Beardyman [Interview]

beardyman press

Imagine you’re a beatboxer. You’re pretty good, so you enter the UK Beatbox Championships. You win. You eat, breathe, sleep and sweat beatboxing for a solid year before returning. You win again. Things get a bit crazy. A comedy video you made in a kitchen gets uploaded to YouTube (as freshly purchased by Google). In time, it will attract over 5 million views.

Over the next several years, you take solo beatboxing as far as it can possibly be taken. You play underground comedy clubs, TV shows, festivals. Your YouTube presence grows. You begin experimenting with live looping technology, battling not rival MCs but inefficient circuitry and user interfaces in the name of getting the ideas in your head into other people’s earholes. You find yourself in a studio, recording an eclectic collection of tracks that takes in everything from dubstep and hip-hop to almost every international folk music style recorded by history. Your debut album gets released; it sells nicely.

Finally, you hit on a pair of serious problems. For one, when people hear your name, their minds conjure up the image of a beatboxing clown who happens to have your face. You have serious stuff to say, points to make about politics, society, and pressing issues – and there are worthy causes in the world to which you want to draw attention. But people just want to hear you go “WUB” and “WRRRRR” and throw in some jokes and a beat. On top of that, you’ve pushed your voice – the human voice – to its limits. The fancy gear in your garage helps, but it’s not enough.

So the big question looms: Where do you go from here?

Across the world, people of all ages and nationalities are honing their noisemaking skills and dreaming of facing that question one day. Beardyman, however, has already been there. His answer? Lead the creation of a piece of music production gear that is to modern music studios what the Starship Enterprise is to a bottle rocket, christen it the Beardytron 5000, and use it to create an album full of serious and often soul-baring tunes with the occasional comedic aside. Then take the Beardytron on tour, and use it to improvise studio-grade tracks in a live environment, completely eliminating the gap between whimsical ideas and full-volume reality. Do this while mixing comedy with pointed social commentary, just as some of history’s most famous stand-ups have before you.

An unorthodox answer, perhaps – but then Beardyman’s mind is anything but standard-issue.

TMMP caught up with Beardyman to ask him some less stressful questions, and wound up talking time-travel, insanity, the secret to great improvisation, and the apocalypse…

Hey man – thanks for quoting my Distractions review on your website. I’m glad it was useful! How do you feel about the album’s reception so far? 

It’s been received really well. The New York Times are calling it “The most important piece of art ever created,” which I’m very pleased about obviously but I think it’s a bit much.

For those who haven’t heard it yet, how does Distractions differ from I Done A Album?

My first album was just a joke/novelty album. This one is not.

How would you explain the Beardytron to a time-traveller from 1915?

I’d say “Good day sir, the Beardytron is a magical machine which enables me to make the music in my head. And since I’m from the future, the music in my head is fucking insane. Also it enables me to…hang on…how the fuck did you build a time machine in 1915? What does it run on? How does it work? Forget the Beardytron – this is huge!”

Have you ever recreated one of your album tracks during a live show?

Not yet – but thats ‘cos I’m insane, and only want to improvise at shows because I’m insane.

What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened at one of your shows?

A girl in a horse mask once stage dived backwards as I was doing a song about a horse. No-one caught her. She fell on her ass. She was promptly pushed back onto the stage, and she kept dancing. She was bumping into my rig though, so my tour manager removed her from the stage.

I didn’t tell that very well. But you’ll have to believe me, it was funny at the time.

What’s your favourite thing about playing live?

I love the challenge of making everything up on the spot. I love being free to create new music. I don’t know what I’m gonna do any more than the crowd does. Thats what I love about it, the journey into the unknown. Its exhilarating, like an extreme sport, but where the only danger is that I might miss a note or fuck up a drop. Which I never do…apart from when I do. But I’m really good at making it look like I meant to do stuff, which is half of what improv is about.

The rest of improv involves existing in a super-position of all possible states of consciousness.

What is the key to fluid, consistent improvisation?

10,000 hours of practice, a healthy grasp of music theory, and lots of sleep before the show.

No mind. There is only peace.

What does the future hold beyond your upcoming US tour?

Economic collapse, environmental catastrophe, apocalypse, ice-cream.

Posted on 26 February 2015

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