Beat Connection's electronic pop extends cleanly out of concentric, pastel arpeggiations. The danceable, fresh-faced disco beats float cleanly on shades of sky-blue synths and rhythm guitar. Lucidity in sequencing yields images of a jade-green lily pad with tropical nods to Friendly Fires, MGMT, and M83. Beat Connection began in 2008 when Reed Juenger and Jordan Koplowitz met as freshmen at the University of Washington. In 2010, their Surf Noir EP got picked up and released by London's Tender Age Records, an imprint of Moshi Moshi (Hot Chip, Lykke Li, Matt and Kim, Mates of State). Two of the Surf Noir tracks featured the handsome toothed vocals of Tom Eddy. They also began incorporating drummer Jarred Katz to play over the tracks. As a four-piece they jelled, and Eddy and Katz became permanent members. This past summer, Beat Connection released their first full-length, The Palace Garden, and have steadily logged road miles in the United States and abroad opening for Holy Ghost!, Toro Y Moi, and STRFKR. Juenger met me by a Japanese maple at UW's Soest Herbaceous Display Garden. Unfortunately, there were no lily pads.
Talk about a Greek god.
Have you ever read the myth of Sisyphus? Dude was condemned to roll a rock up a mountain for eternity, only to watch it roll back to the bottom when he reaches the top. He wanted to live forever so he could stay on his grind. The gods gave him what he wanted, kind of.
Why The Palace Garden?
The idea of the palace garden is that it's a place or memory or experience that everyone has had but is always different between people. Something that happened—that you can remember—and the memory seems to be better than reality. In the palace garden, the grass is greener.
What attracts you to music? What music do you detest?
When we were making this album, we were attracted to a lot of pop music—not to say Carly Rae Jepsen [laughs], but more the lineage of popular rock and electronic. That informed a lot of the composition, trying to ignore these conventions but also fit into this format.
What was the hardest part about recording the album yourself?
The drums. We didn't know what we were doing [laughs]; we trial-and-error-ed it until we figured out what sounded good. We also got a little crazy about the number of simultaneous tracks with all the plug-ins and shit, so on some songs there are like 90 tracks. Our computers would crash, and it was a pain. As electronic producers, it was really important to Jordan and I to learn how to do everything outside of the computer, in order to meaningfully incorporate live instrumentation. The sounds we were going for were specific—Jordan especially has a very clear idea of what he wants, sonically, from a track, so that was part of why we produced ourselves. We're also broke as hell.
You've been touring a lot. Lets get into some stories from the road. Drugs. Pissing in public. Defecation. The good stuff.
There was a dude who pissed on the glass front door of the venue in Detroit. No defecation, yet. Let's see, we stayed with friends in Pittsburgh who lived in a sustainable commune and hunted groundhogs in the vacant lot next door. There was a random woman stripping and dancing for us in her hotel window while we were in the pool, also in Pittsburgh. In North Carolina, Shaq tweeted that he was coming to our show. We played a state fair in Milwaukee. In Dallas, the venue got put on lockdown because some guy had a gun outside.
What about the drugs? Talk about the mountains and mountains of cocaine. We all know what "hunting groundhogs" means.
There was actually no cocaine involved in any of these stories. These stories tend to just be basic and depressing [laughs].
Who's an artist you look up to?
I'm really interested in the people who set the precedent for today's obsession with spectacle. Yves Klein did this work of art called Le Vide, which means "the void." It was a totally empty art gallery that he had populated with "mental energy." He publicized the hell out of it and ended up getting a ton of people to come to the opening, just to be incredibly confused. It was 1958, and I think people are still trying to figure out what this meant, and I don't mean the empty art gallery part, I mean what is the value of this—if thousands of people showed up and it was a spectacle, what is its artistic value? Why are people so caught up with mass dynamics?
Tom seems so perfect for Beat Connection. His voice, the way he fits within your dynamic. And Jarred on drums. When and how did you know you wanted to make them permanent members?
They were really there from the beginning. Beat Connection was born out of Jordan and I just experimenting and learning how to produce records and DJ music. We had Tom sing on two tracks from our first EP, which was largely instrumental, but for us the most exciting parts incorporated vocals—either as samples or as singing. When it came to the live show, we really had no idea what the hell we were doing at first. As we got better and learned how to translate the songs live, we wanted to incorporate more musicians and feature Tom on the tracks he sang. It naturally grew from there. Jarred and Tom are incredible musicians—we wanted to collaborate with them not just live, but also in the studio. We are pretty much just stealing their talent, let's be honest.
How do you all mesh live drums with the programmed beats? How does Jarred hear the beats he's playing to?
The electronic drums augment the live drumming. The plan is to give him space to go for it over the electronic component of our music. He uses in-ear monitors, but there's only a click track during one section of our live show, where he improvises and we all follow him, in order to bring everything on the computer back in time with what he's playing. Thinking about it now, he is a damn good drummer.
How have you all progressed from Surf Noir to The Palace Garden?
I'd say we have a newfound sense of self-awareness. Working out issues of internal and external anxiety we all have, in the medium of a four-minute pop song. It's not the best medium for those kinds of questions, but what can you do once you realize that the future is as irrevocable as the past?
How did you all arrange songs for Palace Garden?
All the songs came together differently. For the most part, Jordan creates a short melodic demo, and then we arrange the track into a format we like and begin recording real instruments to fill it out. The last step was usually writing and recording vocals as a group and stripping elements away to get it to a place that all four of us were happy with. "Think/Feel" is a good example. It's also a bit unique. The song sits at the center of the album and represents a narrative turning point where the protagonist or whatever realizes that their inability to get back to the palace garden is an internal issue. We recorded the vocals for this with our good friend Chelsey Scheffe, but the chorus came to me on the spot when Jordan showed me the track months earlier. I liked the flowing synth line. The delay on the vocal required some interesting cutting, layering, and multi-tracking.
What's the Beat Connection vocal approach?
With some, there is the single take; with others, we have to punch vocals in to cover a phrase or something. It depends what kind of emotion we are trying to elicit with a track. "En Route," for instance—we wanted a really obvious human touch and a feeling of yearning, so those are complete takes with very little treatment. On other tracks, like "Invisible Cities," we have a lot of harmonies. I think Tom did like five-part harmonies for that one, and those took a bit more slicing.
Is your "Invisible Cities" from the Italo Calvino book Invisible Cities?
Yes, in a way—it ties into the narrative of the palace garden where everyone perceives things in their own way. Calvino's novel brings up the idea of language barriers and how everyone understands things differently, how this in turn lets the reader draw their own conclusion.
If you could change one thing for Sisyphus, what would it be?
He'd stop rolling that fucking rock and go smoke some weed. Is that a trick question?