From The Desk Of Beachwood Sparks: “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” (Or How I Got Here)

They burned brightly, but briefly. Now, they have rekindled the flame. For Beachwood Sparks, the metaphor is all too easy and all too apt. The band’s discography is succinct: two albums, plus an EP and a few singles. There wasn’t much, but there was something indelible about those records. They took the cosmic American music of the Flying Burrito Brothers and Byrds, added the bittersweet sounds of middle-period Beach Boys and Sister Lovers Big Star, then turned them into a sun-dappled, dreamy, psychedelic brand of alt-country. But by 2002, Beachwood had run its course, and the group disbanded amicably, five years after it formed. Now a decade later, Beachwood Sparks—guitarists Farmer Dave Scher and Chris Gunst, bassist Brent Rademaker and drummer Aaron Sperske—is back with The Tarnished Gold (Sub Pop). The quartet will also be guest editing magnet all week. Read our new feature on the band.

Rademaker: Born-again Christians, an alcoholic’s moment of clarity, your first kiss … all life changing events. When you combine two of these types of events at once, you get a perfect storm. (I hate that phrase.) In the summer of 1989, living Monkees-style with my brother, bandmates and best friend Pete Kinne in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles, such an even took place. I took my first (and only) LSD trip and discovered my favorite record; simultaneously! Upon returning home from our usual Tuesday-night revelry at an Irish pub in Hollywood playing folk/rock, Pete handed me a tab of paper so small I could barely see it. “Put it on your tongue,” he said. Oh, I get it now … Tripping on LSD at 3 a.m. in a crowded house like ours meant we were relegated to the kitchen with only a boombox, a table, two chairs and a gallon of orange juice. I quickly went to my room (a converted breakfast-nook) and grabbed a handful of cassettes. Enter The Notorious Byrd Brothers LP by the Byrds. I had bought it for a buck a few years earlier in Tampa but hadn’t listened to it yet. From the moment I pressed play, I was hooked (not on the acid; I never tripped again) but on this album.

“Artificial Energy” came blasting out, and as the horns blared they turned the tiny speakers into gold bells of trumpets. “And I’m in jail cause I killed a queen”—what the heck did that mean? Who cares, it was tough sounding and it pulls you into the story. From there on you get set upon a journey of natural harmony (“Natural Harmony”) and the innocence of youth (“Goin’ Back”). A peaceful teenager becomes a reluctant soldier (“Draft Morning”). Flying down nature’s highway on our imaginary Easy Rider choppers (“Wasn’t Born To Follow”). We flew to London and felt years of yearning to be there become a reality (“Get To You”). Shoot, that was only side one! I don’t remember flipping the tape as much as I do coming to the realization that “I love country music” (“Old John Robertson”). “Change Is Now,” for sure. That night we really felt like we became honorary Southern Californians; maybe it was time to explore this coast for all it had to offer. After being smiled at by a dolphin (“Dolphins Smile”) and sent straight to outer space, we came to from our odyssey the next morning out on Zuma Beach. How did we get there? Who knows? All I knew was that things would never be the same. And they weren’t.

It wasn’t the acid. It was The Notorious Byrd Brothers, a record that I came to love so much that I started our band (Beachwood Sparks) with my friends and set out to make ourselves and others feel the same magic feeling you get when listening to it. If you have heard our first two albums, then you will know. We owe everything to this record, and if you love our music you need to go to the source. I really didn’t know who played and sang what or how high it got in the charts. Why are there only three guys and horse on the cover” (See: 33 1/3’s The Notorious Byrd Brothers by Ric Menck on Continumm Books; it’s fantastic.) But first do yourself a favor and pick up one of the many reissues, find a secondhand LP or cassette or if you own it go into your collection and revisit it. They might not have called it “country rock” or “cosmic American music,” but they invented it right there and changed our world forever. And that is how I got here.

Video after the jump.