Keep Within My Reach:
Ain’t Nothing Better Than a Beach Day, Baby!
As I sit here shivering my ass off in landlocked Atlanta as the departure of October ushers in a blast of unseasonably chilly air, a warm, sunny day at the beach sounds like exactly what I crave.
As that’s not likely anytime soon, the new album from Beach Day is the next best thing. In fact, making a good thing better, I would imagine listening to Native Echoes among good friends as gnarly waves crash against the soft sand beneath our toes might just be the greatest thing ever.
Forgive me for nearly veering into a Zac Brown lyrical cliché there, but goodgoshamighty, this freakin’ Beach Day album is so fun and sincere and refreshing. Adding muscle, color and variety to the lively, wistful marriage of ‘60s girl group arrangements, surfy sounds, handclap rhythms and groovy nuances they announced with low-key aplomb on their 2013 debut album, Trip Trap Attack, Native Echoes bursts forth with perfect simplicity and buoyancy, hopscotching from carefree, back-to-basics rave-ups (“All My Friends Were Punks,” “I’m Just Messin’ Around”) to wounded, melancholy sentiments that still leave you smiling (“BFFs,” “Lost Girl,” “How Do You Sleep at Night”). I wanna turn the whole world onto this band. You simply cannot listen to Beach Day and not feel better afterwards.
It’s reassuring to discover that Kimmy Drake, the young woman behind such terrific songs, is just as approachable and unpretentious as her music. I first met her briefly after unexpectedly stumbling upon Beach Day’s late afternoon gig at the Star Bar last fall during the Little 5 Fest, when hardly anyone in the room knew who they were and yet the band totally won the place over. She was just as cool a few weeks ago speaking on the phone from her home in Hollywood, Florida. She’s definitely no Debbie Downer. This girl laughs all the time. I mean, she laughs after nearly every sentence! In fact, the very first sound heard on Beach Day’s first album is Kimmy laughing. But while she obviously is a fun-loving girl with a sense of humor, she knows what she’s doing.
“The ocean has always been part of my life, as far back as I can remember,” she assures me, as if the numerous first-hand references to beach life in her songs, not to mention the sound of ocean waves factoring into two of Native Echoes’ tracks, wouldn’t suggest as much. “My dad was a surfer. He grew up in Virginia, and lived in California, and then he moved down here. But he used to surf, and now he’s a scuba diving instructor, and underwater photographer. And my mom grew up on the beach. Literally. They’re in the suburbs [of Miami] now. I was just talking to them about that. Because they’re getting older and getting ready to retire, and I was like, ‘You should get a house on the beach!’” When Kimmy mentions that her sister is a real estate agent, I suggest that she arrange the sale of a nice beach house for their folks, and then everyone in the family will benefit.
Kendall is the name of that Miami suburb where her parents live. South of Miami, about four miles from the coast, it’s where Kimmy grew up glued to the radio listening to Magic 102.7, which at that point had an oldies format. “It was all just ‘’50s and ‘60s music, and that’s all I wanted to listen to as a kid,” she remembers. “I guess maybe [the music] was just more pure. With the emotions, the lyrics. I was like, six years old. My friends would be listening to pop music and stuff, and I was just like, ‘Nah!’ I never really got into what was happening at the moment too much. That’s how I’ve always been.”
She quit piano lessons as a kid because she didn’t like her teacher, but she kept playing the instrument, and later took up guitar as well. As a teenager, she started playing in bands, eventually landing in what she describes as a “retro mainstream-ish kind of” band playing organ and singing backup. That’s how she met Skylar Black, who was the group’s drummer. “I found out that he loved to play surf drums, and I love to play surf guitar, so we just played together one day, and that’s how [Beach Day] started!”
Though they based themselves out of sleepy Hollywood, Florida, a retiree community with no real music scene to speak of, things happened relatively quickly once Kimmy and Skylar, along with then-bassist Natalie Smallish, began to shape their early songs and put them on the internet within a few months of forming. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” Drake stresses. “We had a Bandcamp up, and a Facebook page with like a hundred fans or whatever.” But an email to Brooklyn indie label Kanine Records elicited a response from owner Lio Cerezo within an hour expressing interest in working with the band. “We were like, ‘Whoa! Oh my God!’ That’s pretty much how it happened. They listened to it, they loved it. Skylar wigged out. He almost threw up!” she laughs.
Kanine released 7-inches for the songs “Beach Day” (the first song they wrote together) and “Walking on the Streets” before issuing their first long-player, Trip Trap Attack. Like a sun-kissed breeze among the myriad beach-inspired indie acts seemingly washing ashore in clumps a few years back, the album’s throwback ambiance and upbeat demeanor belied the ordeal behind its creation. That they survived it, more or less intact, is a testament to Beach Day’s commitment.
“Oh my gosh, it’s such a crazy fiasco story,” Drake begins. “We started out recording the record out in L.A., but the person we were gonna have produce for us kind of, um, had like a relapse. A drug relapse. So he was kind of nodding out in the studio and we were like, ‘OK – we’ve gotta go!’ We just did some drum tracks there that we actually used on the record, but then we had to re-do a bunch of them because it was just such an out of control session in Los Angeles. He was a good friend of mine. So it was really disappointing. I mean, we’re still not talking. Because driving from here to Los Angeles costs money. We drove, in my little Subaru! We lost a lot of money on that. And I mean, we barely were able to finish our first record. Literally. It was rough. So that was a really big deal… I mean, whatever, he has personal problems, so I’m not holding against him, but it made it really difficult for us.”
Scraping everything together they could muster, they ended up recording most of the album down the road in Miami, along with a handful of tracks here in Atlanta at the Living Room. And all’s well that ends well because Victoria’s Secret ended up using “Beach Day” in a commercial. On top of what they earned from recording Carole King’s “Up on the Roof” for a LensCrafters spot, last year ended up being pretty sweet for Beach Day.
For the recording of Native Echoes, they likewise ventured far from the Florida palms, albeit with far less disastrous results. Impressed with the job onetime Dirtbombs bassist Jim Diamond had done mixing Trip Trap Attack, Kimmy and Skylar hoofed it north to his Ghetto Recorders studio in Detroit so he could record and produce the followup.
“I love him. He’s a great guy,” says Drake. “And I love that studio – an amazing, historic studio. And to get the options of his gear that he has… Working with him was really easy, because I didn’t have to deal with, ‘I want the guitar to sound like this…’ It’s really hard to explain that sometimes, to engineers. I didn’t have to explain it to him. It was just very easy. Which made us work more on good songs. We didn’t have to worry about tedious stuff.”
Good songs, indeed. Rougher and tougher, while retaining a sweet center, the rockers rumble with call-and-response vocals and a more pronounced psychedelic edge, while the more pensive detours display an emotional rawness and vulnerability that the first album only danced around.
“Yeah, the first album, I just wanted to write fun, syrupy songs that would be fun to dance to, and party,” Drake tells me. “And then, um, I guess all the touring that we did, a lot of stuff happened – within the band, without the band, whatever – and I guess it kind of helped me write the second record. I feel like the [Native Echoes] is very personal, but not that personal. You know? Like ‘Don’t Call Me on the Phone,’ you know, that could be about anybody.”
One has to wonder if any of the new songs were sparked by Smallish’s exit from the band last year, just after Trip Trap Attack’s release. “It ended badly,” is all Drake had to say about the matter to her local SouthFlorida.com website, which is more than she tells me. Whether it’s relevant or not, listening to “BFFs,” one of Native Echoes’ shining moments, with its blunt, dejected declaration, “I don’t wanna be your friend,” you sense immediately that it’s coming from some sort of upsetting personal experience.
“I wrote the whole thing in like five minutes,” Drake acknowledges. “I just felt this overwhelming sense of… being left out, like on purpose. Girls can be mean sometimes. I don’t know if you know that.”
Hmmm, let me think for a minute… Why, yes, I do believe I’ve possibly been on the receiving end of some female meanness as well, once or twice. But that’s the sort of album this is. It’s relatable, with its emotional tides of sadness and gladness and who-gives-a-fuckness, but ultimately it’s an upbeat, rejuvenating ride, one worth taking again and again.