If punk is dead, Gordon Lawrence and ISA, the fellas behind the band Beechwood must be zombies, or, perhaps more accurately, vampires. “We’re pretty nocturnal,” Lawrence admits between sips of his rum and coke. We’re sitting in a candle-lit corner of quintessential East Village rock n’ roll burger joint BLK MKT. The punk bands of that romanticized bygone age blare over the speakers.
That isn’t to say that Beechwood, which features Lawrence on guitar and ISA on drums, accompanied by a bassist, sounds like, or even looks like, Television or the Ramones or The Dead Boys or any combination thereof (they don’t not sound or look like certain bands of that ilk either, not that there’s anything wrong with that). Pardon the cliché, but it’s more about their attitude and, by extension of that attitude, their lifestyle. These guys aren’t playing their raucous, unpredictable shows in dingy New York basements and going back to sleep in $2000/month East Village apartments. They don’t even have apartments.
Instead, their music is born of necessity, and I’m not talking about whatever meager money they accrue playing gigs. If these guys weren’t playing music, they would probably be actually dead (or, at the very least, in an unimaginably shitty place) and not just hilariously undead for the purpose of a witty intro (I can also confirm that they aren’t vampires – I’ve seen them skating in Tompkins by the light of day).
This isn’t my assumption as some douchebag music journalist (I’m not a music journalist, but I’m probably a douchebag). Lawrence and ISA (more often Lawrence; he’s the talker of the two) say that their band is their life, in one way or another, constantly, genuinely and without apology. And, to quote Minutemen, maybe their band could be your life, too… Or maybe not. Beechwood could hardly be categorized as punk if they were pleasing all parties. But if raucous, unpredictable shows in New York basements are your thing, you owe it to yourself to come to The Bowery Electric tonight and find out. As Lawrence says, “Whether people like us or not, they don’t forget us.”
Beechwood plays tonight at The Bowery Electric at around 10pm. You can check out their music here.
How did you guys meet?
GORDON LAWRENCE: We met through mutual friends skateboarding. When we were, like, 16.
What’s the origin story of your band?
LAWRENCE: It was very natural. We started skating together, he played the drums, I played guitar… It was just kind of like, “Come over, let’s hang out.” We just went down to my basement one day and started playing and it went from there.
How did things formalize? What was your first gig?
Well, we used to practice so loud… I never thought I was going to be a singer, but I wrote the songs, so I started singing them, I guess. We used to practice so loud in my basement that I never actually heard myself sing – I had no idea what I sounded like. Anyway, we somehow got this show opening for Murphy’s Law at Trash Bar…
ISA: …On St. Patrick’s Day. Huge show. It was completely packed.
LAWRENCE: We were scared shitless because we thought it would be all these Skinheads and they were going to fucking kill us… I didn’t know what I sounded like singing and we had only practiced a couple times. When we first started playing we were all playing different songs at the same time. I got really, really mad, so I started kind of yelling and I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds alright. I guess I can sing like this.’ We found our sound onstage.
ISA: It went over pretty well. They loved us.
As an accidental frontman, were you nervous?
LAWRENCE: I don’t know if I would say I was nervous… It was more like, fuck it, let’s see what happens. We’re very much the kind of people who have to try something for ourselves. We’ll try anything once.
That mentality makes sense, given that you both skate.
LAWRENCE: There’s an element of chaos. We’ve gotten into fights onstage and broken shit. We’ve gotten banned from places. Sometimes people will come up to me afterwards and say, “Oh, was that planned?” People love that shit, but how could I have possibly planned that shit?
There are people who plan that shit, but it’s always obvious.
LAWRENCE: Yeah. We’re not one of these bands that goes onstage with a fucking MacBook. Once we were opening for one of those fucking bands that press play on their computer, and I refused to play before they got the fucking MacBook off the stage. I just knew I was going to smash that thing into a million pieces and I didn’t want to have to pay for it later.
Have you had any particularly unpleasant mishaps during a show?
LAWRENCE: Oh, plenty.
What sort of mishaps?
LAWRENCE: Name a show and some shit has happened. There has never been a Beechwood show without some gnarly drama. Whether we all come out of a bathroom at the same time and some bouncer decides that he doesn’t like what was going on in there and tries to kick us out before the show even starts or we get into a fight with the sound guy… it’s always something. But we’re completely innocent. We don’t go looking for that kind of shit, it just kind of happens.
ISA: We’re a dangerous band.
LAWRENCE: But whether people like us or not, they don’t forget us.
Where does the name Beechwood come from?
LAWRENCE: It’s the street I grew up on, and where we started rehearsing. It has nothing to do with the beach and nothing to do with surfing.
Where’s the street?
LAWERENCE: We grew up right over the Washington Bridge, on the Jersey side, but we basically grew up in the city. We lived close enough to skate over the bridge, so every day after middle school we’d hop on our boards, skate over and take the A train downtown. We were raised in the streets.
How did you get started playing music in the first place?
LAWRENCE: My dad got me a guitar when I was 11 and on our way home we stopped at a Tower Records on the way home and got the Ramones record Rocket to Russia. My hands were too small to play a bar chord, but my dad taught me how to play an A and an E and for like, two years I just knew how to play those two chords. I would play along to that Ramones record and wait for those two chords to come up.
What about you, ISA? Why drums?
ISA: Well, I had a drum set at my house. My dad’s a good drummer, so he got a drum set for whoever in the family was willing to sit on the seat and play. The drums are definitely an aggressive instrument. It’s an easy way to get your anger out.
I take it that since your parents gave you your first instruments, they were somewhat supportive of your musical aspirations?
ISA: My parents gave up on me as soon as I dropped out of high school.
LAWRENCE: It’s complicated…
Got it. Anyway, you don’t strike me as the sort of guys who would have a fallback plan.
LAWRENCE: There’s no “Plan B” for us – it’s been that way ever since I picked up a guitar and ever since he picked up drumsticks. Could I do other things? Sure. Would I kill myself? Probably.
So no day jobs, either.
LAWRENCE: We don’t even have apartments.
Where’s the gnarliest place you’ve slept in New York City?
ISA: On the sidewalk.
You dress really well for two dudes without jobs or apartments. How do you get all these cool clothes if you don’t have any money?
LAWRENCE: I don’t think either of us has paid for a single article of clothing in years. Everything we wear is stolen or given too us.
And the tattoos?
ISA: I’ve never paid for a tattoo.
Do you have girls coming up to you after shows to hit on you in hilarious ways?
LAWRENCE: For me, it’s not just girls, it’s guys too. People can’t tell whether I’m a boy or a girl a lot of the time.
ISA: You have no idea.
LAWRENCE: It happens all the fucking time. Just this week, some dudes fucking cornered me in a bathroom and got all aggressive. I don’t care if you’re gay or straight, it doesn’t make any difference to me, but if you’re going to corner me in a bathroom, you’re going to get fucking hit. I relate to women who complain about getting catcalls and guys getting aggressive. I’ve been called a bitch and a cunt, so I empathize with that shit.
With my short hair, I get a lot of, “Pardon me, sir,” when people approach me from behind.
LAWRENCE: When I go to a restaurant bathroom, I’ll get, “excuse me, that’s the men’s room.”
You must have some positive experiences at gigs, though.
LAWRENCE: Some girl came up to me after a show recently and told me, “When I was watching you, the only thing I could think of was sex.”
ISA: Every time I play a show, I know I’ll have somewhere to sleep that night [Laughs].
Do you guys ever fight?
LAWRENCE: We’ve known each other for a long time. Girls, drugs… we’ve been through everything you can possibly go through together. There have been times when we haven’t been talking, but we’re at the point now where our combined purpose as a band trumps any kind of personal shit. We can’t hurt each other any more than we already have.
ISA: We’re best friends and brothers, even when we hated each other.
Is there any advice you’d give your 16 –year-old selves?
LAWRENCE: Honestly, any advice anyone would have given me at that age I would have said “fuck off” to… At this age too, honestly.
ISA: I wouldn’t even take my own advice!
Through all the shit you’ve been through as friends and bandmates, what’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
ISA: He saved my life, in a way. I had a really fucked up childhood, which is alright, I’m just stating it. He came into my life at the perfect time to give me hope. Everyone just needs that one bit of hope to stay alive forever.
LAWRENCE: We were both lost. When we started playing music together, it was the first thing that really made sense.