If you want a little flavor of things to come from Beirut, look West, to “Bombay Beach.”
The film, titled after the California community of the same name, features new and old music from Beirut mastermind Zach Condon
. Prior this full-length feature, the movie’s director Alma Har’el helmed several music videos, including a trio for Beirut.
“Bombay Beach” is a gem of a documentary, interspersed with choreographed dance number set to music – a hybrid, really, which is also an apt descriptor for the music of Beirut. Ever since Condon burst independently onto the scene in 2006, he’s combined elements of folk, banda, early pop, gypsy and Eastern European musics, carnival, big band, mariachi and more. He made it onto the map, in part, because his music is drawn from it.
Speaking to me from his home in Brooklyn, Condon says that Har’el wanted to collaborate because “she found the beaten-down landscape [of Bombay Beach] to fit my music quite well, and all the dreamy-eyed wandering of the people who live in the desert there.”
“Sometimes I’m more affected by places that I haven’t been to,” Condon says, offering that he actually never visited the impoverished former "beach” town. For instance, he credits his “wild imagination” for what he wrote on his first album, 2006’s “Gulag Orkestar,” inspired by a backpacking trip to Europe that he took in his head. Furthermore, his upbringing in New Mexico informs the sparseness and Southwesternly appeal of his previous tracks. (He did, of course, go on a trip, to Europe and then some.)
But now that the 25-year-old songwriter has been around the world with his subsequent albums and releases like 2007’s “The Flying Club Cup” and the Realpeople electronic sketches, he’s looking “inward” for his next, post-“Bombay” effort.
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“That’s the great thing about this year. I’ve gotten my youthful yayas out,” he explains, though it’s unclear what precisely “yayas” are. “I’m going musically inward.”
Condon revealed that he’ll have a new album – his first since 2007 -- out “sometime this summer.” The as-yet-untitled set was recorded during this brutal past winter in upstate New York with frequent collaborator Griffin Rodriguez and the “core” crew of six to seven of Condon’s usual touring musicians.
“It’s almost like I’m crystallizing the sound that I’ve come to adapt. I’ve been very centered on what the Beirut sound actually is, and what is my voice and melody and my sense of rhythm. It’s been about maturing,” he says.
He concedes however, that he opted to track the set further north because “I can’t really work in Brooklyn. It’s too busy here. It was a total New Englander thing to pull.” He says it was a solitary retreat, to a house with a fireplace and a dog and the woods. “It’s horrible, I just fell into the footsteps of a number of clichés. By accident, I even ended up staying right next to the Woodstock festival grounds. I’m kicking myself,” he laughs.
The result from such a rustic and cold recording environment is the opposite of what you’d think, he says: this wintry album is quite “sunny. I write sad songs when it’s nice outside. I write warm and happy songs when I’m up to my neck in snow for three months.”
As a multi-instrumentalist, Condon’s getaway helped him to work on his own musicianship.
“I always felt like a dilettante, instrumentally. This time, I felt much more drawn to a classical brass arrangement approach and I worked a lot more on my piano chops,” he says. Six years ago, he picked up the ukelele as a sort of joke, but “this year I buckled down. It’s an interesting instrument. My trouble was taking it seriously myself.”
Beirut has been on a serious tour with Arcade Fire and The National for the past few months, and is in the midst of plotting a series of North American and overseas tour for June through August. Click here for announced dates.