Howie Beck How To Fall Down In Public
Published Feb 22, 2009While Howie Beck hasn't gotten the love from his home country that he's received in Europe, How To Fall Down In Public will hopefully change things up. Jangling his way through a looser set of songs than on previous albums, this is damn fine, intimate pop. "Flashover" starts off with Beck's plaintive voice and acoustic guitar but when the chorus kicks in it all gets lush and swells the heart. "Don't Put Your Arms Around Me No More" is the catchy-as-hell single that can still get me swaying my hips despite a jam-packed morning rush hour subway ride, and "Save Me" is a gorgeously layered piece of introspection. Beck has spent time in Feist's backing band and she repays the favour here by cooing on the charming "La La La," which could have been on Feist's The Reminder were it not for the fact that it's Beck singing. This won't set the stereo on fire but that's not How To Fall Down In Public's goal. This is expertly crafted pop music that easily captivates, which is becoming increasingly rare. Stand up and be proud.
Is it a self-effacing title?
In everything I do, I leave room for that side of my personality. When I play shows, people often say, "your personality's so different than what I expected it to be having listened to your record, etc." because I can be fairly silly, well, maybe not silly, but performing is a very different thing than making records. Falling down in public is what I'm prepared to do with this record and part of me thought, "people aren't going to like it, so fuck 'em." The record for me has two distinct sides to it, like a side A and a side B. Side A is much more spontaneous and outgoing, while side B is more familiar territory, but it was not like that in the process. This whole record was made very differently than I normally make records and it was actually done fairly quickly for me. I had recorded a lot of stuff before making this record that's just floating in the ether now because I didn't want to repeat myself. I felt I was very successful doing that and I'm very happy with the record.
Were there intentional choices?
The main thing was that Gonzales was key in keeping a forward momentum. He co-produced some of the record and I think, plays on every song. When I'm producing other people's records that's how I function as a producer but when I do my own stuff I can get stuck. I over-think it and don't have any objectivity. Having someone else involved was really helpful to my process and things moved quickly. This record was essentially written, recorded, mixed and mastered within a year, which, for some people, might not be a big deal but for me it was.
I'm interested in Gonzales's involvement. This album is poppier than others. Was he an influence in that?
I really find lo-fi records to be distracting but I love it if it doesn't sound like it's done intentionally. Every time you hear an act that's made a record where the fidelity isn't great they'll eventually get enough money to make another record and the next record always sounds slicker. After that, they'll say, "I never wanted to make a record that way; it's just because I couldn't make it any other way." When's something's honest like that, I tend to really, really like it. Like, that Bon Iver record is great and it's not a sonic masterpiece by any stretch but it's a great record and it's not contrived. With this record, I didn't want to make something that's contrived. I wanted it to sound good because it should sound good. Sorry, I don't actually remember what the question was...
With Gonzales, there's a push to make contrivance sound artistic. Was he an influence in making things sound poppier?
I don't think so because my whole "going to record in Paris" thing happened because he had phoned me to play drums on [Gonzales's 2008 album] Soft Power and when I was there I was going through some crazy personal stuff and I still hadn't written anything and he said, "just come back, man, come back. Stay at our friend's flat, she's on tour, write and at the end we can demo some stuff or whatever." But, when I was going there, he was just coming off his Solo Piano stuff, which was very, very different from Soft Power. I've known him for so long that I know when he makes a record like Solo Piano or Soft Power it is just a small little thing. Every time he does something, you know he's going to do almost the opposite next time. I wouldn't say Soft Power is an influence but I would say that his personality is a huge influence, just having his ear, literally and figuratively, and bouncing ideas off of him over the phone or when I was in Paris. He gave forward momentum - if he wasn't involved I would still be working on this record. Something I learned and want to continue is that I always assumed, when making a record, that a) no one's going to hear it and b) it's going to be the last time I ever do it. I still assume no one's ever going to hear it but I also know now that I'll keep doing it. I just want to keep moving forward. Part of his influence was that I was less inhibited in doing things that were maybe a little more upbeat because there was a lot of energy when we were hanging out. With "Don't Put Your Arms Around Me No More," I did that entirely; I wrote and recorded that by myself at my house. But I didn't want to do it the way I normally do. I was like, "Okay, I'm going to play every single instrument on this song as hard as I possibly can." I literally played every instrument as physically hard as I could. It was exhausting but, for me, when I hear it now, it's fun to listen to because instead of tweaking knobs the whole atmosphere to that song was established by performance.
On that note, did you record this album in Paris and at home?
The whole record was pretty much recorded at home. Paris was key in starting a couple of things but I originally did a couple of things there and the rest was at my place, and I did a couple of days at a studio in Toronto. Again, when Gonzales was in Toronto, I was like, "let's get the fuck out of my house and let's go somewhere where I don't have to be thinking about being an engineer, producer and where we can just play music." That's what we did and we both were deathly ill and there's another energy that happens because of that, like an athlete where they have their best games when they're down.
The consistency is great because, despite all these locales and moods, it fits together quite well.
It's funny. People say that about all my records and every time I've done it the process was nearly the same. Other records were also recorded in different studios and my house and with different gear. Part of putting things together is how you sequence the record and how it's mixed and your mindset of what kind of record you want to make when you're doing it.
In terms of sequencing, why is "Fin" in the middle of the record?
Honestly, that feels like it sets up side B. I thought about putting it at the end but it makes sense where it is and I think it establishes a different mood for the second half of the record.
How do the songs come together?
It just kind of happens. When I was in Paris, I would spend the days by myself just writing and writing and then I'd go over to Gonzales's place and play some stuff. I'd have a few different things and he'd be like, "This one's awesome" and I'd say, "Okay, that's the one I'm going to go with" and that kept moving things forward instead of me listening to things forever. There are a few songs I recorded for this record that didn't end up being on it because they didn't seem to suit it. There were a couple more upbeat songs that would have made the record too upbeat and a couple of "down" songs that would have made the record too "down." I really felt like I established a good balance.
Between albums, you've worked with musicians like Feist and Sarah Harmer. Is your songwriting different due to the experiences you've had?
I don't think so. Maybe this is why I get writer's block, because I don't know what the fuck I'm doing and I just write when I write and I don't ever really force it. Although, I know a lot of musicians who have had success and have written great stuff by saying, "you just have to keep doing it, you just have to keep doing it." Doesn't work for me; I'll just keep doing it and it'll just be bad again and again and again. So, when I'm inspired to do something I'll do it and when I'm not I don't. It can make live shows difficult for me because if I'm not inspired to play sometimes it's hard to play, and when you don't feel like doing it it's very strange. It's very strange.
In that sense, since you had more success writing in Paris with Gonzales, are you more comfortable having someone else in the process, since the solitary process is harder?
I think a big part for me was who it was, someone who I trust and someone who gets what I do. I couldn't just say, "I'm going to get someone to produce my next record" and list a bunch of producers. I have friends doing that right now who are on majors and they're making these huge records with these huge producers and they're telling me what it's like and I'm like, "Fuck. I wouldn't last in that environment for five minutes." No way. My goal when I'm making a record is not to make a hit record. That's why I enjoy it, because I don't do it as a job. I do it because I love it and I've been doing it since I can remember, since I was very, very young. It's strange when you cross over as a musician from doing it for your amusement to realizing that other people are going to hear it and judge it. It's a very strange experience.
Do you enjoy touring?
I almost stopped touring, since I was having some really tough personal times and that lifestyle didn't suit my personality. On my last record, I did some shows with Josh Rouse in Scandinavia and did a European tour with Nada Surf and those really changed my entire perspective on touring. They toured properly; they're treated with a lot of respect and I was part of that family for a month. At the same time, things were going well with my record, so I was feeling that this makes sense. Like, not sleeping under bridges or sleeping on floors; I did that a lot when I was younger and, at a certain point, the appeal wanes.
Compared to your earlier work, do you see this new album as a re-emergence?
I'm not sure yet. I don't know. That's a good question. When I listened to it when it was totally finished I actually thought this isn't so different from the earlier work because it's me, or it really feels like it's me. I think if I made a record that didn't feel honest or it wasn't part of my musical personality, I think it would seem like a huge departure. Since it feels right, I think it's part of a continuum of records that I've done. I'm excited to make more. (13 Clouds/Fontana North)