William Beckmann photo credit: Tyler Conrad
William Beckmann Breaks New Ground With ‘Faded Memories’ EP
William Beckmann recently released his first EP, Faded Memories, which covers a wide range of musical ground, from Classic Country echoes, to electric undertones and Folk ballad flourishes. A number of things about the making of this EP and its sound break new ground for Beckmann. He was introduced to totally different recording methods, took different directions on some of the songs that had been part of his live set for a long time, and brought things even closer to home by exploring the sounds of his Texas-Mexico borderland roots. The latter is a direction he intends to pursue even more in future.
I spoke with Beckmann about the inclusion of the Springsteen classic, “I’m On Fire” with a Western slant, the hometown observations behind “30 Miles,” the long history behind “Bourbon Whiskey,” and the fairly wild local musical history hidden in the video for “In The Dark.”
Americana Highways: I know you had originally planned to work on these songs and release them pre-pandemic, so they’ve had a long development. Were they totally recorded by 2020?
William Beckmann: No, the plan was to go into the studio and release it from there, but that all got put on hold. The songs themselves ended up being recorded during covid. For a few of the songs, there were no other musicians in the studio, and it was just me and my Producer by ourselves, layering things like a full band. It was definitely a different approach to recording songs than what I’m used to.
AH: You had previously recorded songs in more of a live way, right?
WB: Correct. There were two songs on this EP that were not done that way, and that was the Bruce Springsteen cover, “I’m On Fire” and another song that I wrote, “30 Miles.”
AH: Were those songs already a part of your live set?
WB: Yes, they were, they just weren’t quite arranged yet, and we were able to do that in a studio in Springfield, Missouri. It was a really beautiful experience, because most of the time I’m recording in Nashville, which can get really expensive. There you’re always looking at the clock, and time is at the back of your mind, whereas the experience that I had with these songs working in Missouri wasn’t as expensive, so it really gave me the freedom to take my time with the project. That’s something I was grateful for. A lot of the vocals were done in Springfield, and I could really take my time and pick things apart.
AH: Is that something you’ll now seek out in future?
WB: Yes, because I think that for me, it’s the best way to work. Some musicians in Nashville are so good that they nail it in a couple of takes, and you blink, and it’s over. But when you take your time, you can let it all ferment and make changes if you want to. That was a big difference that I noticed.
AH: How did “I’m On Fire” become part of your act, and now part of the EP?
WB: I think we just started playing it in the studio, and didn’t intend to record it, but it just happened. It had been part of my live act as a classic song once in a while. I knew that if I was going to do it, it would have to be different in some way, with my own spin on it, so for the EP we tried to go for a Western kind of sound. We have a Western guitar on it, and I sang it in a more country style. It’s become one of my favorite songs to play and I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan.
AH: Your version brings out things in the song that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. It reminded me of something, that Springsteen has these roots as a Folk singer. How far back in time does “30 Miles” go for you?
WB: I want to say that I wrote that song in 2019. I grew up in Texas in a small town on the border of Mexico. Speaking of Springsteen, he’s kind of known for writing songs about small towns and the working man, but I’ve always loved growing up in a small town. There are so many small towns all over the country, and that’s really what the song is about. It’s about small town kids falling in love for the first time. They live a town away from each other, and one commutes every day to see the other.
It’s based off of a town that’s exactly 30 miles from my hometown, and every time I’d come back home to visit my parents, I’d pass that town, Brackettville, and then I’d see a sign that said, “Del Rio, 30 Miles,” which is my hometown. Then it would feel so long, counting down the last 30 miles. But I think it’s relatable because so many people have experienced small towns.
AH: It has an added dimension, too, because there are two perspectives in the song, the really youthful perspective, and the one that’s slightly older. I like the fact that the song doesn’t talk down to a young perspective, but considers it valid. Even in small towns, there’s a rate of change, and we can hear that too.
WB: Absolutely. The grass is always greener, and people leave, but then they want to go back. [Laughs] That remains one of my favorite songs. It’s a personal one and is a fun one for me. I’m always reminded of a James Taylor-esque song when I hear it, who I’m a big fan of.
AH: Also, having “30 Miles” on the EP might remind fans that your sound is pretty varied, since that song is more on the electric side of things.
WB: Yes, it is.
AH: The videos for “Bourbon Whiskey” and “In The Dark” take very different approaches. It is weird that I find the video for “Bourbon Whiskey” kind of funny?
WB: No, we were definitely trying to go for a little humor in there! I think there’s a lot of irony in that song, too. The whole point is that there’s this person whose significant other walks out on them and he doesn’t seem to be phased or care all that much, because he’s just going to get drunk with his friends. I wanted to have a slight smirk on my face the whole time, as if I didn’t care. That’s probably how he feels in that moment, but when he wakes up the next morning hung over, that will put a different spin on things. [Laughs]
It’s a song the crowds seem to love, and I’ve had that one a little longer, maybe from 2016 or 2017. I had that one when I moved to Nashville, and I was still in college. I’ve always had a fascination with traditional country records, and I still have a big vinyl collection. Inevitably, a lot of vinyl records that you come across in used record stores are these old classic country records from the 50s, 60s, and early 70s.
Over time, I’d gotten 40 or 50 different albums who had passed away, but I’d never heard of them. I went through a classic country phase and set out to write a song that emulates that era of music, and that’s what “Bourbon Whiskey” stems from. I remember thinking that a lot of those songs talked about the same things, which was getting drunk, or getting your heart broken and having your woman walk out on you. I decided to combine the two topics there!
AH: The mood and the sound of the song are both really distinctive. Were you trying to capture a classic sound?
WB: When I first wrote it, I don’t think I did. It took me a while to develop that sound, which is what you ultimately hear on the record. I have old recordings of the song, and on them, I don’t sound anything like I sound now. I think I was still trying to find my voice. I’m glad I didn’t put it out back then. I think it sounds much more mature and seasoned now.
AH: A really cool effect in the video, by the way, is when the other people appear to be in slow-motion and you’re not.
WB: It’s really funny that you mention that, because that was really difficult to film! [Laughs] In order to slow down the speed of the filming, the song itself had to be sped up twice as fast, so that my lip-synching would match up. It was definitely an interesting experience. We had to do the song a few different times. But a lot of my friends showed up as extras and we had a good time.
AH: For “In The Dark,” I noticed that the lyrics are very pared down and pretty universal feeling. Is that something you work towards when you’re writing lyrics?
WB: When I’m writing a song about a relationship, for instance, I try to keep it as universal as possible in that it could be applied to a female perspective or a male perspective. That’s something that I consciously did when writing that song.
AH: That’s a really cool approach, and it’s a great idea to think that way. “In The Dark” also leaves specific details out.
WB: Yes, I wanted that to be a song of longing, about someone who’s lost something and can’t really get over it. I had envisioned this person stuck in a room and talking about this other person from a very distant place. That’s really where that song came from, trying to follow that character and what might be going through someone’s head who feels abandoned.
AH: That’s exactly what you ended up being able to do for the video, so that must have been a good feeling.
WB: We had a really good time filming that video. I had this idea of me being well put together, wearing a suit, with my hair combed back, and then as the video progresses, the tie comes off, the hair gets disheveled, and I look like a wreck. We actually ended up filming it my hometown in Del Rio at a place called the Brinkley Mansion. The person who built that house in the 1920s was kind of a crazy guy. He as a doctor who wasn’t really a doctor, and lived his life with a fake medical license.
He had a lot of money and was also the guy who built “The Border Blaster,” which was the biggest radio station in the world at that time. In order to bypass the US laws, he built the station on the other side of the border in Mexico, but it reached 150,000 watts. You could hear it all over the country in the 1930s and 1940s.
That was really how the Carter family and a lot of the early country records got played and heard. The house is a historic landmark, and it was built during the prohibition, so it has all these crazy trapdoors where he would hide his liquor. There’s a scene in the video where there’s a trapdoor with whiskey behind it. That house definitely feels like it could tell a lot of stories.
AH: In the video, it feels both very opulent and somehow edgy and uncomfortable at the same time.
WB: Yes, and the bathroom scene is very trippy to me because of the colors of the tiles. It’s very vibrant compared to the rest of the video.
AH: Regarding the song, it does have an interesting circular motion to it, like the person feels trapped, but then it changes and breaks out a little at the end, in the last line or two. It feels like a revelation which makes for an interesting song structure.
WB: One of the things I’m most proud of about that song is the melody. The guitar part’s a very interesting, intricate guitar lick that I sort of stumbled upon. It remains a very fun song to play live because of that structure.
AH: Will you be playing the songs from the EP coming up?
WB: Yes, we will. A lot of the songs that have already been released have people singing along, which is a new experience for me. I’ve never really played to people and had them sing the songs back to me. It’s a great thing to experience. We have a lot more to be looking forward to.
Discover more about William Beckmann, here: https://www.williambeckmann.com