Miles Kurosky: vocals, guitar
Bill Swan: guitar, vocals, trumpet
Steve Lafolette: bass guitar
Pat Noel: keyboards
Bill Evans: keyboards
Danny Sullivan: drums
Understanding Beulah requires that you know a few very important things. First, Miles Kurosky and Bill Swan do not like each other very much. The pair met in 1994 while working as mailboys for a San Francisco securities firm, and to put it mildly, they did not get along. But months after quitting his job, Miles decided that he wanted to make a record, and that his old co-worker Bill had a four-track. "I'm gonna kill you" became "You know I've always respected you as a musician," and Beulah was born.
The second thing you should know is that Beulah's reputation as low-fi wonders is the product of necessity more than noble indie rock intentions. Kurosky and Swan record a song every month and a half for 16 months in the beginning, using only guitar and drums, and recording in their offices, living rooms, bathrooms and hallways onto a Maxell cassette. The resulting album, 1997's Handsome Western States, scored the band enough indie cred that they were invited to join the renowned Elephant 6 collective, alongside such bands as Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel. They pieced together a touring ensemble, played a few shows around the U.S. and U.K., and saved up enough money to get a reel-to-reel tape machine and some decent recording equipment. On 1999's When Your Heartstrings Break, they went as Kurosky puts it, "From low-fi to mid-fi."
The third and final thing you need to know about them is that they are brilliantly creative musicians. Beulah's new album, The Coast Is Never Clear, is a tribute to every pop album ever made as well as a fresh statement in itself. Kurosky recorded four-track demos of the songs while living in Japan for two months, and mailed a tape to each of his five bandmates; they developed the tunes as they heard them on four-tracks of their own, and then compared notes when all was said and done. "It was interesting to hear what each person did without being influenced by one another," Kurosky says. "Bill might have heard it as a soul song and Pat might have heard it as a country song - and I might happen to like both parts, and use them both." This patchwork song assembly was smoothed over into shimmering pop melodies, cascading harmonies, dramatic flourishes and bittersweet lyrics that compose The Coast Is Never Clear. Now with the support of a bigger label in the States, the band recorded in a proper studio with engineer John Croslin (Guided By Voices, Spoon) and mixer Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Lou Reed), yielding their best-sounding album yet.
On Heartstrings, the six members of Beulah were backed by a cast of 18 outside musicians playing strings, accordion, horns, organ and other instruments. On The Coast Is Never Clear the band decided to simplify. They used old pre-synthesizer keyboards to emulate strings because they liked the sound better, and if they needed a particular sound - tubular bells, harp, timpani, etc - they just rented the instrument and worked it out for themselves.
All in all, not much has changed for Beulah. They all still have day jobs. Miles and Bill still fight. (A brief entry in Bill's studio diary reads, "Miles threatened to hit me over the head with a mic stand. This is going to be a long record.") But a little creative tension never hurt anyone - and they still write a darn fine pop song. Now the band finally has access to the means to make a record sound just right, and that, combined with the wonderful melodic sensibility, is a formula that just can't be bad.