Beat Radio
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"Newsday"

"Bellmore's Brian Sendrowitz has recruited a team of local ringers, including Gordo Gringo front man Phil Jimenez, for his new group, Beat Radio, which recalls the heady days of late 1980s and early 1990s indie rock. The early demos are full of droning, fuzzed-out guitars, bringing to mind iconic groups such as Dean Wareham's Luna and Galaxie 500. There's a subtle undercurrent of Americana as well: Sendrowitz's poignantly unsteady voice conjures up none other than Neil Young (an enduring hero among indie-rockers). At their best, songs such as the buzzing "Elegy" and the sparsely arranged "A Million Miles" achieve a warm, dusky glow, like the sad end to a beautiful day. Check out www.beatradio.org." - Rafer Guzman


"3hive"

"Beat Radio spin wistful melodies with subtle, vulnerable lyrics in the same vein as Luna or Sebadoh's more tender moments. Their songs have a radiant, familiar quality that grows on you with each listen." - Sam Cannon


"Underrated"

"But on to what really matters, which was when Beat Radio finally took the stage. Each song sounded as good, if not better live, and I found myself knowing all the words. Had I really listened to them that much in just a few weeks? The answer is yes. There's a certain mood and atmosphere that resonates from this band that I just can't get enough of. To say that lead singer Brian Sendrowitz is a jittery lead singer is not at all a criticism. In fact, it makes for a great visual. I like jitters. It's that I-feel-so-much-and-want-to-get-it-out intensity that brought their songs to a new level. Oh yeah, and they played "Ancient As The Stars." I just adore that song."
- Rachael Darmanin


"Matchless Show Review"

"I know I have heaped praise upon the brooklyn band Beat Radio before on this blog, numerous times infact. But honestly their stunning performance Saturday night at Matchless in Brooklyn left me practically speechless.

I don't even know if I could name one other band right now, at least from around here, who are so genuinely brilliant and yet so terribly underrated. Brian Sendrowitz's heartfelt lyrics ALONE I think make it impossible to not fall in love with Beat Radio and then have them break your heart (but in the best way possible)." - http://irockiroll.blogspot.com


"Beat Radio: Romantic Sincerity is Alive and Well"

Indie music, that ubiquitous catch-all, is an expansive umbrella. A thorough exploration of its outer reaches will yield at least fleeting glimpses of every trick laid down in the historical farrago of songwriting. It always comes as a mild shock, then, when something rare, not to say new, bubbles to the surface. The latest emergence of said phenomenon is delivered courtesy of Beat Radio, a New York-based pop outfit with one release (2005's The Great Big Sea) to their name. Fronted by singer/songwriter Brian Sendrowitz, the distinguishing mark here is stark-naked lyricism taking romantic sincerity to new projections.

There are those among the listening elite, jaded ironists or unrepentant students of the poetic form, perhaps, who might squirm at certain lines, recalling snippets of Coldplay or Neil Diamond. Yet without fail, Beat Radio's honesty boomerangs to bolster itself; the lovelorn intelligence, impressive melody, and pinpoint emotional accuracy float these tunes to realms of quality. And if that sounds like a paltry endorsement, believe it for yourself- the Great Big Sea LP is available, free of charge, at www.beatradio.org.

Sendrowitz, along with producer and lead guitarist Phil Jimenez, were kind enough to sit with Junkmedia before a gig at Galapagos in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The show was ill-fated, thanks to poor venue planners bound by a strict curfew, and culminated in one song and a closed curtain. Lucky for us, the interview fared much better, as did an early December show at The Lucky Cat, where Sendrowitz and company proved themselves equally exciting in a live setting.

Junkmedia: Beat Radio is one of those new bands where it's strangely difficult to find anything online, other than the few interviews that are linked on your website. Can you take me through your background, how you met, where you met, and what's happened in the interval?

Brian Sendrowitz: Yeah…me and Phil have had a working relationship for a really long time. I have two solo albums, and he co-produced one and produced the other one. So we've been at it for a long time, just in different sort of variations. And I actually had a band, Beat Radio, in 2001 with some different players and then made a solo record after that didn't really work out. And Jim's been the drummer in Beat Radio…Jim was in that earlier version of Beat Radio, Phil produced a demo that we recorded…

Phil Jimenez: It's been really going on since I think about '99…'98, '99.

Yeah, I met in Phil in…I think '99.

We were doing this Woody Guthrie tribute…we were both doing the folky thing, really, and we met in my living room, I think we'd seen each other once…but we never hung out until you were in my house.

Am I right in saying the songwriting is yours, it's something you do alone and bring to the band?

Right.

And Phil, I'm sure you have a good feeling for his songwriting at this point. When you're producing, how do you two collaborate, what makes the pairing better than the sum of the parts?

It's really sonic and it's that I don't get in his way. That's the basic thing. I know what he might need support with, which used to be a lot more having to do with production and arrangement, and now it has to do with giving him an environment that's just super comfortable, to kind of just be himself. And I kind of just texture the other instruments around him, but always the structure, the melody, and the power of the song is coming from him. I try to produce Brian's stuff, at this point, by almost not being there. Which I hope doesn't make me unnecessary…but just making it really comfortable. And we do clash…never in an argumentative way, like I throw stuff at him to see what he'll do with it. To see what sticks.

I've also always felt like my songs, they have a real simplicity to them and sometimes there's a kind of …not a necessity, but a little bit more imitation and little melodic hooks in the music. And to take it to a different layer of accessibility, I think a lot of times, Phil's able to fill in those blanks.

Another stock question regarding influences…I've read a lot of comparisons to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Broken Social Scene, Luna…do you feel like those comparisons are accurate?

I think so.

I think it's more just in the way we operate…in that whole- we don't even want to say it anymore- but the collective kind of thing, more so than the music necessarily.

We're kind of like a support group for each other. We have a lot of different things. Phil leads a project with his wife called Easy Anthems, so we definitely subscribe to that sort of mentality. Also Sparklehorse, as far as influences and things that make you want to be creative. I think Sparklehorse and Bob Dylan are the two biggest for me.

Can I ask, what other artists that aren't musicians influence you?

Michel Gondry.

A lot of filmmakers. Kubrick is just my role model.

I think...I'm a big Wes Anderson fan.

That's interesting. One of your lines, from "Ancient as the Stars," is "I know I haven't been as true, as I'd like to be." I'm sure you didn't intend it in the same humorous way, but it reminded me of the scene in the Royal Tenenbaums where the kids ask Royal why he's getting divorced, and he says "I don't know. Well, maybe I wasn't as true as I could have been."

(Laughter) It's probably subconscious, but it totally makes sense now. Especially that movie- I was obsessed with it.

We both became obsessed with that movie, around the time you started the first draft of Beat Radio. That was in 2001, right around the time.

Just everything about the music.

It's such a great soundtrack.

Can I ask you about the name? Where does that come from, Beat Radio?

I'm like really into beat generation writers, so I feel like it's a reference to that.

I read somewhere that you were a Kerouac fan.

Yeah. With lyrics and stuff, that's one of the biggest influences. I was a literature major, and I was all about Kerouac.

Where'd you go to school?

I went to SUNY Purchase in Westchester.

You seem to be in the unique position in the sense that you have an album, and you've seen that you're possibly on the cusp of making it to a higher level…what is that like, and what's the next step to make the jump?

I think it's…there's a certain amount of catching a break, meeting the right people…I hate to think it's all about contacts, so I try not to, but we're trying to make steps in that direction. And then it's just touring. I can't wait for that, because that's how we can develop as a unit on the road, when we're playing every night.

When you write, which comes first, the music or lyrics?

It's like a separate kind of thing, where a lot of the time we're always writing and building up a verse here that has a sort of rhythm to it, and then I'll set it to maybe a guitar riff or put it together with a piece of music. So I almost enjoy more doing instrumental stuff, because it's so non-cerebral, and then finding a way to make it work. It's the kind of song that feels like it could work with something I've written lyrically, it's putting it together. But it's usually that, it's a cut and paste combination. So it's not one or the other that's first, really, it's finding where they work together.

Would you say there's one element that's more important?

I'm really particular and tedious with lyrics. With music I'm much more apt to…I've worked the melodies and structure of a song, and I've spent a lot of time trying to learn that, learn the craft of that. But as far as production and playing, I kind of like to let it be sort of random and weird, and be adventurous and have fun with it. So lyrics, I definitely spend more time on.

For the next set of questions, I'd like to go through some of your songs and if I throw something at you about a metaphor or a specific line, I'm not asking for you to necessarily explain, but just to free associate. And since you've been around it, Phil, if I could get your input on the process, that'd be great.

The first one relates to the sea metaphor. Not only is the LP titled The Great Big Sea, but the word "sea" itself appears in six of the eleven songs. It seems like you're fond of that metaphor. Can you explain the appeal?

I think just growing up and being fifteen and hanging out at the Boardwalk at Jones Beach, and being raised on the south shore of Long Island.

I would actually dare to say that I'm more…I'm worse than you at that. I think…I think I've got shells in every song. It could be about anything, but the word 'shell' gets in there, or 'harbor'…

But we both grew up ten minutes from the beach too, and there's a…I'm really into a sort of romantic, lyrical, and very detail-oriented sort of poetry. And it's perfect for that sort of romance.

It's kind of where we dream. We didn't live at the beach. We weren't fishermen.

We weren't surfers.

But it was kind of like looming over there, and we sort of wished we were.

To go to the first song, "Elegy," I feel as though that could be a title for the album, because the constant theme is a romantic longing, almost hoping and asking to get an old lover back. What accounts for the focus on that theme?

I'm into the redemptive power of women, and love, and it could mean spirituality, it could be just a pure love affair, but sort of that longing…from the emotional side of it, I can't think of anything more interesting to write about and to listen to songs about, and to connect with. I hope it can be a sort of universal thing, where that's what ties people into it, and that's what gets people into the song when they listen to it. As far as a story, I believe in soul mates and all that stuff. I fell in love young and got married and have been that way for a long time.

No kidding. That surprises me because a lot of the songs seem to be from the perspective of someone who's gone through a break-up.

There's like a lovesickness. Yeah, I think we just all long for that. And even when you're happy, in a loving relationship, it's something we all have a need for.

I think you still long for it even when you have it. It's a weird thing. Maybe you fear losing it.

Or maybe when you're not connecting.

You can sleep in the same bed with someone for a long time and still feel like you've lost them.

Related question. There are so many lyrics on this album relating to the importance of a relationship, such as "with you I'm better," and "I know I'll never make it on my own." Would you agree with the idea that a human being without a companion is essentially incomplete in some way?

I don't think so, but I think it makes for a great romantic notion for a pop song. I think plenty of people aren't complete, and plenty are, on their own. I think you have to be complete on your own.

There are incomplete people in relationships.

Yeah. But it's going to be necessary to be complete, one way or another, without somebody else's help. But it makes a great pop song.

Something you mentioned before is that part of the reason for the romantic theme is it's something people can relate to. When you write songs, to what extent are you considering the audience?

Beat Radio is a…I've made a couple of records, and the last one particularly I made with Phil, I indulged myself in a sort of lyrical and poetical and real artistic kind of thing. But Beat Radio is, to an extent, about trying to create these grandiose pop songs that connect with people. I want it…I think I even simplify my writing a little bit, to try to really attain more of a universal kind of feel. And then, of course, I made the music all weird and lost a lot of people along the way anyway. But I think we had to do that, because I think the songs are really plain and really, sort of, there's an earnestness to them, that, some people might be embarrassed by. But I just wanted to really go for it. And be ambitious about it.

I think that's one thing that might appeal in your music, is that it's surprising in its sincerity, and isn't trying to be purposefully obtuse or anything like that. But I think people appreciate that.

"Treetops." There's a line in that song about a jukebox, and how it changes everything, and that is such a small, specific moment, and the question comes to mind: How much of our feelings do you think are propelled by moments?

I think a lot. I can think of so many specific memories that lasted less than five minutes. That becomes your life, it becomes the food for songs and lyrics, certainly, but I do live my life that way. It's moments that make up a life and change the direction we come and go.

When you remember moments, you spend other moments dwelling on that moment. And it becomes more than that, too. You're adding another narrative to that moment, and you know, you score it a certain way…

I love the lyric in that song, because it reminds me of this bar called "The Juke Joint" in my hometown, that had a great Indie Rock night we'd go to every Thursday, and it had Tom Waits on the jukebox, and it was like…the greatest juke box ever.

The production seems to reflect that in the sense that the different sonic levels are so much propelled by moments, whether its something like in "Treetops" where the chorus starts up, and that there's that little beat change…

There's a bit of randomness in the production, I think. Which, you know, equals moments. There's not a conscious effort to be inconsistent, but no there's no shame in it.

That's what I feel Indie rock records are. It's become like, 'this is a cookie cutter of what indie rock is,' but the ones I love are really adventurous, go in many directions, and don't make sense on a real rational level, as far as how you produce. I guess I think…I'm really into Yo La Tengo, where they seem to go in whatever direction they want. My favorite records of theirs, at least.

What's your favorite?

Electro-Puro. It's not everybody's, but I just feel like, that's when they were really going for it.

"Mexico." You describe your dreams as very delicate, and talk about how they can get away. And relates that to another interview I read with you, where you mentioned that the fact that it's very hard to make money on actual albums now, it's kind of a scary proposition to be a musician. How do you reconcile that fear with the desire to keep the dream, so to speak, within reach?

The only way to reconcile it is, it has to be its own reward. Just the process of making music has to be enough to make you want to keep doing it. The business end…there's so much randomness, it can just drive you crazy. So the moments when I reconcile are when I just realize, I just love to make music, and that's why we're doing it. And I love to collaborate and perform. But also, that song, you don't want to lose sight that you do have the responsibility to put the work in. If you're making this music and trying to connect with people, there is that responsibility that goes along with that. To promote it, and put the hard work in to get it out there.

So "Mexico" is about promotion. I'll write that down.

(Laughter) It's about cross-marketing, and focus groups…

"Million Miles" is a song I really like, partly because it's a road story and I feel like so much great music is 'road music,' in a sense. Is travel, either actual or metaphorical, a big artistic influence for you?

Yeah. For my day job, I'm in my car all the time. I love all the old songs, I think Tom Waits has a bunch, that are just about the romance of the road. It's a beat generation thing, too, the myth of the west. There's romance to that. I'm always a sucker for those songs, when I hear them, so I wanted to write one.

Let me ask about the mandolin in "Identical With His Breath." Whose idea was that?

I was playing that…I'll pick up a mandolin, start playing it and write a melody on it. That was from a tape recorder. I always keep a tape recorder for writing new ideas. And I found it one day, going through some old recordings, because I wanted to put some noise on top of the piano, and I was like 'oh, this is the perfect key,' and it matched up perfectly. But it was a total random moment, and a kind of cut and paste.

How many instruments do you play? Is it kind of unlimited?

It's not unlimited. I play mandolin, I play guitars, I play keyboards and organs. I'm not really adept, but I play to get the textures. I do that stuff at home. So the mandolin was a random thing on the tape recorder. But Phil's more a genuine multi-instrumentalist. I'm starting to play banjo, which I played on "Ancient as the Stars." I mess around. I think the fact that I don't know how to play them…

It's endearing.

I hope so. I feel like it's more of a punk rock way of going about it.

In the production of that "Identical," it begins at the end to sound a little bit like a "Books" song. There seems to be a recording of someone speaking?

Yeah, that's actually his wife.

That's my wife. There's this line in the Bob Dylan documentary, where Allen Ginsberg says "What struck me about Dylan is that, in that time, he'd become identical with his breath." Which makes no sense at all, but…(laughter)

It's Ginsberg.

It's Ginsberg. But it made perfect sense to me, because he'd…become like a pane of light, or a pane of air, just saying how he's become…what was coming out of his mouth was a pure expression of him as an artist. That's how I took it. And me being an enormous fan of both of those guys, and obsessed with that movie when it came out…for months…I didn't want to sample it, so I had my wife say it.

Is that over and over?

I just took a clip from the same tape recorder and looped it around. I made her say that into a tape recorder at like 7am on a Sunday morning, and it was bizarre. Then I mixed it by 10, and I was like "it's done!" It was so much fun for me.

In "Fearful," there's a line I really love about the ghosts of memory. The question there, I guess, is how much are we controlled by the past? And how much does that effect what we do, and how much is the future foreordained from a certain developmental period, or whatever?

I think for some people, it controls everything they do. And some people are able to overcome a lot of things and kind of free themselves of the burdens of the past. I guess that's what I had in mind at that time. For some people the past becomes a real cross to bear and controls everything they do from then on. So I guess the redemptive qualities are kind of moving on from difficult experiences. There's a pretty broad spectrum.

There's another line there about covering a girl in wings, which brings to mind the image of an angel, which leads to the question, are you guys a spiritual band in any way? Not to say religious, but…

Yeah, we're certainly not religious. I went to Catholic school for twelve years and you grow up with this stuff, and it certainly doesn't leave your brain.

I think music itself is kind of spiritual. Just anyone doing it, I think there's a spiritual connection. I think that's why we do it, so we don't need to be spiritual in other ways. (Laughter)

I guess it's almost like a church itself.

There's also a spookiness to it. Spirituality, you know…essentially you're trying to get in touch with something that's not what you presently are, or where you're presently at. So there's this otherworldliness to spirituality and I think that music- beyond the cheesy 'it's a universal language' idea- it is a universal way to connect to another way of thinking, or another world. For me it's just the tones…the tones take me somewhere else. The sound itself.

I like how you can write songs and they can be about being in love, or they can be about a spiritual journey, and it can be the same thing. Even sex. I'm into…for a while I was into reading Rumi, who was a Sufi poet…

While having sex?

Sometimes while having sex. Sometimes while writing songs. But again, there's the lyrical romance of it that draws me in.

So that must be a great combination, the two of you, because you're coming at it from different angles.

It's true. We're definitely different in that regard.

We just realized how different we are from each other, thanks.

A question from "Ancient as the Stars," which I find to be your most poetic song. What strikes me is the structure, how in the beginning there's a very physical approach, singing about the "amber glow at daylight," and from there you go into the actual metaphorical content, with the 'burning bridges and choking on the ashes' line, which I love. Is that something you're consciously structuring when you write, or is something organic, or partly both?

I feel like poetry is important…I like it when people are able to ground what they're writing about. If it's a really heady sort of emotional or romantic theme, if you can ground it in actual physical details…Yeah, I'm conscious of it. That's something I learned in creative writing classes, so I guess it's there. But the writing process is not quite as cerebral as that. It's more about seeing where it takes you and, you know…

Are you a heavy editor when you write?

Yeah, I am. First draft is more spontaneous, and then it's kind of…for me to feel right when singing a song, there has to be a sort of cohesiveness to it. And I don't want to say "perfectness," because nothing's perfect, but I do work hard on getting it to where I can mean every line I'm singing, and I know what I'm saying, even if it's only me who knows it.

"Another Loveless Anthem." My question on that one is, it seems the exact opposite of the title. It seems very heavily about love, and I know you have the one lyric about it being on a top-40 station. Why did you decide to give it that possibly ironic, certainly opposite, title?

It's just a line of it that stuck out. I mean that song is very much a love song, but it's almost like saying "this girl is so great, and I'm more self-deprecating." "I'm a river of ambition"…I'm an ego-maniac, I'm Napoleon. And you're this pure… "most irreverent mission." The model, maybe, is a song by The Waterboys called "The Whole of the Moon." It's a random 80s song, but it's a tradition. The "I'm this, but you're so much more than this" idea. So I write pop songs, I don't mean anything, I'm on a top 40 station, but you're this angelic vision. So that's what I was trying to say.

And again at the end of that song, there seems to be some kind of spoken part, maybe not quite audible…

That was an old transistor radio. We both love garage sales, and yard sales, and getting old crap from people. So that's what it was, and I just wanted to convey that sonically.

In the last song, "The Places That I've Been," you have the line "good intentions will prevail." Is that something you believe in?

I think so. I'm an optimist.

That's something we have in common. We shouldn't be, but we are. You kind of have to be. There's great pessimistic artwork, but for a person to continue creating, you better be an optimist. You need to feel like your dream is going to be fulfilled some day. I think in general, if you're getting up every day and doing what you have to do, you have to believe that it's going to turn out okay.

--Photo courtesy of Beat Radio.


Shane Ryan
December 21, 2006 - junkmedia.org


Discography

the ecstatic ep (2006)
the great big sea (2006)
miracle flag ep (2007)

Photos

Bio

Beat Radio is a lo-fi indie pop collective led by NY-based singer songwriter Brian Sendrowitz. From their first public performance at Sin-e in June 2005, Beat Radio has been embraced by indie rock enthusiasts as a music happening. Fans and reviewers have compared Beat Radio to such luminaries as Broken Social Scene, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Sparklehorse, and Luna. The current live show features Brian Sendrowitz on guitar and vocals, Phil Jimenez on guitar and keys Brian Ver Straten on drums and Paul Rovira on bass. The band collides 60s folk influences with indie noise pop and electronic elements. Check out Beat Radio's debut LP, The Great Big Sea, currrently available for download at beatradio.org.