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TLD Interview: Musician Ken Beasley

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Ken Beasley - photo by Jessica Ellis

It’s time to turn the spotlight around on our music contributor, Ken Beasley. Along with his vast appreciation of and insight about a wide range of music genres, he’s a musician in his own right. Ken’s been giving Lo-Down readers great tips on Lower East Side shows for quite a while now, so we wanted to share a little more about his musical background (he’s playing this Sunday at Rockwood Music Hall).

TLD: Did you really used to play flamenco?

KB: Indeed I did. When I was about 15, a friend and I started playing folky music in coffee shops. Simon & Garfunkel/Clapton Unplugged kind of stuff. We played on certain nights every week, and on alternate nights, another duo would play flamenco. We would go see each other play, and it was clear that my friend and I were strong singers, and the other two guys were strong guitarists. They eventually approached us about being in a band together, that would focus on Flamenco. We jumped in, and for several years we toured and recorded, playing mostly Rhumba Flamenca stuff. As time went on, I became more enamored with the hard-core traditional style of Flamenco, rather than the overly romantic pop style. I eventually moved away, leaving the band, but deepening my focus on learning everything about the technique and tradition of true Flamenco guitar.

TLD: Do you still play flamenco?

KB: I don’t play flamenco in front of audiences much anymore, for various reasons, but the flamenco techniques of playing have certainly permanently infiltrated everything I play and write, and the guitar I perform with is a flamenco guitar, so that gives my original music a nice touch of something different.

TLD: How do you go from the folky/pop/country sound we hear on your myspace page to Punk?

KB: Since we’re all products of what we grew up listening too, I wouldn’t call it a HUGE leap for me. When I was young I was fed a lot Motown and country and 70’s pop from my parents, and a lot of new-wave, alternative, and punk from my older sister. Although, in regard to playing in the great trio that is Missy Sport, I’ll admit that I had never been in a punk band before, and my ending up as the lead guitarist was purely coincidental.

A few years ago, the Sport was looking for a guitarist, and decided to have a different guest player to join them for rehearsal each week.  I was the first one they invited, calling me to come out to the rehearsal space on the LES about 5 minutes after I had just gotten home in Brooklyn. It was late and I was exhausted, and I tried to get out of it several times, but they convinced me to grab my guitar and head back into the city. We ended up having an absolute blast, and writing a new song, and that was it. They never invited any other guest guitarists.

TLD: Which did you play first Folk/Pop/Country or Punk?

KB: I first started playing Blues, actually. Punk came along much later, even though the influence had been there for years. But genre-wise, I’ve jumped all over the place. I spent the least amount of time playing classical, because it was so confining, whereas Flamenco or Blues is very open and improvisational.

TLD: What will you be playing on Sunday?

KB: I’ll be playing my originals, with my band. Kind of roots/rock style tunes. Stuff from my CD “Greenhorn,” and a few other things.

TLD: How did you end up curating Abrons Underground?

KB: Originally, I used to work at Abrons Arts Center as the Marketing Director. I had produced some other concerts in the past, including a big world music series called “In the Pocket” out on Governors Island. When I started at Abrons, the Artistic Director, Jay Wegman, asked me if I was interested in continuing to do that sort of thing. I jumped at it, and we created the “Underground at the Abrons” series, which focuses on giving a platform to those emerging NY musical artists who are super talented and respected, and although maybe under the mainstream radar, nearing the brink of breaking out to the larger mass public. You know, “underground”. The space is a 100 seat subterranean theater, so you get to enjoy the cleverness of the name on two separate levels.

TLD: When did you first start writing about music?

KB: I’m not quite sure, actually. I had certainly done writing before, but only occasionally was it ever music specific. I’ve contributed to other websites, like the excellent food blog GoMeatYourself.com in which I occasionally contribute cocktail recipes. But writing for the LoDown has been a lot of fun, as I get to turn people on to groups I think are awesome.

TLD: What do you look (listen) for when making your weekly Music Lo-Down Picks?

KB: Basically, I highlight shows that I personally would want to go to. There are a lot of bands in New York, and a lot of shows on the Lower East Side, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all going to be a satisfying night out. On the contrary, a lot of them are the exact opposite. As a musician, with friends who are also musicians or in the industry in some capacity, I catch wind of a lot of shows or new discoveries to catch. I’ll listen to any genre, but in order to recommend something, I seek out shows that have a freshness to what’s being created or performed, and a sincerity to what a musician is doing. And that it’s simply fun to listen to, of course.

TLD: How often are you out listening to music?

KB: I would say certainly about once a week. Sometimes it’s more sporadic, but it’s something I enjoy. Even when I’m out of town. A few months ago I was in Milwaukee for a couple days, and I was lucky enough catch two live shows one night, and another the next day.

TLD: How do you decide who to go listen to?

KB:  Open bars. My affection for free alcohol has led me to more than a few unexpectedly awesome musical excursions. One year I got invited to a CMJ showcase featuring rock bands from New Zealand. They were all mostly blah, but then I caught a band I hadn’t heard of, “Bang Bang Eche,” a hard-core post-punk band made up of 17 year-olds, and they absolutely blew me away. The rest of the time, I go out for acts I’ve caught before and liked so much that I make plans to see them again, or I go on recommendations from people who know the kinds of things I like.

TLD: Who will you be checking out at CMJ?

KB: It’s super easy to get pulled in too many directions during CMJ, cuz there are so many good groups. I’ll probably go to a couple parties in the hopes of getting happily surprised by somebody. If I do get a chance to go to anything specific, it might be The Hush Now at the Knitting Factory on Fri., or Andrew Vladeck at the Livingroom on Sat.

TLD: Who are you listening to at home, these days?

KB: My favorites to listen to at home are people like Ray Lamontagne, or SIA, or George Harrison… Most recently I’ve been listening to Ninjasonik from Brooklyn. They’re excellent fun. I also listen to friends’ CDs – songwriters like Randolph Robinson, from Tennessee is a talented buddy who’s the real deal, and living the life. I listen to his CD all the time.

Splitting his time between performing and producing, Ken primarily plays with his own roots/rock band, Ken Beasley & Co., as well as the power punk outfit Missy Sport, while also curating the Underground at the Abrons music series on the Lower East Side.

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