“Is this yours?” asks Darren Beckett, drummer for Ambulance LTD, in his thick Irish drawl as he points to a blue Village Voice hat resting next to my elbow on a table backstage.
“No. I am pretty sure they’re up for grabs,” I reply as he smiles and plops it on his messy coif. He is dressed in jeans, a light blue button-down, and a beige blazer. His hair is messy and shines in the humid summer air. He is a rock star, but looks like many of his fans that have come to watch him play today. Last year his Brooklyn band’s debut, simply titled LP, was on so many rock critics year-end lists that the New York press took them by hand and practically gave them the key to the city. This kind of pressure and press could be daunting to just about anybody, but it is clear that Beckett and his band take it in stride. I was fortunate to talk to Darren about the band’s eclectic palette of sounds, their past and their bright future as we sat staring at the Atlantic on a bench on Coney Island’s famed boardwalk.
PopMatters: Can you tell us what opening up for indie legends Guided By Voices was like for you and the band?
Darren Beckett: It was pretty amazing. Bob Pollard is a very genuine nice sort of guy. And the longevity of the band, how they can still put on great shows is kind of inspiring to us.
PM: How did you guys get hooked up with him? I heard Bob was a fan of yours. Is that right?
DB: Yeah. I guess he heard the CD and liked what he heard.
PM: The entire band is now Brooklyn transplants.
DB: Yeah, well we are all from all over (Ireland, Oregon, Southern California) but we all now live in Brooklyn
PM: So what is it like playing the hometown-festival Siren today?
DB: Oh it’s great. I remember coming here [Coney Island] when I first moved to New York to see the freak show. I used to run on the beach when I was in shape. I actually used to swim in the water here.
PM: Well you’re braver than me. Do you feel that yours and Benji’s [Lysaght—keyboards, slide guitar] background and interest in jazz brings some influence to your band’s sound?
DB: Well, I moved to New York and I made a living playing jazz and recorded a lot of stuff. I appreciate jazz and listen to it—like Miles Davis and Coleman and stuff—but I don’t really think it affects the songwriting too much. Maybe in the arrangement in terms of picking things up, five, six, seven, and in weird forms and things like that…
PM: Like in terms of drum fills?
DB: Yeah, I mean, like, people like, ah, you know, Bonham and Keith Moon—all those great drummers were influenced by jazz drummers. Jimmy Page was influenced by blues guitar. For me I like to go back to the roots instead of just checking out the latest fashion. I really like Neil Young’s drummer, the real fucked-up rhythm section. I like drummers who just play for the song and don’t show off.
PM: I read that you guys are big fans of Interpol and everyone loves to mention how Sam Fogarino and his drumming is so intricate and precise, that he isn’t showing off but there are subtle things he is creating.
DB: It takes a real subtle drummer to just hold back and really play the song.
PM: Do you guys get a kick out of being mentioned in these teen girl magazines as being a “Super Cute Band to Watch”? [He looks at me surprised.] You didn’t know about this? You guys have appeared in Teen People and shit as “Cute Rock Bands that Rock”.
DB: Really? Wow. I guess any press is good press and, you know, I love girls. And young girls. So everything is good.
PM: I saw Marcus [Congleton—lead singer] mention that his favorite album is Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space, which is one of my all time favorites.
DB: That is one of his favorites. I think he said that a long time ago.
PM: Okay, because that struck me as being very interesting as you guys are constantly being forced to address this whole shoegazer label…
DB: We hate that shit. Our new shit isn’t like that. It is more like Neil Young, Harvest—very stripped down. We don’t have a keyboard player in the band anymore. The bass player, Matt, does the all-around thing—plays bass, guitar, piano, he sings a couple new songs on the new stuff. It was all very collaborative.
PM: Speaking of, when can we expect new material from you guys?
DB: Well, I think we are going to release an EP in the fall. Just a little tastemaker and that will be followed up by an east coast tour. Then England again for a month. The record will probably come out in March. We are going to put an EP with new songs, maybe a new single, a cover. Maybe like four or five new songs.
PM: What is it like living in this scene? People talk about Brooklyn and Williamsburg being the center of hipdom. Do you find it is easy to flourish in this artistic scene? Is there a creative energy here?
DB: I do think there is a creative energy. I kind of live away from Bedford Avenue. I try to avoid things that are too cliché. I live in a Puerto Rican neighborhood. I just like real people, man. I don’t like people that act like they are in a rock band even if they were work at Starbucks. It is cool to do that, but I don’t know, man, you got to keep it real. But there are a lot of talented bands in the area.
PM: One of my favorite things about your debut is almost how it plays like a mixtape of various genres tackled by the same band. Is the next effort going to be as free flowing and loose?
DB: Well ... I think there is going to be a more common thread. We are obviously influenced by what we listen to. Right now we are listening to a lot of Neil Young, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, the BeeGees, ummm ... for new bands I liked the Libertines. I liked their energy.
PM: Do you like Babyshambles, Doherty’s new band?
DB: Yeah, I do. I think he is a very talented guy.
PM: Just with a lot of his own shit going on.
DB: Yeah, and he has a nice girlfriend.
PM: Isn’t he dating a model?
DB: Yeah, Kate Moss. I have had a crush on her forever. Kate, if you ever read this website, come be with me.
PM: Last question. I know you guys were labeled this IT band and the press was raving about you guys as being the next best thing. But you guys certainly have the Cinderella story going on. You were close to calling it quits. Is this all surreal for you still, just how everything kind of came together and you’re a solid indie band with a great debut?
DB: I think we are just very lucky with the critics. I think critics like it and for the next record we just want to have hits. We want to take it to the next level. I mean that is the whole point. Get it out there to more people.
PM: So something like The O.C. isn’t a conflict of interest for you? If some kid starts listening to the Shins, Ambulance, or the Walkmen or whatever, you guys don’t give a shit where he’s from or what kind of car he is rolling in, right? Kind of like the more the merrier?
DB: Exactly. And I would love to give away some music for free to kids. Just give away rarity tracks. I mean these people keep us alive. They are the ones who come to see us. I think we are going to give some more stuff away for free. It is only a good thing for us. We are pretty excited to get our new stuff out there. We recorded our debut like three years ago. We are ready to get new stuff out there. We will see how it goes.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.