Imagine you’re in the middle of a swirling storm, the winds are circling around you, and the forces of nature feel like they’re propelling you forward and it’s impossible to stop. The feeling is exhilarating, and it’s like a rush you’ve never experienced before and then everything just stops. For Beabadoobee, that’s what 2020 has been like so far as her unstoppable rise to indie rock superstardom in a year that started slaying arenas supporting The 1975 ground to a halt. Now though fortunately the winds are picking back up and the sedate calm is about to be broken as she throws herself back into the hurricane. It’s an altogether disorienting, but thrilling feeling.
“It was very up and down,” she begins as she describes her experience waiting to release her hugely anticipated debut album ‘Fake It Flowers’. “I’d been getting used to the attention around me both bad and good. I’d been growing into my skin a bit and getting used to it, but it’s still super overwhelming. It’s strange that I’m really glad that lockdown happened because I think if I went on tour this year I honestly wasn’t ready for that. I’m glad that I had this time at home to spend with my family and spend time with my boyfriend and fix the relationships that I left behind when I was on tour. I was just more happy with myself, and being at home helped with that.”
“There are a lot of butterflies, and there’s a lot of manic-ness,” she continues as she counts down to the album release. “There’s also a lot of waking up at 7am and smoking too much weed,” she laughs. “It’s all part of it, and it’s getting me more excited. I’ve come to the point where I don’t give a fuck anymore. I just want it out right now. I don’t care what people think about it. If my mum likes it, then that’s good for me.”
The journey to the cusp of releasing her debut album for Bea has been one characterised by both personal and musical discovery. She swiftly learned to play guitar once her dad bought her one but that wasn’t her first instrument.
“I played violin for seven years. That eased my way into playing guitar,” she explains. “I’ve gotten so traumatised by it,” she laughs. No wonder, it’s bloomin’ hard. “My mum made me play violin every day after I got home from school until my fingers bled. It was really intense, and I feel like my mind just rejects it now,” she adds.
While the experience of relentlessly learning one of the hardest instruments was a mild trauma, for Bea the experience of growing up in West London after her family moved from the Philippines in 2000 was sometimes a difficult one as she craved people who shared the same ideas and passions as her. She found solace in the music she loved and the friends she made who have shaped her into Beabadoobee. “I struggled growing up, and if I hadn’t found my amazing group of friends, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she says.
Music became a cathartic release for Bea as she progressed through her teens. It was a way to channel all her feelings in a positive direction. “‘Coffee’ was the first song I’d ever written and I was like, this is really fun, this is a great outlet, and it’s better than all the other stuff I do if I’m sad,” she remembers. “It was making me mentally better, and that made me want to do more music.” She distils it down into a very simple principle. “People like it, AND it makes me feel better about myself? Great!”
The voyage of musical discovery that Bea embarked upon primarily involved immersing herself in the alternative rock scene of the early 90s. From alt-rock legends like Sonic Youth, Pixies and Smashing Pumpkins to the more experimental sounds of shoegazers like My Bloody Valentine, Bea was taking it all in. You can hear it on the musical progression from ‘Loveworm’ to ‘Space Cadet’, the two EPs last year that acted as signposts on the journey to a full album.
“I was experimenting with sounds on ‘Loveworm’. I didn’t have a band then. I got a producer called Pete, he’s amazing, and he kind of brought the songs to life and introduced me to these amazing sounds. I was just discovering music as I went.”
Things were moving swiftly for Bea, and ‘Space Cadet’s’ riotous amped up blue-haired glammy exuberance saw her reach a new peak. Little did she know at the time, only 18 or so months ago, that everything would switch up again. “During ‘Space Cadet’ I was so sure that this is me, this is who I am, and this is the music I’m going to make forever,” she reveals. “I wrote ‘Fake It Flowers’ and then realised I have no idea who I am.”
‘Fake It Flowers’ marks a culmination and a revelation. It is the sound of Bea moving beyond her earliest influences into being inspired by music with even greater resonance on an emotional level. She found herself deeply immersed in the music of pioneering women across alternative music who were all making music that rippled with energy, relatability and a fearless passion. Bands like 90s grunge icons Veruca Salt and classic alternative singer-songwriters.
“Veruca Salt specifically really inspired ‘Fake It Flowers’ as well as all these amazing women like Alanis Morrisette and Suzanne Vega,” says Bea. “I grew up with that sound as my mum used to play it in the background during my childhood. I either copied specific things like, oh, that guitar sounds super sick I’m taking that, or it just threaded its way within my music without me even realising. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Artists like Alanis helped Bea come to a meeting point between rage and melody, sweetness and coarseness and quiet/loud that all merge to intoxicating effect on ‘Fake It Flowers’. Perhaps the most striking thing on the album though is Bea’s words and the on the nose directness that makes it so compelling.
“The main theme of the album is essentially everything I was supposed to tell someone but couldn’t,” she explains of its contents. “It was like a letter that never got sent. That means every song is pretty personal. A couple of songs are stories I’ve heard from other people that inspired me to write, but most of the songs are very true to life. They’re like diary entries. They’re very close to the bone.”
So, how does she come up with these raw slices of indie rock storytelling? “It’s just brain vomit. Straight from my mouth,” she laughs. “I was always just not very good at the whole metaphor thing. I just want to get straight to the point. Especially hearing Kimya Dawson from The Moldy Peaches’ lyrics and how raw they were. That inspired me to write music that is just unapologetic.”
To emphasise just how unapologetic she is, she shouts out a message bold and true: “YEAH, I’M SAD, LISTEN TO ME WHINE”. It’s an approach that’s bratty and brilliant and full of attitude.
The process of writing the abum and revisiting some dark times of feeling alone, abandoned or undervalued was reflective for Bea and worked as a form of emotional release. “It definitely helped getting things off my chest,” she says. “It’s like what you do in therapy where you talk about your feelings. That’s what I do with music. It’s like a therapy session. I write all my feelings down on paper and sing it to a crowd. The part that makes me feel uncomfortable is forgetting that so many people are going to be listening to it and are going to know my life. What makes me ok with that is if at least one person can relate to a lyric of mine and think this is a situation that I’m going through that makes everything so much more worth it. Not only is it helping me, but it’s genuinely helping other people. It’s good to be honest if it does that.”
Bea recognises that much the same way as she looked up to her alt heroes and found salvation in their music people will now relate to her and hopefully feel the same way. “I’m a 20-year-old girl who has the same problems as other girls. There are loads of girls who are going through the same things I am, so it’s nice to be that person who says this happened, but it’s all good.”
The importance of inspiring other like-minded people is something that Bea regularly comes back to. It’s a record that acts as a clarion call to her generation: “It’s ok to be loud, it’s ok to be sad, it’s ok to be a bitch, it’s ok to whine when you’re angry or sad. If I inspire one girl to play guitar, to rock out and to listen to ‘Fake It Flowers’, then I’m doing something right.”
“We need togetherness, especially during this weird time,” she continues.”I feel like ‘Fake It Flowers’ is the perfect album to just dance in your bedroom too on really sad lonely nights. That’s what I do when I listen to Veruca Salt, and I feel shit, and it’s late at night, and I have my headphones in while dancing in my pants in front of my mirror. It’s great for your endorphins. It’s a great excuse to get really happy, and I want ‘Fake It Flowers’ to be that album.”
While the first half of this year saw everything shut down in a weird stasis, Bea did manage to be productive with some cool things in the pipeline. She also found time to squirrel away in a house in Oxford with her band and Matty and George from The 1975 to make music, so there are obviously exciting things afoot. Hopefully, in time live shows again will come.
“I feel like ‘Fake It Flowers’ will shine the most being played out on stage,” says Bea as she yearns to bring the confidence she found on those January arena shows to her own headlining sets. For now, though, she’s back riding the storm, ready to deliver the album her whirlwind teenage experience has led up to.
There are no half measures on the record. There are no cop-outs. This is Beabadoobee unfiltered doing what she wants and saying what she wants. “It’s all found in the song ‘Care’,” she sums up. “That encapsulates the whole meaning I’m the album – you don’t care, but I’m going to tell you anyway.”
Taken from the November issue of Dork. Beabadoobee’s album ‘Fake It Flowers’ is out now.
Words: Martyn Young