Tuesday, January 18, 2011


"When I grew up, I was a daydreamer. I didn’t like what I knew. I liked what I didn’t have."
Zach Condon, is following the time honored tradition of taking diverse musical influences (such as  Marching Bands, Indie Rock, French Chanson and Balkan brass) to forge a new style.  It takes a brave young soul to think outside the box and develop something totally different in this day and age.  Given the dominance of the airwaves by the technology enhanced spawns of American Idol. Condon's instrument of change is Beirut, a cast of musicians, mostly from Albuquerque and Santa Fe.  Upon listening to Beirut, you might think that the young Mr. Condon grew up listening to Eastern Bloc or French radio stations under the covers at night. However that's not the case, Zach was quoted in an interview: "I grew up on the Beatles and the Beach Boys and Van Morrison and even Bruce Springsteen. They’re part of my musical vocabulary." Condon's music defies definition, it's a combination of band geek cool, Stephin Merritt-style vocals and Balkan folk music.
Zach Condon was born in Albuquerque, raised in Virginia and went to Santa Fe High School. In 2003 he dropped out to travel around Europe with his older brother, Ross, also a musician (he's the drummer for Brooklyn trio, Total Slacker)  It was then that he was first exposed to Balkan folk music.  Upon his return to New Mexico, he started composing the music that would eventually make up Beirut's debut album "Gulag Orkestar."  Zach enrolled at Santa Fe Community College and then Albuquerque TV-I,  he would drop out of both schools. In the meantime he continued working on the tracks with most of the recording taking place in his bedroom. Condon then enlisted Jeremy Barnes (Neutral Milk Hotel) and Heather Trost (Foma) to assist him in the final stages of the recording process.  Barnes and Trost would also become early members of Beirut, before pursuing a similar euro-influenced style as A Hawk and A Hacksaw.  Zach by now enrolled at The University of New Mexico, would literally stop in his tracks and walk out of school when he received word that Bada-Bing records was signing him to a recording contract.  "Gulag Orkestar" was released in May of 2006,  Condon recruited musicians from New Mexico for a series of concert appearances in New York City, thus Beirut was launched.  His NYC debut at The Knitting Factory in front of 200 plus music bloggers got off to a shaky start, but the group made it through that ordeal with their confidence unshaken.  Zach described the album's success: "It's doing well; it's totally taking off," adding "I even quit my day job."  The album's release led to a heavy tour schedule and another trip to Europe.  In January of 2007, Beirut released a limited edition ep "Lon Gisland"  it included five songs, including a reworking of `Scenic World.' Beirut continued to tour on both sides of the Atlantic, having grown into a large collective, the core of which consists of; Zach Condon - trumpet/flugelhorn/ukulele, Perrin Cloutier - accordion/cello, Nick Petree - drums/percussion, Paul Collins - electric bass/upright bass, Kelly Pratt trumpet/ french horn/glockenspiel, Ben Lanz - trombone/tuba, Jared van Fleet - piano,  Jason Poranski- string instruments. 
The follow up album would reflect Condon's time in Paris and his interest in singers Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg and Yves Montand, as well as his interest in French film.   "The Flying Club Cup"  was recorded at an Albuquerque dance studio previously owned by Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost.  The recordings were then finished at Arcade Fire's studio in Montreal,Canada.  The album was released in 2007 to near unanimous critical acclaim.  The release was followed by another round of intense touring, which led to Zach being hospitalized for exhaustion in April of 2008.  He would describe the experience during an interview with Pitchfork:  "It’s super, super intense on the body and mind to be on tour — you get to the point where you lose track of time and space, You lose track of reality."  This would lead to the cancellation of the European leg of the "Flying Club Cup" tour.  Zach reflected on the down time: "I can change some things, reinvent some others, and come back at some point with a fresh perspective and batch of songs."  What followed in 2009, was the double EP "March of the Zapotec/Holland"  One ep "March of the Zapotec was recorded in Oaxaca, Mexico with a seventeen piece brass band, that was actually a funeral band sponsored by a local church. Condon incorporated music he recorded at home with that recorded in Mexico in the final mix.  The other ep "Holland" was credited to RealPeople, Zach's pre-Beirut, pre-Balkan music, electronic project.  Although it resulted that the tracks on the ep were new compositions and not from the "The Joy of Losing Weight" his highly sought after bedroom recordings.
Zach Condon has done well for one so young, he who was influenced by so many, is now an influence himself.  When I first read about "Beirutando" I assumed someone had hacked Beirut's Wikipedia page and planted this preposterous story. However once I delved further into the subject (checked out some YouTube videos) I discovered that it's true.  The inclusion of Beirut's song "Elephant Gun" as the theme music for a Brazilian television mini-series apparently inspired musicians across Brazil and Lima,Peru to cover Condon's songs.  This culminated in an event called  "Beirutando na Praca" on August 30th 2009, when bands in Brazil and Lima took to the streets and performed their own version of Beirut's songs.  It sounds crazy, it's almost surreal, Zach Condon is just as dumbfounded as everyone else: “It’s pretty intense. South America was the last place I ever thought of it becoming popular. It’s weird that it caught on and I’m trying to figure out why. What spoke to them that I didn’t realize would?”