An Interview with Dustin Payseur of Beach Fossils

Photos by Cole Giordano

Whether it’s a song or the absence of one at all, soundtrack supervision in skateboarding can be as important as the editing and tricks themselves.

In the abstract, the song is actually another “spot,” in the sense that the choice can make footage look precious and unique or mainstream and overdone. When sound hits the mood and tempo of a part, a symbiotic relationship is created and leaves behind a moment that sometimes defines eras.

Just as the 80s were defined by punk, the ‘90s by hip hop, and the early-aughts by anything goes nostalgia, skate soundtracks are increasingly becoming driven by individuals, rather than “teams/bands.” House, techno, rap, and indie are much more insular in that they don’t need machines behind them and act as a direct line from the creators. In New York City as well as many larger metropolises, being able to write and record in tight spaces with lean budgets is a necessity.

Having worked with Habitat Skateboards, Krooked, and most recently adidas Skateboarding for their 3MC campaign, Beach Fossils may not track as a “skate” band as the Big Boys, JFA, or even Hieroglyphics once did. While it was important to fly under the flag of “skate rock” decades ago, there’s no longer music exclusive to skateboarding, but rather, inclusive and definitive of time and space.

The way that Dustin Payseur translates ideas into songs with Beach Fossils is not dissimilar to how Habitat/adidas Skateboarding pro Mark Suciu meticulously constructs a part—together they share the same creative DNA.

As part of the release of adidas Skateboarding’s new 3MC sneaker, Beach Fossils were selected along with several other NY-based creators to document their ‘day in the life’, under the banner of  a photographic journey through the lens of All of Us, an exhibition that also included Rachelle Vinberg, Nestor Judkins, Brock Fetch, Who Kid, TJ Mizell, Frankie Spears, Yaje Popson, and Ryan Mettz, as well as the staff from Scarr’s Pizza and The Flower Shop.

Beach Fossils founder and battery, Dustin Payseur, took a break from the packed exhibition at The Flower Shop to discuss roots, method, and environment in advance of their performance at Das Days at Terminal 5.

When did you first get into skating?

Third or fourth grade. I grew up in North Carolina, so it was skaters versus preps. We’d always have fights at school. It was the rebellious nature growing up in North Carolina Bible Belt… anything I could do to say ‘Fuck you!’ you know?

Did skating impact on your musical tastes?

Watching [skate] videos got me into all kinds of music—stuff that I wouldn’t have found out otherwise. Anything from like Black Flag to even The Beatles, as well as all kinds of underground hip-hop. But Black Flag “Six Pack”… I heard that in a video and I was like, ‘Oh my God, what is this?’ At the time I only I was like listening to nu-metal since it was what was around.

So with that introduction to 80s punk, how do you seek out Black Flag from there?

I got really lucky. My parents are pretty cool. I saw the credit in the video, figured out it was Black Flag, then dug into their collection—my parents had a Black Flag cassette, so I’d go to the living room and take that off the wall, listen to it and you know, punch holes in my wall. [laughs]

Any other standouts besides Flag?

Meat Puppets are actually one of the first things I’ve ever listened to on vinyl. I was like going through my dad’s record collection, he had a Meat Puppets record. The weird name made me want to hear it. They transcended a lot of things and just did whatever they wanted from record to record. A band that shows progress is the most important thing to me—never making the same record over and over, you’re always evolving.

As Beach Fossils evolves, how do you balance the expectations with your desire to challenge yourself and experiment?

I always made music for myself and that’s what made it fun. I had a four-track in my room growing up and I’d just record all the time. There was no expectation because no one was listening. I was never in bands really growing up. It was just me, so I’d record instruments. It’s just like a natural progression but people started listening to it. I realise that some people want the same thing [over and over], but the old music is out there if they want to hear it that way. I need to do my own thing. Going back to the Beatles, they always made whatever they wanted, you know? Right at the peak of their career, they made a nine-minute noise song—I love that. That’s what art should be.

It’s an interesting process in that you spend all this time perfecting your songwriting, people connect to it, then at that point it’s natural to pivot and almost unlearn things.

You know when you’re falling asleep, then you start to realise that you’re falling asleep? It wakes you back up. It’s the same with music. You’re working on the song and you’re into it, so if you start thinking, ‘People are gonna listen to this,’ that might like, mess it up. You have to get in this state of mind where you forget that there’s an audience at all.

You’ve mentioned you don’t listen to many current guitar-based bands. Is that a conscious decision?

I’m a naturally curious person and I always I spend most of my days like a fucking nerd, just researching music and constantly finding what appeals to me, both old or new—what’s going on right now with like rappers in the UK as much as psychedelic bands in 1968. It’s figuring out what meant something to people, rather than emulating one band or sound.

Right, the context becomes as important as the song. I was listening to that Faust track “Jennifer”, and how in 1973 it really sounds proto-shoegaze, but they were coming from an entirely different place.

That’s a band I think about a lot that’s timeless. You can listen to them whenever and it never sounds dated. That’s why I always try to keep things minimal. When when you’re working with minimalism, you’re not getting all this other stuff that’s in the way.

It seems like that approach really drives back to the song, rather than trends.

I obviously love The Byrds and I love My Bloody Valentine, but I really get bummed out if I go to a show and watch a band and they sound exactly like those bands. You got to put yourself into this—you have to bring who you are into it, because somebody else already made that. These days I’m listening to a lot of house music and I’m listening to a lot of grime. I don’t know if any of that comes out in my music at all, but I love the energy.

That’s interesting, because house music is a different type of minimalism and becomes more about structure than traditional songwriting, but as you get deeper into it, you can discern a well-written house song rather than a generic one.

It depends on how much personality somebody puts into it. You could have a house song—some anonymous song that’s like, playing at a sushi restaurant—or you could have somebody like Moodyman, who’s taking a lot of elements of different types of music and like putting tons of personality into it. He makes it new and transcends the genre. Or you look at Survive, who use a lot of old analogue equipment but they’re doing something new and almost hi-fi. There’s always a way to be innovative.

That seems to relate to the central theme of this show and the shoe itself—this idea of modernising the minimal.

I do think that adidas is a brand that looks timeless. You look at pictures from the 90s of Oasis or somebody rocking all adidas head-to-toe. That still looks sick. It’s an everyday thing. Again, my approach is about being minimal, so to put out a minimal shoe, strip things down to the barebones without the bells and whistles, it has to be good.

How do you approach a visual project such as your contribution to this adidas 3MC exhibition?

It’s not that different than writing a song. It’s all just a day in the life, so I went from my home studio to another studio in Greenpoint. I lived most of my life in Greenpoint,10 years, and sometimes I feel like I don’t leave for like two weeks. There’s a very residential element to Greenpoint, but then there’s also a very industrial element to it. You walk around and see marble shops, where they have just like tons of marble and mirrors sitting out 24-7. That’s a good spot to take a photo. I really like to be aware of my surroundings and how things can be seen through somebody else’s eyes. I’m not a photographer by profession by any means but you know, I think it is a great way to capture a mood. I just moved apartments and was going through tons of old photos from when I first moved here. Things look so different. It’s like a time capsule.

As much as Greenpoint’s changing, it still has that mix and character.

Sure, there’s condos going up and there’s a lot of new people going there, but I think the overall atmosphere and personality of the neighbourhood has not changed. It’s still people that live there and they have their lives there and they’re like, this is what we do, you know, we have our bakery or whatever it is. People aren’t ready to get pushed out of their neighbourhood.

It’s a balance, because that change is inevitable. You don’t have time to be sentimental.

New York City is a place that keeps people young—it really does. It always keeps you on your toes and it’s exciting to be in an environment like that. You’re always shedding your skin.

Check out what’s happening for the rest of this week at Das Days, right here.

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