Written by Fin Marx
Indie big-band icons Beirut are coming out with their first record since 2015’s No No No, their sixth full length effort so far. Gallipoli’s conception saw Zach Condon move continents, re-engage with a more juvenile, innocent sense of songwriting and take a big look behind him for the first time. The result is a piece of music as eclectic as the process suggests, with expert combinations of acoustic and electronic instruments, magical vocal and horn harmonies and momentous piano and drum led rhythms, all wrapped in that classic Beirut European/Mariachi style.
Carrying on from ‘The Rip Tide’ more so than ‘No No No’, ‘Gallipoli’ pays homage to Condon’s early experimentations as he digs within himself to recapture an uninhibited sound. The result is purely awesome - something unique, emotive and beautifully free-form.
To learn a little more about the creative process and state of affairs with Zach, we checked in ahead of the release:
Hi Zach! Thanks so much for speaking with me this morning. We haven’t heard a lot from you since 'No No No’, which from what I’ve read was a record from quite a turbulent time in your life. Was the writing process for Gallipoli a refreshing change of musical pace?
Oh yeah, absolutely. This one had a certain flow to it, which was exactly what I was struggling with on ‘No No No’. In some ways, on that record, I had family and friends that were picking me up and putting me back on my feet.
On this one I was really up and running, and I wanted to take back complete control of all the elements of the song writing. It felt like a blur. I know the writing lasted over two years, but the truth is whenever I got into the studio days and hours would disappear, songs would form out of nowhere and that was a really nice change.
The songs on Gallipoli are incredibly musically layered and deep. There’s a noticeable use of electronic instruments, but still an anchor to the acoustic Beirut we all know. Was this an organic or conscious combination of technologies?
I think in some ways it was a little bit conscious. To me, these instruments always belonged in the same room together, all these analogue synths and drum machines and things like that, but I did make a conscious effort to literally put them in the same room together. That way, when I was writing something they would just be at arms length and automatically join in. There was this idea with this record of returning to all the things I’ve learned and been interested in over the years and diving back into my own sound as deep as possible. I did have a bit of an epiphany that your favourite sound, so to speak, is actually quite unique and I wanted to exercise that.
Wow! So on this record we’re getting a real uninhibited, raw Zach Condon?
Yeah, exactly. I put no barriers on myself, even in the song titles I just threw in all the city names. Partially I’m making fun of myself for these kind of cliches I’ve used throughout the years, but also because I had become so self conscious of them over time due to the sense of the growing audience and music critics and stuff like that. I had become so self aware and self conscious that I think it really made me start to stumble, but on this record I just asked myself; What is it exactly that I want to hear? What is the record I would have made if I had this gear and access when I was in my bedroom in Santa Fe? This essentially would have been it.
I know you’re not the biggest fan of lyrics, but could you give us a little insight into the themes you’re referencing in Gallipoli?
I didn’t really notice what was going on a lot until the record was more or less done, but to me it looks like I was digging up the wreckage of the past. I lived this life, I was 19 years old when I first sort of got picked up, I’d already dropped out of high school, it was like I was burning through my life as fast as possible. Married by 24, I just seemed to want to live in fast-forward. I wanted to get it over and done with so I could get to something but I never knew what that something was. Over the last couple of years I’ve had a lot more peace and quiet and I’ve worked hard, its given me a lot of space to look back and I think that came out a lot in the lyrics. Space to look back and say, ‘what the hell was going on back then?’ you know?
But, I try not to make it so obvious that people hear my story. As you mentioned before, I don’t like talking about my lyrics. The main reason for that is I feel like people’s personal… I love that people always say artists self express, but I feel like its more of a channeling. There’s a bigger inspiration out there, it shouldn’t be your own, just something that already exists that you just channel. So I don’t want to nail the songs down and tell people my story.
I get that, like people being able to project themselves into the song. As a young person burning through their own life, I look forward to relating in that way.
The writing and recording process for this record crossed quite a few borders, with you moving from New York to Berlin and recording in Italy. After such a wild ride, do you feel like the finished piece pays adequate homage to it’s unique conception?
Yeah, I mean in my mind there’s a transformation. I know which songs were recorded first and last, and I hear a transformation. But, I do hear them all stay true to what I was saying earlier. Without even knowing it, I feel like I created a sound that on its own is quite unique. So yeah, I can hear it.
I’m happy to hear you say that, it’s a special piece of music. Will we see you in Australia any time soon?
Yeah! There’s nothing concrete, I’m trying to keep my plans short term but we’ll see over the next three or four months what they become.
Awesome! Well I hope you make it down. Thanks so much for speaking with me, it’s been a pleasure.