April 22, 2004

A Prescription for Indie Rock

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Washington, D.C.’s Beauty Pill features Chad Clark, formerly the frontman of Smart Went Crazy and producer/engineer extraordinaire (producer of Fugazi and the Dismemberment Plan, among others), on guitar and sharing vocal duties with Rachael Burke, who also plays keyboards. The band also has Ryan Nelson of Most Secret Method on drums, Drew Doucette of Bald Rapunzel on guitar and Bashla Andolsun of Del Celio on bass. Together they make indie pop that is both atmospheric and tuneful, textured but catchy. Bashla was kind enough to conduct an e-mail interview with daze on the verge of their tour:

I understand that Beauty Pill has seen a few membership changes since it started. How did you get involved with the band? Are you from the DC area originally?

I’m originally from Manassas, Virginia. I joined the band when I was going to school in Richmond. I had met Chad when my band Del Cielo recorded with him at Silver Sonia. Shortly after Del Cielo recorded, Beauty Pill’s bass player Joanne quit the band and Chad remembered that he liked my playing and that we had some good conversations. I think it was actually Ryan who emailed me and asked if I’d be interested in playing with them. Chad had played me some of the recorded Beauty Pill songs in the studio and I really loved them so I was excited about joining the band.

How does Beauty Pill compare to other projects you’ve been involved with (or continue to be involved with), like Del Celio?

Del Cielo is the first long-term band that I’ve been in. I was briefly in a band with friends of mine from Manassas called Flickerflame that wrote really fast, really sloppy punk songs. Del Cielo is pretty poppy. People sometimes say we sound like Velocity Girl although they aren’t an influence.

How do you think that the membership changes have affected the band? What about the songwriting process?

Being the last member to join, I probably have the most limited perspective on how membership changes have affected the band. I’m sure it’s been frustrating for Chad and Ryan in particular to try to get a firm line-up. It’s been a little strange for me stumbling into a band with existing songs and recordings. If you look at the credits of [the new album] The Unsustainable Lifestyle you’ll see that a lot of people played bass on the album. When I joined the band a lot of the songs had already been recorded. All the parts I played on the album were parts that had already been written. I really love the bass lines on the album, but I’m happy that now that we’re working on new music I can be more involved creatively.

Speaking of songwriting, a lot of your band’s songs seem to address social and political issues. What role does politics have in Beauty Pill’s music?

I’m glad you noticed that. Social and political issues are a big concern for all of us in the band. Chad writes most of the lyrics for Beauty Pill (Ryan also writes some) and he’s trying to get across some very basic ideas. One of the main themes running through the album is compassion. With the current political climate we’ve discussed possibly becoming more directly political about certain issues, although we need to figure out a way to convey specific political ideas without falling into traps like preaching to the converted or reducing ideas to trite soundbites. One of the first conversations I ever had with Chad was about the effectiveness of the anti-fur campaign because of the strategies that animal rights activists employed. They knew that fur sells because it is fashionable so they started a campaign aimed at making fur seem out of fashion. A lot of other animal rights campaigns have not been as effective or have even backfired due to the strategies employed. The basic lesson we got out of that is that we need to carefully think over how to best present our political ideas. The political and social ideas presented on the album are ones that were carefully considered and presented strategically.

What sort of music do you like to listen to? As a bassist, who inspires you? Any bands or records you would recommend?

Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, Antelope, and Paul Simon. I also just got a Casual Dots CD that I haven’t gotten to listen to yet but I can’t wait to hear. I’m also really excited about The Evens. I can’t think of any famous bassists that particularly inspire me, but watching Amy Farina [The Warmers, The Evens] play drums sure does make me want to learn that instrument.

Dischord has a reputation as being anti-major label. Have you guys gotten any offers from a major? If Beauty Pill got one, would they consider it?

I think everyone at Dischord wants the bands on the label to be happy and to do what is best for themselves spiritually and practically. We’re very happy to be on Dischord and nobody’s knocking down our doors to sign to a major. If that ever happens we’ll deal with it as it comes, and I’m sure we’d include the folks at Dischord in any decisions that we made. We all love and respect the people at Dischord tremendously and are honored to be a part of the label.

Finally, when you’re not playing in Beauty Pill, what are you doing?

Up until recently all I was doing outside of music was working on my thesis so I could get my MS in sociology. For my thesis I interviewed male and female musicians and I used tokenism theory to look at women in rock bands. Now that I’m done with my thesis I’m looking forward to having time to read more. I’d really like to read Richard Clarke’s book, and I heard about a book called Worse Than Watergate on NPR that sounds good, too.

Beauty Pill is playing a benefit for the Advocacy Center at JAM on Friday, April 23 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are five dollars. For more info, visit www.rso.cornell.edu/fanclub.

Archived article by David Hillis
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer