Beirut’s Zach Condon Distills Himself
By Mel Minter
Trumpeter/ukulelist/singer Zach Condon, native Santa Fean and frontman for Beirut, has garnered a world of attention for music that draws heavily on his serial “flirtations,” as he calls them, with various genres. French chanson, Balkan brass, Mexican church bands, electronica—each has provided the inspiration and stylistic setting for a Beirut album.
The constants in those recordings, though, are Condon’s love affair with melody and his ear for the right sound in the right place. For the latest Beirut release, The Rip Tide, Condon focused on those elements, hoping to distill his own sound from the multigenre cocktail. He’s succeeded in creating his most personal and arguably his most beautiful and mature work to date.
This week, two Santa Fe audiences will have the opportunity to hear it live, and to welcome home the native son along with the rest of Beirut: Perrin Cloutier (accordion/piano), Kelly Pratt (trumpet/euphonium), Ben Lanz (trombone/tuba/piano), Paul Collins (electric and upright bass) and Nick Petree (drums/percussion).
A Haphazardly Perfect Evolution
Beirut’s instrumentation, which can include everything from pump organ to glockenspiel, helps create an instantly identifiable sound that’s antique and contemporary at once. Finding that sound has been something of a haphazard affair, says Condon.
“Even some of the instruments came to me in very strange ways,” he tells the Alibi. “When I worked at Plan B [a Santa Fe venue now called the Center for Contemporary Arts], some traveling circus act left a broken-down pump organ.” After that, he says, his grandmother died, and Condon inherited her accordion.
Meanwhile, the awkward insomniac teenager who felt he didn’t fit into the local scene had gravitated to perhaps the most extroverted acoustic instrument, the trumpet, and was playing jazz on it. “That was the background for me. That was the base point where music starts, a kind of jumping board,” he says. “When I heard, for example, Balkan brass or Sicilian funeral brass, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
A few years later in his Albuquerque bedroom, under the spell of this exotica, Condon recorded several tunes with his menagerie of weird instruments. At his girlfriend’s urging, he uploaded them to the web.
Boom! Global indie stardom.
A Necessary Development
Beneath all of the influences, Condon began to hear something in his recordings that colored his approach to The Rip Tide.
After a grueling tour that ended in Brazil, he returned home to New Mexico and began to revisit his old demos. Condon realized that the entire time he was exploring world music, he had created a unique sound in and of itself. “I wanted to focus on that more than a theme,” he says. “I was basically trying to crystallize the favorite sounds, the ones that had developed over the years.”
The Rip Tide does just that, with timeless melodies, spot-on instrumentation and shimmering arrangements. The brass parts in particular—collaborations from Condon, Pratt and Lanz primarily—intensify the emotional impact of the tunes and the cryptic, evocative lyrics. Though the influences are still there, Condon no longer swoons over the exotic but bends it to his purpose.
The new album is more inward looking, he explains. “As a teenager releasing the first record, I wasn’t exactly confident in my view of the world,” he says. “It didn’t feel like it would be relatable to talk from a very personal point of view. This time around, it felt almost necessary to do that.”
If there is a theme on the new album, Condon says, it’s about going home. He’s looking forward to doing exactly that this week, and he’s “glad to be getting a little bit of the spotlight in my home state.”
Thursday, Oct. 6, 8 p.m.
A 15 th anniversary benefit for Warehouse 21
with Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab and Monade) and Alex Monasterio
1614 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe
Tickets: $30 under-21, $40 adults
Friday, Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m.
with Laetitia Sadier and D Numbers
Santa Fe Community Convention Center
201 W. Marcy, Santa Fe
Tickets: $25 advance, $30 at the door
Tickets for both events at The Lensic box office: (505) 988-1234 or ticketssantafe.org
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