Music

The Beautiful & Damned [Los Angeles]

Jon Garrett
The Beautiful & Damned

Embodying the labyrinthine decay and assured swagger of their Hollywood home, the Beautiful & Damned are fueled by a bit of literary pretension and a drive to expose the grandeur in the intimate and ugly.

Hollywood sells fantasy, and with good reason: it’s still technically a part of Los Angeles. As anyone who has been downtown can tell you, the city center is not a pretty place. Though not quite yet a monument to urban decay on the level of Detroit, the metro area proper suffers from a kind of benevolent neglect. The streets remain eerily empty. Sidewalks lie swollen and cracked. And at least based on my futile attempts to navigate, signs would appear to be in short supply.

Fortunately, after some delay, I manage to make it to my destination, an imposing if somewhat dilapidated structure tucked beneath the 7th Street Bridge. One half of the Beautiful & Damned -- guitarist Jordan Wiggins and bassist Robert Peirret -- are waiting at the door and, after brief introductions, lead me down a seemingly endless series of corridors, shafts, and stairwells. They inform me that this is one of the largest band practice spaces in Los Angeles. I don’t doubt them for a second. Finally, I notice a slightly ajar door toward the end of the hall. This is our stop.

Inside is the rest of the band: drummer Tim Galvin and vocalist & keyboardist Benjamin Baillon. Baillon still seems to be recovering from last night’s gig -- somewhat disheveled, friendly but not exactly at ease. The room, despite its spaciousness, seems cozier than the typical practice space. There are plenty of instruments, microphones, and electronic gadgets strewn about, but the two couches and coffee table in the corner give the impression that this room doubles as a second home, a place to crash when sessions run late. The half empty magnum bottle of Shiraz and pack of American Spirits on the table suggest that the last such session was fairly recent.

The relaxed interior space is in striking contrast to what I observe out the window -- the buildings and yellowish smog framed by crisscrossing power lines, the trickle of LA river below. Baillon swipes the pack off the table and invites me to take a seat. He coaxes out one cigarette and lights it before settling down on a stool at the far end of the room. The rest of the band finds comfortable spots on the couches.

The Beatiful & Damned have been together for only a year now, but if last night’s show was any indication, they have the confidence of a band already working on their third full-length. At Vertigos, a dance club that tolerates the occasional rock act, the Beautiful & Damned put forth a valiant effort, churning out one euphoric, synth-driven chorus after the next. True, most of the patrons were probably wondering where the band stashed the DJ, but Baillon could have cared less. New wave anthems in waiting like “Coronation” and “You Make Me Feel Pretty” have endowed him with a self-belief that borders on possession, the songs’ surges perfectly in sync with his suggestive gyrations. Unlike many artists at this stage, he is not timid nor, for that matter, in need of validation.

“Before we met each other, I made a demo at my house,” says Baillon, running the cigarette along the rim of the ashtray. “I was in the bathroom at my girlfriend’s house -- for the acoustics of course -- and '[You Make Me Feel] Pretty' just came to me. Once I finished that, I knew I had to find a band.” He approached Wiggins first, a local guitarist with whom he shared several acquaintances. Wiggins, in turn, asked his friend, Peirret, until then a guitarist, to take on bass duties. Finally, with the addition of Michigan transplant Galvin on drums, the Beautiful & Damned was born.

The time since has been spent building a catalog, logging long hours in their practice space in search of the songs that will ultimately comprise their debut record. Baillon describes the band’s approach to songwriting as “minimalist” at least three separate times over the course of our interview, but that is probably the last word I would use. Each Beautiful & Damned song is writ large, finding grand drama even in the most personal stories. “Hot Hot” is just one such example, turning a rather invidious tale of adolescent temptation into existential crisis. Baillon mirrors the protagonist’s paralyzing indecision by counterbalancing his lyrical specificity with a massive chorus. In this way, the Beautiful & Damned manage to connect broadly, but their process is the reverse of most bands attempting to scale such heights. Whereas groups like U2 and Coldplay succeed by making sweeping statements sound more intimate, the Beautiful & Damned instead prefer to make their personal sagas sound more broadly palatable. “Vivian” is yet another such marvel -- a somewhat dour vignette, its regrets masked by Baillon’s sparkling keyboard line.

Although the band took its name from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, it turns out that Baillon draws much of his inspiration from the works of French novelist and playwright Jean Genet. “He wrote about a world of hoodlums, but he saw a lot of beauty in the depravity,” he explains. While Genet wrote his most enduring works in France during the 1940s, Baillon feels his particular worldview is just as applicable to modern-day Los Angeles. “What most people think about [Los Angeles] isn’t really right,” he says. “True, you might go to the Hotel Bel Aire, but in some very real way you feel closest to the trannies and the homeless. We’ve tried to capture that in our songs, but without dragging them down.”

Genet’s central theme, of finding splendor in ugliness, strikes me as applicable not only to the songs, but everything about the Beautiful & Damned, from their shows right down to their choice of practice space. Perhaps this isn’t a coincidence. I’m still mulling this over as we say our goodbyes, which is probably why I forget to ask for directions out of the complex. And before I’ve had a chance to swallow my pride, I’m already lost among the infinite interconnected hallways. Normally, this sort of situation would upset me. But now, not so much.

(The Beautiful & Damned will release a digital EP this summer on Intravenous Records.)

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image