Header image by Chad Kamenshine.
In today’s world where tons of music is being released every day, luckily there are still few decent labels out there, whose curatorial activities can be more than helpful. One of them is the US imprint Ghostly International. Inside its catalogue you can basically pick anything you want to listen to according to your current mood.
When we feel the desire to listen to some intimate, soft and yet a bit darker eletronic sounds with delicate and silky vocals, we would go for the music created by NYC based duo Beacon. Jacob Gossett and Thomas Mullarney III have been members of the Ghostly family since their early musical career and these two art students has proved that they went quite a long way since their first EP titled No Body. Their full length albums are usually dedicated to certain topics; meanwhile the debut LP “The Ways We Separate” was about human relationships, their latest piece called “Escapements” deals with the time. Escapements shows how they can work with the dark sides of electronic music and on top of it adding something more to it; something that gets stuck in your mind. In our talk we asked Jacob and Thomas what it´s like to live and create in NYC and what is next for them.
You met each other while you were studying sculpture and painting at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Was one of you into creating music before you got together as Beacon? Did you have any experience with making music or playing instruments at that point?
JACOB: I was very focused on visual art when Tom and I initially met. I had played guitar and keys for a few years at that point, but wasn’t seriously writing or recording music. It was really towards the end of our studies that we really started working on music together. Beacon grew out of these performances we were doing that lived somewhere between sound/video installations and performance.
THOMAS: We were both creating music before working together. I started taking piano lessons when I was 7 or 8 years old, and was always singing. Played drums through most of high school. I kept coming back to the piano and the eventual door that opened up into synthesizers.
So if I am right, at first you were creating and working together on different stuff (f.e. visual projects) and then you got interested in making music together. What was the impulse to start making music as Beacon?
JACOB: It felt like a natural progression. We were performing a lot around Brooklyn at that time and we were becoming increasingly interested in the writing side of the project. It seemed inevitable that we would start recording the songs we were performing. Once we started that process, we never looked back.
THOMAS: It happened really organically. We were both becoming interested in breaking down some of the barriers around our visual practice. Our interest in sound started as an interest in performance and then evolved into an interest in songwriting and a more traditional approach to making music.
Could you tell us the story behind your artist name?
THOMAS: There’s a museum in upstate New York called Dia:Beacon that specializes in large scale earth and land art. This is the movement I loved most as a sculpture student and it became my favorite place to escape from the city.
Are you both coming from NYC? How did the environment where you were growing up formed you as an artists?
JACOB: I moved to New York when I was 19 from Youngstown, Ohio. I was always fascinated by the city. I never really knew exactly why, but it was a place I was really focused on ending up in. It’s been over a decade now and it’s been more than I could have hoped for. The town I grew up in was culturally backwards and not a place that fostered a creative spirit. Being that I was interested in the arts, it really motivated me to seek out a place like New York.
THOMAS: We’ve both lived here over a decade and have experienced musical, cultural and artistic movements that have shaped us dramatically. It’s the familiar NY story.
You mentioned in interviews that at your musical beginnings you often played at various venues at Brooklyn, mostly DIY places. How does the environment of NYC treat artistic people nowadays? Are there opportunities for new or unknown artists to express themselves?
JACOB: The landscape is certainly changing. Places like Glasslands and Cameo Gallery have recently closed. These venues were instrumental in our early development, so it was sad to see them go. Financially, I think it’s harder for younger artists trying to pursue a project here, but if you can swing it, I still think the energy this city provides is worth it.
THOMAS: The special thing about NYC is that people will always come together to carve out those spaces and opportunities. There were a lot available to us in the DIY scene in early 2009-2010, and while many of those spaces have died out, some are returning and even more have risen in their place because of that NYC hunger.
You just got back from quite a big tour across the United States on which you supported another great artist Natasha Kmeto and mainly presented your newest piece titled Escapements. How did the tour go? How did the audience respond to your new songs and live show?
JACOB: The tour was great. We did one big loop around North America. We played a lot of cities we hadn’t been back to for a few years. To have people come out excited to see us perform and hear the new material made all the crazy travel worth it.
THOMAS: We played many familiar markets where we have worked hard over the years to build a following. Seeing growth there was positive, especially with folks knowing the new material already and being excited to hear it. What really stood out on this tour was the smaller markets that many bands skip, where fans were so grateful. It was really important to them and special for us.
You also created a complete visual setup for your live shows. How difficult it is for you to perform music and at the same time control the visual part from the stage?
JACOB: We rebuilt the entire show from the ground up. That meant learning a lot of new software and hardware, which was challenging to say the least. By doing this it really allowed for us to focus a lot more on the performance. The visuals and the lighting are completely synced to the audio and run off a pretty complex routing of midi. The goal was to create a visual setup that we didn’t have to monitor and that was a challenge.
THOMAS: The first couple shows were incredibly stressful just because if something goes wrong, you can’t really break character as a performer to go troubleshoot a piece of software. But luckily, as shows started going off without a hitch, we got confident that all of the major troubleshooting happened months in advance and because of this, we were able to set up and play and let our computers do the visual and lighting we’ve designed for them based on what we play musically. It does mean our setup is at least twice a normal bands.
On the Escapements LP there is a collaboration with Rory O’Connor, the drummer who performs with Tycho as well. Will you be adding more musicians for live shows in the future or is it always going to be the just two of you?
JACOB: Adding a drummer has been an ongoing discussion since the first LP. We opted to build out the visual part of the show for this tour. It was incredible to have Rory in the studio for a few songs on this record. It is certainly something we will consider for the future, but for now it’s just Tom and I.
Could you talk us through your creative process? Do you start with writing the lyrics or the music?Do you have any concept on your mind when you start composing or is it more about improvisation and playing with equipment in your studio?
THOMAS: Improvisation is an essential component to our process. It’s about getting together in the same room for hours and seeing what comes out.
JACOB: It’s never a set process, but a lot of the material grows out of sessions where we are just jamming in the same space. Gear is a big part of it. Trying to pull interesting things out of our synths is often a good starting point, but it’s mostly about being in the moment.
How long did you work on Escapements? Was it a long process for you?
JACOB: In terms of a point when we were actively attempting to write and finish a record, 9 months. Though ideas are always carrying over from as far back as when the band started. I like to think of it as one long process and we just pull from the ideas that most excite us.
THOMAS: We’re writing constantly, which means before we even sit down to start a record, we have a ton of material to start playing with. We think Escapements took us about 9 months from start to finish, but time is kind of a blur because we never really stop working.
What’s the most personal track on this LP for you?
JACOB: IM U. It’s is one of those tracks that has been with us from the very beginning. It was a special moment to finally get that song to a place we were really happy with. Finishing a song after all that time is one of the most rewarding creative experiences.
You are a part of Ghostly International family. How did you get signed on this label? Did you just send your demo to the label or what was the journey like?
JACOB: Tom had been in contact with Jakub Alexander (Heathered Pearls), who does A&R for Ghostly, before we even started working together. As we started performing around Brooklyn we got to know some of the Ghostly crew and built a relationship with them from there. With our interest in the visual side of this project, Ghostly was a label we were really interested in. They have a long history of not only great musicians, but a really sophisticated understanding of visual aesthetics. We were beyond excited to get to work with them.
What’s ahead of you in 2016? Any upcoming performances in Europe? We would love to see you here!
JACOB: We are playing the Grid Festival here in New York in May and a few other shows to be announced. Europe, we hope to be there again soon.