Previously, Carr had performed with other bands such as post-rock trio Venus Bogardus and indie act Pitch & Bark. By the time he began writing and recording songs on his own, the overarching fictional concept present in the music of Storming the Beaches was a puff of an idea and little more.
On Pigrow, Carr's songwriting chops shined through in each of the album's eight songs. It was fantastic, a primer to an imagined post-apocalyptic world conceived by Carr, rich with storytelling. The concept album—either lost to the rise of MP3 singles, made heavily un-fun by the likes of The Mars Volta or having veered into too-serious goofiness in the hands of bands like Coheed & Cambria—seemed promising and interesting again in the form of a small town songwriter's sparse arrangements.
On the eve of Storming the Beaches' next album launch, here, in the words of those making it, is the story of how—and why—some of the best music in Santa Fe came to be and where it's going next.
Pigrow was, indeed, broad. John Dieterich (of indie act Deerhoof) produced and performed on the album as well, and though stripped-down and acoustic was the name of the game, fancy flourishes and subtle-yet-complex touches abounded; the stage was set for much more.
Carr: I think I may have forced it on [Dieterich], but he had a lot of influence, and I wanted him to have it. Before we even started recording Pigrow, the option was to do these acoustic songs or to do one song that was, potentially, 'Gorillas in the Sky,' which was on the first full Storming the Beaches album. We played with the two ideas and he said, 'OK, let's do this acoustic.'
After Pigrow's release, Carr performed songs from the album often, which attracted the attention of Santa Fe University of Art and Design student/musician Caitlin Brothers, today better known to many as solo artist ppoacher ppoacher.
Carr: Caitlin was singing this Ugandan song [in class], which is East African, but this was a West African class. That's when I first heard her sing, and it blew me away. I tend to get caught up in sounds or tones; energies or, like, tonal energies in my head. And then I'm walking through my day and things really hit me, and definitely when I heard her sing, especially that music with all those polyrhythms going on. … And then she bugged me about it.
Brothers: I still do that.
Carr: I don't not work on stuff, but it used to be hard in the past to determine when something was ready to share with someone. My music—I'm particular about it.
I think that, for a long time, there was a confusion between [whether he wanted] to be a bandleader or a composer. And there is a difference, a balance, I think, to being a composer who plays, versus trying to be a bandleader.
Carr: When I was about 4 or 5 years old, I wanted to be a composer. I had no idea what that meant. I think, though, that if I focus on the fact I'm trying to communicate the music to people, it becomes a lot easier to be a bandleader.
Brothers: Also, I don't know if 'bugging' is the right word. But he pitches this cool idea, I love his music, so when we talked, we didn't talk much—but when we did, it was like, I'm pretty direct. I knew what I wanted to talk about. I was like, 'So … this music.' I would call it inquiring.
Before Carr and Brothers started creating together, he continued playing solo shows and privately fleshing out the fiction behind his songs. But he realized quickly that he'd need a full band to handle the volume of ideas.
Carr: I remember I played in Austin at this solo show, and I just decided I didn't want to play solo like that. Not 'anymore, period,' but it was so unfulfilling when in my head I was hearing these complex and intricate things. So I decided that was it; I put together this big ensemble.
Carr sought backup from musicians he admired such as drummer/audio engineer Will Dyar, percussionist/audio engineer Max Kluger-Bell, Evarusnik co-founder Andrew Tumason, violinist/vocalist Leticia Gonzales and Pitch & Bark cohort Peter Duggan. Numerous others would also join.
Carr: Will, Peter, Andrew and I had played West African music together. I think [drummer] Adam Cook literally just walked by a practice [at the SFUAD campus]. There was a lot of wildness in that band. It was really fun and very productive, but also challenging for me as a bandleader and to not necessarily want to be.
Brothers: I think the rehearsals were a little bit challenging for everybody—being there was so much wild energy.
Leticia Gonzales, violinist, vocalist, pots and pans (by email):
I was originally approached by Luke to play some violin parts for the music that was going to become the first album. I was really captivated by the rhythmic elements, and wasn’t really hot on violin at the time so, after a few rehearsals, I started playing around with a pot and a pan and found some parts that fit, and that became my role in the band. I’d heard of but hadn’t heard
, but once I understood the albums were related and that Luke also had a whole world and story that linked the two, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more.
Assemble the Chaos
By the time Carr and company set out to finish writing and recording the debut album, Southwick Howls, 15 musicians were scheduled to appear. He began to open the songwriting process up to more and more collaboration with the band's extended personnel. It was a creatively intense time as Carr attempted to communicate ethereal ideas that had thus far only existed in his head to a group of musicians who, while talented, might not have worked in such a demanding milieu before.
Carr: In hindsight, those rehearsals with that size of a group … there was a fatigue-ish aspect to it. I think it was a shock to some people that when I'd have rehearsal, it was generally around four hours.
Brothers: We'd run the same part a lot. If some of the parts were relatively simple, interlocking those parts was more complicated. … Someone would be like, 'I need to hear that on a loop,' or, 'Can you clarify that part? Can we play it 10 times?'
Tumason: I think a lot of the band was trained in many ways. As a composer, it was a different experience to learn the parts Luke visualized and then bring it to life with that group of musicians.
Dyar: In any band situation, even if you're just playing straightforward rock, the more comfortable everyone is, the more you stop thinking about what you're doing. Yes, it was Luke's baby, but he was bringing in all these people because they excited him.
Brothers: It was the only real musical band thing I'd done other than playing with myself or with garage bands where it was more like hanging out. I think there was an inherent challenge but elatedness to being in this group and hanging out with this group of people, but we were working the whole time. It was really focused, even when it wasn't.
Carr: I think it speaks to a larger idea, that being a self-taught musician has sort of led me down certain paths and to engaging with certain kinds of musicians rather than others. The way I write and communicate music … I don't read or write music, but I consider myself a composer. Some people think DIY means you can do whatever the fuck you want; you can slack and that's OK. For me, even though I'm self-taught and in this rock ensemble of some kind, I do take it very seriously.
Kluger-Bell: As far as the composition went, [Luke] very much brought the melodies and the lyrics or the tunes, but in terms of putting the songs together, we'd collaborate on that.
Carr: What makes these people that much more important is the character of the musician you're working with. Sometimes I'd have an idea locked in, and Leticia would say, 'I can play it that way, but I hear it this way, more swinging.' Character becomes so important when you're not handing a professional musician a sheet of paper to read.
Kluger-Bell: Everybody had really defined roles in taking something chaotic and making it organized. Luke is good, though, at taking these big situations and turning them into a more composed piece. I think we started really developing those skills further on, but he's a strong leader who can still be soft-spoken.
With the album Southwick Howls finally written (and hovering as closely to Carr's original vision as possible), Storming the Beaches launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund its recording in September 2013. While the donations rolled in, the actual process of recording began.
Carr: I try not to think about the Kickstarter. I wish I hadn't fucking done that. It forced me to make decisions and brand some things and, in hindsight, I wish I had taken more time to incubate. I didn't feel rushed for a while, but then it was like the band part might fall apart before I finished the record.
Brothers: The band was school; making that album was school.
Carr: We recorded all over the place: Will Dyar's house, my house, Max's house, the [SFUAD] campus. We had a lot of different sessions.
Dyar: As far as the core recording, I took that on. We were still working out the songs … percussion here, vocals there, guitars here; it evolved.
Meanwhile, they continued the recording process for Southwick Howls, which spilled over into the later part of 2014. The band performed shows in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Texas and Colorado. It wasn't until April 2015 that Storming the Beaches was ready to release with an ambitious show at the Railyard Performance Center. It was, in a single word, magical. Carr produced colorful video projections to loom over the band and the audience was asked to remove their shoes (the space's policy). The album itself was ultimately a major departure from Pigrow's quieter solo style but familiar enough to continue the timeline. Outwardly, Howls showcased an indie rock sound, but under the hood Carr's love of African music and polyrhythmic time signatures lurked. The album tells the story of a nameless boy who lives with his father in a future dystopian version of America long after wars and untenable usage of resources have torn borders asunder and changed our way of life. It was another excellent leap for Carr as a songwriter and an incredible undertaking. The Storming the Beaches reputation began to build. Carr, however, struggles with the final product to this day.
Carr: I know everything that's on there. If I listen on a car stereo, I can't hear half the shit I spent time on, but then I listen on headphones and it's all there. I don't like to listen to it. I'll have a minute sometimes where I'll hear a part and don't know what it is at first, and I like it, but then that goes away.
Brothers: I often say it's like an overhead, distant view: You can see a lot, but you can't see any of the details.
Dyar: Luke mixed it and I mastered it. He definitely had this particular idea in mind for how it should go and I was like, 'Dude, you should just mix this.' I also saw the beginning of burnout. We all get that when we're working on a record that intensely. But at a certain point, it just needs to be done. I'm 100 percent satisfied with how that album came out.
Gonzales: I was really proud of the first album. There were so many of us, and so many parts and moving pieces that I think the decisions made about recording and mixing were necessary and apt.
Still, with the songs available to hear online, the band hadn't received vinyl copies of Southwick Howls—also gifts for those who had donated to the Kickstarter—in time for the release show.
Carr: A to Z Media … those fuckers. You deal with a bigger company, you're not really important to them, and they'll tell you what you want to hear in the beginning—they said two months and it ended up being more like six.
Eventually the albums arrived, and a small regional tour would follow, with Carr and Brothers deciding to never play too often locally. Further, they were plotting next steps, both in terms of content and the form of the band.
Carr: I would hear things people were saying [about the band], but I think what was much louder in my head was my own need to sit with the project's next steps. It was much more personal and about what the band needed to do, what the project needed, what the story needed.
Kluger-Bell: We did do a tour with that band, at least a small one, but at that point … maybe people in a group, and especially of a certain age, people are flying off, living their lives, going wherever their lives are taking them. A couple people left, a couple people got busy with other projects, our lives changed and eventually, after that show was when we had to take a step back and decide what the next step would be.
Tumason: I felt the project was transforming to its next evolution … and the time felt right to focus my musical energy on Evarusnik and Woven Talon projects.
Brothers: I think it's a pretty gentle scene around here as far as pressure goes. You just have to learn how to say no or what to say yes to. Getting offered shows is awesome, but sometimes you need to stay home and read a book. But we played a lot.
Carr: We did want to play, but it meant getting on the road. I didn't want to just keep playing shows in Santa Fe. We wanted to be playing five nights, six nights a week, and that means playing somewhere else.
Brothers: I felt like the pressure was from within. Half the band was like, 'I gotta do my own thing' at that point.
Dyar: It was a bit of a test run for me. I used to tour back in the day, and around that time my mastering business [Hills Audio] was taking off and I also had some family stuff that I need to be here for. I talked with everyone openly about it, mainly Luke and Caitlin, and I expressed that I wasn't that interested in touring. You've gotta be honest—that's how relationships stay good. Not once did I hear or feel any animosity from Luke. He rolls with it. He realizes this is a crazy thing we accomplished.
To the Cabin
Carr and Brothers played as a duet a number of times, but Storming the Beaches ultimately reformed as a four-piece in late 2015 with Carr, Brothers, Kluger-Bell and Gonzales. The next steps were to focus on a new project, a new album and the continued pursuit of Carr's narrative. In 2016, they travelled to a cabin in Taos and began work on their forthcoming album, Bailiwick, Refused. The narrative elements focus on a young woman named Dessa, the mother of the nameless boy from Southwick Howls, but the timeline plays out as a prologue to the first record. Carr says its end is the beginning of Howls. The layered Storming the Beaches sound remains intact, but with fewer members, it's more concise. Carr's vision is clearer than ever. This is due, in part, to many years working on the project, but members also say it had a lot to do with the collaborative writing.
I had a very clear talk with them where I said I was, in some sense, giving up the responsibilities I’d been carrying alone; the booking, the promotion, developing the project. I pretty much told them that unless you wanna jump in and participate, we’re going to have to take a break. And they jumped in. When I think about that retreat … I wish I could do that a lot more often—I’m going to
do that a lot more often.
Kluger-Bell: The writing process was really cool. We had planned to tour to Colorado, but it seemed like it wasn't coming together and we had all already requested time off work. We went up to Taos and literally woodshedded. This album really came together and a lot of new songs came out of that. It's kind of a clichéd writing process, but it's just getting away from everyday life. It felt unreal.
Gonzales: Caitlin, Luke and I had a few preliminary meetings in the spring and summer before the Taos retreat, and we fleshed out a lot of the chronology of the story and characters involved in the story and basic narrative trajectory. Luke and Caitlin spent an unbelievable amount of time listening back over our rehearsal tapes and making decisions about what worked and what didn't. When we started working again after Taos, it was with a lot more intention and clarity about the sound of the four-piece and the sound of the album, in large part thanks to their work with the rehearsal recordings.
The recording for Bailiwick was more focused as well, with Carr and company enlisting local studio Kabby Sound for the project in mid-2016. Carr once again took on the mixing duties.
Fast-forward to today, a mere 48 hours before the release of the much-anticipated Bailiwick, Refused, and the band has morphed again. Still present, of course, are Carr and Brothers, but drummer Andrew Dixon and bassist Nathan Smerage have joined the fold with Gonzales leaving for her solo project. By the time you read this, Carr, Smerage and Dixon will have performed Storming the Beaches songs—that exist even further in the narrative than Bailiwick—as a trio version of Pitch & Bark.
Carr: Me and Andrew and Nate played probably 70 percent of the third album [at a recent show]. That's been in the works almost a year. It's all overlapping.
Smerage: It's just so unique. Luke's a phenomenal guitarist. You hear it and you can tell it's him. I'm gonna see if I can steal any tricks.
For the Bailiwick, Refused release show, however, Carr and Brothers are scheduled to perform as a two-piece, although, according to Smerage, other members may step in for a song or two. The idea is to help prepare Carr and Brothers for the upcoming tour, the early leg of which finds them alone. And rather than go the completely independent route for the release (or risk the forced-development of another crowdfunding campaign effort), Carr and company have signed on with local label Matron Records, run by Future Scars front woman Eliza Lutz. A musician herself, Lutz has a hands-off approach that means the label hypes the new album, but allows Carr and his bandmates to operate as they wish.
Carr: When Eliza and I were in GRYGRDNS together, we talked about starting a label, and I reached a point where I had to come to terms with myself—I care about the scene here, but with the way my plate is full and the scope of what I want Storming the Beaches to be, I couldn't participate strongly as a collaborator. I don't think it's over. Eliza is … I don't know how to say it. … Matron provides much-needed support on a grassroots level.
There is, of course, much more in store for Storming the Beaches with Logos in Hand (but the album release is currently the main focus). If ever there were a local band with the ability to transcend the Santa Fe scene and make a name for themselves, this is the one. Luke Carr's innate understanding of music without training makes for songs that don't always do what you'd expect, giving them a one-of-a-kind quality. Come January, Carr and Brothers plan to visit the Kissidugu School in Guinea, Africa, where they'll study with percussion masters in exchange for helping students navigate media such as audio and video editing and building an online presence.
The Storming the Beaches narrative, meanwhile, continues. And though Carr says he isn't quite sure where the story will wind up, plans for a series of "found" audio pieces in podcast form, and potential graphic novels sound promising. The possibilities, it seems, are endless.
Storming the Beaches with Logos in Hand:
Bailiwick, Refused Release Show with Sam Zickefoose-Armstrong and Soriba Fofona
8:30 pm Friday Aug 4. $10.
Railyard Performance Center,
1611 Paseo de Peralta,
Santa Fe Reporter