Naarm/Melbourne-based musician Michael Beach: “Good things in my life have happened because of music”

Original photo: Sarah Gilsenan. Handmade mixed-media collage by B.

Michael Beach’s fourth studio album Dream Violence carries a touch of the sublime throughout, with moments of naked expressionism and dramatic arcs he explores the duality of the human condition and the struggle of finding and maintaining hope in times that are not so hopeful. A beautiful album from an interesting artist. Gimmie recently got a little insight from Beach.

You first started playing music while at the University of Southern California, but didn’t fully dive into it until you spent your first year here in Melbourne. Previously you’ve mentioned that “my first meaningful connections with other musicians came from my initial year in Australia”; how were the relationships different here than what you’d already experienced in California?

MICHAEL BEACH: I guess it’s just timing.  I met amazing people in Southern California, but when I met my first bandmates and friends in Melbourne, it was life changing.  Those early friendships were the ones that gave me the confidence to pursue music. 

In March you released your fourth album, Dream Violence. The title comes from a song on the release; where did the title-track’s name come from?

MB: I like the dichotomy of the two words.  Dreams aren’t often associated with violence, but can quite often be.  Violence seems to be just behind the veil of society and certainly seemed to be seething when I was writing this record.

Album art by Charlotte Ivey.

Dream Violence was recorded with multiple line-ups in multiple locations in Australia and the US; how do you feel the energy of the varying line-ups and locations helped shape the LP?

MB: Everybody brings something different to the table, and I like bringing people together and seeing what happens.  The record has a lot of different moods that reflect all of those different people and places.

What’s one of your fondest memories from recording?

MB: Etep, Matt and Innez (of Thigh Master fame) and I recorded a few of the tracks from the record at my place.  It was one of those really relaxed sessions where all the mistakes sounded right—there were a lot of happy accidents—it was a really fun way to record.

I understand that you have a pretty laborious process of writing, editing, and arranging your music; can you tell us about your artistic process please?

MB: Yeah—I take my time, and probably over scrutinize things.  Not always the most enjoyable process, but I’m working on that.   I don’t really have any one process, but I do try to play at the same times every day, so I have a routine built around that.

What’s a really special moment for you on the album?

MB; I love that got to improvise the title track with Chris Smith.  It was a first take.  I’m a big fan of his records, so to have him play on mine is really special.  But really that’s the same with all the folks on the record as well. 

One of the overarching themes on the record is of the struggle to maintain hope during challenging times; what are some things that has helped you with your personal experience of this?

MB: Off the top of my head—friends, music, art, books, nature, seeing a psychologist, exercise, and my partner’s eternally optimistic outlook on life. 

We really love the album cover art painting by Charlotte Ivey; can you tell us the story behind the cover please?

I’m glad you love it, I do as well.  Charlotte did a bunch of eye studies of friends’ eyes.  That’s her eye, and I love the intensity and hyperrealism of it. 

During the lockdown as well as continuing your day job you worked on the completion of your studio; tell us a little bit about your studio? What were some important considerations in regards to creating a conducive space for your work?

MB: It’s an 8-track analogue tape setup with a nice mixing desk, outboard gear, and a bunch of synths and amps, and my piano in my living room/live room.  I’ve got digital recording gear if I need more than 8 tracks, but I like working within those limitations when I can.  I like having good light in my studio, and I have a favourite kind of tea that I keep stocked.  As long as all the equipment is working and not getting in my way, I’m happy. 

I know you also had the opportunity to read a lot more during lockdown; what were a couple of the reads that had you engaged and what did you appreciate most about them?

MB: I recently read Shots by Don Walker—that dude can write!  Such gorgeous prose and a very visually immersive book.  Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman was pretty great as well—it was inspiring to read a hopeful book amidst a lot of rough news last year. 

Who is an artist that makes you think outside of yourself or your surroundings? What particular work of theirs first had you feeling this way?

MB: I’m listening to Fennesz while I’m writing this.  His music is totally transportive and dreamlike.  I love it.  My bandmate Etep played me his record Endless Summer on a long highway drive in America, and I’ve been a massive fan ever since.

Why is music important to you?

MB: Most of the good things in my life have happened because of music.  It was and still is transformative for me.  It brings me together with my closest friends. 

Please check out: michaelbeach.org; MICHAEL BEACH on bandcamp; Dream Violence out on Poison City Records & Goner.