In Framing: Tyler Daniel Bean + Boy Rex

Photo by Nick Seyer

Photo by Nick Seyer

Tyler Daniel Bean & Jack Senff [aka Boy Rex] are kindred spirits currently touring behind both of their latest full-length works. Rooted in emotion, Senff & Bean have built humble careers off of illustrating their own unique vantage points on life + it's all encompassing beauty & difficulties. A Burlington resident, Tyler Daniel Bean has contributed to the local music scene since he was a teenager, playing in multiple  bands such as Doom Service, Polite Society & most often under his own name as a full band/solo performer. His latest, On Days Soon To Pass  is a weighty, intimate documentation of his own struggles with loss & mental illness. Jack Senff, a Michiganer, first cut his teeth as a member of screamo bands Merchant Ships & William Bonney, but his second release as Boy Rex,  Better Vision forgoes the yelling, replacing yelps with careful melodies & lush arrangements. Recruiting instrumentation from friends & family [Jack's father lays down some trumpet lines] the bright indie-pop of Better Vision paints a vivid scene with eyes wide open.

In preparation of their co-headlining, tour-concluding show at The Monkey House [RSVP here], these nice boys were each kind enough to play phone tag with us from the road & talk about a personal, life-altering album that has served as framework for the artist that they have become. For the first installment of our In Framing series, we talked to Tyler & Jack about two albums: one is a soft, bookish album that catapulted a Pacific NW-based group from indie darlings to radio-ready, modern rock stalwarts & the other is a somewhat plaintive, austere record that showcases a spontaneous collaboration between a beloved, lo-fi songwriter & "his favorite singer".

Photo Courtesy of Discogs

Photo Courtesy of Discogs

Tyler Daniel Bean: Lost Wisdom by Mount Eerie

 

hope: You chose to talk about Lost Wisdom by Mount Eerie. Are you aware of any of the album’s backstory?

Tyler: It’s a funny thing, I was looking at the album a little bit & in the second song on the album, Phil Elverum samples a Bjork song called “Undo” & there’s a Tweet where [Elverum] says: “Bjork, if you wanna come to Anacortes to dig a big hole with me or play music or catch a big fish just let me know.”

This is kind of a similar thing that happened with Julie Doiron [from SubPop band Eric's Trip]. Phil reached out to them & said: “Hey, do you want to come to Anacortes & do this thing with me?” She said "yeah", so they ended up having these really organic first few encounters with these songs & they just got together & went for it.

hope: How did you first hear Lost Wisdom?

Tyler: He toured behind the record & was playing some louder shows that were with a full band. He played in Burlington at The Bakery & the show sold out so quickly that they added a second show & he decided that for the second show he was just going to play solo/acoustic. So it was just all of the songs from [Lost Wisdom] & from Dawn & from some of the earlier records — it was just a super-focused acoustic set. It was seated, there were candles everywhere & I hear about all of this after the fact from my roommate at the time.

She bought the record that night & was playing it after the show. I heard it, & I was like “What is this? This is amazing!” She told me all about the show & how intimate & exciting it was & how everyone was just sitting down around all of these candles with Phil rocking back & forth playing these songs. 

This was in 2009, so I was probably 19 at that point.

hope: Did you buy the physical album?

Tyler: I actually just got the record as a gift two weeks before I left for tour. Lauren [Tyler's fiancé] bought it for me as a birthday present back in May, but everything has been backed up because of everything going on in Phil’s life, so it just arrived. 

It came in this really cool packaging & a poster of the woods. It's a really nice accompaniment. 

hope: Why is Lost Wisdom important to you? Has it had any influence on your latest record?

Tyler: I guess back at the time when my  roommate was playing this record, I was deep into my love of Mewithoutyou & Aaron Weiss’ lyricism.

When I was listening to Phil Elverum, it was kind of this moment where all of the flowery language of Aaron Weiss was stripped back into these really primal images—relationships between human beings & nature. It was something completely different than what I had experienced before—it was a new way to think about writing.

Phil influenced a lot of the writing process of [On Days Soon to Pass]. I was cycling through this analysis of a bunch of different writers—he was one of them & the songs on this album specifically. A lot of these songs became almost blueprints for a way of thinking about intimacy—how to show something rather than just say it. It was a way of relating myself to something bigger. 

This comes up in a lot of my songs. In “Willow II” the relationship of the ball & being in a field develops into a bigger picture of the experience of loss & the experience of losing a best friend. It was my attempt of starting that sort of writing.

hope: Is there a certain song that you hold close to you or return to for inspiration?

Tyler: Originally, "You Swan, Go On" was my favorite song & I would go back to it all the time. I talked about it in relationship to a couple of other songs about swans to try to understand what that imagery could mean & how [Elverum] is using it in relation to other people. 

But ultimately “O my heart”, the second to last song on the album, has stuck with me. I think that it’s a song that accepts the fate of the world as it is. It’s sort of looking at things like “Everything is going to be OK as long as I don’t expect to be the sunrise or the sunset” or “If I could just focus on one aspect of life & not assume or expect anything else, then everything is going to be fine.” I think that this is the biggest encapsulation of my record. How do you distill something & get rid of all of the distortions, get rid of the future songs, past songs & context & just look at how it is?

hope: Has this album played a role in any of your relationships or friendships?

Tyler: Lauren & I listen to this album all of the time. It’s an album that opens up conversations rather than closing them off. It’s an album that allows us to talk about the difficult things like mental illness, because we have a frame of reference as to what’s going on & how to approach things. It’s been a really helpful album.

hope: Are there any lyrics that you consistently return to?

Tyler: “Thunder, lightning, tidal wave, the wind blew down the door.” — Lost Wisdom

I think that is so smart. He's relating his internal self to these outer, cyclical experiences. Thinking about this never ending cycle: You’re going to feel fine until this tidal wave hits & then you’re going to revert back & then eventually you'll feel fine again. It’s like an endless cycle of building & destruction. 

“Oh my heart, there you are.” — O My Heart 

It’s so simple, but it is so powerful. There’s another moment where he says “I thought you would be as big as a whale” relating to the heart. It’s really clever. I think of it in terms of anxiety & these moments where it feels like my heart is in my throat. Moments where it feels like my heart extends my entire body, it’s all I can think about & all I can feel is the palpitations.

It can be a huge, scary creature that I’m standing aside from that takes myself over. It’s this idea of it—seeing it as big as a whale—it’s fascinating. 

hope: How has Lost Wisdom aged for you?

Tyler: I think it’s become a bit more of an important record for me than it used to be. It’s just a happenstance that I caught it when I did. I had a really hard time getting into Wind’s Poem & accepting the black metal influence that he was drawing from. I felt the same about the lo-fi qualities of The Microphones [Elverum’s other band]. Now, I can’t imagine Phil being any other way. But at the time, when I was younger, I was trying to find the problem with it & find out how I would do it differently. It was this big question as to what I considered "high art" or "important art".

Now it’s more about understanding these things as an experience or as an expression of a place & time—like "what compels him to do this this way?"—it became a different conversation with myself, a different kind of dialogue—the ethics of a thing vs. the aesthetic of a thing. 

 
Photo Courtesy of Discogs

Photo Courtesy of Discogs

Boy Rex: Transatlanticism by Death Cab For Cutie

 

hope: Is this the album that introduced you to Death Cab for Cutie?

Jack: That era of my life is kind of all blended together & one year doesn’t necessarily stick out more than another. It’s hard for me to say that I found Death Cab for Cutie because of Transatlanticism, but I think that when I had got into them, Plans had just come out & maybe Narrow Stairs, but Transatlanticism was definitely the one where I took the deep dive.

hope: Do you remember where you first were when you heard it?

Jack:  I was probably in the basement at my dad’s house, a fragile 16 or 17 and emotionally susceptible. The song that 100% sold me on them was "Title & Registration."  I didn’t realize it was basically the hit single from the album. At the time it was just super real, the texture of [Ben Gibbard’s] voice and lyrics, the arrangement of the instruments—everything about it was tangible. 

hope: That song led you into the rest of the album?

Jack: Yeah definitely. Now that I think of it, I actually got this album from the library. This was a time where you checked out CD’s & burned them onto your computer. It was definitely still in my dad’s basement, but I definitely got the album from the River Park Public Library.

The first song on the album is “The New Year” but I ripped the CD incorrectly on my computer—so for my whole life “Title & Registration” was always the first song. To this day, every time I start Transatlanticism there is a part of me that goes, “Fuck, am I listening to the right album?”

hope: Did you eventually buy the physical album?

Jack: I’m not super into buying physical media. I’m not a vinyl guy, CD’s have been irrelevant for a long time, I don’t care about tapes… I definitely just pirated that shit for most of my life. But now I have a Spotify Premium account, so I’m doing my part, giving back to bands...

When I first heard about the album I was definitely drawn to Ben Gibbard—his voice, the lyrics themselves, the concept of “The Glove Compartment” & how it relates to what’s inside. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to look into other aspects of a band or an album: the drums, the production, how songs dynamically flow together, the cohesion of an album... I started thinking about music from a craft standpoint. So Transatlanticism at the time was this raw, sort of primal attraction for me, but as the years creep on it hits in different ways. I see it in a different light now. It's very much an album as a whole vs. a handful of songs I connect with.

hope: Are there any songs from Transatlanticism that have felt more important to you in your adult life?

Jack: It’s arguably just as cliche and popular as "Title," but I think “Lack of Color” is one of the absolute best Death Cab songs, across the board.  There’s something about those vocal melodies that completely blow me away—even to this day. "Lack of Color" is the perfect foil to an otherwise noisy, jangly record. It chills everything out and brings me back to the reason I fell in love with Death Cab in the first place: Benny G. 

So, anyway, on my album Better Vision, the last song is called “Backyard Tree” & it is 100% my “Lack of Color”. It’s nowhere near as good, but it’s definitely the inspiration that I pulled from. It strips away all the crazy production shit and leaves the listener the way all the songs start: just me and my guitar. 

hope: I was just going to ask how this album might have influenced your past & present musical endeavors or projects..

Jack: I think about perspective... earlier in my life, in my “screamo days”, I liked Transatlanticism, but the older I get the more I appreciate those different aspects ofof the band. Today, to whatever degree of a “functioning songwriter” I am, Ben Gibbard has been a huge influence on Boy Rex. When I approach a song, thinking about structure or how to sing over a certain guitar line, I always think WWBD: what would Benny do? I like to instigate the jokes, but the similarities between my voice and his are definitely intentional.  

Tyler was talking about John K Samson, the singer of The Weakerthans, the other day & there’s this quote—I haven’t read it, so I’m going to paraphrase—but it’s something to the effect of “When I heard Neil Young, that was the first time in my life that my ears perked up & I thought ‘I can sing like that.’’’ When I shifted away from screamo, I was trying to figure how I wanted to make music as a person in their mid-20s. I was trying to sing nice but I was still kind of yelling because that was what was most comfortable. When I heard Transatlanticism as an adult & really took it in, my ears perked up & I said “Woah, I can sing like that.” It was almost an unconscious connection. For John Samson it was Neil Young, for Tyler it was David Bazan, and for me it was Ben Gibbard. What a cool concept, right? 

hope: Did Transatlanticism play a role in any of your relationships or friendships?

Jack: When Em [Jack's fiancé]] and I got together, what, eight years ago, she listened to a lot of stuff I had maybe heard in passing but never given my whole attention to. Bands like Death Cab, or "old music" music from the 70's and 80's... music with a certain tone and quality that I can only describe as "Em Randall Music." It's what kickstarted everything I listen to today. I went from terrible, demo-quality eps by no-name east coast bands to these big, sumptuous, emotional records I had, yeah, maybe heard in passing but never really listened to. Transatlanticism was a record we both loved, and it helped springboard everything that would come after. 

hope: How has the album aged for you over time?

Jack: About four years ago, when I was living in Olympia, Washington, Em and I drove up for a festival called Bumbershoot in Seattle. Death Cab was doing one of those ten-year performances of Transatlanticism & I had never seen Death Cab, nor had I ever really been to a “real concert” before—so I bought tickets thinking “Oh shit, I love ‘Title & Registration’”.

We went & it was definitely a watershed moment on how I approach music.  They played every song flawlessly and somehow even bigger than on the record. On “We Looked Like Giants” they extended the noisy instrumental section that ends the song & they brought out a second drum set & Ben Gibbard sat down & just raged on the drums. It was fuckin’ wild. It was perfect. It was emotional, it was engaging, it was loud. Death Cab recorded vs. Death Cab live are just two totally different experiences.

And so I went and watched them play Transatlanticism in full & it was my first real concert & it was incredible & then they finish, return for an encore, & rip through all of the hits from Plans,  Narrow Stairs, and Codes & Keys. This was a year or two before Boy Rex was even in my brain, but it planted a seed. It was like, “Holy shit, this is what music can be."  A band or an artist can create this absolutely beautiful work & then give it to you in a different live format & it gives you a totally different experience. The album itself will always hold a place in my heart as far as time & nostalgia is concerned, but watching them play it live really cemented just how important it is to me as a musician. 

 

Tyler Daniel Bean & Boy Rex play Winooski, VT, on Sunday, August 27th with Belly Up at The Monkey House. Entry to the event is $5. RSVP to the event here.

- hope all is well