Ex-Beulah frontman living the solo life

     

    I
    first heard Beulah in 1999 when the band opened for Gomez at
    Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club. I was immediately and permanently struck
    by a sound style so clearly singular but distantly familiar: clean,
    half-melancholy pop, with exactly measured amounts of horns and keys.
    Lyrically
    and sonically, Beulah always managed a scrappy style of honesty, a rare
    quality that’s attracted a fan base that’s growing to this day.
    The band broke up in 2003 from that old brew of burn out, infighting and knowing (or assuming) your course has been run.

     

    Except for A Good Band Is Easy to Kill,
    a documentary released last year about Beulah’s 2003 tour, we haven’t
    heard much from the members since their band’s final release, Yoko,
    but there’s word of an impending solo album from former frontman Miles
    Kurosky. I got to talk to Kurosky over the phone recently as he was
    sitting down to dinner and Oprah in his San Francisco
    apartment. We chatted mostly about his future recording plans, but we
    also talked about Beulah’s legacy and his recovery from multiple
    shoulder surgeries that were brought on by several issues that had
    nagged at him for ten years (no badass motorcycle-crash story
    unfortunately). After some small talk, he got the interview started
    with a question of his own:

    Miles Kurosky: The first question I have is, Does anybody really care what I’m up to?

     

    [more:]

    I really think so. When you broke up, especially after how good Yoko was, it left a lot of people wanting more of Beulah.

    Fair enough. I’ll take your word for it.

     

    Well, I hope people are interested — then they might read the interview.

    [Laughs]
    There you go. I’ve not been interviewed in quite a while, actually.
    Somebody at Spin contacted me recently, but I didn’t want to do the
    interview. I think it was about Elephant 6 mostly.

     

    How do you feel about being attached with that scene? I don’t think you really sound like most of those bands.

    Well,
    we are mostly associated with it because we put out the only official
    full-length on Elephant 6. I don’t think we sound like a lot of them
    either, but it was good for a while.

     

    I know you had a couple of surgeries on your shoulder. How are you doing?

    Well,
    my first inclination is to say that it’s been a nightmare, but I think
    that might sound a bit melodramatic. Oddly enough I’ve grown accustomed
    to the pain and, although frustrating at times, I’ve also come to terms
    with the fact that my arm may never be the same again. It would be nice
    to reach into a cupboard to get a glass, maybe do the dishes, or help
    my girlfriend carry the groceries. That said, all I can really do is
    continue with my physical therapy and be grateful that it’s not worse. … I mean, it’s only an arm. A few years ago my father broke his neck
    when he crashed through the windshield of his car, so I’m careful not
    to whine too much. … I’d like to think I’m doing alright but then
    again, I’m well medicated. Actually, I just watched Born into Brothels and Murderball, so I’m feeling pretty blessed right now.

     

    I watched those recently as well. Really good stuff.

    Yeah, I read some reviews about some people who don’t like Born Into Brothels.
    And it’s so weird because most people want a movie made how they want
    it. And it’s always the liberal intelligentsia. They are always so,
    “What we should really be talking about is the WTO and America and why
    we fucked everything up.” And you’re like, “Really? It’s just a story
    about some kids taking pictures.” Everybody has their own fucking
    agenda, and I just thought it was a sweet movie.

     

    Did those movies help put things into perspective a little?

    When
    you’re fucked up and you’re hurt, either mentally or physically, it’s
    easy to feel sorry for yourself. And you have to always see something
    worse to snap you out of it, to make you not feel so bad. Because it is
    a bummer, you go for a year and you can’t play guitar, and that’s what
    I’ve been doing for the last ten years.

     

    When do you think you will be able to play guitar again?

    I’m
    not sure, but I’m hoping for April or May. When I was four months
    post-op after my first surgery, I would stand the guitar on the couch
    like an upright bass and tap the strings with my fingers.
    Unfortunately, that experiment was interrupted by a second surgery and
    a return to the sling. I did try to play the guitar last week, but I
    had to stop because I kept getting a sharp pain right over one of the
    incisions. I’ve been having problems with a couple of my screws,
    staples, sutures getting caught on my tendons when I move my arm.
    Hopefully I’ll grow some scar tissue over them so it won’t hurt so much.

     

    You’ve been done with Beulah for a while now. Has nostalgia set in at all?

    No,
    not really. I mean, I’ve been guilty of sentimental drunkenness and
    trading war stories with friends in other bands, but that’s about it. I
    have no problem with reminiscing, but I don’t really long for the past. … I’m not big on looking back. I don’t sit and listen to Beulah
    records. Somebody the other day asked me if I could play a song, and I
    don’t even remember the chords. It’s something I made, but it’s not
    something that I think about a lot. I don’t know if I have space in my
    brain for it.

     

    Do you stay in touch with the rest of the band?

    I
    do, mostly through belated e-mails, infrequent lunch dates, and
    babysitting. Also, Bill [Swan, Beulah co-founder] just invited me over
    to his new house in Santa Clara to watch the Super Bowl. Unfortunately,
    I’m not sure I’m gonna be able to make it because I might fly down to
    L.A. to watch it with my dad. My family is from Pittsburgh, ex-steel
    workers, and we all bleed a little black and gold. Needless to say,
    Super Bowl Sunday will be like Christmas, Easter and Secretary’s Day
    all wrapped up in one.

     

    What have you been doing since the band broke up?

    Besides
    being hurt and getting cut open every six months, not much. After
    Beulah broke up I had to really decompress actually. I didn’t give two
    shits about music or being in a band. It just didn’t interest me on any
    level. And, in fact, I really didn’t have any interest in making music
    again. It just seemed like I had done it, and what’s the point?

     

    What got you out of that?

    Well,
    the weird thing is that, it’s what I do. So the songs just started
    coming and then that was it. They just came and, voila, they keep
    coming.

     

    So you are working on a new record. How is that going?

    In
    a lot of ways the injury has been really serendipitous in that it’s
    given me time to think about it a lot. I think sometimes when people
    quit bands or breakup bands and then go solo, they jump into it too
    quickly. I’ve also noticed [that a lot of newly solo artists] will
    either go do something entirely off the mark — like they will make a
    techno album — or they will go the other way and take out all the
    instruments and make it an acoustic-y, sort of roots-y record. And I
    don’t think I will do it that way. I just figured I would pretend it’s
    the fifth Beulah record in that all Beulah records sounded different.
    All I know is to trust my instincts, and if my instinct happens to be
    to do something kind of really weird and funky and not-so-Beulah-like,
    then I’m probably doing the wrong thing … I write pop songs and I
    think I should keep going with that natural progression. All I know is
    that the songs so far right now are all pretty good.

     

    Bill Swan wrote on the Beulah Web site that you were working out some of the material a cappella. Is that true?

    It’s
    so funny. People have also written about that, too … where they think
    I’m actually going to make an a capella record. That’s not the case;
    it’s just that when you can’t play guitar … If
    I write a melody, I’m like, “Dah, dah dah dum, dah dah dah dah dum.”
    I’ve written like three songs like that, then Pat Abernathy — who
    played in Beulah — he comes over and I sing it to him and he figures
    out the chords for me. I can play rudimentary piano, and I’ll try to
    figure out the chords that way. Just as long as I can remember it and
    get it down and get it on a Dictaphone. I’ve written the songs that
    way; I certainly won’t record them that way.

     

    How many have you written that way?

    Three at least and I’m working on a fourth.

     

    And how many songs do you think will be on the record?

    I
    think ten. … I might do a cover; I’m not sure. Probably somebody
    really obscure — when I say obscure, I mean like a friend of mine,
    nobody huge.

     

    So is this gonna be a solo thing. Are you calling it Miles Kurosky?

    Probably not. I don’t like the idea of just using my name. I have no idea. Do you have any good band names?

     

    Um, no, actually. [Had I been swifter I could have offered up a few awful suggestions: Miles to Go, the Longest Mile.]

    They
    are hard to come by, huh? Most band names are kinda garbage anyway.
    When you read Prefix or Pitchfork or whatever, it’s surprising that
    bands get away with such bad names. You just get used to them after a
    while.

     

    Are you going to have set band members?

    No.
    The one thing I’ve learned from Beulah is I would probably just have a
    band name and do what my friend John Vanderslice does: have different
    people to play for different things. That’s just the way to go.

     

    You know when you tour your band will be on the bill as “Whatever the band name is (featuring Miles Kurosky of Beulah).”

    I
    know. I don’t like that either. Well, that’s if I ever go on tour
    again. Right now I say no. It all depends on where my head’s at — it
    doesn’t sound appealing to me right now. I did plenty of it. I would
    like to go to Europe for free again. That’s always fun.

     

    Will anyone else from Beulah be involved on the album?

    Danny
    [Sullivan] who used to play with Beulah, he’s going to play on some
    drums, and Eli [Crews] will help out, he was the bass player. … Pat
    Abernathy, he played keyboards, will play on it, and I think Pat Noel
    will help out some. And even Steve LaFolette — who used to be the bass
    player from years ago — he will help out too on keyboards and
    everything. And then it’s just a slew of other people who weren’t
    Beulah. The only one from Beulah who probably won’t be showing up is
    Swany, Bill Swan.

     

    Why isn’t he involved?

    I
    don’t know. He wrote me four messages about it, like e-mails. Not mean
    in any regard. I think what it is — I can only guess even after
    reading four e-mails — is that he played second fiddle for a good
    eight years, and I don’t think he is excited or anxious to reprise that
    role. I think he just wants to do his own thing and not go down the
    road again, which is totally understandable. But he will write me notes
    every once in a while saying, Hey, I remember you playing that song a
    long time ago; that would sound good with an open G chord or something
    like that. It’s not that he’s not for it. For him he is just trying to
    make a mental break with the thing. I mean, why would he want to play
    second fiddle to me again? But, again, it’s kind of fortunate in some
    ways, because less trumpet means more oboe and tuba and bassoon. But he
    might still; it’s too early to tell. It all depends on the day and how
    bored he is anyway.

     

    On The Coast is Never Clear (2001) and Yoko (2003) your
    lyrics started to come across differently. You exposed yourself a lot
    with those lyrics, kind of exposing men in general in the process. It
    stood out because most indie-rockers are afraid to show any kind of
    masculinity when highlighting their faults. Do you agree with that?

    Yeah.
    It was confessional and it was honest, and it was poetic and esoteric
    — maybe, but only to a point. Well, it was maybe more poetic. I wasn’t
    veiling the words or the emotions. … well I wasn’t veiling the emotions
    with a lot of words. Yoko, especially — that one was really straightforward.

     

    Did you get all of that out? Is the stuff you are writing now about similar themes?

    No, that was then. I don’t know what I’m going to write about yet.

     

    So you don’t have any lyrics down?

    I
    have lots, but I don’t know where they are headed yet. That will have
    to be a surprise. Half the time I wrote Beulah lyrics, like, the week
    before I sang them. I like the idea of being under pressure. For me it
    just brings out the urgency and makes me try harder.

     

    What do you think of the A Good Band is Easy to Kill documentary?

    Well,
    I think it’s kind of funny. It’s like having a home video of your
    wedding. It’s not something I’m going to sit around and watch everyday,
    but I’ll be happy that I have it thirty years from now. … There were
    times I didn’t like the angle in that it was all very discouraging and
    being in the band was tough. The fact is we sold out most places we
    played — most of the places we played were quite big. Even when he
    showed the hotels we were staying at, it was like the bad hotels. I
    remember calling him and asking him, “Can you make it at least look
    like we were somewhat successful, for Christ’s sake. People are just
    gonna think that we never did anything.” And within the world of indie
    rock we actually did pretty well. … There were certain things that I
    was a little wary about, like when I said “fuck Bob Dylan.” I knew that
    people would take that so seriously, even though Bob Dylan is obviously
    a hero of mine. Kids have written the Web site and said they were upset … . The funny thing is that I was only reacting to the fact that we’ve
    made Bob Dylan and people like him into sacred cows. And the fact is,
    yeah, he’s fucking Bob Dylan, but that shouldn’t be it. If Bob Dylan
    releases forty minutes of flatulence, are we supposed to be excited by
    that?

     

    Or if he does a Victoria’s Secret ad.

    Yeah.
    It’s very frustrating for any artist to be dismissed or their art to be
    dismissed without even an argument: “Well, it’s Bob Dylan. Your breakup
    record can’t be as good as his.” I just thought I was honest on the
    record, and I figured that should count for something and that
    shouldn’t be dismissed so easily. I did say that I would’ve allowed a
    scene of me snorting coke off a dead corpse just because it would have
    made for provocative viewing.

     

    Right about the time you broke up a lot of bands started cashing in. How do you feel about this new reality?

    It
    is true that the world has changed for indie rock, remarkably so. When
    a band like Arcade Fire is up for a Grammy, the world has gone a little
    cuckoo — in a good way, mind you, I think it’s wonderful. The
    marketability of indie-rock has reached an all-time high. It’s
    remarkable — it’s almost baffling. When Beulah was starting up, a lot
    of these things that are happening for these bands today weren’t even
    feasible. They weren’t plausible. The biggest you could get would be
    Pavement or Yo La Tengo or something. So bands are putting out their
    first records and they are just blowing up. … You look at a band like
    Clap Your Hands Say Yeah,
    they’re putting out their own record — they’re not even on a label.
    They have far more control over their destiny than if they were on a
    label.

     

    Do you think the hype that is generated over these bands will screw them up in the long run?

    I
    guess time will tell. Who knows? We will only know when they put out a
    second or third record to see how long people’s attention spans last.

     

    Do you think you guys missed the boat a little bit when you called it quits?

    It’s
    hard for me to say that had we started up five years later would it be
    different. It’s kind of like saying, “Well, God, I would be far more
    successful if I got into the college of my choice,” and pining over
    some decision you made ten years ago. Life is the way life is, and
    who’s to say? We could have started out in 2004 and not blown up. I
    think it’s exciting; I think it’s good for all of these bands — they
    don’t have to rely on labels and certain press and things like that.
    The computer has changed it all.

     

    When
    we started Beulah [in 1996] we didn’t even have a Web site for two
    years, and we didn’t even have an e-mail address. In ’98 you were a
    goofy local band if you had a Web site; it just seemed like such a
    stupid thing. We capitalized on some of it. Our song was on The O.C. and on The O.C. soundtrack.
    And in a way that’s helped. Kids still write and they still buy things
    from the site, as if we were still a band. And I think that’s mostly
    from The O.C.

     

    Considering that, don’t you think people are interested in what you’re up to?

    I’m
    kinda out of the loop, so I don’t really know if anyone cares or not. I
    was sort of just inclined to believe that once you break up nobody
    cares anymore, you know?

     

    You said this to Rolling Stone a couple years ago: Here
    I am in an indie-rock band that’s done quite well and done a lot of
    things we never thought we would. We’ve played festivals, we’ve been on
    Conan O’Brien … but at the end of the day I wonder what I’ve
    done. All I got is some crow’s feet. What’s the fucking prize?” How do
    you feel about it now that the band is behind you?

    Hmm,
    I sound like I’m philosophically teething. Funny, jaded existential I
    am not. The easy answer, of course, is that there isn’t any fucking
    prize. I don’t know, I think everyone at some point questions their
    career choices or the decisions they’ve made throughout their life.
    Second-guessing comes with the territory. Unfortunately for me, I
    wasn’t consulting my priest; I was talking to Rolling Stone. To answer
    your question, I loved being in Beulah regardless of the aforementioned
    and forever illusive bacon.

     

    Is there any chance of another Beulah record?

    That won’t happen. We left a good taste in folk’s mouths; no use in tarnishing that.

     

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