No City Different drum Circles,please, for Beirut's Zach Condon
Latest News | October 03, 2015
Santa Fe’s Zach Condon and Beirut are set to perform a free concert on The Plaza Sunday. (Courtesy of Shawn Brackbill)
Zach Condon, who’ll be playing a homecoming show Sunday afternoon with his band Beirut, hasn’t been shy about discussing his Santa Fe roots as he promotes his latest album.
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If you join what’s expected to be a huge crowd Sunday for Beirut’s free performance on The Plaza, you might hear influences that Condon says came his way growing up in Santa Fe – including the mariachis he considered “rock stars” and his dad’s Beach Boys records. Just don’t ask him what his Zodiac sign is or to join in a drum circle. It appears that kind of “hippie generation” stuff isn’t his favorite part of the City Different.
Famously (in indie music circles and beyond), Condon made a big splash back in 2005 with Beirut’s first album “Gulag Orkestar,” with distinctive Balkan-style horns setting its melancholy songs apart from most of the competition.
Another detail – that the music had in large part been recorded in Condon’s teenager bedroom in Santa Fe – added a mythical touch to his art and personal story.
More recently, that was Condon playing trumpet with an all-star band behind Stephen Colbert and Mavis Staples singing Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” to close out the debut night of Colbert’s “Late Show.” Condon’s been living in Brooklyn since Beirut hit the big time.
Beirut’s 2011 album “The Rip Tide” has a catchy, impressionistic song called “Santa Fe,” whose chorus starts, “Sign me up Santa Fe/And call your son.” Despite that reference to where he grew up, Condon in the past has been virtually defined by the international musical influences he picked up from travels to places like France and Mexico.
Now, judging from recent interviews about the new album “No No No,” it seems like Condon has heard the call from home. Condon told New York’s Papermag a few weeks ago that he’s come to “this funny realization that in the end, I just am a kid from Santa Fe, and that’s pretty cool, too.” (The Journal has interviewed and profiled Condon before, in connection with a couple of prior shows here, but couldn’t reach him this time around.)
Cool or not, Santa Fe has aspects Condon still frowns upon.
In the same Papermag interview, he described how he met two of his Beirut bandmates.
“It’s actually a funny story,” said Condon. “Well, you have to know Santa Fe to an extent to know why it’s so funny and how I sit against all these things that are Santa Fean. Santa Fe calls itself the ‘The City Different,’ and what you get is a lot of the hippie generation that got lost there on an acid trip and never came back. People introduce themselves like, `Hi I’m Bob, a Sagittarius, and you?’ – a lot of drum circles, that type of (stuff).
“So, Paul was a shaggy student at the College of Santa Fe and Nick was his buddy. Paul kept approaching me after shows and said `I really like what you do, we should get together some day and jam, I play bass and my friends play drums.’ When someone comes up to you and says that in Santa Fe, warning lights just go off, but obviously at some point I had to play SXSW and I needed a band, so I said `OK lets do it.’ And the rest is history. I just didn’t see that coming in a place like that.”
He’s talked to NPR’s Morning Edition about trying to find his place as a young musician in Santa Fe, which the NPR interviewer described as wanting “to be different even from the kids trying to be different.”
“I always knew I wanted to be in a band,” Condon said. “But growing up in Santa Fe, if I joined my friend’s band, there were hardcore and punk rockers – and I wanted to play, like, accordion and French horn and stuff. It just didn’t fit. So, I was that kid. No one ever gave me grief about it, but it was kind of a lonely pursuit.”
Ahh, but there was also mariachi music around.
His dad (Glenn Condon) wanted him to play guitar, Zach told Spin magazine. He said he “hated” guitar, adding:
“I think the trumpet really came from watching the mariachis play in Santa Fe. Every year they would have fiestas, and they would play in the plaza. To me those guys were total (bleeping) rock stars. I think that, stylistically, growing up around something, I could never totally get rid of; so even when I tried to play trumpet in the style of Balkan brass bands, in some weird way I just always end up going back to the way mariachi plays. I’ve started bringing that out in the set more, even songs that I wrote while I was listening to eastern European stuff. Now when we play it live I’m like, “(Bleep) it, it’s a mariachi song.”
But don’t get the impression that Condon doesn’t appreciate his father’s taste in music.
He told Spin magazine that his dad and uncle were “obsessed with doo wop and Motown” and relates how his father had to convince him it was actually a man, specifically Brian Wilson, singing the falsetto parts on the Beach Boys’ version of “Barbara Ann.” The father and uncle “used to sing it to us as kids,” says Condon.
For Noisey, the music wing of the Vice alternative news site, he elaborated:
“I realized what my actual musical education was. Which was my dad raised me on a steady diet of Motown, Beatles, and Beach Boys. How could I deny that aspect of my growing up?”