From the South to the Big City: Beach Fossils’ Dustin Payseur on Touring, Vinyls, and Dying Happy

By Kelsey Garcia

ImageDustin Payseur has just finished playing a sold-out show at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom with the indie rock band he started four years ago, Beach Fossils. In a fleeting moment, he smiles down at the passionately energetic crowd, thanks them, and wafts offstage.

   Payseur was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina to a Cuban mother and an American father, both of whom shared a love of music. Now 27 years old, Payseur recounted learning his instrument at a young age with the help of his parents: “They’re the reason I want to play. I got my first guitar from my dad. My first bass was also my dad’s. They wanted me to get lessons but I didn’t want that because I was just like, ‘No I just want to figure it out on my own.’ They were behind it.”  

   The musician’s idolization of lo-fi, a term used to describe limited frequency recordings, punk, and post-punk bands like Crass, The Wake, and Sonic Youth differentiated him from the typical Southern teenager. He remembered showing up to his middle school’s career day wearing a band T-shirt. While Payseur’s classmates arrived in button-up shirts and suits, he was clad in an old band T-shirt.  “I’m going to be in a band—a rock band,” said Payseur.

    Like most aspiring musicians, he would have to pay his dues first. This involved working a string of retail jobs, moving to Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, and recording in his cramped apartment (what Payseur refers to as “bedroom DIY”). For his first album, Payseur sang and performed every instrument. Out of that dedication, and in that cramped two-bedroom apartment in 2009, Payseur breathed life into Beach Fossils.   

    “It’s not all luck. You work really hard at what you want,” said Payseur. “You work extremely hard at your goals and that’s how you get where you want to be.”

    After recording Beach Fossils’ self-titled debut album, Payseur sent out demo versions of the album to record labels in New York. A growing Brooklyn-based record label, Captured Tracks, was interested in Payseur’s laid-back surf rock sound. Label owner Mike Sniper—yes, that is a pseudonym— signed Beach Fossils on to produce at least full-length albums. They began with Payseur’s hugely successful debut EP, Daydream.

    That was all the young musician really wanted. “When I got the first seven-inch [Daydream] in my hands, I was like, ‘Okay, I can die now. I can’t believe this. This is something, a physical product. Now if I go to the grave, this thing exists and I am now going to officially be remembered for something,’” Payseur added, “That’s kind of all I wanted. That was enough for me. So the fact that I’ve put out a bunch more records and I’m touring a lot is really exciting.” Since then, Payseur has released two full-length albums and five, smaller multi-track records.

    While that may have been enough for Payseur at the time, his brewing fan-base wasn’t done with him just yet.

Preparing for Takeoff

    Reclined on a futon in his Greenpoint apartment—wearing ripped jeans and an understated black t-shirt, his dirty blond hair grazing his boyish face—Payseur reflects on his successes since that initial foray into the industry.

    His live band has gone through countless changes, with the current outfit featuring Tommy Davidson on guitar, Jack Smith on bass, and Thomas Gardner on the drums. There was another well-received seven-inch EP, entitled “What A Pleasure,” which received a 7.2 scoring out of 10 on music publication Pitchfork.

    Of the album, reviewer Martin Douglas said, “It’ll be interesting to see where Beach Fossils go from here, because ‘What a Pleasure’ is the type of release that shows they’re talented, but still have a little work to do fully capitalize on it.” Payseur answered with another album entitled “Clash the Truth,” featuring a more aggressive, punk-inspired sound.

    Beach Fossils currently has 62,128 Facebook likes, an upcoming tour to Austin’s SXSW music festival, and a diehard fandom. Oh, there was also an engagement. Payseur’s involvement with Captured Tracks really deepened when he proposed to label manager and longtime girlfriend, Katie Garcia.

    Of Payseur’s success, Garcia said, “I will say that whoever is a Beach Fossils fan, are so diehard, almost more so than any of our other bands. They have such a massive and loyal following. It’s really crazy. We see it all the time. It’s really cool to see that and to see how much people respond to the music.” She also attributed a lot of the band’s popularity towards its crazy onstage energy: “Their live performances are really captivating. Anyone that sees them live tends to be a fan for life.”

    Despite seeming so subdued in his cozy home environment, Payseur’s Beach Fossils is known for having lively shows rife with energetic adolescents. The Press Manager at Captured Tracks, Rian Fossett, said “Beach Fossils shows have way more of a punk feeling and engagement between the band and the audience. Dustin stage dives at every ripe opportunity and will force his way into the crowd to sing choruses with jumping fans all around”— still hard to believe when face-to-face with the soft-spoken, Southern gentleman.

     The band recently played at a 1,500 capacity venue in Singapore.  “I was standing on stage and I didn’t even know if people listened to us out there. I had no idea,” said Payseur.

    With a now stable income and approaching wedding, Payseur seems less concerned with simply “making it,” and rather, making it last—an issue for most contemporary indie bands.

    “Honestly, I need to embrace the time I’m able to be on the road. Now, people don’t care about bands the way that they used to. It’s so temporary. I’ll be surprised if people still actually want to go and see my shows in two years,” Payseur added, “Look at the bands that were the biggest bands in indie rock like two years ago. Think about them and they’re laughable now.”

    Payseur is now looking towards the future, beyond Beach Fossils. He wishes to start a small record label of his own, in conjunction with Captured Tracks. In speaking about this ultimate goal, he has put on his best Mad Men-inspired businessman voice. “I’m already talking to some bands about releasing some records. I think they’re going to come out in the next few months. At least we’re going to get the ball rolling in the next few months,” he said.

    Payseur’s love of vinyl is a big inspiration for creating his own label, something that is also shared at Captured Tracks. Garcia said, “I think it’s people wanting something special, tangible, that you can’t get from the Internet. People still value that. I think it’s nice that a lot of younger people are getting back into vinyl. It’s such a nice format,” she added, “Just the way it sounds, the way an old record crackles, is kind of nostalgic in that sense. Again, that’s not something you can always get from the Internet. You can’t get nostalgia and a sense of something special from the Internet.”

    The physical presence of a vinyl record is so whimsically described by both Garcia and Payseur, the latter whom shared a similar appreciation: “You get to have the physical product and it’s nice. You get to see the artwork how it was intended to be seen…and knowing that you supported it in that way,” said Payseur.  

    The Southern-bred singer eludes the confidence of a New Yorker when describing his future. Yet, every now and again, Payseur’s innocent charm shines through, and his ambitious teenage self is visible for just but a moment. “I’m working on the record label because when people don’t care about my music anymore, I’m still going to be making music. I always want to be making music because that’s all I know and that’s what I love,” said Payseur. “I still don’t really know what the hell I’m doing.”

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/66041749″>From the South to the Big City</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user17942815″>Kelsey Garcia</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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