Beck Black is a new Blondie meets Bowie meets Black. The striking, soulful and raw singer and songwriter and classically trained pianist is the frontwoman for her eponymous disco-meets-punk-meets-glam-meets surf-meets Goth-meets-Blues-meets rock band making soundwaves on the Sunset Strip.
“Vampires Come Out at Night”
AFLW: Your song, “Vampires Come Out at Night,” produced and engineered by Adam Moseley (Rush, The Cure), is getting airplay on Rodney Bingenheimer’s famed “Rodney on the Roq” show on KROQ. What’s the story behind the song and the lyrics?
Beck Black: “Vampires Come Out at Night” is about energy vampires, it’s about the dating scene. Especially in Los Angeles, you may find that people want to have you around, and they’re attracted to you, like a moth is to a flame, and yet they’re draining you of your energy for some sort of inner goal they may have, whether it’s their ego, whether it’s sex, whatever it is. The lines “Vampires come in the dark/when you light up a spark/they bite, they suck, your energetic blood” relates to sex. When you go out to the bar scene, the underground club scene in L.A., it’s like all the vampires come out and they come to feed and to prey, to bring flesh home and enjoy nondescript pleasures. And that’s what the song is about: It’s about dating in L.A.
Mr. Rodney Bingenheimer, thank God for him, for loving “Vampires Come Out at Night.” Rodney is the sweetest. He told me a story about how David Bowie gave him a tour of London wearing a dress. It’s an honor to be discovered by the same man who first played David Bowie in L.A. Rodney was the first to discover me and play me on the radio. We’re doing something. Blood, sweat and tears all the way.
“Life Is a Circus”
AFLW: “Life Is a Circus” is a track you played with your first band, The Moonbeams, and debuted at the Troubadour. It’s a pretty spot-on theme song for our “Life’s Rich Pageant” issue. Let’s talk about the line, “It might be a nuisance, or it might be a noose above your head.”
BB: “Life Is a Circus” is about one thing changing into another. How life is serendipitous, how it all works out as long as you let the universe guide you. As a musician, at any moment life can change; it is like a circus, you move from town to town, same show, different place.
The whole music scene can spit you out. Basically, the message of the song is, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and it’s worth it for the applause.” I went to a Ringling Bros. circus in North Carolina, and I fell in love with a trapeze artist from afar because I watched him risk his life to perform for the crowd, for me, for whomever was there. He came down from the trapeze and bowed and tipped his hat and he looked right at me. This guy, he risked his life for the applause at the end. And that’s almost what music is — you risk so much to give, to make sure your music lives another day, gets out, gets recorded, gets mixed, gets mastered, gets distributed. You give your heart and your soul and yearn for someone to cheer, to appreciate it, for someone to be changed by it, to be inspired.
We have so many songs — it’s just all about getting them recorded, because recording is an expensive process, especially the mixing. For our new EP, Clandestine, we recorded seven songs in one day at Sunset Sound. It almost killed us, but we did it.
AFLW: “Vampires Come Out at Night” flows nicely into “American Mister.” Both songs have a powerful and sinister undertone. What’s the underlying message of “American Mister”?
BB: “Vampires Come Out at Night,” “American Mister” and “Circus” are three of the darker songs on the EP, which is named Clandestine because we’re independent and it’s coming from the unknown. Clandestine means secret, an enigma, because that’s what we are. Some people have heard of us, but many haven’t, of course, or we’d be rolling in gold right now, like Scrooge McDuck.
I intended to keep “American Mister” an enigma because the subject matter of that song is so sensitive yet it’s a statement that I want to publicly make and make people aware of to save lives. “American Mister” is about being blacked out because of being drugged. “What was once in the palm of your hand can slip out like quicksand.” That line can apply universally to love that goes away, but also to what can be taken away in an instant because someone drugged your drink. I’ve had to save lives before. I’ve had to save women because they’ve been drugged. I’ve had to take them to the hospital, when no one else was around. But “American Mister” is an enigma itself. And sometimes, mystery is better than knowing.
AFLW: What compelled you to L.A. and what’s it like now living the Hollywood rock dream?
BB: I’m first and foremost an actor. I have a film degree from University of North Carolina at Wilmington, under the guidance of Frank Capra, Jr., so what led me to L.A. was acting. I went to film school to become a “smart” actor, and then went into screenwriting, which helped me become a songwriter, since songwriting is about characters and storylines. The majority of my songs are autobiographical, and I write all of the material because it comes from my life.
I was an honors student in high school and was a sophomore in college by the time I graduated high school because of a dual-enrollment program. I graduated college in three years and came to L.A. at 23 after working in a news station for two years as a sound mixer. It took me 15 days to get out here on an amazing trip across the 10 freeway, seeing the United States and throwing rocks at the Rio Grande river. I did the acting thing for a while, I did reality television, I was on a lot of dating shows, so many that I joke that I went on more “real” dates on reality TV than in real life. After lots of bit parts, I went full time into the music industry, which I feel chose me. I got thrown into it and I’ve had to learn how to be wise businesswoman and a tough artist.
Right now, to be part of the L.A. underground scene and to be a name that people have heard or remember or hear on the radio is a complete honor. I’m so glad that I’m among the women in the punk rock scene and part of the rock ‘n’ roll community. I consider ourselves disco, punk, glam, surf, Goth, Blues and rock. Maybe one day that will be considered pop aka “popular” instead of this sleight-of-hand trick a lot of musicians are doing in Garage Band that’s hitting Top 40. I’m going to keep proceeding in the rock ‘n’ roll revolution. I’m proud to be a woman on the forefront of that.
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Beck Black is the frontwoman for her eponymous Bluesy, punk, rock ‘n’ roll band (with Adam Alt and Mo Mataquin) making soundwaves in the L.A. underground scene and on KLOS, KXLU and Rodney Bingenheimer’s famed “Rodney on the Roq” show on KROQ. Black grew up in a small rural area off the Cape Fear River in coastal North Carolina but spent the summers in the Caribbean and traveling the world with her family. Introduced to African slave songs and hymnals by her kindergarten teacher, Black cites Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Sr., Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, The Doors, David Bowie, Blondie, Joy Division and Nirvana among her many influences. A former reality TV personality, Black currently works as an online broadcaster and host for Sonic Box and as an actor on network television and independent films. Beck Black’s new EP, Clandestine, comes out August 31 on iTunes and debuts at a record release show at the Whisky A Go Go on Saturday, August 6. Find out more about her at www.beckblack.com and on Instagram at beckblackmusic.