Beloved Binge talk ‘despair and celebration’ on Pockets
Durham-based DIY outfit Beloved Binge is the embodiment of eclecticism. The band has mastered the art of “a little of this, a little of that” to such an extent that its genre-defying sound is hard to describe outside of the myriad emotions it elicits from listeners. Their most recent LP, Pockets, meanders in and out of happiness, nostalgia, confusion and jocularity as guitarist Rob Beloved’s facetious baritone mingles with Eleni Binge’s whimsically high voice and variety-show instrumental choices. Both Beloved and Binge are complemented by the contributions of new bassist Mike Wright.
Beloved and Binge moved to Durham as a duo in 2005. They migrated from Seattle (primarily, according to Binge, for the renowned Southern sunshine) and have put out three full-length albums since. Pockets’ September release, though, came on the heels of almost two years of travel and a recording hiatus. After a year-long tour in 2010, the couple took an extended trip to Binge’s hometown in Greece. Upon their return, they recorded Pockets, arguably their cleanest and most cohesive record to date, with producer Jerry Kee in fall of last year. Pockets still conjures the K Records sound Beloved Binge has been associated with on previous releases but adds a wonderful dimension of curiosity and enlightenment that is entirely its own, exploring wanderlust, acceptance and ideas of home. It touches the artistic depths that some argue can only be reached in the face or wake of life’s turning points, heartbreaking or otherwise.
Binge exchanged e-mails with Shuffle’s Hannah Levinson to talk about Pockets, Durham, activism and traveling.
Shuffle: Pockets is a tremendous record. Is there a story behind the title? How about the creation of the album itself?
Eleni Binge: That’s so kind, thank you. The short story of our most recent album is “Pockets is where you go when a part of you has left.” About half of the songs were inspired by something new to me — the unexpected death of a parent. While we were on an extended leg of our ~one-year tour we got the call about my Dad. Though each of us ends in death, experiencing an actual disappearing act is surreal and hard to grasp. Particularly when you do not have the chance to say goodbye, and your parent is buried before you can see them. It can be the little things—like it’s odd not to get a call on my birthday, or be able to share ideas only Dad would get — but fundamentally, if you lose a parent you were close with, that’s irreplaceable. No one can quite love you the same, unconditionally.
This album says goodbye, but it also is engaging in a dialogue with you — it hopes to be there for your loss and/or celebration of being around (life) when things are good. The title track, “Pockets,” actually was written in a sudden inspiration right before we went into the studio. Sometimes things happen like that, last minute, but end up being the theme.
Shuffle: “Rubble pop rooted in a punk pot” is quite a tagline, and it definitely suits the amalgam of influences and genres that characterize your songs. What types of music, songwriting or life experiences are your most prevalent influences?
EB: I love melody and grew up with a bunch of classical musicians. My grandpa, Papa, played in the Seattle Symphony and was taught at Julliard. Mom was (and is) in orchestras, quartets, and musical comedies. She performed in the youth symphony for the Seattle World’s Fair. I’m sure these all had an influence on my love of melody and levity. I also grew up listening to old Greek folk songs — sort of like the blues of Greece — and nothing speaks to my very being like these songs — hardship, simplicity, depth. This is where I got the drone and weight.
Rob began playing guitar from age 11. His first band sounded like a Metallica cover band but they were all originals. He also was heavily influenced by Joy Division and Beatles. He moved around a lot as a kid, and guitar was one thing he had that was stable. Rob is inspired by music that captures feeling/emotion without being “over the top.” He’s quite the awesome ballad writer and rocker all rolled up into one. His magic is writing beautiful guitar lines over rhythms. So it’s really helpful that we are playing with a bassist for most shows, our longtime Seattle friend, Mike “tofu mama” Wright.
Shuffle: There’s a really wonderful balance to your lyrics — they’re dark yet humorous, existentially aware yet playful. Is there an underpinning philosophy or ideology that informs this tone?
EB: I love talking about these kinds of themes. So glad you catch that in our lyrics. Sometimes people mistake us for being mostly goofy or quirky. We are involved in a lot of serious things, such as advocating for farm animals who suffer each moment on factory farms and slaughterhouses, and asking people to eat less of them. But what I’ve learned is that humor is essential to survival in most endeavors. No matter how tragic a situation is, there needs to be a break from that tragedy. As humans, we are a mixture of despair and celebration, and there is a fine line between them. That’s why one of my favorite movies is Zorba the Greek. Zorba dances to tragedy and lets his demons free. So in writing music, the hopefully universal language to communicate with my fellow humans, I like to shine a light on all sides of our existence — not denying one or the other. The song “Some People Think I’m Nuts” is about a serious topic — my Nana’s descent into Alzheimer’s — taking its title from when we went in for testing and Nana was asked to write a sentence. But it’s also about Nana’s eternal optimism — she always ‘wakes up happy,’ a reference in the lyrics. The track “Hello, Hi” is another example of this…exploring a would-be abduction when I was 10, skating on a sidewalk in California, contrasting this with the taking of lives for food without permission. But it’s also kind of playful and singing about roller skates, complete with clapping at live shows.
Shuffle: How does your creative time with BB get balanced with all of your other involvements? Do you find yourself rearranging priorities at given points in time?
EB: We’re definitely part-time gypsy by nature, but also kind of Little House on the Prairie with our settling into our home here in Durham, NC. I miss touring a lot a great deal though. A contract is nice, as with everything. It’s very hard to balance all of our interests and activism — particularly when working full-time, which we are both at the moment. I’ve set aside days where I work on certain projects particular days of the week. Weekends are never ‘free’ except at night going to shows, and even that can be an extension of the band work. But gawd dammit, we love being in this band. I’ve taken vacation days from work just to work on BB all day. My favorite place to go is Earth Fare and just put in a solid day, 9-5, working on BB and eating good vegan food.
Shuffle: What are your plans and priorities for now since you’ve just released the new record? Will your schedule be show-heavy for the next couple of months before your focus shifts again?
EB: Since we’re working full time, our plan is several mini-tours. A few weekends ago we played the Cake Shop in NYC, which was tons of fun. The weekend before last we played with our favorites, Ponchos, in Wilmington. Next we’re doing a mini-tour to Athens, Atlanta and South Carolina. One of the most awesome-est (grammar?) things about touring is meeting up with your band musician families on the road. It’s such a fun connection to have.
Shuffle: If you’re able or willing to look at a more long-range picture, what are your plans for BB and beyond (if you’re thinking about a beyond)? Are you planning on staying in Durham?
EB: We love Durham and it’s definitely our home. But life is short and I want to experience more. We’d like to live in NYC for a year at some point, and also be closer to some of my family in Greece. I’d love to ride a cargo ship to Europe and tour there for six months. We want to do a US and Canada tour, visit our family in the NW and in Toronto, and also hit Japan and China. Playing music is a great way to travel and experience other cultures.
I saw a great movie last night, “Searching for Sugar Man,” about an unknown US musician [Ed.: The movie is about Rodriguez] who released a couple of records in the 1970s then was dropped by the label and remained in obscurity. Somehow, his recordings had leaked to South Africa, where he became bigger than Elvis. He had no idea—decades later, when they found him still alive in Ohio, he went to South Africa and played sold-out concerts. So that’s our mission, to find our South Africa. Uzbekistan?