Beirut, New York child prodigy

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)

Source: Wikipedia

[Beirut] Worldly Influences On a Young Artist – By The New York Times

Picture: Zach Condon of Beirut. Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Playlist | Beirut
Worldly Influences On a Young Artist
Published: July 22, 2011

Zach Condon is growing up. Or trying to, anyway. At 25, Mr. Condon, better known as the songwriter behind the indie folk band Beirut, is already a music veteran, having arrived as a multi-instrumentalist teenager versed in global sounds: Balkan beats, French chanson, Mexican funeral. For Beirut’s third full-length album, “The Rip Tide,” out Aug. 30 from Pompeii Records/Revolver, he wanted to hone his influences.

“I’m trying to be less of a dilettante with instruments,” he said. “For years I was picking up new instruments once a month, and for this I was trying to focus a little more, stick with piano, ukulele and trumpet.” But with clarity comes pressure. Playing a Roman amphitheater this month in France, “I was shaking for the first couple songs,” he said. “That seems to be happening on this tour for some reason. I guess I’m getting older and I’m getting a little more self-conscious. Or maybe it’s because I’m less drunk. As a 19-year-old you just want to swig whiskey and drink beer and go onstage and have a ball. And I started to realize that I sounded like an idiot between songs.”

Via e-mail and telephone from Madrid, between stops on a European tour, Mr. Condon drank a single beer and talked about what inspires him now, from the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño to an Xbox skateboarding game. “It’s hypnotizing,” he said. “There’s actually some kind of rhythm to it.” These are excerpts from his conversation with Melena Ryzik.

Q. Your new single is called “East Harlem,” and in your e-mail you said you like Bolaño because he has “the same idle and poetic amusement with city and street names” as you do. Are you reading him now?

A. I’m reading “2666,” which is a monster of a book, that’ll last me all this tour. “The Savage Detectives” really got to me, these children acting as bohemians and this ennui. I read a review of Bolaño, and they were asking him: Why do you have these long passages of street names and city names and he said they were poetry. I wish I’d thought of that. It’s not like I’m trying to be exotic or always evoke a strong reaction with the names. As a kid I used to paint city names on my wall, just from a map. I thought that was brilliant. The funny thing about the way I write songs is, I’m very much a child of the modern era. I write songs on Pro Tools. I write songs by multitracking. And when you open Pro Tools, they ask you to name the file, and the easiest way for me to remember it is to name it after a city.

Q. Do you steal — or, let’s say, get inspired — by any writers for lyrics or music?

A. I remember I was struggling a lot to write lyrics, and my older brother, who I trust in anything about literature, was egging me on to read E. E. Cummings. There’s something about his rhythm that’s very singable.

Q. Did your older brother, Ryan, influence your musical taste growing up? You said you recently picked up the Magnetic Fields’s “Desert Island,” which you first listened to at 15. Was that his idea?

A. Me and my brother were very close growing up. It was the kind of situation where if I brought home a Green Day CD, he would throw it out and put a Boards of Canada CD in and say, ‘This is your homework for the night.’ That one [Magnetic Fields] was a discovery of my own, which I was pretty proud of.

Q. What made you return to it?

A. I’ve been revisiting a lot of my old stuff. There’s a song on the new album [“East Harlem”] that I wrote the melody for when I was 17. I had a bit of an identity crisis after our last year of touring. I recorded so many songs as a kid, and I used to lose them and forget about them, toss them everywhere, and my younger brother, Ross, was really into archiving them. When I was back home, there was a stack in his room, and I was just poring through it, and of course when you get in that state of mind you go through what you were listening to. I guess I was looking for a time when music was a little more innocent, and the pressure wasn’t there.

Q. What was the emotion you wanted to telegraph then?

A. I’ve always been searching for some sort of epic melancholy, I guess. It sounds silly saying it out loud, but it’s the truth. I can remember the first melody that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It was this haunting Italian aria. My mom put it on. It had a haunting melodic twist at the top of the singer’s range, and I remember thinking, I wish this just repeated and didn’t go anywhere else.

Q. You’re a fan of Lykke Li, the Swedish singer, especially her song and video for “Sadness is a Blessing.” You called her a renaissance woman. Why?

A. I’m jealous of her clarity of vision. I’ve just been scratching about in the dark for some sort of image to project, and she’s nailed hers. But also she’s just not shy of performing and being swept up in it all.

Q. Is that why you like Chico Buarque, the dapper Brazilian artist? You said his song “Roda Viva” is one of your all-time favorites, and compared him to Sinatra.

A. Back in the day the press was basically trying to pit him against Caetano Veloso. They were pals, they had nothing to do with it. But what they came to represent was something different: Caetano looking outward for influences, to rock ’n’ roll and America, hippy stuff, and Chico, at the same time, digging deeper and deeper into his classic samba roots, dressing up every night, old school. I can appreciate that. I’ve been a total slob, but I’m trying to adapt some of that attitude myself.

Q. Is your band dressing better?

A. I’m trying to force them all to wear suit jackets. I’m sick of seeing 30-year-old men in New York look like toddlers, wearing sweatpants and flip-flops.

A version of this article appeared in print on July 24, 2011, on page AR15 of the New York edition with the headline: Worldly Influences On a Young Artist.

Breaking Artist: Beirut – By Rolling Stone

By Rolling Stone
October 10th, 2007

Who: Multi-instrumentalist Zach Condon, a twenty-one-year-old musical prodigy from New Mexico who dropped out of high school and headed to Europe, where a nutty neighbor exposed him to the old-fashioned Balkan sounds that would influence Gulag Orkestrar, his 2006 album that blew bloggers’ minds.

Sounds Like: Beirut’s folk-rock evokes lazy strolls down European back alleys via a delightfully unpolished blend of Condon’s supple tenor voice, accordion, brass and strings. It’s not hard to detect the influences of Gypsy rock and the orchestral rackets of Elephant 6 bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, either.

Three Things You Should Know:
1. Condon’s big break came when he was working as an ice-cream scooper. “I dropped out of school at sixteen,” he says. “I went back four times, though some of them were as long as one day. I went to the University of New Mexico for about a month when I got a very strange phone call from Ben Goldberg who owns Ba Da Bing! Records, and he said he wanted to release my album. I was going to class that day and I turned around and went home and got the next flight to New York.”
2. Beirut’s second full-length album The Flying Club Cup was recorded in Condon’s home state and Quebec, where Arcade Fire violinist Owen Pallett (a.k.a. Final Fantasy) traded string arrangements for Neon Bible for two free weeks in the band’s church studio. “We lost our minds for a couple of weeks, shut off from the world in this little church up till four, five in the morning,” Condon recalls. “I’d sleep for a couple of hours and wake up to the sound of violins and drums.” The Arcade Fire folks, as well as onetime Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes, are Condon pals now.
3. Condon’s first instrument was the trumpet (he has horns tattooed on both wrists), and he was so “absolutely obsessed” with doo-wop and Motown as a kid that he even made a doo-wop album. “One of my earliest memories I have of music is my dad and his two brothers would sing old doo-wop songs together. He gave me his old Frankie and the Teenagers album and I fell in love with it and thought this is it, this is the music I want to do. [My doo-wop album] has never been released, but there are some really hilarious great tracks from it that I still listen to myself, in secret.”

Get It: The Flying Club Cup came out October 9th, 2007 and samples are of course available on the band’s MySpace page (which deliberately misspells the band name in the url).