Beirut is an American band which was originally the solo musical project of Santa Fe native Zachary Francis Condon, and later expanded into a band. The band’s first performances were in New York, in May 2006, to support the release of their debut album, Gulag Orkestar. Beirut’s music combines elements of indie-rock and world music.
Zach Condon was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico on February 13, 1986. He grew up partly in Newport News, Virginia and partly in Santa Fe. Condon played trumpet in a jazz band as a teenager and cites jazz as a major influence.
Condon attended Santa Fe High School, where he was a student until he dropped out at the age of 17. According to a 2011 interview with David Dye on NPR, growing up in Santa Fe meant that Condon was exposed to Mexican music such as mariachi. He also worked at a cinema showing international films and this piqued his interest in Fellini arias and Sicilian funeral brass as well as providing his first experience of Balkan music, including perhaps that of Goran Bregović and Boban Marković.
He later enrolled in community college, but only attended for a short period before traveling to Europe at the age of 17 with his older brother, Ryan. This discovery and Condon’s subsequent exploration of world music proved to be instrumental in the development of Beirut’s melodic sound. Zach’s musical legacy has also stemmed to his younger brother Ross Condon, who plays in the Brooklyn based band Total Slacker.
On his return from Europe, Condon enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where he studied Portuguese and photography. Condon recorded the bulk of the material used for Gulag Orkestar by himself in his bedroom, going into the studio to finish the album with the assistance of Jeremy Barnes (Neutral Milk Hotel, A Hawk and a Hacksaw) and Heather Trost (A Hawk and a Hacksaw), who became early members of the band Beirut.
On the strength of the recordings, Condon was signed under the name of Beirut to Ba Da Bing! records, and Gulag Orkestar was given a May 2006 release. Condon recruited some friends to play the music live for the first shows in New York, and Beirut was born.
Beirut’s first official music video was for the song “Elephant Gun”. The second video, which was for the song “Postcards from Italy”, was directed by Alma Har’el, and was released later. 2007 saw the first release of the full band with the Lon Gisland EP.
Beirut’s second album, The Flying Club Cup, was recorded largely at a makeshift studio in Albuquerque and completed at Arcade Fire’s studio in Quebec. The music on the album has a French influence due to Condon’s interest in French chanson during its recording. Condon has cited Francophone singers Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg and Yves Montand as influences. He also expressed interest in French film and culture, claiming this was his original reason for travelling to Europe. The Flying Club Cup was officially released in October 2007. In September 2007 they did a Take-Away Show acoustic video session shot by Vincent Moon. A DVD, Cheap Magic Inside, was shot but quickly sold out; in December 2010, Beirut, BaDaBing, and Blogotheque authorized its dissemination via digital download.
On April 3, 2008, Beirut canceled a previously announced summer European tour. The band had already been touring and had completed the U.S. leg of the tour, but before the European leg, Condon stated that after two months of touring, he was suffering from exhaustion. Zach Condon explained the cancellations in a post on the official Beirut website, stating that he wanted to put the effort into ensuring that any shows would be “as good as humanly possible”. In January 2009 the double EP March of the Zapotec/Holland EP was released, containing an official Beirut release based on Condon’s recent trip to Oaxaca (March of the Zapotec), and electronic music under the “Realpeople” name (Holland). On February 6, 2009 Beirut made their debut television performance in the United States on the Late Show with David Letterman, performing “A Sunday Smile”.
In early June 2011, amidst touring the US, Beirut announced that their newest album, The Rip Tide, which had been recorded the previous winter in upstate New York, was to be released on August 30. The band simultaneously released a single from the album, “East Harlem” (which was first recorded on Live at the Music Hall of Williamsburg ), with the B-side “Goshen”. The new album is recorded, managed, and released under Condon’s own Pompeii Records. Reviewers and fellow musicians have noted that, unlike the prior albums which drew heavily on foreign music from Mexico, France, the Balkans, etc., this one has shown Beirut with its own, more pop-oriented sound; saying, “what emerges [on The Rip Tide] is a style that belongs uniquely and distinctly to Beirut, one that has actually been there all along.” One reviewer noted that “the Euro influences [of Beirut’s previous albums] are still there, but the presiding spirit is old-fashioned American pop.” This album also differs from Beirut’s previous albums in that the music was recorded as a band playing together rather than laying down individual tracks one at a time, though the lyrics were only added by Condon after all the music had been recorded.
Gulag Orkestar (May 9, 2006)
The Flying Club Cup (October 9, 2007) UK #69
The Rip Tide (August 2, 2011) UK #49, CAN #48 US #80
The Guns of Brixton / Interior of a Dutch House (November 13, 2006) – Calexico/Beirut 7″ split single
Lon Gisland (January 30, 2007)
Pompeii EP (February 28, 2007)
Elephant Gun EP (June 25, 2007)
March of the Zapotec/Holland EP (February 16, 2009 – Unofficially released onto iTunes on January 27) US #87 UK #101
Dark Was the Night Beirut contributed the song Mimizan to the charity compilation benefiting the Red Hot Organization
Again in 2011, they contributed a cover of Caetano Veloso’s song, “O Leãozinho,” to the Red Hot Organization’s most recent charitable album “Red Hot+Rio 2.” The album is a follow-up to the 1996 “Red Hot+Rio.” Proceeds from the sales will be donated to raise awareness and money to fight AIDS/HIV and related health and social issues.
Cheap Magic Inside (2007)
Beirut: Live at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC (2009)