The One Beekeeper(Interview)

 

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He doesn’t keep honey bees. But Don Beekeeper creates a buzz with his unique way of songwriting.

Canadian singer/songwriter/poet Don Beekeeper was an enigma prior to this interview. His songs have  lyrical power. His voice carries with it the intensity of a hurricane when expressing anger or frustration but can also take a Leonard Cohen crooning stance when singing about sadness.

I have a copy of his 4-track EP called Grifter which you can download for free via Noisetrade.

He has a way with words. In fact he doesn’t even have to sing to hold your attention. He can just lunge to one of his spoken poetry and you can get lost to the emotion and images of his stream. He is an expert in projection using his style of phrasing and wit. For instance, when listening to one of his spoken words, you get that sense of being transported into another time. One example is this track called When You Are Wrong as he narrates with the accompaniment of a harmonica(from the EP Grifter).

His poems can be found here: http://www.writerscafe.org/donbeekeeper/writing/ while his full discography can be found here: http://onebeekeeper.bandcamp.com/

 

There is a characteristic of the Beat generation in your way of writing lyrics. Were you influenced by them?

Don Beekeeper holding a shovel

Soundcloud art for one of his songs.

I’m not certain how much direct influence the Beat Generation had on me. I was around 23 when I first read Ginsberg, a bit older for Kerouac, older still Burroughs. I read miscellaneous Corso and Snyder in between. I have a natural attraction to dirt roads – my feel feel comfortable on them….

I was listening to Tom Waits when I was around 20 and that may have shifted me more toward the Beats. I’ve always tended to pay more attention to the words. Tom Waits is an amazing writer.

I never was a lyric writer in my own estimation. I used to be a fiction writer – I guess I still am. And I think that may put me more in line with the kind of writing the Beats did. Their poetry wasn’t pastoral or romantic. I used to be a metaphysical poet wannabe but I’m more an anti-romantic, now. And I’m normally fictionalizing everything. I’d argue that writing of all kinds is actually fictionalizing. There are no stories in reality, nor are there great abundant truths. Descriptions necessarily remove reality from any situation.

How many recordings have you done so far including those you uploaded online. What are your plans for them and what’s coming up for you in weeks to come?

Offhand, I have no real idea how many recordings I have done. I have written far more than I have recorded. I have recorded much more than I’ve posted online. I have been recording my efforts since 1989 – although I took a break of around 10 years. My pre-2007 recordings are mostly not worth hearing. Since I’ve been on Soundcloud, I’ve posted around 200 recordings (most I have taken down as I ran out of upload space). I was recording in the fastest manner possible to just get the idea down – the quality necessarily suffered. Lately, I’ve been trying to take more time with the recordings.

I have no plans for the songs. I have them on Soundcloud, on Bandcamp, on YouTube, and there are still some on MySpace. If people want to listen, they can. I really only have an interest in the expression. I like to make the product somewhat nicely finished, but I ultimately don’t care. People seem to think more highly of my multi-track recordings, they seem to hear the words better – that is the main reason to take more time. I don’t see any real difference between what I’m writing now and what I wrote 5 or 15 years ago.

The coming weeks will probably result in the same sort of thing the last few weeks have. I did just get a drum machine, though.

Ten years? Why that long?

I stopped writing almost entirely. I had other things I thought I needed to do – and I did need to do them. I had myself convinced there was nothing to gain from writing, anymore, even on a personal level.

I finally got disgusted with not really feeling like myself anymore and started writing more regularly around 2007. I’d sold my guitar almost ten years earlier, but my cousin bought me a new one so I started playing that and writing songs with him and a couple of friends – one of these friends is actually a long-time writing partner and is more directly responsible for me starting to write songs again.

People have different reasons for writing songs. What do you think one should avoid when writing about autobiographical lyrics?

I don’t think people should worry about whether or not their lyrics are autobiographical. The important elements are going to be bound to their own experience no matter what. There’s no way to escape that. And if you write a scenario in a song, people are going to assume it ‘s about you no matter what – or some people will. Writing should only be concerned with itself. It doesn’t get better because it is or is not supposed to be about anyone or anything.

With this thought in mind, let’s talk about the song Fairground. You didn’t sing in this collaboration but rather contributed lyrics and spoken words. What inspired you to write about this subject?

Don Beekeeper contemplative pose

I have been recording my efforts since 1989

I wrote what came to mind while first listening through what Donnie Budgen sent me. I don’t know if it was something about the music itself or something else that put that character in mind. But once there, I found the idea compelling so kept going. Like I said, there are people who are going to assume the implied story is true of the person speaking. But there were no autobiographical events depicted there. The character is pretty much described through common pop-psych beliefs. I don’t think people are very easily explained in that way, though.

I saw a couple of your youtube videos including the dancing fingers,a shot of your feet walking, animated stuff and other interesting images that provoke the thoughts. Do you consider yourself cynical about life?

My videos are pretty much whatever comes to mind, except for the ones done by Laura – Lallee on Soundcloud – who is very creative and talented in a number of ways. As for whether or not I am cynical — depends on what you mean by it. More and more I see that the majority of people are so consumed by their own surroundings, possessions, beliefs, ideas, and desires. I don’t think there’s much possibility that will change. Self-interest powers the world – always has. But that doesn’t mean I believe those people are bad. I think the majority of people, if given the choice, would want “good” for others — they may possibly not be able to identify what “good” is or may not be able to divorce it from what’s “good” for them. An empty sentiment is still a sentiment.

I think you addressed the core of my question about being cynical. Let us talk about your musical and literary influences. Care to drop names?

I’ve listened to way more than I can remember – I don’t listen to things hundreds of times, I’m normally done after two or three listens. The person who most singularly influenced me to start writing songs was probably Vic Chesnutt. I heard him and recognized a lot in his writing style – possibly because of our shared affection for Wallace Stevens – or a general kind of poetic attitude. There are some people who seem to speak the same real language – not many people – it’s nice to dwell on them when you find them.

I know I’ve been influenced by Somerset Maugham, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, P.K. Page, Micheal Ondaatje – probably a bunch of Canadian writers -, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, an endless pile of late 70s punk, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen. But there are other things, too – like the Beach Boys and Supertramp. And then there’s the whole blues area – Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson. And country – I think El Paso by Marty Roibbins is one of the greatest songs ever written. There are others. I’d say pretty much anyone I’ve listened to or read and liked.

Wow great artists there. When does the Muse usually pay you a visit?

Don Beekeeper 1990

An old picture

 

I can normally write whenever I want. Whether or not it’s something that will end up being a song is more or less random, although sometimes I feel like writing a song. Often, though, I will just adapt something I’ve already written into a song. Most start out as poems.

This video features Don’s talented dancing fingers.

More links from Don Beekeeper:

Bio:

Write odd things – play guitar, harmonica, piano – sing, record, sulk…

Write something, play something.

I don’t write any one particular kind of song. I try to make things sound like I think they should sound, based on what they say. I tend to use the fastest and easiest way to play and record my stuff. I like to move on from one thing to the next. I’m actually more interested in writing something new than I am in thinking about what I’ve already done …

I love being on Soundcloud. I’ve never encountered a place with a greater concentration of talented and otherwise-hidden people. I’m writing this from my basement with headphones on.

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With music we build bridges!
  • “Offhand, I have no real idea how many recordings I have done. I have written far more than I have recorded. I have recorded much more than I’ve posted online.” -- Ah! How fun is it to peek in the minds of artists?!

    Thanks so much sharing a peek from Don Beekeeper’s mind. It was an interesting read! 🙂

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  • Ha! I am glad you enjoyed this. I think this is what happens when you quit what you love to do for ten years. You become an artistic engine! 🙂

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  • My point is that the artist would say anything EXCEPT,. Her syndicated radio program, Music Highway Radio, airs on over 700 affiliates to more than 126 million listeners. Crazy Horse’s new renditions incorporated the band’s classic hard-rock fuzz to bring more attention to this dark side.

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