Classic album - Beardyman on Distractions: "I was pushing the computer to within an inch of its life”

(Image credit: Press)

Beardyman has always been a walking jukebox of sorts, able to recreate any sound he hears with pinpoint accuracy and flair. As he hit his 20s he turned his talents into a career, cutting his teeth as a beatboxer, winning fans and competitions wherever he went. But, unlike his hip-hop peers, he knew he could take the art form higher, and break out of that niche world. 

His eureka moment came when he started to incorporate sophisticated tech into his live setup. He wanted to be part man, part machine - enter the Beardytron: a music-making rig of his own design that enabled him to play, twist, mould and meld any of the live sounds that came from his lips, and loop and layer them into full song arrangements, on the fly. Like him, it was a one-of-a-kind.

“The Beardytron, as it was back then, was this crazy hardcoded looping DAW, basically,” says Beardyman. “I spent three years working on a system where I could perform live improvised music. I had optimised this thing so that when it was running nothing else would interrupt it. It really was pushing the computer to within an inch of its life.”

His new music-making system needed a challenge, so work began on his second album, Distractions. 

“I’d made this dream system I could jam with,” he says. “The songs on the album were a bunch of experiments into how I could use the rig. It was designed for jamming and snipping out the good bits, and waiting until some kind of structure occurred. Hopefully you can hear that when you listen back to the album. It’s got a live feel, but you can see where the edits are.”

The album would end up as a jaw-dropping journey into one man’s quest to become the music. A mission Beardyman continues to undertake as we speak. 

Needless to say, the Beardytron system is infinitely more sophisticated in 2020 - almost sentient. Then again, as Distractions proves, you might never really know where it ended and he really began, anyway…

Beardyman's track-by-track guide to Distractions

1. A Cheerful And Sunny Disposition

“I thought this was an apt track to start with. The lyrics go, ‘I think I’ve led my life inside a machine/All I wanna do is be real/You know what I mean?’ I thought that could be taken in a bunch of different ways. 

“A lot of these lyrics are very personal. They are about me coming out of a shell of something. The feeling of starting anew, and breaking free of things.

“This is all about leaving the novelty behind and just making some fucking music. I felt like I’d trapped myself into a corner. It also sounded like an A.I. gaining consciousness. Wanting to become real.

“The song was edited in Logic, and made in the Beardytron. And it’s hip-hop with a late ’90s alt, chill-out weirdness.”

2. 2^25,000:1 Against And Falling

“The title of this track is a direct quote from Douglas Adams [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy]. It’s something that the computer ends up saying when they’ve used The ‘Infinite Improbability Drive’ and shit’s got weird. I felt like this track was doing that a bit. It was just like me returning to normality.

“In the early 2010s I’d gone from being a completely broke student who was pursuing an unlikely dream – doing beatbox in a world that I didn’t really understand. There were points where I was being stopped everywhere I went. And that was weird. 

“Making this music was me expressing that I just wanted to be a musician, nothing else. That return to normality is what that track’s about. Getting away from that persona.”

(Image credit: Press)

3. Getting There

“I wrote this track when I was 15, when I was essentially a child, and it had never gone away. It’d been going round and round my fucking head for years. There’s only one way to get it out and that’s to make it. 

“But by the time I made it it had evolved into this thing that had absorbed all the influences that I’d been listening to. So it was quite a dense arrangement of a simple song.

“I recorded it and edited it all around the world when I was touring. And I was obsessively editing it. It has 150 layers in it! 

“There were so many versions in my head. From guitar and drum ones, to purely electronic. It got to the point where it had to be all of that.”

4. Fndege.Gurp

“The title? It’s actually a typo. It’s supposed to be ‘Fnedge.Gurp’ [laughs]. It was just a bit of fun. Some sonic experimentation. After I finished it I was like, ‘That’s tight! I think I’ll leave it exactly as it is’. 

“I did a mix job on it, but I didn’t change it at all. Sometimes it’s nice to do something spontaneous. Radiohead have a pre-gig chant which is ‘Warts ’n’ all!’ I’ve heard them say it before they start. That’s important to remember. 

“Like the Japanese notion of ‘wabby-sabby’. They say ‘nothing is ever perfect. Nothing is ever finished. Nothing lasts.’ It’s quite true and well worth remembering. 

“I also agree that ‘an album is never finished. It’s only abandoned’. It’s hard to accept. Perfectionism is a disease. Look at George Lucas and Star Wars. Make a different film!”

5. You Only Like What You Know

“This one was the third attempt at doing this. I had drafted it, and it was OK, but I gave it another proper go. 

“Originally it was going to be just beatbox and clapping and a bit of the [Korg] R3. But then I ended up augmenting it with shitloads of stuff like organ parts and proper drums. 

“I ended up using EZdrummer, which is not that easy to use, at all, but it’s very good. I only ever used it on this one song. 

“It has a really nice drum roll engine, and lovely multisampled drums, and you can tweak as much as you want - so, all the room levels and mic placement, stuff like that.

“I recorded two music videos to this that never saw the light [laughs].”

6. Brain

“This one is silly. It’s a song about me eating your brain, with HP Sauce. Yeah. It’s really deep, this one [laughs]. I wanted to a video for this, with that bit from Hannibal where Ray Liotta is getting his brain eaten.

“It was just a bit of fun. Nice little sonics. I just made it and thought, ‘I don’t not want to have that on an album. I want that on an album’.

“Most tracks I made, ended up on the album. There’s about four left over, or that I didn’t finish. They might be on Soundcloud, or something like that. It was a productive little period of time.

“The album only ended sounding Balearic and relatively uplifting because those are the ones that hung together. The others were more angsty or nebulous, and just didn’t fit.”

7. Perfect Waste Of Time

“I was thinking of a James Bond vibe to this one. I think it started with drums, then a chord sequence on the guitar. It was me seeing how far I could push the Beardytron rig into songwriting mode.

“It ended up being this thing where I sang the words first, and it became a ten minute jam of a song I wrote in real time. 

“The bass is from a Charvel guitar, but it’s got a GK 3 pickup from Roland. Which, together with a [Roland] VG-99 allows you to sound like anything. Then there’s R3, too. 

“And that song is about my cat - Martha. After Martha Stewart."

(Image credit: Press)

8. I Will Never Win

“This was like the first ever song I recorded on the new Beardytron system. As soon as I got it up and running, and relatively bug-free, I plugged my guitar into it and said, ‘OK. Let’s see if this can do what I’ve designed it for’. And it could.

“I only had a single out. I did the track separately to the vocals, or something, so the mix is really bad on it, but I liked the song so I kept it on.

“It’s funny, this song. On some people it makes them cry. For others it’s an insufferable dirge. And nothing in between. Same with me. I can be in tears, or be like, ‘Urrgh. It’s the same three chords…’ [laughs]”

9. A View

“I made this kinda on my honeymoon, actually [laughs]. I’m not sane if I’m not making something. We’re in this beautiful setting in Ibiza where we got married and we went to a neighbouring island, and it was just gorgeous. There was nothing to do, except be. This reflects that, really. 

“I pictured how I wanted it to be before we got there. And it was weird, because when we got there it was exactly as idilic as I thought it was, in every way. And I was editing this, on the beach. I was actually in paradise, editing my idea of what paradise was gonna be. A nice spiritual moment.”

10. Mountain Side

“This did the best off the album. It was a single. It meant a lot to me. It took ages and ages and ages to get the way I wanted it to sound.

“I made a video for it with a mate of mine, Lewis Rose, who is fucking brilliant. He had this idea with a couple picking up litter at a festival in the countryside. I wanted two people, mashed in a club. Then we both got on the same page. 

“It’s all about lost love and broken hearts. That specific experience we’ve all had when you’ve been off your fucking bean and you meet this person and go [adopts mashed up voice], ‘Oh my god. You’re the love of my life’. Then you get paranoid and spiral on the comedown, and then realise she was the one [laughs]. That was really fun. I self-funded that video. And it won an award!”

11. Before The Fall/Move On

“I will never tell anyone what this is about. It was difficult to make. I was trying to balance feelings of resolution with feelings of niggling resentment.

“There’s a weird mixture of vibes in this song. It’s got this Balearic feel to it, which is what I wanted to feel. Then this more angsty middle-eight to it... a displeasure. Then I try and make those feelings resolve.

“For recording, it was much like the others. It was a long jam and I’d let the lyrics appear. And then edit, edit, edit. I feel like songs should write themselves, and you should never write them - if you’re wondering what you should do, then you’re asking the wrong question.”

In the studio with Beardyman

(Image credit: Modartt)

“By the end of the album my studio gear list was made up of a synth behemoth that I’d built – this truly vast Ableton rig, which was a sort of multi-synth full of instances of Massive, turning on and off, and presets I’d made. I made Massive do things it wasn’t supposed to do - I was making entire orchestras. 

“I had two MacBook Pros, running the rig. And Pianoteq, which is this incredible piano emulation modelling synth. It does string and resonance modelling and stuff. That gave me instant access, without having to access hard disks and stuff. 

“There was no disK streaming. I could load up any number of different things it could emulate. Like harpsichords, clavs, Rhodes, pianos. Not all of them were fantastic, but they were passable, and quick to be recalled and lightweight on CPU. 

“I could tweak the models myself, sometimes in real-time, which was really interesting. That took a lot of work. Then the mic was an Audix OM7, which was fucking fantastic.”

Right now, in 2020, the (in)human beatbox that is Mr Beardyman is concentrating hard on his Sheer Volume project. As the name suggests, it’s a mammoth amount of content to be coming from one man’s mind.

This year he plans on releasing 52 singles, weekly live streams, podcasts, and “so much more”. Head to his website in order to witness the fitness, and his Patreon page to support the illness. And mop his brow if you see him in the flesh. Phew!

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