Drew Beskin Talks Discovering A Band, A Sound, And An Album With The Sunshine

Athens, Georgia-based Indie Rock band Drew Beskin & The Sunshine may be newly formed, but they brought a wealth of experience with them when they came together as mutual friends, acquaintances, and respectful colleagues of each others’ previous work. Drew Beskin’s third solo album was one he considered making his last, feeling that he might have musically said all that he needed to say, as well as having worked in a detail-oriented way on each of the records. But deciding to record one song with an old friend, Tommy Trautwein, led to a different writing and recording method that not only opened up a new approach to music for him, but brought together an energetic collaboration that formed a new band.

The resulting album, Somewhere Sideways Same As You, recently arrived from Super Canoe and WBAZ Records, and the band have played a couple of launch shows, with more events coming up this month. The album introduces Beskin and Trautwein, alongside Elijah Johnston and Gideon Johnston, as a new collective and also presents a new sound that they discovered together through the process of recording the album one song at a time. I spoke with Drew Beskin ahead of the album release about this path of discovery and the exciting experience the band had of exploring each song on its own terms together.

Cover Art & Design by Amanda Elman, photos by Sam Johnson & Olivia Mead

Hannah Means-Shannon: I understand that you took a very different approach to creating these songs and this album than you’ve taken in the past with your own solo albums.

Drew Beskin: Right, in the past, I would start thinking way ahead about artwork, singles, and videos for a record. But for this one, I wrote a song, and I hit up my friend Tommy [Trautwein], who’s an engineer and plays in a bunch of bands. I said, “I finally have a song, so let’s record together.” Because we’d been talking about doing it forever. We went in to record with no real expectations. Elijah [Johnston] came in and brought his brother Gideon [Johnston] and we just started recording the one song. We got it done after a full day and left that session feeling great.

For me, that was the first time that I went into the studio and didn’t have ten or twelve songs that I was working on simultaneously. It was one song, and focused. We weren’t thinking, “Let’s try to knock out as much drums and bass as we can in one or two days.” It wasn’t a checklist. We were focused on the songs. At the end of the day, it felt so good.

So we did it again. And when we’d done that, we did it again. And then we said, “This seems like a pretty good method to make a record.” Between November 2020 and April 2021, spread out over 11 sessions, we did one song a day. It felt like a concept record because we were kind of referencing the previous songs. If you listen to the record, track one is the first song that we did together, and the tracks are also in the order in which I wrote the songs. We just kind of let the flow of how we were recording it affect the flow of how it would roll out. When we had 11 songs, we got them mixed and mastered, and started working hard on artwork and video stuff.

We wrapped up everything by January, and that was by design because my wife and I welcomed our first child in February, and I wanted to make sure I could wrap it up before my daughter came along. I wanted to make sure I could give enough attention both to the music and to my daughter.

HMS: That’s very impressive planning to get that down! Because of the way that the songs rolled out, you seemed to be allowing the songs to do what they wanted to do.

DB: Even for my last album, I tried to find ways to trick myself, since having done ten demos, I left room to write one more song. Then I tried not to think too much about that last song, but just came into the studio to record it, and that went very well. If I don’t live with something too long, I don’t overthink it to death. So with the Sunshine record, I wrote the songs quickly, and once it was written, I texted everyone, “Let’s go record this.” Then everyone came in and put their stamp on it. If we started off with a ballad and a song became more of a Rocker, we just did it and were happy. That speaks a lot to the process, but the songs that I was bringing into the studio were songs I was confident enough to spend a whole day on. I didn’t keep a death grip on things to the point where they couldn’t, organically, become their own thing.

HMS: I like “death grip”! That’s good. I’ve heard of this happening before, but not that often, that a band found their whole sound while in the studio. But that’s essentially what happened here, right? You guys working together as a group created a new sound that you discovered as you went along. The audience will be able to see that time-capsule like development if they listen to the album in order. Do you feel that you can see that development process when you look back at it?

DB: Absolutely. We also had a lot of things working in our favor. We all Produced, and Tommy, the engineer, also mixed everything that we recorded in his home studio. I’ve worked with Tommy’s band, Well Kept, and he’s done stuff with my band before. We knew each other’s music pretty intimately. When we made other records, we’d hit each other up for advice. Elijah is also a great songwriter and solo artist who I already knew. His brother Gideon is a teenager who is into all the same stuff and they do vocal harmonies together. We’re all confident with each other and trust each other. I know they all have great taste based on the music they create.

We were talking about The Beatles the whole time, and bringing in records which the other person might not know. We were referencing other music a lot. I want to make sure that my music sounds like me, but I also love to nerd out and say things like, “Can we get the gritty sound of the guitar solo on “Taxman”?” I was also listening to a lot of Taylor Swift’s Folklore, like everyone else. We also referenced Bad Finger and Elliott Smith.

HMS: That’s a great list of stuff to nerd out over.

DB: On the third song, “All Along Your Way”, I had written most of the music, the title, and the melody, but I waited until a day or two before texting the guys to finish the song so that no one was sitting with the demo for more than 48 hours or so. It would be very fresh. I’d paint myself into a corner to make me finish writing songs. With that song, I went and watched a Bee Gees documentary, and I wondered, “What would the Bee Gees do for a guitar bridge on this song?”  It worked out, and we were all very happy with it. It felt like I was being an artist for the first time after releasing a lot of records. I felt like I was more present with what was going on. I felt more like I was going on an artistic mission.

HMS: It sounds more like an adventure, too, if you didn’t always know what was going to happen.

DB: Absolutely. By about half way through, I had song pieces and titles that I knew were going to be songs. They would be titles or riffs. One of my favorite records is Tusk by Fleetwood Mac, and if you listen to that record, later in the record there are little guitar licks or vocal melodies which reference earlier songs and make it feel more like one record. So as our record kept progressing, there was always a whistle, or a lalala, or vocal noise that became a rule. It made it all fit into this same time capsule.

HMS: That’s a really great idea to keep to keep in mind as you were writing and recording. It’s kind of like you were constructing this bridge as you were crossing it.

DB: [Laughs] I’d also ask the guys which song I should finish next, and that helped me focus.

HMS: I was wondering how you’re feeling about your first live show as a band coming up soon.

DB: We’ve been practicing over the last month or so, and we’re very excited about it. The whole record has a lot of acoustic and keyboard stuff, and I’m a big fan of bands like Oasis, who have that stuff, too, but when they go to play live, they just kind of rock it out. That’s a fun process. We’re playing a couple of release shows and shows after that once the album is out. We’re going to play Athens for a Halloween show where we play the full record, then we’re going to do an hour-long Beatles tribute. So we’re learning a lot of Beatles song too!

The whole live thing is a different animal than making the record, which I love. But this whole process saved me from ever feeling jaded or disillusioned about making music because it showed me that there are ways of making music where you don’t need much money, it’s more about changing your perspective. You just have to open yourself to inspiration, be willing to be part of that process, and, of course, find people that you click with.

Photo credit to Karmen Smith

HMS: That’s so cool. There’s definitely not just one to do these things in the world, and for each person, it’s possible that they haven’t even discovered what works best for them yet. They could still discover things.

DB: Right, and I had really planned for the record that I released last year to be my last record. I asked myself what all I wanted to get out there. I wanted to be able to feel good about making one more record. I feel like I accomplished that with Problematic for the People, but this thing came along that was completely unexpected, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve done. If there’s not growth, I don’t need to be writing or recording music just for the sake of it. I very much want it to mean something. I opened myself up to being more inspired than I’ve ever been in my recording career.

HMS: It’s funny how things work like that. It’s possible that you had to make that other album and get to the end of that road before you could do things in this new way.

DB: Just like with writing a song quickly, but making sure it has quality, it’s about being stubborn, but also open to change.

HMS: The song that you have said is kind of your theme song for the band, “My Time in the Sunshine”, made me laugh a little when I heard it because I didn’t expect such a big sound with that title. It’s a rocking song rather than a folky piece. I like the fact that’s your mission statement.

DB: With that one, the music was written first, from a riff I really enjoyed. That song is later in the record, so I had the music bubbling underneath. It used to be called “Barbe Cable Method.” There’s a Producer in Athens who I’ve worked with before, named David Barbe who’s an Athens legend. He’s recorded all the Drive-By Truckers stuff, some R.E.M. stuff, and he’s just a great guy. I was in the studio for another artist’s session, and voice memoing the song, and Tommy was there talking about Barbe’s method of wrapping cables. I wrote that down as the song title and let it sit there.

Then, when we were writing songs three and four, Tommy was saying how it felt to play together, that it was like being outside in the sunshine. I thought that would be a great name for the band. I’m a big Oasis fan and they always talk about sunshine and rock it out. There are also lyrics in the song that reference things in my life, including my wife, getting engaged, and our dog Judy. Tommy was crushing out some Motown-esque licks on it and Gideon was doing a funky drum-filler beat. Elijah’s bassline is also incredible.

We didn’t know that Elijah and Gideon were going to do this harmony thing over the verse rather than just the chorus, but Tommy pressed record over the whole thing. It was so cool and felt original. At least for me, it established new ground. This song, in general, checks all the boxes on what really inspires me. It’s 60s style, hippie flower-power chords with Indie Rock meets Dave Matthews riffs. The only way that this song could have been made was by the four of us.

HMS: I feel like even though “Not If, But When”, the first song you recorded, is a quieter song, I can still see that some of the things that were coming and what you were going to find together as you went through the album. It feels like an introduction.

DB: I think we decided to release the songs in order about half-way through, and normally I don’t think I would ever release a song like that at the beginning of a record. Normally, I’d pick a Rock song. But when we started thinking about it, it was the story of how we came together, and it’s a song we love. It’s also one of the longer songs on the record.

When we were going in to record that one, I was texting Tommy, “I don’t know what I want with this one, but I want a Temptations Motown vibe.” We put our own spin on it, and I played the piano on it, but I didn’t play my main instrument, guitar. When we play live, we rock it out, and I play guitar, and we love it. But it is a welcome statement to who we are. We didn’t know it was going to be, but it was serendipitous and worked out that way. It’s just very pure.

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