Excavating Beach Fossils


Known for his lo-fi vocals and reverberating indie rock, musician Dustin Payseur formed Beach Fossils in 2009 as a vehicle of expansion for a solo project. Fast-forward five years, and founding members of the band left to make names for themselves as DIIV and Heavenly Beat. Payseur, however, remains attached to Beach Fossils, even though he’s also committed to at least four side projects, including three other bands and starting a record label.

“I’m such a scattered person,” the drum, bass, and guitar player says. “I love piano—I think piano is the most beautiful instrument in the world—but it just takes so much focus.”

After a brief stint at community college in North Carolina, Payseur moved to New York City in 2008, where he single-handedly wrote what would become Beach Fossils’ self-titled debut album in 2010. “The writing process is at its strongest when you don’t even feel like you’re writing the songs yourself,” he says. “That happened when I was writing the first Beach Fossils record. I’d come back a day or two [after writing] and it would sound like I was listening to somebody else’s music.”

Since 2010, Payseur has grown inward and outwardly. He and his wife are co-founding the record label underworks, and he admits his life feels much more comfortable, which drastically influences his music. “When I first moved, I was broke and upset. Everything was shitty, so I was like, ‘I’ll make this album that feels nice and happy to get away,'” he remembers. “Now everything feels really nice, so I’ve been working on music that’s aggressive and dark.”

Now composed of Payseur, Tommy Gardner, Jack Doyle Smith, and Tommy Davidson, Beach Fossils embarked on a U.S. tour last week, and we’ll see them play at TBD Festival this weekend in Sacramento. Before heading to California and after waking up around 1 pm on a Wednesday afternoon, Payseur spoke to us from his Brooklyn apartment about the band’s tour and upcoming projects.

EMILY MCDERMOTT: So what are you working on at the moment?

DUSTIN PAYSEUR: I’ve been writing a new Beach Fossils album with the whole band, which is the first time we’ve all written together. A lot of the time we’re not actually writing—we’re just making horrible nu-metal jams—but we’ve also made a lot of progress. I get really bad writer’s block when I’m stuck in my own head for too long, so working with everybody has been nice. I also have a project called Glass Bricks with my friend Rene, and it’s inspired by industrial music, but more future-based instead of throwback. Then there’s this sludgy noise band, Divorce Money, and another band, Laced, that’s like punk music, but more slowed down and melodic. And I’m starting a record label with my wife! There’s been a lot of shit going on, [but] working on everything helps me focus. If I only have one thing, it drives me completely insane.

MCDERMOTT: I know philosophy and poetry inspire you. What do you find yourself frequently referencing?

PAYSEUR: I read a lot of Eastern philosophy. It keeps me grounded. The Tao Te Ching is hands-down my favorite book of all time. I can pick that up whenever, no matter how I feel, and read it. I’ve also been reading a lot of Kurzweil recently. That’s been a huge inspiration in the way I think. I don’t know if it’s seeping into the music, but it’s definitely something that’s been obsessing all of my thoughts. I’m not really sure how to tie the future of A.I. into Beach Fossils music. [laughs]

MCDERMOTT: So going back to your childhood, when did you become interested in music?

PAYSEUR: My family is pretty musical, so it was always there. My parents both had bands, and my grandfather plays Cuban music. I’ve always been around instruments and encouraged to be creative, and that’s the best thing about my upbringing. My parents had really good taste in music, and when I was younger I would play horrible nu-metal music, but they never discouraged it. I think that was really important.

MCDERMOTT: Thinking about Beach Fossils and the past few years, what is something you remember as a really defining moment?

PAYSEUR: Honestly, the first email I ever got from anybody being like, “We want to put your record out!” When Mike [Sniper] from Captured Tracks emailed me, that was the most amazing feeling of my entire life. I remember I was visiting friends in Virginia. I drank two bottles of Champagne and went into a lake naked. It was freezing. It was so nice. [laughs] I still get that feeling at almost every show I play, or if anyone comes up to me on the street and tells me they like my music. All the little things make it feel so special and real. I didn’t have any jobs lined up or any money when I moved. That was really scary and it was such a shaky thing, so getting any of those opportunities—it’s still really special.

MCDERMOTT: What made you want to move here without anything?

PAYSEUR: I wanted to [move here] my whole life. I remember being a kid and watching Ninja Turtles and Batman and being like, “I want to move to New York. That looks so cool! I want to live there.” [laughs] Then as I got older, reading about the art and music that came out of New York and how it was such a special place for so many different kinds of music and art—it’s the only place in the country I thought I would want to live and I still feel that way. If I were ever to have to leave New York I would want to go somewhere in Europe. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the U.S. that compares.

MCDERMOTT: What is a struggle you have faced and overcome?

PAYSEUR: Most of the struggles that I face are completely internal. It’s me trying to shut out the idea that anyone else is going to hear my music. When I’m writing, I need to focus on the music and not think about anyone hearing it or whether or not people are going to like it. At the same time, I can’t just sit there and do it for me. I have to ignore myself when I’m making music and just let it happen.

MCDERMOTT: How would you define your philosophy toward music?

PAYSEUR: I definitely find it more overwhelming than other types of art. There’s something so immediate about it that hits something so incredibly deep. It’s highly emotional. I find myself under the power of music while I’m listening to and creating it. I haven’t found much that affects me in that way, aside from certain types of poetry or parts of film. It’s so internal and personal; it’s so intangible that you have no idea what you’re working toward, and that’s the most exciting part.