Beulah Ready Sophomore Release

Bay area quintet discuss the myth of California

March 27, 1999 12:00 AM ET

Beulah singer/guitarist Miles Kurosky knows his San Francisco band's sunny melodies might make listeners think the quintet is all about sweetness and light. But he also knows the careful listener can easily see that's not the only thing going on.

Take, for example, "The Ballad of the Lonely Argonaut" from Beulah's April 6 release, When Your Heartstrings Break, an upbeat number with a Velvet Underground-styled groove that name checks authors Bret Harte and Mark Twain, while telling the tale of miners in the Gold Rush era.

"It's about the history of being here in San Francisco, about people like me and you searching for your fortune," Kurosky says. "The same type of kids came here during the Gold Rush. It's a weird sort of community that came to seek their fame and fortune. There's a huge myth about California being the land of opportunity that a lot of states don't offer."

Camped on drum stools and amplifiers in their cramped San Francisco practice space, Kurosky and multi-instrumentalist Bill Swan are explaining their ambivalent relationship with the Elephant 6 recording collective, which features the giddy pop of the Apples In Stereo and the leftfield experimentation of Olivia Tremor Control.

"I like being associated with them, but it's frustrating when people don't look past the logo. Although it's a collective, people should treat it more like a label, because we're not all the same," Kurosky says in between bites of a Quarter Pounder and swigs of a Coke. "We all love music and the history of music and we name-check a lot of bands that mean a lot to us, psychedelic pop bands."

The expansion of their sound, which began as mostly guitar, bass and drums on their 1997 debut Handsome Western States, was a gradual one. The fivesome started transferring guitar parts onto piano and growing into a near orchestra sporting violin, viola, flute, trombone, clarinet, French horn, saxophone, accordian, tabla and sarangi.

"It just made it more fun for us ... After a while we were impressed we were able to get somebody to play cello on a rock record," says Swan. "We really love the absurdity of doing something grand, bigger than you actually are."

From the nearly three-minute horns and strings intro to "Emma Blowgun's Last Stand" to the sleigh-bells that open "Sunday Under Glass," that's exactly what Beulah succeed in doing on their second LP.

At the quintet's recent Noise Pop show in San Francisco, the group added a pair of horn players to a line-up that consists of Kurosky, Swan, keyboardist Pat Noel, drummer Steve St. Cin and bassist Steve LaFollette -- an addition the band may stick with when they kick off their tour on March 28 in San Diego.

Despite wide-spread comparisons to the Beach Boys for the ooh and ahh harmonies that grace both of their records, Kurosky says he hears more of the Velvet Underground in their latest LP, and both Swan and Kurosky pick the Beatles as influences over the "California Girl" composers.

"In fairness to us, we rip off a lot of bands," Kurosky says of Beulah's pool of influences. "We're not single-minded thieves."

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