Interview: Beardyman

Beardyman has been on our radar for quite some time now. He reminded us of the kid in the playground that could make machine gun sounds with their voice, or the popular Donald Duck impersonator at the back of class. As far as artists go, we were intrigued. Being able to create inhumane sounds with the human voice-box is a rare talent, and the master of this art is Darren Foreman, a.k.a Beardyman. With nearly 30 million views on his YouTube channel, and a new album recently released, Foreman looks to be going places.

Impact gave him a ring just to see how he manages to string together the man, the music and the machine.

Impact: You recorded ‘Distractions’, your latest album, entirely on your new piece of kit the ‘Beardytron 5000 mkIII’ – could you tell us about how it was made and why you decided to make it? Is it wholly better than your previous machines?

Beardyman: Yes. It is markedly better than my live rig that I had previously for loads of reasons. I got really fed up with the way that my shows sounded and with the content that I was putting in them. It was very much covers/band entity, which was sort of because of the equipment I had.

[quote]I got really fed up with the way that my shows sounded and with the content that I was putting in them[/quote]

I started off as a beatboxer in 2005. I found it hard to break away from the character that I originally developed and the show I had come to deliver. The rush and recognition that covers give an audience was something I came to rely on. Where the quality and richness of my music lacked, I made up for it with injections of comedy and excitement – it probably would have been better without the goofiness. I was getting more and more frustrated with this one dimensional act that I could see myself becoming. What I had really wanted to do all along was to get up on stage with little or no idea of what I wanted to do and just perform whatever came to my head at the time. In many shows, I tried only to do original music, which sometimes worked, but the technology restricted my work. So I ditched all of it – every single piece of electric technology I was using went in the bin.

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I was then forced to take time out to work on new stuff. I had lots of material that people never got to hear, and machinery kept glitching and breaking – as a result, I managed to find three of the world’s best software developers and got them to work for me – they made me a completely new system from scratch. I did the odd show/limited touring with this material to test things out, and during that time I was making my new album with this new piece of kit. I didn’t want to stylistically set any parameters. With the new rig, I can start a beat and go from there.

[quote]I managed to find three of the world’s best software developers and got them to work for me – they made me a completely new system from scratch.[/quote]

Comparing this to my previous album, it was deliberately more fun than it was good. Some parts of it were regrettably goofy. I look back at it and think, yes, parts were funny, but also pretty silly. I wanted to be entertaining more than I wanted to be making stuff of quality – but that should always have been the focus.

This time I did things differently – I didn’t come up with any concepts for the tracks (the first album was very much concept led – with Tom Middleton – we set strategies for each track). It’s been a consummate pursuit to make some music nowadays with no predetermined ideas. Most of the shows are going really, really well at the moment, with the occasional cover, but not too many. When I was at Sankeys in Manchester the other day, I did a funky house tune kind of thing, and then that Kaiser tune popped into my head, but only a little remix version which was very much my own interpretation. I like the idea that people are coming to my shows knowing that they will hear some of the stuff from my latest album, but the main reason I want people to come to my shows is to they have no idea what they will hear – so it is as exciting for the artist as it is to you. So it could go from one thing to another – some hard rock to drum and bass, or from ghetto tech to weird atmospheric shit. If I try it and it doesn’t work, I’ll just stop and do something else. I love the spontaneity of live gigs. Making music that sounds like it is coming from a DJ but is actually coming from spontaneous decisions on the tools in front me is fun –  I can tweak every aspect of every single instrument in the tune, as well as doing what DJs do (crossfade, mix etc.)

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I: With the improvisation/spontaneity, obviously it’s exciting for you and the audience – but have you ever had a moment where you’ve come stuck/don’t know what to play? If not, how do you always have something to cover? Do you listen to all different types of music?

B: I try to listen to as much music as I can – try to listen to latest developments in genres. In a way, there’s sort of nothing new under the sun – some things are speeded up versions of other things/stripped down versions of other things, genres combine and morph to make new sounds. It’s never a massive stretch to recreate any genre. The only challenge is when music gets more complicated – about the most complicated music has ever got is the sort of Skrillex led brostep/EDM type fidget-step stuff that was being made and was really big a couple of years ago. That was the most complex, commercially viable music I’ve ever heard, and for a while I thought it was going to be the most predominant genre of music, so I tooled up so I could cover it if needed. If I can do things like this, then I can easily work backwards – complex sounds of Disclosure are hard, but it is not a huge stretch – I prefer to generate a couple of new genres rather than replicate already made ones. For example, I could start with House, then speed it up to get ghetto tech, or slow down drum and bass to get another genre.

I: It all sounds quite serious compared to the old stuff, what about the One Album per Hour project? Is that the comic release? Are you still a comedian as well?

I don’t think I ever really was a comedian. I did try and do a little bit of stand up for a while, but it didn’t feel particularly natural. I would maybe like to delve into it, but not for my career. I used to go around small comedy nights as different characters, or with no plans – such as making weird noises at microphones and see what happened. Standing there with a mic was a good way to generate material.

However if you’re a comedian you need to be dedicated to that shit. Life’s hard anyway, and if you want people to seriously laugh then you need to be committed. I think I am too much of a serious fucking cunt to be a comedian. I did the Edinburgh festival, Montréal festival – I have done comedy stuff. Shows should be fun, even if they’re serious. Even the most dour, ITV cock-drama will have moments of levity in it, as will the goofiest Hollywood drama have a sad moment in it. There’s a weird false distinction between things that are comedy and things that aren’t. I will never be a comedian in that sense. I am by default a goofy motherfucker, and find it hard to keep a straight face – I’m the one that giggles at funerals. That’s me. I’m taking the music side incredibly seriously now. I’m making sure my music speaks a certain truth and has a certain quality. What will the crowd go away remembering? What will get them geed up the most?

You won’t find me doing as much crowd hyping as much.

The one album per hour thing was too much on the comedy side. It was supposed to be what it says on the tin – me and however the guest producer was making an album in an hour. It ended up being a show, and I wanted it to be more of the cameras being there and watching something happen. It will always be enjoyable and funny, but the real focus is the music.

I: What is with the new album artwork? It’s pretty creepy.

Well… most of the drum beats in the soundtrack were made by crushed up beetles. Each beat is the sound of a beetle being killed. Pretty sure they were alive when they were crushed. That’s completely true.

So there we have it. Light has been shed on Beardyman and his new musical direction. From the Beardytron to beetle-crushing, it is clear that Foreman knows not just his field, but others too. For an artist who thrives off spontaneity and live performance, a wide scope of musical knowledge is imperative. But on top of the seriousness, the excitement element of his shows reflects that Beardyman was definitely that fascinating kid in the playground (without the facial hair).

 Will McCartney

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