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Visiting Beirut

Zach Condon from the American folk band talks about sleeping with his ukulele and how he chose between 'Beirut' and 'Bilbao' for band name

Having changed the way the world considers the ukulele forever, Zach Condon and the rest of Beirut have placed themselves in a unique category of musical innovators. Shoulder to shoulder with The Shins and Arcade Fire, Beirut can stand proud for having given something new and interesting to music. But what does the unassuming twenty-something year old from Santa Fey have to say about his European style and his global success?

Dazed Digital: Things have really taken off for you in the last few years - did you ever think it would pan out this way?

Beirut: I suppose some of it was luck and a few good people helping me out at 
the right time... it is interesting though, to think back when I was 
frustrated by the thought of trying to work my way up in the music 
business piece by piece. Interesting because there was never a
 question in my mind of pursuing another career. I was a pretty
 stubborn teenager...

You’re an American from Santa Fey, but we know you best for producing a
 sound that wouldn’t be out of place on a street corner in Vienna or
 somewhere in the Mediterranean. Where did your inspiration come 
Beirut: I read a quote from a band I liked many years ago, I’ve forgotten 
the quote but it was something along the lines of "we're trying to make the
 music that we wish was already out there to be listening to". They were trying to fill some sort of void in sound combinations and ideas. I like that thought. I’m trying to justify the world of music that I love with my simpler sense of a great "pop" tune, and filling a void
 in the process. Hopefully. And yes, I’m obsessed with Mediterranean
 music. Greek rebetiko, Sicilian brass funeral music... the list goes


I read once that you bought your ukulele as a comedy prop – is there any 
truth to that? If so, how did it go from being a joke to being part of the
 sound we think of when we hear the name ‘Beirut’?
Beirut: There is truth to that... I thought it was a silly little guitar; a
 novelty.  But within a week I was practically bringing it to bed with 
me just to be near it. You can choose to use an instrument in the
 fashion it may be most famous for, but banjos don't have to sound
 Appalachian, and ukuleles don't need to sound, I dunno, island-y? And 
when I found that out it changed every instrument I ever touched.

Beirut are playing all over the world these days – it’s kind of a loaded
 question, but where do you get the most satisfaction from playing? I’d 
imagine you go down pretty well in Eastern Europe…
Beirut: I’m a Francophile, so I get certain sense of pride playing in
 prestigious Parisian venues. However, playing in a circus tent in
 Poznan, Poland was fucking transcendental. And Brazilians are not shy
 about enjoying live music. T'was beautifully insane.

DD: The whole Blogotheque thing has become kind of a phenomenon – they’ve had 
bands like The Shins and Arcade Fire do shows for them in some of the oddest
 settings imaginable. I even think I remember Grizzly Bear playing Shift in a 
bathtub - what was that like? Who approached who?
Beirut: Chryde (Christophe Abric) found me a long time ago and we had traded 
emails for a year before we finally did a take away show. Again, the
 set up and adaptation worked very well with our band and we all became
 friends. Chryde is now a good drinking buddy of mine and it was fun 
to let our hair down and do something weird and beautiful in the
 streets of Paris and Brooklyn. And they're [la Blogotheque] pushy in 
a way that makes you try things you normally wouldn't go for.

DD: We’re a year on from your last release now and you’re touring pretty 
extensively – is this a pre-cursor to a new release or one of those dreaded
 pre-hibernation tours?
Beirut: It's a pre-cursor for the most part, I’ve been writing over the winter
 but don't want to release the next full album until I’m good and ready
for what that entails. We’ll play you some new songs in the meantime.

I’m curious - out of all the names of all the cities you could have chosen,
 why ‘Beirut’? What does it mean to you?
Beirut: Hmm… I almost went with Bilbao... and Pompeii was a runner up as
 well. Beirut stuck with the intensity that comes along with the name 
and its history. I feel like I come from a family of storytellers
 and the name is just another tall tale I’m adding to my story. After
all, I’ve never been to Lebanon....

Beirut will be playing Green Man Festival this weekend