TUESDAY OCTOBER 17, 2017
 
Blog NXNE
NXNE 2013: BEAMS
BeamsLead.jpg

Beams  support structures. The cover of the Toronto band’s debut album Just Rivers is a display of multicolored wooden slats, geometrically improbable but solid.

This sense of foundation is present not only in Beams’ cover imagery and songs - sturdy, well-built tunes - but in the demeanor of frontwoman Anna Mernieks. She is a pragmatic, thoughtful young woman who has built a home around her art with a crew of excellent musicians.

She is somewhat quiet and reserved but quick to sing her bandmates’ praises in her own way, while acknowledging herself as the center of all that is Beams. We recently met with Mernieks over coffee to find out how the band came to be.

On the promo side of things, how has your experience been with the Toronto music scene?

Everyone’s been pretty respectful, asking good questions (in interviews.) Some difficult ones - like asking “What do you sound like?”

Like people who haven’t heard your music conducting an interview?

Some journalism seems to have been a little rushed. But everyone’s got a lot on their plate.



Beams is a big group - upwards of seven members - but you are credited as the sole songwriter. Did you build the band around the finished material?

For the most part. I wrote a few more (with the lineup in place) but that’s how it’s worked out so far. They’re all songwriters as well, but from the get-go the project revolved around my songs. Though I don’t know if it always will.

Why not take the credit of a solo artist, then?

It’s more fun, and secure, when you have people who will always be there. I like working with a band. The band is a democracy, and the rolls shift depending on who has time to do what. In the beginning I did most of the booking and that sort of stuff, but I went to school this year and Mike (Duffield, drums) took that over. Martin (Crawford, lap steel guitar) took over the social media.

And I don’t like being a figurehead - I don’t have the last name for it.

How do you pronounce it?

I’ve been trying to figure that out my whole life. I think it’s “Mer-nee-ecks.” I was taught “Mer-nicks” when I was young but that didn’t sound right. It’s Latvian.  

Do you know anything about Latvian music?

Music is a big part of Latvian culture, and there are a lot of traditional Latvian bands, but I wasn’t brought up in that community. I missed out on that. I have a stronger bond with my mother’s musical community of Oklahoma - gospel and country, that sort of thing. The first album I ever heard was a tape of my mom and her brothers and sisters singing gospel songs. We would listen to it on every car trip to the cottage.

It’s interesting you remember such an early musical experience - that’s like a few degrees removed from remembering your own birth.

It kind of is. I’m lucky I remember. The next tape I had was Shania Twain’s The Woman in Me.

What has been your biggest commitment to the band so far?

Commitment came up as soon as we started making the album. We knew we’d have to do everything we could to see it through and tour it. Once you committed to this ship you couldn’t jump off until it reached its destination. But the more confident we got about it the more effort we were willing to put forward - a positive feedback loop.

What kind of “Beam” are you referencing with the band name?

I thought about the people in the band - “The Friends and Family” was taken. “Nice People” ... I don’t know. Okay, things that support each other - Beams. That’ll do.



Keith Hamilton plays the singing saw in Beams. From your estimation is it as difficult an instrument to play as I’ve heard it is?

I’ve tried to play it and didn’t have much success. It takes a lot of strength, you really have to bend the saw to get the right frequencies. The reason you may not hear it played very much is because it is very hard to keep in tune. When you’re in a live situation that’s (not such a problem) but while recording it can be very hard to mix in. Keith has up until recently used only real saws - $40 at Canadian Tire. But recently he got a real musical one.

Beams will perform at this year’s NXNE festival June 14 (The Central), and June 15 (Exclaim! NXNE BBQ).

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