Beard Bates is an artist, songwriter, producer, and mastering engineer from the Los Angeles area. Since putting on his solo career hat almost a decade ago, he has released albums like Lightyear’s Tightrope (2011), The World is Blown (2018), The Illuminated Hermeticum of Mr. Bates (2019) and singles such as “Bovine Divine” and his latest “Whitey on the Moon.”
What makes Beard Bates interesting is not only his diverse range of talents and creative works but also that he manages to make both a career out of being behind the boards and being an active artist. Typically an artist picks a single path, with many being professional artists prior to going behind the scenes to work with other emerging talent.
We recently sat down with Beard Bates to talk music, engineering, music with purpose, and more. With his latest single being a cover of “Whitey on the Moon,” we can’t help but think it was timed around a few rockets that went to space as of late.
Thanks for sitting down with us. What got you into making music as a solo artist?
Beard Bates: “Hey there! Thanks for the opportunity. Well, I guess I’ve always been a solo artist since I began writing songs on guitar early on. My brother and I started an alternative rock band (JilFlirter) in high school which got the ball rolling. In tenth grade, I guess it was I spent all summer learning how to record our songs to ADAT via an old Peavey mixing board that had “Gospel Crusaders’ keyed into the paint; after that more folks showed interest.
We ended up recording in pro studios and then had interest from labels and songs on the CMJ and indie radio charts, etc. We were both very young (my brother being only 13 or so) and so my parents were loath to thrust us into the industry. But since then I’ve been in various bands and groups, put out lots of records collectively, but I’ve always forever prolifically created for myself, and so I suppose I’ve always been a solo artist.”
Some of your earlier music steers into more folk/Americana type vibes. What were some of your initial influences?
“I’m historically all over the map. My dad always had a boom box on him when we were young: that thing went everywhere and he played everything, from Peter Tosh, to The Rolling Stones, to Al Green, to Muddy Waters. So I grew up with lots of rhythmic blues-based music, and there were also periods where we were listening to lots of country. When I began playing guitar, I never really played other people’s music but just created my own, it was just so empowering to pull something from the ether. I was also highly influenced by indie and grunge rock in my teenage years and found there to be nothing more transcendent than screaming while stomping on a Big Muff distortion pedal and sending searing noise out through a half-stack… so all that mixed with my dad’s boombox music probably created my initial influences.”
With your newer music being more hip-hop and modern pop, what made you explore some of these avenues musically?
“I’ve always explored lots of genres. I’m really just inquisitive and creatively interested in various avenues, I’m not content being one thing I suppose. I also don’t see or obey boundaries I think in the way some folks do… I’ve never liked the idea of being specifically classified, either by others or myself, and so I like to challenge the expected or assumed image of what it means to be ‘me.’
About a decade ago, I had a unique cosmic hip-hop solo project, and there was a healthy deal of industry interest behind that word-slurring persona. Near the same time, I was fronting a psychobilly band wearing an all white cowboy suit and accentuating my country-preacher twang. I like to play around, and yet I’m not a clown… I may be all over the map, but that’s only because I’m motivated by the globe, and it’s only her molten core that I’m fully passionate about… (this allusion might be a bit overboard, but it works I suppose).”
Your cover of ‘Whitey on the Moon’ really struck a chord, and obviously is very well timed. Have you always been a fan of Gil Scott Heron’s work? Do you consider yourself more of an activist and artist?
“The timing was pretty much by accident. I find that many of my pieces serendipitously present themselves to me and then I have to act quickly to release them timely. I’ve always been a fan of Gil Scott-Heron’s work and his clever poetic approach. ‘Whitey on The Moon’ was always a standout and I randomly ended up recording the track as a one take probably six months or so ago. I’ve been mixing lots of hip-hop for clients and just jumped in the booth after a session. I thought it was a great track, but I didn’t know if I would put it out, honestly, these are sensitive times and I didn’t know if me being a ‘whitey’ covering ‘Whitey on The Moon’ was worth potentially ruffling folks feathers.
However, the whole billionaire space race thing suddenly manifested itself in full bloom last month and it all made sense to me: the song had renewed relevance and I felt I had to quickly shoot a video and put it out. To answer your question, I’m usually 100 percent an artist and would not classify myself an activist; I believe art can be its own activist… I let the work predict where it wants to go, what it wants to be, and I try and facilitate the process and hopefully not screw things up.”
How can artists do better in 2021 to stand up for the rights of others?
“Be true to yourself. Trust your inner voice, and don’t listen too closely to family, friends, or society for that matter, especially when it comes to your life mission and purpose. The world needs all types, manifold perspectives and presentations, so don’t be quick to fight or confront from your select viewpoint. Think and listen first. Try and realize whom you have become; what are your insecurities; whom have you hurt; who hurts you; how can you be better; are you merely a product of trends and social media…
If artists can be true to themselves and connect with the underlying unity and coherent love that connects all life then they can channel aesthetic moments that can heal and unconsciously calm.”
What are some of your favourite artists that have done things for the greater good?
“This may seem an amorphous answer, but it’s difficult to discern the effect art can have. It’s certainly noble when famous artists donate proceeds and support particular social causes, yet it’s also the case that a simple relatively unknown love song could save one listener from suicide, or bring the perfect couple together… and it would seem the cosmic value of such is immeasurable. Likewise, it’s possible a particular book may alter the course of one person’s life for the better. What I’m getting at is that all art has the ability to affect the greater good in sometimes quiet and unpublicized ways.”
We see that you are a successful mastering engineer as well. Tell us about that…
“Sure. Yes, since having learned to produce and engineer my own music, after having done so since I was twelve years old or so, and being in and out of studios, I ended up being proficient at production and mixing. I had a few records mastered at Masterdisk by Howie Weinberg in the late ‘90s, and I loved being in the studio and experiencing the magic and mystique that accompanied the process. Mastering engineers were always somewhat the Wizards of Oz of the post audio field. Years ago, I partnered with a mastering engineer friend of mine and started Bates Mastering, an underground mastering house, and ever since I’ve honed my mastering ear and chops. I don’t avidly promote, but by word of mouth I end up mixing and mastering (and producing) lots of amazing tracks and records.”
With the dominance of online streaming, do you find the process for mastering is more important than ever? Is it different in any way compared to CDs and the early days of iTunes?
“Mastering is forever a necessary final assessment of a piece of audio. Sometimes a mastering engineer’s job is to barely alter a track; whereas other times you are trying to perform audio CPR to pull a track into sounding decent. With online streaming, mastering is very important, and the parameters of what delivered files should be changes as the technology does. The loudness wars used to reign during the CD era, as everyone wanted their record to sound louder than the next when put on the radio; hence, the super compressed and squashed sound with low dynamics became prevalent.
Thankfully, online streaming is changing that; with the loudness normalization utilized by key streaming sites, more dynamic and less compressed masters can exist alongside squashed tracks, as essentially loud tracks are brought down and quieter tracks are brought up, and this is giving mix and mastering engineers more freedom. HI-FI wise, I like where things are and are heading.”
Do you have any plans to do live shows this year?
“Currently I don’t have any shows on the books, but I was looking to put an experimental band together and book some local gigs. I also have a lot of fun guesting with a few friends’ bands regularly.”
So tell us, what’s next for Beard Bates?
“I’m really excited about a novella of mine entitled The Apricot Boy, which I will soon be publishing. I’m also excited to get back to painting and have a show for a body of abstract work. I’ll be releasing and writing more new music, mixing and mastering records, handling my businesses and just trying to have fun, be good to others and stay positive! Thanks a lot for the interview!”