Beta Band Against All Odds
Published Feb 01, 2000Call it the "curse" of the Beta Band, call it bad luck, but Scotland's psychedelic folk heroes have had an uphill battle for most of their five-year career. Known for doing their own thing, they've never wanted to be categorised along with huge, million-selling bands. But it's not an easy way to sell records, and the Beta Band haven't always received the credit they deserve. Bands like Oasis and Blur have used their sound as a focal point for recording albums, something the band's percussionist/DJ/sampler John MacLean considers irksome. "We're getting kind of frustrated over the level we're at because we've always made a conscious effort not to be a big band, and to grow at a rate we can handle. Now we're at the stage where so many of these bands come up and down who seem to be influenced by us. I don't think any of them have done it particularly well."
Even the Beta Band's ideas for publicity shots have been nicked. "When we were doing all of these countryside photos, we were running up against brick walls," says MacLean. "Magazines were saying no because we weren't facing the camera or we were tiny in a big field. The thing about doing something different first is that you run into problems until [Travis] decide it's fine to do it, and then the press decide it's fine to do it."
It seems like a lot of the band's efforts end up backfiring, and so far, it doesn't appear that their new album will be any exception. The release of Hot Shots II was delayed as was their last album but MacLean brushes this off as "sheer bad luck." With this record, their second proper full-length (plus 1998's successful North American compilation The Three E.P.s ), the band experimented to get a different sound from their scattered and choppy self-titled debut. Says MacLean, "I think with this new album we've just sort of moved on again." The result is a stellar blend of shorter, verse-chorus pop songs that includes a hip-hop version of Harry Nilsson's "One" (re-titled "Won"). But the band hit a major snag with the track "Squares," which was to be their first single. After they learned that a duo named I Monster were releasing a song based around the same sample as "Squares" (the Gunter Kallman Choir's "Daydream") the band decided to withdraw it as their lead-off single. "We were gutted about that. It was just another classic example of bad luck," admits MacLean.
So why can't the Beta Band catch a break? MacLean feels it's just part of the band's nature. "A lot of it is just the way we work. We're not slick and we've got these whims. And if you're a band with the kind of whims we've got, things are gonna be difficult."