You might expect taking a vinyl album home from a record release; but, could you imagine toting a work of sculptured art from such an event? Because of the band's affinity for all sorts of art mediums, Only Beast's fans will essentially be doing that if they snag a copy of the trio's new album from its show tonight at Walter's. The work is titled Again, it's taken about a year to hone and it's not chiseled from stone or plaster, but from musical ruminations on infinity and life's repeating patterns.
If that sounds like a centerpiece you need in your life, stop by the
gallery venue tonight. The band's vocalist, Danielle Renee, gave us a curator's insight on Again's nine tracks ahead of the show.
"We wrote for maybe six months, the recording itself took another few months, mixing was a couple of weeks," she says. "There was a lot of time in between each session though, so the entire process took about a year. We're putting this album out on our own, so we had to come up with the money for each separate step of the process and then move forward."
"We're captivated by the idea of infinity, and we've dedicated a lot of headspace to that," Renee continues, delving into the record's themes. "There are so many branches of thought that pop up in the same vein, it's been impossible for us to ignore. Grappling with that can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. We tend to reflect one another in terms of ideas and emotional landscape, and we found ourselves circling back around to these ideas a lot. 'Again' became kind of a tongue-in-cheek concept, sort of an exploration of recurring archetypes, recurring themes that haunt us. Reality seems to expand and contract, again and again.
"Maybe that’s too intense. But we can only describe the album so much," Renee continues. "It’s meant to be taken as it is. We’re expressing things that we can’t really expressed otherwise, so we made this album."
Only Beast's "space team" includes Renee fronting the band, joined by John Salinas on drums and guitarist/bassist Peter Bernick. Collectively, their name suits them — Salinas goes from nuanced to a frenzied, blood-in-the-water attack in a heartbeat; Bernick's instrumental savvy drives the band's sound, but there's something wild and instinctual about his playing, too. Renee prowls the stage like a predator, waiting until the perfect moment to pounce with a big voice expressing timeless motifs. The trio's dynamic live show has made them one of Houston's premier bands but, when it comes to cornering that sound in the studio for Again, Renee says teaming with the right people made the task much easier. She credits their friend Casey Waldner with inviting Only Beast to SugarHill Studios, where Again was engineered by Jonathan Lee Chan on president Dan Workman's advice, and mastered by Chris Longwood. "Everyone there really knows their stuff," Renee says.
"We were very focused on creating an album that would capture the energy of our live set; we wanted to bring that with us," she continues. "After we released Live at Notsuoh we knew we would be going back into the studio to record the new album, but I was still apprehensive from my last recording experience. I was the only one who felt hesitant. John had managed to get his parts done within one or two takes; [he] never really had anything he needed to correct. Plays with a click track, very on target. I wasn’t as confident. Peter once told me that I 'have emotions on a professional level' and he’s not wrong. I kind of tend to torture myself if I’m not careful.
"But when we got to SugarHill we knew we were on the right track. They set us up in Studio A, so we had Peter in a room by himself on one end, Jonathan mixing in the next room, John by himself in the room next to that, and I was in a room next to that one. All these rooms had huge windows, so we could all see one another while we played. And we recorded the tracks that way, all together. One of the most crucial and impressive things about this process is that Jonathan did everything live. He was mixing the songs as we performed them, like a live show. He allowed us to really tap into that live energy and give the performance we wanted to give. We felt right at home. We’re grateful for that.
"John really kept us organized, kept us focused. It was such a huge learning process, and he made sure we didn’t miss any details," she notes. "We also owe a lot to various friends who have helped us along the way, making this project better, making things a little easier. We’re excited to finally get this out and we appreciate all the love and support we’ve received."
A lot of those supporters will be in the crowd tonight, and some will be onstage, too.
"We’ve played with The Wheel Workers and A Sundae Drive many times and we could not be happier about having them on the bill," says Renee. "The Wheel Workers are absolutely unrelenting, completely unapologetic, and that’s something we admire. We identify with what they’re about and we value what they bring to the table. A Sundae Drive is so intense, they’re just this deep well of emotion, and it's hard to pin them down to a genre. We really respect their willingness to just go for it, they just put it all out there and force you to pick up the pieces.
"Both these bands have a live performance that just washes over you a carries you away, both have a unique and driven sound," she adds. "They’re further proof that Houston’s music scene is amazing and we’re lucky they could join us for this show.
"We knew we wanted FLCON FCKER to do visuals for this show long before we ever even booked it. They’re from another world entirely, maybe another universe. We met them at a show years ago; we were on the bill and they were doing the visuals that night, incredible stuff. They really bring that extra dimension to the show that helps to create a complete environment. Their unique perspective is very much in line with what we’re about, we’re on that same wavelength."
The album is out today on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody and other major music platforms. Getting it from Bandcamp gets fans some extras, Renee adds, like the song lyrics, liner notes and artwork. The band went to great lengths to ensure those who nab a physical copy of are getting something as intriguing to view as it is to hear.
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"We’re very visual people, that aspect is important to us. We’re musicians, but we each have a connection with a number of other mediums as well. Peter is a sculptor, for example, and he made a sculpture for us that became an inspiration for the album art. I used that as a starting point and went from there," Renee says. "The cover art, the art for the insert, the A/B side labels, I wanted all of it to carry that same aesthetic and tone.
I screen-printed every album jacket by hand, front and back. The record itself is pressed on this sort of smoky, clear vinyl with bits of black and white swirling about in it — we were specific with United Record Pressing about the look we wanted to achieve. We wanted to be personally involved with every aspect of the album, from start to finish.
"The experience of handling a record is something in and of itself," she suggests. "A record could also be thought of as a sculpture, in a way. If you have this specific machine and if that machine is operating at the correct speed and is hooked up to some speakers, you can listen to it. You can hear music from this flat, round sculpture."
Walter's Downtown (1120 Naylor), hosts the record-release party for Only Beast's new album, Again. With The Wheel Workers and A Sundae Drive and visuals by FLCON FLCKER. 8 p.m. tonight, $10.