Interview: Beekeepers Discuss New Album and Announce Upcoming European Tour

Beekeepers have announced an upcoming European tour and the release of their debut full-length album ‘Varroa Mites’ via Vacant Stare Records, out this fall.

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From left: Alex, Kyle and Danny (Photo by Nicolas Cubillos Marroquin)

After a quiet few months in Oakland, Beekeepers are back. Well, sort of.

The band is composed of Kyle Day (vocals/guitar), Alex Rather-Taylor (synth/keyboard), and Danny Kendrick (drums), and they haven’t played a show since last August or shared any updates on the band’s developments since. Last summer, Danny left Oakland to settle in Paris with his partner, leaving the status of the band unclear. Despite losing a member, they weren’t exactly ready to call it quits.

Over the last year, they’ve been strategically planning when to advantageously release an album and feasibly organize a tour. They took the untraditional route. Although they have no US tour dates in sight, they have an immense summer long tour that will take them from Iceland and all throughout Western Europe between July and October. Based on Day’s most recent experiences from touring, he’s found that playing shows in Europe is both more economically sound and enjoyable than touring across the US. Unlike many bands that begin their careers with the goal of becoming established in their respective regions before making their way through places where they’re essentially unknown, Day has different ideas about what it means to make music and how to share it. Their European tour begins in July, where they play in Iceland and France, which includes a stop at Festival de la Cour Denis, before they go on tour with a Berlin based synth punk band called Puff as their supporting act September through October.

I met up with Kyle on a quiet Wednesday night at his Lake Merritt home and studio space known as The Grassy Null, where he’s filmed live recordings of various Bay Area bands, including The World and Mall Walk most recently. We discussed the past life, so to speak, of Beekeepers’ short span of playing shows in the Bay, the process of creating the new record, and why Kyle sees a more invigorating and productive future for the band in Europe. He also showed me his DIY face mask/microphone, stained with blood from their last show after a safety pin malfunction caused him to bleed through it, but he continued to play furiously anyways, which Kyle proudly states is “very typical of our performance.” He says the “aesthetic, the attitude, the don’t-tell-me-what-to-be thing” developed from musical influences such as Crass, but the unpredictable, dynamic and violent show experience, is something they’ve developed on their own.

Last week, Beekeepers shared their live studio recording of their new track “Cock Rot” at Studio Lesage, based in France, and it’s the first glimpse of what we can expect on their upcoming full length. It’s a dizzying and chaotic thrill of a live recording, with shots warped and sped up to match the zipping synth and prickly guitar slides (watch below).

The process of recording the new album was a lengthy effort, requiring re-recording the whole album with a band member overseas and the help of European musical connections to lay down the finishing touches. Although a date isn’t set in stone, keep an eye out for the release of Varroa Mites by this September via Vacant Stare Records (Oakland).

When was your last show in Oakland?

Some time last year. Well, my drummer moved to Paris. He found a French girl and fell in love with her so I thought the band was over. Danny and I are the skeleton of the writing process, and Alex adds to it, so I just felt like there’s no way this is going to work. But we’re such good friends that we made it work out. When he would come back to visit, we would finish our recordings. But I actually don’t know the last time we played—he left last May to move to France and then came back some time after. We played with Mall Walk and Maraudeur at Sgraffito, and that was an intense show…I was really proud of that show.

Why are you proud of that show?

Well, first of all that bleeding thing…I wasn’t doing well in the head then. And I try to make every performance unique and very representative of where we’re at, so sometimes we’re really silly and goofy, and other times we’re really dark. And that one was really dark—I was bleeding, I said a really long poem that I wrote hours before, and I was just like yelling at people—and I brought a hammer and just destroyed a guitar and threw it everywhere…but you know, it’s part of the deal.

Were people like yeah! Or, were people like—ohh….

It was a little bit of both. I feel like…I can’t tell how people feel about us. Every time we play live, I think we blow people away. So like for that show, that was really intense, which is a common adjective that’s said about us. Like, ‘this band is really intense…and I loved it.’

Do you wear your beekeeper suits for every show?

We try to wear them all the time. There were times where we thought they were dumb. They’re real beekeepers suits, they get really hot, but now we’re committed to it. Early on we were wish-washy about it but we’ve gone threw a roller coaster of identifying ourselves and now we always wear them.

Tell me about the music video you shot late last year. It was filmed in France. So how did that opportunity come about?

We have a relationship with a guy named Marius Atherton. Basically, Danny and Marius are best friends and that’s created a community in Paris. And that started our relationship of us being able to go there and have them come here. I was out there on tour—I was playing guitar for Useless Eaters. Alex flew to Paris for a friend’s wedding. I told him to bring the hats and let’s get some suits. They’re cut off around the face in the video because we had to get painter suits. We couldn’t bring the authentic suits because they’re so heavy. We filmed the video in Marius’ studio, which is also his living room.

So it was like, ‘you guys are all here, you have the suits–now let’s record this song.’

I had all my gear and they had synthesizers there so…it was just a sporadic thing. Marius does videos under Studio Lesage in the same way I do videos here at Grassy Null. When touring bands come through, we film videos and it’s just a good way to create a community, help everyone out. So that’s how it came about.

Seems like you both have a similar mission and ideas. I really like the end of the video where you’re just hanging from the ceiling.

I was actually surprisingly…in that video, I’m pretty calm. Because if you see a Beekeepers show, I’m not stuck anywhere. I’m kind of all over the place. To record in a small room and not be able to take up anyone’s space…but yeah, that was my time to do something sporadic.

The track [“Cock Rot”] that’s recorded in the video is going to be part your upcoming LP? And you finished recording that when?

Yeah, it is. It’s taken us about to year to record it because of Danny moving to Paris. Part of the recordings were done around February of last year and the other half were recorded in December but we recorded them all live here really fast. My buddy in Greece plays in a band called Bazooka and he mixed it. There’s this dude Mikey Young from Total Control, and he mastered it in Australia.

Wow, it’s been a long process.

Yeah, it took forever but the thing about Beekeepers is that it’s kind of my brainchild. We’ve recorded it once before. Like, there was an album but I threw it out and—I’m not necessarily a control freak but I have a vision, and I really care about my art…so we threw it out but I think this time we got it right. For the next album we record, I think we’re going to do it in the same spot where the video was shot and it will be a lot quicker.

Going forth with releasing the album, that’s going to be done on Vacant Stare Records. How do you know Rob and how did you decide on this?

I know Rob from working at the studio called Ruminator Audio in the city. Mall Walk worked with Monte Vallier and I’m his assistant engineer, so I would see Mall Walk’s name at shows at stuff and then I met him at The Starving Musician. I would just be around Monte’s studio and yeah…now Rob and I have a band together. It’s funny, we’ve become better friends recently. For the album, we had some bigger labels interested but most concluded that we’re “too risky” so they wouldn’t do it. I liked this a lot, actually. And there were a few labels that were really into it, but still afraid. I’m really glad it turned out that way. We’re not a bubblegum-garage-pizza-gnar-fuzz delay pedal “whoop” band, we’re not a hardcore band, we’re not unimpressed, seen-it-all pouty punks…we’re something in between though.

That’s rad. Then it just must have felt really natural to work with Rob on this.

It makes it like a home team. Oakland has such a beautiful and strong community, but for whatever reason has been struggling in the past year—in my opinion. Music has been struggling to get out. And so now, I feel like bands are starting to branch out and I’m really happy to do it with Rob. As Beekeepers, we do everything ourselves. With Rob we feel like good friends looking out for each other.

When is [the album] actually coming out?

I think we’re going to do it September. I get the test pressings next week. I’m going to sit on it because we have this European tour. September is a really good time [to release] and coincidentally, a really good time to go on tour in Europe because people are off for holiday. Like during the summer, you can legitimately contact venues and no one will answer because they’re closed for summer because everyone is gone. We’re having a record release show in Paris on September 2nd.

When does the tour actually begin? Do you know how many shows?

It’s like forty. In July, I got us a gig in Iceland so we’ll be playing a festival, but there are like two shows there. We’ll be playing with a band called Pink Street Boys. It’s hard to find a band that’s similar to us, so they’re similar as far as the attitude and aggressiveness. I contacted them and said, ‘hey you play with a lot of our friends in Europe’ and the cheapest way to get to Europe is to go through Iceland. That’s how this whole DIY booking thing goes…I don’t let anyone book us. Our keyboardist, Marius also has a festival called La Cour Denis that we get to play.

Dang, you met the right guy.

Yeah, Marius has a farm in this town called Lormes, it’s in Burgundy, and he has the festival at his barn house. We played with Night Beats like two years ago, and he keeps getting bigger and better bands, so we’re going to play this festival, which has become kind of tradition for us for the last three years. Then in August, we’ll be recording our next album or finding work. Then September, we tour with a band from Berlin called Puff for a five to six week tour. We pretty much go everywhere.

So you’ll be in Europe that whole period of time?

Yeah, I think so, from July to October. I’m always on the fence of moving to Berlin…I have my heart there…

But you have your heart here…

That’s true, I’ve built so much here. But I also desperately need to be on the road for my personal health–my mental health. I also like my freedom a lot. I think the more I travel, the happier I am to come back to Oakland. If I stick around too long, I find a way to complain about it even though I love it here. We start in Berlin, go to Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium, UK, France and then we fly to Istanbul for a festival, then we go to Spain, Italy, Switzerland and back to Germany. It’s so exciting.

The last time we talked, you mentioned that the touring situation in Europe has been a much better experience than touring here. I’ve heard of European fans being great in that they’re really appreciative and very obviously excited at shows.

That’s a big reason why we go on tour in Europe. The fans are really enthusiastic, they buy your stuff, they go to your shows, and they understand that you’ve come a long way. Whereas here in Oakland, I think we’re a little jaded from shows. There are a lot of good shows here and I don’t think people come out of their way. And first of all, you get guarantees if you play shows over there. The easiest thing is that drives are shorter–all the countries are much closer together.

Here, you don’t always get guarantees. You might just get bar deals in the US, or like you don’t even know if people will come to your shows. And the drives are so much longer. It’s so much harder to get people to your shows unless you play with really good bands or something. So you’re just at a loss. We have friends with vans and gear, so we don’t even have to worry about that. So the drives are shorter, you get guarantees of money and they’ll give you a place to sleep with dinner and breakfast. They give you everything you need and that’s amazing. And that’s just standard—we’re not even a huge band. If you wanted that treatment in the states I think you’d have to be a huge band. I’m comfortable with that generalization.

 

“When we played Oakland, I couldn’t tell if people liked us because we were so intense and I don’t know if people get it. You could tell someone either hated our band, or was speechless and loved it, which I think is a good thing. We don’t have people that are in between—they either love us or hate us.”

 

So do you not have a US tour planned?

I would be down to. When we played Oakland, I couldn’t tell if people liked us because we were so intense and I don’t know if people get it. You could tell someone either hated our band, or was speechless and loved it, which I think is a good thing. We don’t have people that are in between—they either love us or hate us. I’m bummed that we won’t tour here, but I’m happy that we get to tour in Europe. At the very minimum, we’ll tour the west coast.

I’ve been booking all the shows, or like seventy five percent of them and in like, five to six months in advance. With the festival in Iceland, I arranged everything around that. I’ve done most of the booking myself. It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it. It’s something I have a lot of pride in. Some people wanted to book us and I just turned them away—it’s not even that I’m a control freak, but why pay a lot of your money to booker’s fees if you know people in different cities?

What local bands have you played with? When you were playing, were you playing a lot of shows?

In Oakland, we played with Baus a fair amount. Lil Dowager, Meat Market, Mall Walk, Useless Eaters, Scraper…

I remember seeing your [band] name on a bill with Baus at Leo’s.

I loved that show. I ended up shaving my head. I brought hair clippers—that was a fun show. It was a good night for music. But we got paired with Baus a lot because I think Mike and I have similar guitar styles, like with dissonant chords and some new wave, no wave…thing. Kind of aggressive and groovy. We’ve played with Mall Walk a lot and Lil Dowager.

How would you describe your band? I always ask this because I know bands hate it. I mean, you have to be able to describe your sound but I feel bad because they ended just being like ‘fuck it, I guess you could say we’re this genre.’

My short answer is always noise rock and synth punk just because, for me, those are my roots and that’s what I want for Beekeepers. There’s this band I love called Six Finger Satellite. They put out an album called Severe Exposure that I really like. We got really into German punk since I lived abroad. There’s this band called Plastix, and then Abwärts has an album called Amok Koma. If you listened to that stuff I think it would all come together. Once we played a show with friends’ bands on popular garage labels and we just laughed at ourselves for being there. We’re not cool at all. Alex and I kept calling our music “dork-core” and “video game punk” and “nerd thrash” because we felt so out-of-place. Maybe that’s what we are. I’d stretch to say we’re also influenced by visuals and their emotion as well. Dadaism is close to Beekeepers, at least for me. The idea of absurdism with a important purpose and not absurdism for mere effect. The reshaping of collage and montage that people like Hannah Höch, Kurt Schwitters, or Otto Dix made. For Alex, it might be a visual artist like Abigail McCallum and her sense of texture. We’re just taking things we deal with like anxiety, doubts, selbstzerfleishung head on and presenting them.

I think it’s starting to make more sense to me that you’d tour in Europe. I feel like they would appreciate your sound more over there.

When we play in Europe, people always tell us that we have to play in Germany. And we never played in Germany so I’m so excited. I’m actually really curious about how the Iceland show is going to go. When I expect less, more things kind of come and blow me away. You always think people are going to be a certain way and then they’re always different. Like with saying ‘oh, the Germans are going to love this’—I can totally see us going there and having them hate it. I also hope that we can come back [here] and play shows…

I’m sure you will. A lot of the bands I’ve been listening to here don’t sound like your band. I think it would be cool to sort of welcome you back and shake things up.

I think we did for a little bit, honestly. I don’t think we were part of a trend and that’s what I really like about Oakland bands, with a few exceptions. But there isn’t really a trend. The really cool thing about the Oakland music scene is that it’s cutthroat, but in the way that it’s like ‘are you being yourself?’ or ‘are you being a copycat?’ or something. If people catch you trying to be someone else, they can tell and they wont give you the time of day. Bands in Oakland always want to be weird.

With the Europe tour and the new album coming out, I think it’s taken the time and the hubris to realize what it means to us. The funny thing about the band is that we’re a costume band and there is a mirage that it’s a gimmick, and that it’s all calculated.

Stay tuned for more details regarding Beekeepers’ upcoming album and European tour dates.