Beach Fossils' Dustin Payseur on Touring With Post Malone, Band Fights, Parenthood, and the Early 2010s

Beach Fossils' Dustin Payseur on Touring With Post Malone, Band Fights, Parenthood, and the Early 2010s
Photo by Joe Agius

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I thought the latest Beach Fossils album Bunny was great, and it was something I was already looking forward to after the dense and lush turn the band took on Somersault way back in the late 2010s. I hopped on a call with Dustin during tour down time to talk about that record and a bunch of other subjects too.

How was the recent tour, especially compared to pre-pandemic conditions?
The first tour we did post-pandemic was the tour with Wild Nothing, and it was really fun because we never got to tour together, even though we've been friends forever. It was a really special experience. The last tour we just did was opening for Post Malone at big outdoor ampitheaters. That tour was pretty surreal. We'd be playing to 20-40,000 people a night. I've never fucking played to crowds like that before. I didn't know what to expect, because the tour was sold out before we were even added to it, so I was like, "Anyone at these shows hasn't heard us before. We're gonna have to work really hard to get back-and-forth interaction."

How did the audiences end up responding?
They were much more responsive and engaging than I expected. After we played, we'd walk around in the crowd and watch Posty's set, and people would be taking pictures with us and buying us beers. It was not what I expected at all for a band that these people just found out a half hour ago. [Laughs] It was one of those opportunities that I would've been a complete idiot to turn down, and I'm really glad we did it.

You've been on several lanes of the touring road when it comes to size and type. How does being on a massive tour differentiate from the kind of touring you're usually used to?
Shows of that scale are so streamlined that we really just had to show up and play. It did take a lot of the stress from smaller shows away. There's a few hundred people on the crew every night putting things together and making sure it runs smoothly. We've been friends with Posty for a long time, which is the only reason I'd agree to do a tour like this. If it was a really big artist that I never met before or had nothing in common with, I definitely would've passed on it. We just knew it was gonna be a good time, and we already knew a lot of people on his crew for years, so they were super nice to us and treating us really well.

I've heard the opposite from friends who have opened on huge arena tours for bands they're not already friends with before they go on the road, and it's just kind of a nightmare—they get treated like shit. It really is situational. But for us, I feel lucky that we came home from this tour with a lot of good memories.

What's the worst tour experience you've had in your career so far?
Honestly, our first tours that we ever did. They were just so brutal. We were probably getting paid $100-$200 a show, which is not even enough to get a hotel room. We'd be sleeping in the van, or on the mic we'd be like, "Hey, can we sleep on somebody's floor tonight?" There was also a lot of tension between me and the people in the band at the time when we first started. It was a lot of fights, both verbal and physical. It was really intense. It's hard to be on the road when you're already dealing with a lot of tension within the band, and then during touring you're not sleeping and you're eating like shit, and it's wearing you really thin.

Those first few tours were hard, but I was also the perfect age to go through that. I didn't really let it affect me at the time. If I was doing a tour like that now, I'd be like, "This is fucked up, I can't handle this anymore." But at the time, I was so stoked. The only thing I ever wanted to do in my life was just fucking be on tour. It was hard, but I was also awestruck by the idea that it was my life. "I'm on the road! I'm playing shows!" I think there was a good balance of being extremely happy that made it work.

You mentioned conflict in the early days of the band. Tell me about how you've changed as a person when it comes to the band's interpersonal dynamic, as well as who you are as an artist.
I've become more patient with other people and myself. I've resolved some anger issues that I used to have. I'm always trying to better myself as a person and learn from my mistakes. For me, the biggest thing was getting a band where the people I'm playing with every night are my best friends, on and off the stage. The people I'm playing with now, we really do hang out every day and talk to each other on the phone. We're legitimately best friends, and I love that.

The relationship I have within my band is just as important as my marriage—we really are that close. When you have that kind of relationship, everything else is easier and more smooth. Not to say we don't fight—we argue a lot, but it's like we're brothers. We're talking shit to each other, venting and getting shit off our chest, and two minutes later we're fine because we needed to work through that. It's healthy.

Tell me about how being a parent has affected your life, as a person and as a working musician.
Before I became a parent, when we were making the decision to have a kid, I was kind of horrified. I was like, "I hope being a parent doesn't change me," because people become parents and become so corny. They become different people. Parenthood is their lifestyle. So I was really scared about that. Katie was like, "You're not gonna change, we're not gonna change. We are who we are." Then we had a kid, and it took me a year and a half to realize that it did change me, in ways that I didn't expect and have legitimately made me a better person.

I do feel like you have to have a lot of patience to be a parent. It's crazy, because all these qualities that I now have from being a parent weren't a conscious effort—it all just kicked in without me realizing it. The biggest thing is the amount of empathy I have now. I really feel like I feel every emotion my child is feeling—sense of wonder, pain, confusion. It's impossible for me not to feel that at the same time, for better or worse. It's made me feel more in tune with a different kind of emotion. I have my life and experience, and my frequency that I'm set to when it comes to how I live my life. After having a kid, my brain scanned and found a new frequency—and I'm on the same one as my kid.

It's made me more creative, which is the opposite of what I was expecting. When I go to my studio to work on something now, I'm immediately tapping in more quickly. I'm not sitting there fucking around for a long time. Babies and toddlers are not self-conscious at all, and maybe some of that rubbed off on me. You become a parent and you don't give a fuck about what people think about you anymore. I don't know how to explain that, but you just have something going on that's really important, and other things aren't as important anymore. Maybe the reason I've had writers' block in the past was because I was feeling self-conscious and critiquing myself. Now, I'm tapping into a creativity quicker without the barriers that I'd been subconsciously putting up for myself for so long.

As a listener, I observe a shift in approach on the last two albums. The early records sounded like classic indie-pop to me, but on Somersault and Bunny you dipped more into shoegaze. Tell me how the band's changed sonically from your perspective.
I'm always inspired by what I'm listening to at the time, which is usually a mix of a lot of stuff at once. With the first record and EP, I was listening to a lot of early indie—Flying Nun, Velvet Underground, pre-shoegaze jangle-pop and British music. I needed to have a consistent sound, and once I got that out of the way I felt more free to explore other areas with the project.

Before starting Beach Fossils, I'd always just made different kinds of music and experimented with different styles. After I started releasing music that people were paying attention to, I started thinking, "There's expectations of what this band sounds like now." I tried to write within a certain style—and it is the stuff I love, my favorite kind of music, it's close to the stuff I like the most, so it's not like it was a struggle. But at some point I was like, "I'm either gonna start a new project, or I'll just release it as Beach Fossils." Why does Beach Fossils have to be just one thing?

With Somersault, Jack and Tommy had already been in the band with me for a few years at that point for touring, and whenever we were soundchecking we'd be jamming a lot. Those slowly became songs. I always had these ideas that we're a little ambitious, but it's hard for me to hold myself to executing things. I'm also ADD as fuck, so I'm constantly throwing out ideas and forgetting about them. My bandmates remember what I say and remind me, "You wanted strings on this song, and pedal steel on this one," and I'm like, "You're right, I did want that," and they're like, "So let's find someone who can do that!" I don't know if I would've done any of that if it wasn't for them pushing me to follow through. I really trust their taste as well, so if the three of us are bouncing ideas around and we all like it, I feel good about the direction that we keep going in.

The maximal baroque pop on Somersault, after we finished it I was like, "Where do we even go from here?" We couldn't go even bigger, that would be ridiculous. The only logical conclusion for me was to return to form for Bunny and go minimal again. I'm still listening to the music I was listening to from the first record, but I love shoegaze. I've never wanted to make a straightforward shoegaze song though, because it's a sound that's been done so many times. It belongs to other artists. Doing it yourself, there's no way to make it creative, new, or refreshing. But then I was like, "Fuck it, I do love this music, and I want to lean into that more." So I went down that path.

It's funny, because I do have a lot of more shoegaze-y songs that I've never released, and Katie is like, "You should put these out!" I almost didn't put "Numb" on the record, but I'm glad I did, because now it's one of my favorite songs on there.

I want to hear you talk about running Bayonet as a label.
It's great, and it's a lot. When we were starting the label, I was like, "This is gonna be a lot of work, but we can do it." We were doing it at first, and then we were like, "We need more people to help us, this is fucking overwhelming." When we started Bayonet, Katie was also working at Secretly and I was recording Beach Fossils records and touring. So we hired a warehouse manager to help with shipping, and a label manager. It's a small staff, it's not that big, but if you can keep things as small as possible while making sure people aren't overworked, things are gonna be more potent because we're gonna have more control over it.

Everyone who's at Bayonet plays a part in the A&R voting process. One of us finds something we're really excited about, and we all want to be onboard about it. If we're working it, we should be excited about it. I was really inspired by those stories about starting Dischord, where they were folding and gluing all the record sleeves and mailing them out themselves. Being able to do it yourself and not have to rely on a huge mess of...majors can come in and dump money onto an imprint, and it becomes something it wasn't. It loses its integrity.

A similar thing can happen with music journalism. When the advertisers start pouring money in, the content of the publication changes. It can be the same way with anything in music, when you've got someone else starting to fund it, so it's been really important for us to remain hands-on with everything that happens at the label, and to continue to be an outlet for artists who otherwise might not be heard.

You witnessed something of a moment when it came to how indie rock was positioned in the early 2010s, both in terms of the industry and in the press. It seemed like a capitalistic explosion to me, where there were all these resources for a bit that don't really exist anymore. Tell me about that period of time for you, and how you've seen things change since.
I feel like we got in right after the door had closed. Right before us, it was a thing where it was like the '90s, where Nirvana was huge and the labels were signing every grunge band to get the next Nirvana. In the early 2000s, majors were doing that with indie bands, and there was a lot of money because CDs were still selling. There were high-budget music videos, and these "indie" bands were on the radio and having their songs in major movies. I felt like the time we started, that had just closed a couple of years before. It was harder to get off the ground. There was no money left anymore for indie bands to do anything, so we really did have to scrounge for ourselves.

We were playing these DIY shows constantly, and we weren't getting paid, or getting paid in "exposure." Not to throw shade, but the labels did not have money at the time. I still was funding all of the recording myself, and I was mixing the records myself too. We didn't have a budget, but there was an indie-rock explosion. It was everywhere, and it did seem like a lot of people knew about it—the record stores had the big murals of indie bands. I think it looked very successful, but I don't think people realized how little money there actually was. [Laughs]

Yeah, you slapped a Levi's logo on something and everyone assumed people were getting paid.
Exactly. The press was awesome, but no one's paying for music anymore. [Laughs]

How do you feel like things are now for you personally?
I feel really lucky that it's stable for me. I don't know why, out of all these great amazing bands that were around when we started, a lot of them don't exist anymore. Maybe it's just too difficult—and it is extremely demanding. I think a lot of people give up. I'm also in a lucky enough position that the band started as a solo project, so if things don't work out I can change the lineup. Those other bands were legit bands, so if they weren't getting along, it was over.

But I think there is something to be said for sticking with something long enough—being true to yourself and making what you wanna make. We're not a radio band, and we're never gonna be a radio band—we knew that from the beginning. There's no point in me doing something that doesn't represent me. Music is one of the only things that brings me pure joy in my life, and I can't imagine just not recording and writing and playing shows all the time. If people weren't listening, I'd be making the exact same records regardless. I don't think I'd ever know how to stop. Maybe that drive in me has made it work for us. But I feel lucky every single day that people are not only still listening to us, but still finding out about us. We're 14 years in, and there are still people seeing us for the first time. That feels really special to me.

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Jamie Larson