When she arrived in Albuquerque during one of last week's crazy thunder and lightning shows, Nels and her bandmates had no idea what they were getting into. "This bus has big windows, so I just sat and watched. I filmed the whole thing. It was really kind of crazy." Then it just started pouring.
In true desert fashion, it stopped suddenly hours later.
They parked the bus at an RV park a couple miles from Downtown and have been camped out since, waiting for Thursday's show at Exhale, a club that proudly proclaims itself Albuquerque's only lesbian bar.
This is Nels Beam's first real tour. She's spent long weekends out with other projects but had never driven around the country for a whole summer. She booked it herself, hitting mostly GLBT-friendly bars. "With the other members of the band who aren't gay, I started by trying to book more mainstream venues. It was so hard, because no one wanted to give a woman-fronted rock band a chance. I was like, 'Forget it. I'm just going to play for the boys and play for the girls—play for my people.'" Once she made that decision, the tour practically booked itself.
Beam's been playing music since she was a bitty kid. She picked up piano, then became a symphonic and ensemble percussionist through high school. After a brief flirtation with raving and all things electronic, she found herself fiddling with the guitar. That was only about four or five years ago, she estimates, and now she spends her time as a singer-songwriter.
Her sound spans the rock spectrum, with her four MySpace tunes touching on southern rock, indie rock, pop rock, alt.rock, etc. She writes all the songs, though bassist Thom Henderson develops most of his lines. Megan Burke plays the keys and computers and manages "every little thing that could possibly go wrong during the show," Beam says. Things did go wrong about a week and a half before it was time to gas up the bus and hit the road: The drummer cancelled.
Not to be deterred, Beam, who also plays drums, recorded the tracks herself, which Burke plays back during the set. It all worked out for the best she says. "A lot of the GLBT venues are smaller," so the live drums might have been too much anyway.
She's not worried about being pigeonholed as a gay artist. "And if I am, that's fine with me. It's to the point where in society it's starting to matter less and less." Sony just came out with a sub-label geared entirely to lesbian and gay artists, and Beam would love to flag that label's attention. It's called Music With a Twist. "You can only imagine that font," Beam groans. "Hopefully, they're going to come up with a new name. Obviously, gay people are not in charge of it. If they were, it would be a totally more fabulous name."
Never mind the label attention. Beam would be a happy camper if she could just consistently tour and play for people who want to hear her music. Beam and her band have been on the road for just two weeks (she says this is only the second interview she's ever done), but the summer promises only good things. "I'm having the time of my life, to tell you the truth," she says. "I'm seeing the country, playing bars I want to play at. If it wasn't for the fact that we're living off hot dogs and tuna fish sandwiches, it would probably be perfect."