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Beachheads: Singing Their Sorrow

Tuesday, 31 January 2017 Written by Alec Chillingworth

You’re in a band called Kvelertak. You play an unholy concoction of black metal and classic rock. Your lead singer wears an owl on his head every night. Surely, at some point, you’re gonna have to fishbowl the whole operation and realise there might be more to this whole rock ‘n’ roll thing. Something simpler, perhaps.

For Marvin Nygaard and Vidar Landa, that something more evaded their gaze for some time as it surfed further into the distance on a board sculpted from melody. But it’s starting to come back into focus with the help of their new band, Beachheads. The duo, Kvelertak’s bassist and guitarist respectively, pulled the group together alongside vocalist Børild Haughom and drummer Espen Kvaløy – both locals from  Kvelertak’s hometown, Stavanger – because they wanted to make more music.

Not because they wanted to make a conscious decision to challenge preconceived notions of themselves as metal musicians or any of that bollocks, just because they wanted to make more music. It just so happened that they eventually arrived at the crossroads of punk rock and power-pop.

“Me and Marvin have been friends for a long time and we’ve been in bands together before Kverlertak,” says Landa, heroically jumping into the interview last minute as it appears Nygaard is, er, asleep. “We were hanging out, like, 24/7 on tour with Kvelertak, so it was just natural for us to work on other stuff. We were always up late at night just listening to music together, sending new bands and songs to each other. We both listen to so much other stuff [besides metal] that we just decided to sit down and try out some songs we had. It took quite a long time to find our common ground, musically, in the punk bands and power-pop bands like the Replacements.”

Beachheads do take cues from the Replacements and Descendents, but they also pull sunshine-drenched guitar lines from Weezer’s strings and a shot of the scuzzy, garage-bound racket of early Johnossi. Over 12 songs on their self-titled debut record, Beachheads explore their sound on a rickety rollercoaster that never strays too far from the tracks. But when it does, it’s a pleasant shock.

As, while you’ve got Monologues’ punked-up, surfy pace and Una’s doo-woppy wooziness, real sorrow surges through the LP. That’s largely down to Haughom. A sometime Kvelertak merch guy and ex-singer of a synth-pop band, he was drafted because, when trying out for the band, he “started singing some gibberish and it sounded great”. Everything was tip-top. Then, as the band flew through their infancy and started piecing demos together, Haughom’s father passed away.

“There are three or four songs on the record that represent Børild’s grieving process,” Landa says. “He needs the lyrics to be personal. I think he finds it hard to write about something that doesn’t really mean anything. It definitely gives the record a bit of depth. A bit of weight. There’s more to it than just catchy melodies.”

This is undoubtedly Haughom’s album. Every twist and turn pushes him towards the marching Procession. “My body’s shaking when they lower you into the ground,” he sings. This is a man clearly grieving, trying to find light in the shade. That’s the whole album, basically, and it’s way more than just a surf’s up, sun’s out soundtrack. Its nature is apparent in the band’s name, too.

“Beachheads was cool because people think of a sunny beach, which goes with the power-pop, but it’s also a tactical war weapon,” Landa says. “It represents the bright sound but the band has those serious undertones. Also, we’d tried so many names but all the cool band names are already taken.”

Nygaard and Landa wrote the majority of the album’s material, always bringing it to the rehearsal space for consideration and additions. “It’s important that the songs are finished by the band, even if the song begins as one guy’s idea,” Landa says. “Everybody gets their input so it feels like a real band.”

Ah, yes. The ‘band’ feel. Even if two members of Kvelertak more than bolster Beachheads’ credibility, it was never really supposed to be seen that way. “We tried to keep it under the radar in the beginning, because the worst thing I could think of is that people would like the band because there’s members of a known band in it,” Landa says, and he’s right. We’ve all done it.

“There’s so much shitty music out there, I didn’t want anyone approaching the band and building it up to be something more – we wanted it to actually be good enough. So we just put our first song on Soundcloud and didn’t do a press release or anything – the day after, Norway’s national commercial radio station picked it up and played it for about half a year.”

And it doesn’t feel like ‘Two Guys From Kvelertak Plus Randomers’, rather a collective of mates who just wanted to jam and suddenly realised, ‘wait, this is too good to keep under wraps’. And it is. It’s not like they’ve redefined the power-pop landscape or anything, but Beachheads have made 12 really, really catchy songs. The quality control’s there, too. Give Me Some Love originally included a saxophone solo, which was omitted during mixing because it was deemed “a bit too much”.

That willingness to experiment is what got Beachheads going in the first place, though. Kvelertak are a weird band at the best of times and their fans are willing to accept that, but even they had a bit of a tantrum when ‘Nattesferd’, released last year, stripped away a lot of the ‘black’ from the black ‘n’ roll the band are famous for. It’s a move that pre-empted Beachheads and is proof that this isn’t just some sort of cynical cash-grab.

“’Nattesferd’ had all these anthems, and all the hardcore underground people who only like black metal talked shit about that,” Landa reflects. “But most people are into Kvelertak for what it is, and it’s the same approach we had for Beachheads – it just sounds good. [The guys in Kvelertak] heard Beachheads and they’re pretty stoked about it, but we’re friends, so you just have to trust that’s what they actually think.”

But, seeing as this album’s popped up during Kvelertak’s off-time, it seems very much a side-project demanding to be something more. Aside from a small Norwegian tour which started earlier this month, Beachheads have no concrete plans following the album’s release.

“I mean, Kverlertak is our full-time job,” Landa concludes. “With Beachheads, we put in the same amount of passion, and we’re just as serious about it as we are Kvelertak, and it’s a band we’ll continue releasing records with and playing with for years to come. I don’t see it as a side-project because it’s as much Børild’s band, too. It’s finding time to tour that’s difficult, because Kvelertak has to take priority there.”

So will we actually get anything more from Beachheads apart from this album? In a refreshingly bizarre twist, Kvelertak, the extreme metal band with a singer who wears an owl on his head, happens to be the more commercially viable option for Nygaard and Landa. Once Beachheads’ debut thaws out your ears, though, maybe that’ll change and the two bands can afford to run in tandem. Fingers crossed.

​'Beachheads' is out on February 3 through Fysisk Format.


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