Hard-charging rock quartet’s debut meant to sound like it’s clad in leather and denim
If there's any doubt that the members of Beggars don't take themselves too seriously, it's obliterated moments into Spitting Venom. The debut full-length from the hard-hitting four-piece — the first non-compilation LP released on new local imprint ColumbusBlood Records — opens with a snippet of dialogue spoken by actor Tom Berenger in the comedy “Major League.” “I guess there's only one thing left to do,” he says. “Win the whole fucking thing.”
It's a fitting intro. While the bandmates approach songs with deathly efficiency — tracks are tightly arranged and packed with intricate, finger-cramping metal riffs, adrenalized punk-rock drum fills and larynx-shredding vocals — the music maintains a loose, swaggering attitude shaped by lyrics that veer from the fantastical (warlocks) to the all-too-real (getting drunk, attempting to talk to women and inevitably going home alone).
“There are all these bands where the lyrics are super serious, and they don't smile when their pictures are taken and they're all scowl-y and dark,” said singer/guitarist Jordan Mitchell, who joined guitarist Andrew Dolan for a mid-November interview (bassist Ben Ridgway and drummer Alex Skaggs round out Beggars' current lineup). “I always liked [Black] Sabbath and [Ronnie James] Dio, so I was like, ‘Why not just make it a little fantastical [and] a little party hearty.' … I just wanted to keep it light and fun and on the surface, and play some sick riffs over it. When it comes to the lyrics … we're not U2. I'm not Bono. We're not saving the world. We're just trying to party, so it should sound like we're wearing leather and denim.”
This whiskey-swigging, leather-clad feel bled over into sessions with producer and longtime band friend Jacob Wright, who recorded the album as part of a graduation thesis needed to complete his studies at Capital University. (Recording sessions took place both at Capital and at Oranjudio Recording Studio in Grandview.)
Dolan, for one, admitted to getting “blackout drunk” before recording most of his guitar work, in part to capture the ripping, booze-addled feel of the quartet's shows (“I looked at it like, ‘This is how I would like people to consume the record,'” he said), and in part to mask his perfectionist leanings.
“I think I have a tendency to overthink things, so it's easier for me to get drunk and say, ‘Next song!'” said Dolan, who joins his bandmates for a record release show at Ace of Cups on Friday, Nov. 24. “If you halfway flub a note when you're playing live, by the time your brain is even processing it, that moment is already gone. If you do that [same thing] in the studio and then listen back to it, it's like, ‘Fuck.'”
Mitchell, for his part, employed an elaborate routine prior to recording his vocals. He'd avoid cigarettes, drink a cup of coffee and smoke a little weed (“But not too much weed,” he cautioned) before setting foot in the booth. And, even then, the first take generally served as a warm-up. “I had to get in there and holler a little bit and then it was like, ‘OK. Let's do it again because I'm ready now,'” he said.
“It's this weird mindset you have to be in, and it has to have a lot of energy,” Mitchell continued. “You have to wear the right shoes, take your shirt off and just fucking go for it.”
The freewheeling sessions ranged from loose and fun to occasionally tension-filled. “There were sessions that fell apart where we all hated each other,” Mitchell said. “It was worst when we were all together because there was so much 'tude in one room.”
But this 'tude proved essential to cuts such as the appropriately hard-charging “Let's Rage” and “To Hell and Back,” which opens with a riff that could land in an advanced level of “Guitar Hero” and then devolves into a primal, rumbling, balled fist of a rocker worthy of the likes of Motorhead.
It's the kind of track the band members were not capable of recording when Mitchell, Dolan and Skaggs, then in their early 20s, first gathered in the attic of Dolan's home in 2010 (Ridgway joined the fold “three or four” years ago, replacing the group's original bassist).
“It's definitely gone through an evolution. We smoked more weed back then, so songs were a lot longer [and] stoner groovy,” said Dolan, who always envisioned Beggars as a landing spot for the more aggressive types of music he enjoyed, particularly punk and metal.
“At first, I didn't have the chops to play metal,” Mitchell said. “I could play some chords and yell, but I was really just there. And then we evolved as musicians from there.”