Little Beirut

By • Oct 7th, 2010 • Category: By Evelyn Miska Krieger, Features, Interviews, Little Beirut

They’re from Portland, Oregon. Their music leans toward that of the indie rock variety. They took their name from a comment former President George H.W. Bush made. It could seem like an incongruous combination, but the not-so-positive comparison of Portland to Beirut struck a chord with the band’s members and the name stuck. However, with a name rooted in protest, one might expect the latest album from Little Beirut to be full of angst, disillusionment and rebellion. What listeners get is really something quite different: upbeat, occasionally dance-oriented and surprisingly fun.

The band’s third album afforded Little Beirut a chance to work with a number of big names such as Jeff Stuart Saltzman (Death Cab For Cutie, Sleater-Kinney) who recorded and mixed the album. For Edwin Paroissien (guitar, vocals), the chance to work with Saltzman only added to the great experience had while recording Fear Of Heaven. “It was the best recording experience we’ve ever had. In the past, our recording sessions have been in the hands of the given studio’s house engineer, usually all great people, but almost always hearing our music for the first time. We had worked with Jeff in a mixing capacity for the past two records, so we knew his talents well and he knew what we were trying to achieve. It was liberating to not have to even think about the technical aspects in the studio,” Paroissien says.

In addition to the benefit of working with someone familiar with their music, Paroissien felt that Saltzman also had an unexpected influence on the music. Paroissien explains, “We hadn’t worked out any formal production agreements, but it turns out the man can’t help but produce. He was hard on us in the best of ways and didn’t gloss over his open contempt when we weren’t nailing a given track or part. Again, to have trusted input in this area is a new thing for us and so welcomed as a learning experience.”

With their third album, Little Beirut decided to go for a slightly different approach than used on previous albums and they looked to add some new sounds to the mix. One of the key figures that helped Paroissien and his bandmates achieve this was Chris Robley. “Chris is a great friend and a real musical genius. On High Dive we used him more extensively in terms of fleshing out orchestration details like strings, horns, etc. We were specifically going for a more stripped down approach on this one, so we used him more in the sense that a writer might use an editor,” Paroissien says. Very much like working with an editor, the band created numerous “drafts” of the tracks and looked for critique from Robley. “We’re big on recording demos and had recorded lo-fi 8-track versions of fairly early iterations of all these songs months in advance of going into the studio. We gave these recordings to Chris and commissioned him to give us his feedback on their overall strength, suggestions for change, etc. His ideas varied from no change at all to fairly radical. “Lifeboat,” for instance, was at that point an up-tempo rocker; it’s now a lazy, stony track and by far the slowest on the record thanks to Mr. Robley’s suggestions,” Paroissien explains.

Not only was the recording process an extensive one, the band was also coping with some lineup changes. With the departure of their bass player, Little Beirut could have elected to wait on recording until they had a full band. Instead, Paroissien switched from guitar to bass and the band plowed ahead on writing and recording Fear Of Heaven. Despite this being different from their usual process, Paroissien feels that things went well. “It was a somewhat unique record in that we wrote and recorded it as a three-piece. We had parted ways with our original bass player and lazily searched for a replacement when we just got bored and started writing new songs. I play bass, so I picked it up and we started writing as a three-piece power trio, which was a blast. But then I had to go back and write my guitar parts which is sort of a reversal of our normal writing process,” Paroissien says.

Even though Little Beirut isn’t exactly a household name just yet, there is a rich history and long-standing friendship at the base of the group. Paroissien and Hamilton Sims (vocals) have been friends for almost 20 years and that tight-knit friendship has not only helped them develop a system for songwriting, but also alleviated some of the stress of simply being in a band. Paroissien is proud of the group he gets to work with and feels that with a good lineup, the drama can be kept to the side as much as possible and they can focus on the music. “Having spent so much time trying countless people out and getting our lineup right, I sometimes just browse musician want ads to, I wouldn’t say gloat, but well, gloat. Maybe I’m just an asshole, but I know what it’s like to really wish that you had an outlet for creative expression but be nowhere in terms of being able to realize it,” Paroissien explains. He continues, “When we walk into the rehearsal space, plug in and launch into something that really rocks, we sometimes just laugh like little kids after the song is over in geeky glory of our rawkness. Yeah, we’d love larger recognition and the positive trappings involved, but this simple, elemental pleasure is the reason d’être. To truly feel that is liberating.” – EVELYN MISKA KRIEGER

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