Fall 2011

Beirut’s Zach Condon Explains ‘The Rip Tide’

Fall 2011

Beirut’s Zach Condon Explains ‘The Rip Tide’

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Zach Condon has circled the globe in the past, mining indigenous musical traditions from Eastern Europe to Southern Mexico, but with his new LP The Rip Tide, he’s bringing his sound a little closer to home. Here, he talks sleepless Santa Fe nights, weathering existential crises, and carving out one’s own corner of the universe.

BULLETT: Listening to The Rip Tide, I don’t get any foreign flavor or atmosphere. Where were your ideas with this album?

ZACH CONDON: I guess the easiest way to explain is that it felt like an album that was always in me, but I was just slowly circling around it until I got to the center. After all of these years of blatant influences and really wearing them on my sleeve, I realized, quite frankly, I had created a sound of my own, and it crystallized into something that made sense. I used to do things like, I’d have this one giant photo in front of the computer while recording, and I would always base it around these stories in my head. I started young, and as a teenager, and you never think your own story is very interesting. You’re always looking outside for inspiration. But there came a point sometime last year when I realized, Hey, it’ll probably be more fun to look inward this time around. I shook off some of the youthful wanderlust.

Your very first projects were electronic. What was it like to shift to acoustic and classical instrumentation?

Growing up in Santa Fe, I was already the outsider in the local scene. I think most kids from small towns could probably relate to this—it was entirely punk, hardcore, and maybe some emo. I think there’s an importance to that for every kid but it just never grabbed me, so the best way for me to work around not playing guitar, bass, or drums was to do electronic music. I remember one of the earliest things was I heard this Múm album, and they were throwing accordions into the mix. It was so warm and so moving that I literally called up my grandfather and asked if he could pull his accordion out of the closet and ship it over. That was the beginning of the end. I’m trying to write classic tunes, and you just can’t do that sometimes with too much modern technology involved.

As a child, what was your understanding of the universe?

When I was a young kid, probably around the age of ten or eleven, I started getting really, really bad insomnia. This kept up through my teen years, up until about the age of 21, and then finally started to calm down. I think a lot of that was a big deal for me creatively. I remember the first experiences of insomnia were endless hours of lying in bed, staring at the roof and letting your mind go to scary places like, What’s at the end of the universe? What’s the point? I spent so long doing that that I realized it’s no longer important for me to ask myself those questions. The insomnia was the start of it, and I never turned it into anything useful until I realized that I had to stop staring into the void and make something out of it. That blank period at night when you’re awake and no one else is and you’re completely alone doesn’t have to be a void, doesn’t have to be an existential crisis, doesn’t have to be wondering what color is outside the universe. By the time I finally sat down and started doing things at night, those vanished, and I reached a level of comfort that I had never felt before.

What do you feel when you’re faced with the unknown? What’s the unknown like for you now that you’re older and maturing?

I like to think you tend to ignore it more. As a kid, you’re kind of bashing your head up against it. Everything is unknown as a kid, but it’s kind of laid out for you, at least in a steady household. The unknown could be something as simple as, Why are you sending me to school every day? to, Why is the universe here? At some point, when you take control of your own destiny, it’s not such a big deal that there’s so much unknown out there, as long as you can wrap your head around what you’ve got in front of you.

Do you think that human life is insignificant in the universe?

I think that we’re incredibly significant. I was talking to a friend the other day, and for her, the fact that the universe seems to be infinitely large scares the shit out of her. But that doesn’t bother me at all because we’ve found our little corner of the universe. The fact that things can be infinitely small, too, all the way to quarks and string theory, bothers me. It drives me nuts that we can be broken up into smaller components, not like a unified self. That’s a scary thought to me. But I like to think, yeah, we’ve got our little corner of the universe, and we’re doing some pretty awesome things with it.