February 24, 2014

Regolith A1E1: Reuben Bettsak Is A Songwriter

Regolith -- Reuben Bettsak, Part 1

Our inaugural songwriter for the Regolith series is Boston indie scene mainstay Reuben Bettsak. Mr. Bettsak lives in town and has been party to the local music scene here for more than a decade, during which time he has performed in acts including The Nationale Blue and Big Bear. He presently plays in noted psych-pop outfit Guillermo Sexo, performs and releases music under the name Emerald Comets, and is part of the spectral New Romantic revivalists Future Carnivores. As a songwriter, Bettsak is as prolific as they come, and if you think it is just a coincidence that we chose to kick off Regolith with such an efficient and deadly songwriting machine as Bettsak, you are wrong. Regolith is not for the faint of heart. Or at least that is what we assume -- Bettsak is the first to go through the process with us, during which he is writing and recording completely new music under a Clicky Clicky-imposed 30-day deadline. In our intake interview below we dig into the basics and background of who Bettsak is, what he does, and how he works. The sands from the Regolith 30-day hourglass began falling Feb. 15. As noted in our introductory piece last week, we will check in with Bettsak midway into his month of work, and at the end we'll wrap up the project with a post mortem on his work, and with a premiere of the results on our Bandcamp page. Giddy up. -- L. Tiburon Pacifico
Clicky Clicky: What is happening with all of the bands you are involved with right now?

Rueben Bettsak: Guillermo Sexo is definitely keeping busy per usual. We have a Brooklyn show with Relations April 4 at Shea Stadium, an Illegally Blind show in Boston in May at Middle East up with Blackstone Rangers, Ghost Modern and Wakes. It's likely there will be other shows before these, but we are also working on new songs and are bringing back some old favorites from past albums. We want to change up our set list a bit ... [and] continue spreading the word on Dark Spring. We believe in this album. We want you to believe in the UFOs of Dark Spring...

I've been playing a few Emerald Comet shows here and there to support the free EP (performing solo, but possibly also with the gang that performed on the EP in the future).

Future Carnivores has a March show coming up at Charlie's Kitchen, which should be cool. We have a whole album's worth of stuff recorded, but most of it is in the early stages of recording. We'll see when we can get that out there this year.

CC: What instruments do you play? When did you start playing them?

RB: My principal instrument has been guitar. I started playing when I was... 15 years old. I also played a bit of drums growing up. It's so much fun playing drums, but I rarely rock it these days. I did a lot of the live drums on the first Future Carnivores record, though.

CC: How long have you been writing music?

RB: I've always wanted to write music. I think I knew this when I was 7 years old listening to Julio Iglesias or watching Quiet Riot videos on MTV in Panama. When I started playing guitar, I knew that songwriting would be my main focus. Back when I was 15 years old, I loved Eddie Van Halen, but I was never interested in playing the way he played. Writing music for me is one of the most beautiful, rewarding things in life. It's taken me a while to get to a place where I'm more confident with the songs I write... closer to the vision. But then again the vision always changes a bit, and that's part of what makes it exciting, right?

CC: What are your songwriting influences? Do you feel like there's an influence on these songs that is obvious to you but might not be necessarily apparent to a listener?

RB: I think this is a great question. I feel like there are definitely influences that pop up in the songs I write, and in the sounds my band(s) make. I really do approach songwriting with a completely open slate, meaning I don't try to sit down and write a certain type of song that sounds like any person or band in particular. But there are patterns that creep up that are part of my MO. I love catchy psych-rock songs from bands like The Kinks, Zombies, Guided by Voices and some current bands. I love the depth and beauty that bands like Spiritualized or My Bloody Valentine create. I love the studio experimentation of Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Broadcast and Olivia Tremor Control. So... these things seep in to what I do. And that is rock 'n' roll. I can say that I feel like I really have developed a songwriting voice of my own. I am thankful for this, but I'm always trying to grow and improve as a songwriter.

With this project an influence that might not be apparent to the listener is maybe some classical music. No specific composers, but just trying to create a little bedroom symphony. Although, it is too early to tell. This project could end up sounding like death metal by the end. We'll see.

CC: How would you describe your songwriting process. Are the songs conceived of first, or planned out? Is the process more organic, with single chords or melodies developing into parts, which then develop into songs? Do you have a back catalog of riffs, parts or progressions that you mix and match until they find a home?

RB: A lot of songs are written on acoustic guitar at home. I write a few guitar parts and develop the melodies right away, or I record the music and then develop melodies and maybe record line by line. It's definitely more of an organic process. Some Guillermo Sexo songs I bring to the fold are pretty fleshed out, but the band definitely shapes the way they end up sounding. There are also a bunch of Guillermo Sexo songs that are developed organically at the practice space. We just develop an idea/riff together as a band, and develop it until we have a song. I have a large back catalog of songs. My fear is that some of the really good ones in the back catalog will never be released and then I'll completely forget about them. I try to keep track of everything, but stuff gets lost. That's one reason I'm releasing stuff under Emerald Comets. There is no way Guillermo Sexo can tackle all these songs. It gets overwhelming. I send my band members and (producer) Justin Pizzoferrato so many demos, and they are like "Reuben... chill."

The Future Carnivores process is different. The first two albums were written by recording parts completely made up on the spot, with Bo and I switching turns. I'd lay down a beat, Bo would lay down bass line, I'd record a weird guitar loop, and so on.

CC: Will this project change the way you typically write?

RB: I'm used to writing alone, but I am trying to make this project sound different. It's a good excuse to create a standalone type of album or mini album that has an overall vibe to it. That's cool, because I usually have so many types of songs I bring to the fold. With Regolith, I'm looking to have an overall focus and feel throughout.

CC: Where will you be doing your writing and recording throughout this project?

RB: I will be writing and recording this project at home. I will be doing it with a simple Pro-Tools setup, which is nicer than what I use for my demos.

CC: Lastly, what are your goals/aspirations for this project?

RB: 1. I'm hoping to create some great songs. 2. It's always gratifying to share music with listeners. I look forward to sharing this music. 3. I want Jay and Will to give me a hug and say, "Hey Reuben, these songs don't suck." 4. One of my goals is to not get too carried away with layering. If this happens, I may end up turning in one song at the end of this project. (Note to self: Reuben, don't get carried away with layers. Try to keep it simple!)

CC: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us and devote 30 days of your life to Regolith. We eagerly await our mid-session check-in with you in a couple of weeks to see how it's going, and of course, hearing the finished results.
Related Coverage:
Premiere: Emerald Comets | Emerald Comets EP
Review: Guillermo Sexo | Dark Spring
Today's Hotness: Future Carnivores
Clicky Clicky Music Presents... N O F U C K I N G W H E R E : 11 Boston Bands Perform Ride's Classic 1990 Album
Review: Future Carnivores | Future Carnivores
Review: Guillermo Sexo | Secret Wild

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