"We're the Beats, Man, and we don't give a fuck," proclaims vocalist Tim Cady during a recent gig at the Cha Cha Lounge on a Sunday night. And judging from the pranksterish demeanor the duo of Cady and Erik Baldwin project and the ramshackle, stylistic promiscuity they peddle from the Cha Cha's nonexistent stage, you could be forgiven for taking them at their word.
Later that night, Baldwin announces, "We're from unincorporated King County. Where my Kent folks at?"
Clearly, humor plays a key part of the Beats, Man's approach. They combine a madly eclectic sonic aesthetic with a healthy appetite for absurd lyrics. Though it may pain Baldwin to hear it (Cady seems okay with the comparison), the Beats, Man bear similarities to Ween, but on a lower budget and with a slightly higher level of decorum. "This song is for everyone who wishes they were better friends with me or more like me," goes Baldwin's introduction for "Dgrabd Dyrd Dballsd," which weaves several children's songs into an off-kilter electro-pop ditty.
For that song, according to Cady, "We put together a beat, and Erik wrote this long tirade, and I was like, 'I want to sing children's songs over this.' There's this guy who's grown-up and bitter and the contrast of how childhood is so innocent; how do you get from here to there? That's the way I see that song. Erik sees it more as ridiculous nonsense."
"It makes me feel bad, because if you listen to the words, they're these awful things someone might say to another person in a passionate moment," Baldwin says. "'You're better off dead' and 'Go find someone else to hold back.' It makes me feel stressed-out when I project it, because I have to be really aggressive and that doesn't come natural. On top of that, I'm saying these things that are supposed to hurt people's feelings. It's a mix between something I think an asshole might say and some of it's self-deprecating. Sometimes people think I'm specifically referring to them."
"We used to say, 'This song is not about anyone here,'" says Cady.
Provocative as they are, the Beats, Man have genuine commercial potential. Many of their songs are naturally catchy, danceable, and funny. But their diversity might hinder them. Sometimes to reach a certain level, you have to stick to one formula.
"We have individualistic stylistic things in our songs," Baldwin notes. "That's where a lot of the diversity of the record comes from. Tim's songs are always more complex than mine. He's got the more Animal Collective thing. I gravitate toward way simpler structures—repetitive things with heavier beats, usually."
At once the Beats, Man's most ludicrous and accessible song, "Freedomtown" incorporates chicken buk buks, splayfooted dance beats, wonky faux-analog-synth tones, uptight raps, and a gorgeous, totally incongruous new-country chorus. It exemplifies their peculiar charm.
The Beats, Man started in 2004, after Cady returned from a semester at Boston's Berklee College of Music, which he hated. While there, though, Cady learned how to use the MIDI sequencing program Reason; he was stoked to explore it with his high-school friend Baldwin.
"[Reason] was this amazing toy at first," Baldwin observes. "You can keep adding tracks and adding tracks and instruments. It's way cooler than... Picking up a guitar and writing a song is one thing, but orchestrating this whole giant thing with impossible feats of musicianship is what got me."
The Beats, Man remained a pastime for Cady and Baldwin, even as they joined guitarist/vocalist Ricky Claudon in Pleasureboaters on drums and bass, respectively, in 2006. Pleasureboaters' sole album, ¡Gross! (released in 2008 on local label Don't Stop Believin'), is one of those angst-ratcheted-up-to-10 post-punk rackets favored by young, intelligent rock bands. These types usually have an acute awareness of the Contortions, Steve Albini's projects, Scratch Acid/Jesus Lizard, etc. Pleasureboaters assimilated their influences into a clenched, dynamic attack that was all slashing guitars, flailing limbs, and bulging neck veins.
There's definitely a stark contrast between Pleasureboaters and the Beats, Man, but similarities exist, too, according to Cady. "When we were in Pleasureboaters, we had this credo: Fuck up the fuckers. That's part of the Beats, Man, as well. Doing crazy shit, throwing people off guard. [But we're doing it in] a totally different way."
Pleasureboaters split in September 2008 after Claudon decided to travel the country and focus on his writing career.
"We never stopped doing the Beats, Man," Cady says. "The whole time, we kept writing songs. We were starting at that time to consider doing it live and really putting it out there, but when [Claudon] quit the band and the Pleasureboaters were over, it was time to start doing this for real."
"It gave us a serious push of motivation to get it going," Baldwin says. "A lot of the Beats, Man stuff is spontaneous compositions. We'll sit down either individually or together and write a song, multitrack it, and we might not revisit it for months. We had to go through sixtysome tracks and decide how are we going to perform these songs. Our first show was us and two microphones singing into a computer."
Calling their early shows "fucking awful," the duo decided to enlist Baldwin's college pal Alan Dowen to handle the technical aspects of the Beats, Man's live performances.
"We hope to keep using him more and more," Cady says. "He's like our Geologist [of Animal Collective]."
Speaking of whom, Cady harbors much love for that band. "Most of my favorite music is stuff that most people don't like, but it's freakin' awesome. But it will be popular one day. Right now people don't like it because they don't get it. Stuff like Animal Collective and Fiery Furnaces. That's what I want to do."
Cady also wants to "get rich really fast." Both members want to quit their day jobs (Cady works at Caffe Ladro in Queen Anne, and Baldwin works at a Ballard day-care center). Juggling hectic schedules, the Beats, Man are working on their debut album with Pleasureboaters producer Austin Thomason, with the goal of releasing it by summer's end. "If you know anybody who has a couple thousand bucks to spare, send 'em our way," Baldwin half jokes.
I tell Baldwin that it must be draining to work with small children every day. "It's draining, but at the same time it's incredibly revitalizing. [Kids] by nature have the same absurd qualities that we try to instill into a lot of the Beats, Man stuff."
And maybe that leads to their cavalier attitude. Do the Beats, Man really not give a fuck?
"Yeah," Cady says, before qualifying, "It's not completely true, because we obviously do give a fuck. We want people to like us."
It is hard to get rich really fast if you don't give a fuck. "It's semi-ironic for us to say that," Baldwin clarifies. "We don't give a fuck... in many ways, is what we should say: 'We're the Beats, Man, and we don't give a fuck—in many ways.'"