Beams: The WL Interview

Purveyors of: The stories you should have heard when you were young.

File next to: Marisa Anderson, Bruce Peninsula, Modest Mouse

Playing: Wavelength Winter Festival Night 3, Sunday, February 17th @ The Garrison. Get tickets here!

Beams are the dream of what you want your band to be: a family who will stick with you. For close to 10 years, this family has created a cornucopia of music. From their first EP to their recent LP Teach Me To Love, every song is written and performed with earnest conviction. Follow each album, and you’ll uncover a new story to tell your friends. Wavelength’s Emma Bortolon-Vettor caught up with singer/songwriter Anna Mernieks in advance of their Sunday night set alongside Elisapie and Luna Li at our upcoming Winter Fest, presented in partnership with Native Women in the Arts.

In a piece in the Toronto Star, Anna had stated, “We frame existential questions about our connection to the environment, ourselves and each other in lush, beat-driven, folk-tinged soundscapes.” Could you dive into that more?

It’s funny that you ask us to expand on it because it’s actually the result of being asked to condense what we’re about into one sentence! It’s pretty dense. My first instinct was “nah man… that’s too many words. What was I thinking?” But here goes.

I tried to give a two-part description of our intent and our sound, which ends up being what I bring to the band and what the band creates together. I write songs with lyrics that question how one might exist in relation to the environment, to others, and to oneself, basically asking things like: can bearing witness to the pace of nature teach us patience? Are we really that separate if we’re an ocean of molecules floating in an ocean of other molecules? Is the story I’ve created about myself true anymore, or is it holding me back? Heather and I sing about these things while the rest of the band embellishes the soundscape. More than just a backing arrangement, it is lush with the guitar and vibes, beat-driven with the drums and bass, and folk-tinged with the banjo and mandolin. It frames the lyrics, or places them in the context of a world of sounds appropriate to the story, rather than simply providing a genre-specific background.  

All of your music videos are approached from a different aesthetic and yet complement each narrative so well. What is your creative and collaborative process in your music video design?

We approach the people that we want to work with with the story of the song, and any general urges that we might have about the imagery, and then we just let them run with it. We respect their creativity and the perspective that they bring, we give them a lot of freedom and even when the finished product is different than what we intended or what we imagined, it still adds to a growing body of videos that’s turning out to be very “Beams.” I guess it’s kind of like how we approach songs – we don’t have an overall aesthetic goal for the band: each song gets its own treatment.

What’s it like to be playing with each other for almost a decade?

I’m sure everyone in the band has their own way of answering this, but for me, it’s like having a family, which I’m sure is cliché as hell, but we really know each other in a certain way now. I wouldn’t claim to say that I know everything about everyone and vice versa, but there’s a certain “way of knowing” someone who you’ve fallen asleep squished in a stinky van with, or found the best secret taco places with, or sweated it out at the border with a thousand times, that is very “family,” in mostly the good way.

In your opinion(s), what is Folk?

I see it as a tradition of storytelling, usually rooted in sharing some kind of non-Hollywood reality. You know. The people’s stories. I don’t consider it to be defined firstly by instrumentation. We call ourselves psych-folk because the psychedelic part adds a nod to the magical realism, odd structures and connection to the non-human world that exists in our songs, too.

Beams is definitely a patch in the quilt of Toronto sound. Nature is often part of the aesthetic and topics within the trope of Folk genres. How would you describe the nature of Toronto?

I would describe it as devastatingly problematic. I’m a bit of a pessimist, though. I studied Forest Conservation Science in university and I work outside now and it’s hard for me not to just see too many paved surfaces, invasive plants, unbalanced ecosystems, uninhabitable soil, overflowing sewers, destroyed habitat, chemicals everywhere, garbage, etc. Basically an incredibly unsustainable, sprawling thing powered by complete denial. But Mike’s description of the nature of Toronto is “pretty good compared to other cities,” so there’s a nice view.

What are you currently listening to?

Mac Miller – Swimming

Television – Marquee Moon

Sea Moya – Baltic States

Lung – Bottom of the Barrel

Circuit des Yeux – Indigo Rising

Dusted – Blackout Summer