BTD Interviews the band American Beauties
Written by Matt Zin on November 14, 2023
BTD Interviews the band American Beauties
Nice to meet up again, after reviewing your song “The Rain,” I just can’t wait to dive right in and start with some interview questions. I am sure our BTD listeners are eager to know more about you as well. So here we go. Where is the band from?
American Beauties was formed in 2010 in Boston, MA from a group of musicians/friends who played together, and were fired, from a previous band we all played in. A bunch of musical re-treads I guess you’d say.
Can you go around the room and introduce each member? Oh, and out of the bunch who is the rowdiest? LOL
Our live band includes Jeff Allison on drums, Justin Kolack on bass, Chris Faris on guitar, and Michael Gray on guitar, vocals, and harmonica. Up until recently we had Jonas Kahn on guitar who was our regular guitar player until earlier this year and is still an honorary member. We also have a bunch of ancillary members who help with our studio work – the list is long and we consider them Honorary members as well.
We were more rowdy in the earlier days of the band (particularly when traveling for out-of-state shows) and have all settled down a bit between raising families and our day jobs. We still enjoy certain vices during our weekly rehearsal and like to celebrate together after shows. After all these years together we are still close friends and watch out for one another – so as to keep each other out of trouble.
If you were in an elevator and someone says, “hey, what kind of music does American Beauties make?” oh wait this person is about to exit the door, so you only have 6 words to share about your music. What would those 6 words be? 😊
Radio-friendly, early-70s, folk-rock.
The “Sound of Mind” album has received acclaim for its deep and emotive tracks. Can you tell our BTD listeners more about the inspiration behind the album and its significance to the band? The album has also charted successfully and received significant airplay. How does this accomplishment make you feel, and what do you attribute your success to?
The songs were written specifically for Sound of Mind, which took a long time to pull together. The songs represent a period of time that was incredibly involved for us and they deal with some of those questions and difficulties that arise from the overwhelming responsibilities we all have. From the standpoint of significance to the band, it represents the completion of a long process and we are proud of the work, but we also see it as a jumping-off point for all the new music we’ve written, are playing, and need to start recording.
We decided early on that our goal was to get the music heard by a broader audience than our local fans here in Boston. Part of that was to do US college and community radio campaigns that have been surprisingly successful for us. We also focused on some out-of-state festival/club shows early on to help with that and are hoping to do more of that this upcoming year. We still have that small band mentality and are both surprised and elated when we know people are listening to our music – wherever that might be. It’s really the point of it all, and we attribute our success to the great support from people like yourself and all the DJ’s, bookers, and other music people who have helped us get the music out over the last 13 years.
“The Rain” is a standout track from the album, resonating with listeners on an emotional level. Could you share the story behind this song and what it means to you as a band? Also, can you elaborate on the creative process and collaboration within the band when crafting such a track?
The Rain was written late in the tracking for Sound of Mind. It was another song that came through observing people close to me who were having difficulty navigating their day to day responsibilities and at points feeling overwhelmed by it. There are a lot of reasons to feel that way, and the song acknowledges that, but also tries to convey that these feelings are part of the process of finding answers and ultimately overcoming the pain. For the band it’s a song we give to our listeners that can hopefully help them navigate some of these same feelings.
Most of the decisions on tracking for The Rain were made between myself and our engineer Ducky Carlisle who co-produced the record with me. The production process is always about putting the right instrumentation together to make the composition work and finding the right players to play the parts. On this song we had Steve Sadler play lap steel guitar and Brian A. King playing piano and singing background vocals. These were the main production decisions that give the song its sparkle. The rhythm guitars, bass, and drums were tracked earlier to create the basic tracks and we did the final vocal track after all the instrumentation was completed.
American Beauties draws influence from legendary acts such as The Byrd’s, Fairport Convention, and Wilco. How do these inspirations shape your music, and what do you feel they bring to your sound?
Our influences are inherent in the music we create although I don’t think we actually sound much like them. I think most original bands are in the same boat where all the history of the music you’ve listened to comes together as a sound that is unique, yet pulls from the styles and approaches of your musical influences. It’s nice to hear the comparisons that people make when describing our music – provided it’s not a band you don’t like.
So, how did you come up with the name of your band, American Beauties?
We had already booked our first show, and didn’t have a name yet. It was quite a process, with researching names that weren’t already taken, trying to make it easy to remember, keeping it high in the alphabetic order, and making sure it represented some sense of the music we played. American Beauties fit all of those criteria and somehow was not previously taken – so we nabbed it.
A couple of later revelations were that people sometimes thought we were a Grateful Dead cover band and there were a lot of interesting web sites that showed up when you searched American Beauties. All in all, it captures the style and era of the music we like and make. I’m also a big fan of the Grateful Dead and think that if someone were to accidentally show up to our show hoping to hear Dead songs – they wouldn’t be too disappointed.
Can you tell us about any future plans or upcoming projects you have in the works, and what can fans expect from American Beauties in the near future?
We are still working around our Sound of Mind release and are planning an official release show in April of next year. We’ve been working with Joe Viglione to increase our local exposure in Boston and Rhode Island (and some national exposure) in hopes of drawing more people to our local shows. We are also reviewing options for recording our next record. Unfortunately, my close friend, engineer, and co-producer – Ducky Carlisle recently passed away, which has left a gaping hole in our lives and recording plans.
I am very sorry to hear that! May he rest in peace and forever be in your hearts, mind, soul and music!
I really like your song, “Shining Stars”, can you share with our BTD listeners what that song is about and what is your favorite lyric line in that track? While we are at it, what’s your favorite track from the whole album and why?
Shining Stars was written in December 2013, approximately one year after the Sandy Hook School shooting. It’s a difficult subject, but was something that really affected me and it was a song that came quickly as though I had no choice but to write it. I’m reluctant to discuss the song, since I know sometimes a song may come across as being exploitative – which was not the intent. We all know the terror, sadness, and shock we feel when incidents like this happen. The lyrics were written from the perspective of a parent trying to understand what’s happened and somehow trying to find a place to grieve and honor what they lost. If there is a line in the song that captures the feeling of disbelief one must feel it’s “Somebody must have made up the story, couldn’t stand if it were to be true, need to get over to you.”
My favorite song on the record is “The Place We Started.” It was a song that we built from the acoustic guitar track and continued to layer with instruments and vocals, and in the end felt like a perfect fit for the concept of Sound of Mind. That idea that we do our best to get through every day, and that circle of ups and downs always ends up back in the place we started. I like to think that the place we started is a good, safe, and protected space for us.
Do you feel your music has a message or impact on the world? If so, what is it?
I write from many perspectives and sometimes the subject of the song is clearly stated and sometimes it’s a little more abstract. I like to think that the songs consider the good, bad, and indifferent aspects of life, but in the end hope is the overriding message. One that we all need to embrace, because without it, the world can seem like a pretty unforgiving place at times.
I always find this to be an interesting question to ask, so I am going to ask you, are there any experimental or innovative techniques you’d like to incorporate into your music? Perhaps you already have, you can share that as well.
I’ve been exploring more in the new songs that I’ve written, in particular in the forms, which now deviate more from the standard verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge approach. I also like to write bridge parts that are instrumental to off-set the melody and break up the lyrical parts. As far as instrumentation, I like to mix in keyboard parts that may have sounds that don’t match the ideal instrumentation for a song style. For example the calliope keyboard sound we used on our track “Sundown New Year,” which is grounded in a more country style with the acoustic and lap steel guitars in it. I’ve listened to a lot of experimental music of late, and as hard as I try, our songs are more on the traditional spectrum for sure, but that is an excellent question.
When the band is not in the studio, what is everyone doing for fun?
A couple of the guys play in other bands and stay busy/have fun that way. I like to see live music, be it local or more regional and national acts at some of the smaller venues around town. Never been a big fan of stadium or large venue shows since you lose some of the intimacy of the performance. We also have families and travel, which have some component of fun to them.
So, if I was a fly on the wall, hmmm, would I see any quirky or interesting rituals or traditions your band follows before performances or in the studio?
We toast ourselves with whisky shots typically before rehearsal or shows. We indulge otherwise at rehearsals as well and share some crazy stories from the week or whatever we’re thinking about at the time. We spend a lot of time together each week, which keeps us close and engaged and we’re always working on something new, which keeps things interesting.
Lastly, the band has a rich history and has worked on multiple albums. What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned throughout your musical journey, and how have you evolved as a group since your debut album?
When recording, you need an engineer who knows when things are working and when they aren’t and is not afraid to bruise some egos for the sake of the record.
From the standpoint of our live performances, we made the band our priority during COVID (our bubble) and started rehearsing weekly in August 2020. I think we’ve only missed a handful of weeks since. Over that time we’ve become a band that listens more than thinking about what we are playing. Through that evolution we’ve become more in tune with each other, spontaneous, and we’ve got a ton of new music we can play and are planning to record. Can’t wait to share that with everyone.
It’s been a pleasure getting to know American Beauties through music. Any shoutouts, social links or where our BTD listeners can find your music?
Thank-you T Dawn – you are so kind in your support of us and other indie bands. It’s a benefit to have people like yourself to get the word out and we really appreciate it. Also want to thank Joe Viglione who has a similar approach and has been a big help to us with our local PR and radio placements and has also connected us with many wonderful music folks and opportunities.
You are most certainly welcome! I love to help out fabulous bands like yourself. It’s been a pleasure!
You can find our shows dates, listen to our records, and find other news and media regarding the band on our website at:
We can also be found on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and other digital platforms.
Thank-you again for the chat!