Indie folk rock septet Beams live at Peach’s in Yellow Springs

One of Beam’s vocalists, Heather, on stage at Horseshoe Tavern in Onterio. Photo: Gaelle Legrand

By Tim Walker

Combine the easygoing mountain sounds of a mandolin and a banjo with a steel guitar and a singing saw. Add the poignant lyrics and lilting strains of two talented female vocalists. Put them all together with a guitar, and no one would blame you if the word “bluegrass” popped into your head. But Beams, the critically acclaimed 7-piece band who hails from Toronto, Canada, isn’t bluegrass, really, or blues, or even country—though the listener can detect hints of each in their songs. Their nearly unclassifiable sound and tunes, along with their insightful lyrics and well-received shows, have earned them a growing fan base who eagerly awaits their every live appearance and new music release, in both the U.S. and Canada.

“The lyrics are sad, but the music is sweet,” sings Anna Mernieks on the final track of the new Beams album, Teach Me to Love, scheduled to be released next year. Co-front woman Heather Mazhar then comes in and joins her for the chorus, their voices in perfect harmony, zeroing in on the bittersweet balance between comfort and sorrow that the lyrics so aptly describe. Each Beams song is like that, exploring a one-of-a-kind sonic space in an airy brand of almost Appalachian-inspired roots music. With seven musicians in the band, you’d expect the songs to be overloaded with playing, each player struggling to make himself heard in the mix. But a typical Beams track has none of that—the ease with which the music marries to the lyrics, the spaces in which the notes carry the melodies and feelings, all are magic and include the listener in a truly unique listening experience that exists outside the arbitrary boundaries of “folk,” “pop,” or “rock.” Call it psychedelic folk perhaps, but “good music” will suffice if you must have a label.

“It’s certainly a type of folk rock,” says Anna Mernieks, songwriter, banjo picker, vocalist, and co-front woman for Beams, when she spoke with the Dayton City Paper recently. “But the songs aren’t always completely straightforward. Sometimes they kind of venture off into their own worlds. Basically, we’re just creating different sorts of worlds with each song.”

Since their first performance as a group back in 2011, Beams has steadily built a following on both sides of the border. Their first album release, 2013’s Just Rivers, was produced by Peter J. Moore and showcased the band’s musical chops and song-crafting abilities in 12 tracks, including standout songs like “Be My Brother,” “Picture This,” and “Where Our Cabin Lies.” More recently, 2015’s The Gutters and the Glass, a 2-song single/EP release the band recorded in Chicago with John McEntire, continued to show the band’s development with the popular songs “The Way We Run” and “Black Shadow”. The band has also released a fantastic cover of the Kate Bush classic “Running Up That Hill.” Music videos for both songs on The Gutters and the Glass have helped to keep the band’s fans satisfied as they eagerly waited for the next round of live shows from the band.

“We do have a cassette tape,” continues Mernieks. “Which we sell, which is just a mix of a bunch of our friends and us. We’re also working on another full-length album.” All of the band’s recordings can be purchased at www.bandcamp.com and on iTunes, and their music can also be found on Spotify. When asked if the Canadian septet ventures below the border and into the United States frequently, Mernieks says “We have been, yeah. The visa process is kind of expensive, so when we do finally get our visas, we try to maximize them. We’ve had to get three visas now because the crowds have been so receptive. It’s just been a process of continuing to build a great community.” When asked if she prefers playing live or recording the band’s music in the studio more, the singer and songwriter laughs and says “I wouldn’t really pick one without the other, I guess. They both really feed into each other.”

Beams is made up of front women Anna Mernieks and Heather Mazhar, brothers Dave and Keith Hamilton (on mandolin and singing saw/vibraphone, respectively), Martin Crawford on guitar, Craig Moffatt on bass, and drummer Mike Duffield. Keith is also responsible for loading up the van, which means finding room for all of the band’s equipment while still ensuring each of the seven musicians has a place to sit—talk about a big responsibility.

Local residents won’t be surprised to hear that the village of Yellow Springs has embraced Beams and their quirky, earthy musical sensibility. A May 2016 live appearance on 91.3 WYSO’s Excursions show with Niki Dakota did much to help get the word out and introduce the band. “We’ve performed at Peach’s,” continues Anna Mernieks. “And we really consider it one of our new homes away from home. We’ll also have a new album release in 2018, called Teach Me to Love, coming out in the spring for people to watch out for. We recorded it at Toronto’s Union Sound Company with Ian Gomes, and it’s ten tracks of all-original music—we didn’t put any covers on it. We didn’t even think about it this time.”

There’s no doubt that Beams is a band to watch. If your tastes run to roots music or songs which peer into areas outside the realm of your typical 3-minute rock track, make plans to check out Beams on Dec. 9 at Peach’s in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Beams will perform at Peach’s, 104 Xenia Avenue in Yellow Springs on Saturday, Dec. 9. The show begins at 10 p.m. and is 21 and up. Admission at Peach’s is always free. For more information, go to www.PeachsGrill.comor call 937.767.4850. Band info can be found at BeamsTheBand.com

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Tim Walker
Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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