim Diamond at Ghetto Recorders. It was just known. We wanted to work together.

SE: What did Jim Diamond bring to Beach Day’s sound?

 

 

KD: I think he brought my sounds and ideas to light. He made them happen. He brought me there. He made it really easy to get to work on the songs. He already knew what kind of sounds I wanted, so it was super easy because I didn’t have to spend a ton of time trying to explain what I wanted things to sound like. Also, he has so much awesome gear in that studio. Organs, amps, guitars, anything you can dream of. I couldn’t wait to get in there and get to work.

SE: “All My Friends Were Punks” was the first track that you released from Native Echoes. How does it represent and introduce the sound of the record?

KD: Well there’s something dirty about that song. It’s kind of sexy. When I listen to it loud, I just feel the rebelliousness in it. When I first listened back to it on the drive back from Detroit. I was like, wow this is a song you just want to turn up super loud, drive around in your car and just be bad.

SE: On “Don’t Call Me on the Phone,” you and Skyler sound harder and more driving than ever before. What was the genesis of the guitar and drum tracks?

KD: I actually wrote that song in the shower. Sounds ridiculous, but some of the best stuff I write is just stuff I’ll start singing. Words and melody. Then I’ll go pick up my guitar and figure out the guitar chords. Then Skyler played along with me. He made up the drums. We just started playing together and it just happened. I wrote the lead guitar riff after we had the song down. I knew I wanted a riff that we would come back to throughout the song. The solo is just the riff. Which I like cause it’s not something I do too often. I love playing solos.

 

 

SE: As you know, your approach to vocal melody always amazes me. When you write a powerful and beautiful verse melody as in “BFFs,” do you feel pressure to do something even better in the chorus?

KD: I always want to do something better. Always. BFF’s was so raw and so real to me. It literally just poured out. I just had this overwhelming feeling of being left out. And then I wrote it. I wrote it literally 5 days before we headed to Detroit to record the 2nd half of the record. We cut out another song to add BFF’s to the record. Skyler and I felt so strongly about it.

SE: I’m still stuck on “BFFs.” Would you please discuss its arrangement? It’s one of the most complex things you’ve ever done…

KD: It was such a new song that Jim hadn’t heard it before we headed to Detroit. When we were playing the song for Jim in the studio he suggested we add a key change. And Skyler and I always wanted to do a key change. We always talked about that. It takes a special song to do a key change. So when Jim suggested it, we were like YES! So once we accomplished that and everything was more or less tracked we were thinking about what to add next. Jim and I think a lot alike in the studio. I think he wanted to do a feedback track just at the key change area. So I gave it a whirl! And it was ok. But then Jim was like, let me do it. So he recorded the feedback track on BFF’s. I was in the control room hitting record while he played. When I heard what he was doing I literally was going to cry. It’s the most beautiful feedback I’ve ever heard. If you could hear it isolated, it’s the saddest, loneliest, most melancholy feedback I’ve eve heard. My favorite. And it’s beautiful, genius, and transcendent.

SE: You and I are both huge fans of Brian Wilson. You both capture a particular kind of melancholy, for which I can’t find the right word. Perhaps you can help me…

KD: Gosh I can’t even compare myself to him. There’s a quiet place in songwriting where you’re alone in your feelings. I guess an isolated feeling. A really poignant moment where a feeling is crystal clear. And you can pin point it. Sometimes I have emotions and I get overwhelmed but I can’t quite figure out what exactly it is. But I guess it’s those crystal clear moments of isolation and not exactly sadness. More like surrender. I think it’s the surrender.

SE: “I’m Just Messin’ Around” comes after the thematic heaviness of “BFFs.”

KD: It’s a cool garage rock sound that gets me thinking about Ramones and The Sonics. Who are some of your favorite garage rock bands?
That’s so hard! Garage rock is a term that seems to have expanded exponentially as of late. I always think of 60’s bands as garage rock. I love The Kinks. They are the best! And The Yardbirds are one of the first garage bands I ever loved. Count Five. The Seeds are so good. After the 60’s I just live for The Ramones. Forever. I was in a Ramones cover band as Joey for a while. I loved it. I love The Rezillos, The Cramps, The Clash. So many bands I love. The Gun Club. Ugh, too many.

SE: And I have to ask about your guitar solo on “Just Messin’.” How did you come up with it? I think it’s one of the best things you’ve ever done.

KD: That one I thought, I wanna do something crazy on guitar! But I just wrote that little riff and it worked so well. It stuck!

SE: “Pretty” has awesome guitar riffs. What augments it at the beginning of the song? Other guitar parts? Sound effects?

KD: At the beginning of “Pretty” I did a really crazy feedback track full of just guitar screeches and noises. I like to think of it like a wild animal being set loose for the first time. It was the first track we recorded for Native Echoes. I felt wild and set free, It was awesome. Also the riff that shows up throughout was something I made up in the studio. I played it on a 12 string and we used a leslie speaker for it. There’s a ton of cool stuff we did on that song. Stuff I’ve never done before on guitar.

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SE: It seems like on “Pretty” and throughout the record, your approach to guitar is looser than before and more exploratory. What role do feedback and distortion play in “Pretty”?

KD: The main lyric in “Pretty” is, “who cares about being pretty”. This made me think the guitar should be ugly and crude. I feel like us girls spend so much time on makeup, hair, looking good, etc. This song is about the frustration of expectations that are put on you. Sometimes I just want to say, how dare you put so many expectations on me. I guess it’s a lot of anger I feel for what we as girls have to go through. To be skinny, pretty, etc. What people expect of us is so ridiculous at times. It’s kind of just like F it! Who cares.

SE: Who do you address in the song?

KD: I address myself. Also, I want other girls and dudes to feel that too. That your worth is not measured in how you look. I feel like it’s easy for people to be pretty. It’s harder to be interesting, talented, nice, good human beings. Like if being pretty is all you have going for you, that’s kinda sad. Because an internal life is so much more interesting. Sure, be pretty, but for the love of god please try to cultivate something else in your life. It’s so worth it. Read a book, have interesting conversations. Know your worth. Know that just because you aren’t the prettiest girl or boy in the room that you can be the most interesting and coolest because of who you are.

SE: On “The Lucky One,” the lead vocal-drum interplay really stuck out? How do you guys create the right environment in the studio for you to cut such a soaring and catchy vocal?

KD: That’s a really driving song. I do feel like the drums push the vocals along and vice versa. When we do vocals I’m alone in the room singing. Jim has Christmas lights in the room where we track. I just keep those on so it’s nice and subdued feeing in there. A good feeling. I’m a big fan of strings of lights. I think it has a soothing effect on me. I have them all over my house and in my yard. They have a nice glow. I feel like that song has a nice glow.

SE: Would you mind answering a tough one? In the past, you’ve told me that Beach Day is about escapism and having fun. But when I hear songs like “Lost Girl”—and, indeed, “Pretty,” “BFFs,” and “How Do You Sleep at Night”—I’m struck by the sadness, introspection, and despondency of the lyrics. What do you think?

KD: I think when Skyler and I started this band we were definitely escaping into it. For both of us, it was a place where we could just do what we loved. Over the past year so much has happened and that always comes out in my writing. I can’t help it. Those songs do have a theme. I do feel like the lyrics on this record are so much more introspective and even the feeling of it. On Lost Girl I was fixated on a bass line that had so much delay it created this sound that kind of reminds me of the sound of footsteps in wooden shoes walking in a big empty hall. Very lonely sounding. It’s a really intimate song that creates a great juxtaposition of far away but really close. I wouldn’t say this record feels despondent. But I would say it’s really introspective. Like sitting back, looking around and writing about what’s going on around me and how I’m seeing everything. Introspective and narrative. We’ve definitely grown as a band in so many ways. And that is surely coming through in the music. It’s not all parties, all the time anymore!

SE: How did you construct the lovely vocal harmonies on “How Do You Sleep at Night”?

KD: I wrote the song on acoustic guitar. Then I recorded it live. Then I just sang the high harmony with it. That’s how I always write them. I sing along to my recordings. I knew I was going to do that when I first wrote that song. I did a cover of Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” in my little home studio. And I did both voices. The low and the super high. And I LOVED how those harmonies sounded. I want to do so much more of that on songs in the future. Also on that song is the sound of the beach which I recorded here on Hollywood Beach.

SE: What are your plans for touring Native Echoes?

KD: We’re doing a west coast tour in August. We’re so excited about that.