By Michael Lello
Listen to just a few bars from Buried Beds’ new album “In Spirit,” and you’ll know this is not your typical indie rock fare. You’ll be greeted with lush thickets of instrumentation and warm vocal harmonies, illuminating folk tales both reimagined and newly invented.
It’s an ambitious approach for the Philadelphia band, a collective that comprised of Eliza Jones, Brandon Beaver, Dave Hartley, Tommy Bendel and Hallie Sianni often described as “chamber rock.”
“Yeah, for sure,” Eliza says with a laugh, told that the descriptor seems to actually fit the band – a rarity. “I think a lot of it comes from we hear something bigger than a rock band version in our heads, and we just try really hard to make that come to life, both in the studio and in the live setting.”
We recently spoke with Eliza about the making of “In Spirit,” Thursday’s release show at new Philadelphia venue Boot & Saddle and how two kids that met a Quaker “school for weirdos” in Chester County — her word, not ours – started a band that has continues to find a larger audience and create compelling and otherworldly music.
EJ: The band started with me and Brandon Beaver. We had sort of grown up together in high school, and after college living together in West Philadelphia and started making music for fun, and it turned into Buried Beds. That sort of first stage of Buried Beds is different than the music we’re making now, although it’s under the same name; the sort of modern version of the band didn’t really come together until 2010 when we put out the first version of “Tremble the Sails.” So those were the early years. We played very sad and beautiful heavily orchestrated music, and then in about 2010 we decided to make the music that we enjoyed playing (laughs) and have more fun, and that was sort of the beginning of “Tremble the Sails.” And some of the people that played with us back in the beginning also play with us now, so it was a more of an artistic change than a personnel change.
H81R: Tell us about the process of making “In Spirit.”
EJ: We had sort of come off a touring cycle for “Tremble the Sails” and thought it was time to start writing a new record. Brandon and I sat down – we write all the songs – and we thought that it would be fun and interesting to write a kind of a concept album in which we picked this theme, which was folk tales and stories that had been told to us, and then write all of the songs about these stories. So each of the songs is related to the retelling of a story that was told to us, either when we were kids or that we were read. Some of them are very literal, like this is a Russian folktale and this is a retelling of it, and some of them are a little bit further from that. There’s one that’s about multiple-worlds interpretation of quantum physics and stuff like that, and stories that my grandmother told me. Even a couple of Brandon’s songs are folk tales that he ended up writing himself, which was sort of an interesting process. He started writing a lot of songs about folk tales, then writing his own folk tales, then writing songs from those folk tales.
H81R: Why a concept album, and why folk tales?
EJ: I think the idea behind doing the concept album is so much of music is about the single, and there’s not a lot of people making records. I shouldn’t say not a lot of people; there’s a lot of people making incredible records, but also a lot of more popular bands and groups that are really focused on making singles, and then you put a couple singles and some fillers on a CD, but you’re really marketing to an iTunes consumer population, and we weren’t really interested in that. We were really interested in making a record that was cohesive and that had a feeling from the beginning to the end. So it’s not a concept album in that each of these songs is related to each other at all, they’re all about different characters and different places. We really wanted, as we were writing, to be writing for an album, and they all had a place in that world.
The folk tales was just something that was interesting to us. I think our music, both on “Tremble the Sails” and “In Spirit,” we were really interested in this sort of myth-making. I think we just think that the world is full of mysteries and people react to those mysteries and respond to those mysteries in their own ways, and folk tales have long been a way that the world sort of makes sense of itself. So we just started there. And that’s why these included these scientific theories, which are the modern world’s way of making sense of itself.
EJ: Well there’s the traditional rock band instruments, so there’s electric guitars and acoustic guitars and bass and drums and keys, and in that there are your acoustic piano and also a lot of synths and some older Wurlitzer and organs – the studio had a beautiful B3 organ that we were able to use a lot of – and in addition to that we have a viola player that’s been with us since almost the beginning, so here strings are all over there, and then we have a great friend of hers violin, saxophone, clarinet, flute, cello, harp, trumpet. So we were lucky to have so many talented people come in and lay stuff down. We covered it (laughs).
H81R: Fellow Philadelphia band Dr. Dog recently mentioned Buried Beds as one of their favorite bands during their Livestream event, and their drummer Eric Slick appears on “In Spirit” Do things like that, and opening for larger acts, translate to your band building a larger fanbase?
EJ: Sure. I think that doing the tours for us was a really major deal. When we started Buried Beds, we were just playing in our living room and occasionally playing out in Philadelphia and having a great time. We put out “Tremble the Sails” and mewithoutYou, who is also a Philadelphia band, I was playing baseball with Mike (Weiss), who is one of the guitar players, and I gave him the album, and he called us up a week later and said we want you guys to come on the road with us. So that was a huge thing for us, to be able to play to hundreds of people a night and have our friends really embrace our music and really believe in us. And that made an enormous difference. All of a sudden we were on the map and people were emailing us and wanting us to play shows, and we had Facebook followers and people finding us on the Internet. And it was a chance to make fans. I think we really love touring and we’ve done some great tours since that first tour with mewithoutYou, and it’s always a great way to meet new people and have new people exposed to your music and hopefully like your music. I think having those relationships with people and having them believe in us has been really great and helpful for us, and it’s heartening to have your friends believe in what you do.
H81R: For the release show you have a great lineup – Teen Men and Caroline Smith are on the bill – and you’re playing a new room. How did this show come together?
EJ: Boot and Saddle is brand new, and it’s Sean Agnew’s new spot, and we love R5 and Agnew and all the stuff he does. He works really hard to make sure that all of his venues are awesome and have great sound systems, so when we heard that he was opening up a new venue, we felt it would be a great way to release a record, play a new record in a new room, and at the same time we had been talking to Nick Krill, who actually mixed our album and is one of the singers of The Spinto Band, who has a new project called Teen Men, which we absolutely love. So we thought, hey, let’s put this together, and he brought in Caroline Smith, who is good friends with him, so he brought her on the show, and we’re ready to go (laughs). I’m really excited about it.