Kingston After Dark: Music in the time of the bully

(Will Dendis)

Summer is here. We are all feeling the heat. The year has already been exhausting already in many ways, and now we have hot weather to deal with.

Just the other day I saw some people repeatedly punch the window of a truck that attempted to cut them off at a gas station. You might maybe be startled at the colorful behavior that goes on every weekend in this city once temperatures rise (or honestly otherwise at times).

I’m not trying to say nothing positive is going on. It’s just that everyone seems grumpy and tense.

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We also have people who are determined to enjoy things.

BSP has booked Grizzly Bear for two nights in August, a huge win for the venue and us music-loving locals. We have dedicated protesters out at noon at Seven21 Media Center protesting Faso and the horrible Trump attack on healthcare, seemingly undaunted by the sweltering heat or rain on multiple days. And we have our local bands who keep going no matter what, chasing their own light.

Let’s check in now with one of them whom we haven’t heard from yet this year, a band known for rocking stages all over the Hudson Valley.

“I’m addicted to making songs,” says Jeremy Swift, guitarist and vocalist of Woodstock blues and hard rockers The Beautiful Bastards. “I probably have an eight-week gestation period, but by week seven I’m really anxious and high-strung because I need that rush of being engaged in the creative process. Once I’ve got something, I’m compelled to vet it, test it, see if it works, and is doing what it’s supposed to.”

The band’s name sort of implies seeing the beauty in people who are maybe a bit difficult or weird or rough around the edges. But who defines normalcy, anyway? Right now we are spinning through space!

Does Swift think it is important to let the freak flag fly during this current time when people are quick to judge one another? “It’s not just the name,” he responds. “The attitude of the whole project is an embrace of that old time rock-and-roll religion of catharsis and liberation. Flying the freak flag is always important. Trump doesn’t change that. It’s never any less important, but sometimes it’s more dangerous. I do recognize a vibe in the culture right now that harkens back to the Reagan era. It’s the time of the bully. When shitting on the underdog is considered patriotic.”

Some people worried the band was in trouble when it ran into the need for a lineup change recently. We are pleased to report that The Beautiful Bastards have bounced back stronger than ever.

“Our new drummer is Lukas Lerner. We met him serendipitously at the last gig we played with our previous drummer,” Jeremy says. “He’s also a local native, but recently spent some time out in Baltimore playing in punk bands [like Ratboiler and Skull Theft].”

The band is about to release a new single “Return.” It is going to be celebrating the release with a homecoming show on Friday, July 7 at Harmony Music in Woodstock, with its friends Syckerpunch.

Byron, the frontman from SuckerPunch, engineered “Return” as well as the  debut EP the band released last summer, Jeremy informs me. “As always, we have new material in our live show, and we’re currently upping our merch game, so that’s fun.”

How did Jeremy feel about how it has felt to spend time with the evolving project? I’ve known him for a long time, and it feels to me like it’s the perfect outlet for Swift, a powerful trio which puts emphasis on song over flash but can dig into some serious chops when it needs to, a band built to blow the roof off of any given bar.

“I built this project from the songs out. Honestly, everything besides making the songs and performing them is a bewildering nightmare,” he reflects. “I had a concept for the feel of the band, but it required a lot of help and patience from the people around me to turn that into a three-dimensional, forward-facing thing.

“Byron Frayne helped us bottle it, and my partner Rebecca [aka Beccatron Studios] has been helping us figure out an aesthetic that reflects what we’re doing musically. Meanwhile, Lukas and Godfrey graciously follow me around like nurses corralling a mental patient who thinks he’s a cult leader. They share my enthusiasm for actually doing the work involved in making good rock and roll.”

Jeremy, like myself, has been a scene veteran like myself for over 20 (gasp) years, I have to ask him what his goals are on the local front at this point.

“Locally, I want to be regularly performing in front of enthusiastic audiences in venues that feel right for the music we play,” he answers. “I feel like regardless of trends there’s always an audience for rock and roll. “Finding that audience, both locally and more broadly, is the puzzle we’re trying to solve currently. Come on out, We’re pretty good.”