And we back…
Bei Ru, the Los Angeles based musician, beat maker and budding vocalist, has been making interesting and compelling music since the early oughts. In 2010, he raided his parents collection of Armenian pop music and released his first full-length, Little Armenia (L.A.), a funky amalgam of hip hop beats and Middle Eastern samples that was unlike anything that came before it.
Before that, in 2008, Bei Ru audaciously decided to remix Jay-Z’s American Gangster, which he dubbed Beirut Gangster, another East-West, genre-bending record. Bei Ru scored three songs for the 2014 Iranian, vampire Western, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, by Ana Lily Amirpour.
In 2016 came L.A. Zooo, and in March, the multi-talented artist dropped Pomegranate Juice, his latest collection, with another full length on the way, on October 16th, Custom Made Life. In anticipation of the new record, Bei Ru released two singles this summer, the beautiful, contemplative “Anahid,” in which he sings, and “Ultraviolet Violent,” featuring Sebu of Capital Cities, and rapper Blu.
Today, Bei Ru sits in the hot seat for this week’s edition of Behind The Boards.
This interview has been lightly edited for publication. Photo of Bei Ru is courtesy of Bei Ru.
Backseat Mafia: What inspired you to create music? What inspires you every day?
Bei Ru: It’s the first thing that’s given me a high and there’s nothing else quite like the feeling you get from creating something that moves you. That’s what drives me to make music everyday, the potential of making something that’ll get my brain to release those endorphins and the hope that it’ll connect to others who’ll get the same high from it as I do.
BSM: If someone asked you to describe the Bei Ru sound in one sentence, what would you say?
BR: Warm electronic funk waves jazz undertones middle eastern scales lo-fi drums psychedelic soul. I think that’s a sentence.
BSM: Where is your favorite place to create music?
BR: My home studio. I’ve been creating and refining the best atmosphere and energy I can in there by surrounding myself with instruments, equipment, records, and images I love. Things that keep me afloat.
BSM: Are you a vinyl crate digger? If you are, do you have a favorite place to dig? A shout-out to a favorite record store? What was your greatest/most special crate digging find?
BR: Yeah, I’ve been addicted to it for a while. It comes and goes. I’ve had phases where I don’t buy any records for almost a year, and other times where I’m buying records on a weekly basis for months at a time. My favorite spots are all LA shops like Record Surplus, Atomic Records and Freakbeat. I like Gimme Records in Highland Park, and there’s a couple other good ones in that area that I don’t remember the names of. I like Record Jungle but it’s a bit of a drive for me. I don’t have one specific record that I’ve found that I’d say is the most special, but I’ve found small collections that I still think back on. Like some years back I found about 30-40 obscure Armenian funk/soul records at Amoeba in Hollywood (RIP) for like a couple bucks each. Also some small collections of mono Blue Notes, rare psych records. My favorite ones usually happen to come from dollar or fifty cent bins. I once found a copy of Fifty Foot Hose in a dollar bin because the cover was damaged. Some shops’ll throw some heat in their dollar bins because it has a light scratch on one side. The amount of rambling I’m doing here about records is a good indicator of how obsessive I get over ’em.
BSM: What is your preferred music production software/program? Do you use live instrumentation? If so, what instruments do you play/use? Is your music sample based?
BR: I’ve used Logic for years. It’s not perfect, but it’s my favorite for arranging and eq’ing. I also use Maschine. I play keys and a bit of guitar and bass by ear. I use a midi keyboard and a Casio CZ-101 for the most part. I love making sample based music but I also love trying to create something from scratch and making it sound like it’s sample based.
BSM: What is your favorite piece of audio gear or instrument and why?
BR: I’d have to say the EPS 16+ keyboard/sampler since it’s the first piece of equipment I’ve ever owned. As frustrating as it was when used as a stand alone, it’s also got some magic to it that’s tough to replicate on anything else. Like lo-fi way before that was a thing. Lately, I mainly use Maschine to sketch out ideas and then import them into Logic and fine tune.
BSM: What is the one, non-musical item you must have with you when you are working?
BR: No items, really. I do have certain habits/superstitions when I’m working, but they don’t involve any one specific thing. More just some ocd shit that makes me feel at ease, like making sure things around me are neatly arranged or organized.
BSM: What track or album are you most proud of, or is most significant to you, and why?
BR: Honestly, the track I’m most proud of is the most recent one I released which is a song called “Anahid.” And I’m not saying that as a shameless plug, but rather because it’s the first song I’ve released that I produced, played instruments on, wrote and sang, and also mixed, and truly love. My first album is also special to me.
BSM: What was the inspiration for this song? You sing on this song? Will a new album feature more of your vocals?
BR: Anahid was my mom’s name. She passed away in 2015. Making that song was a real cathartic experience that just sort of happened. I never planned to write a song about her or anything like that. I had the beat going in its early stages and something about it reminded me of her. Like a bright sweetness to it, while also having a light melancholy vibe which I connected with in regards to her passing. It was a tough thing for me to confront, and was also something I never really made myself deal with, so the song just so happened to be the right medium for it. And yeah, I do sing on the song, as well as on just over half of the songs from the upcoming album I’m currently prepping. The rest of the songs feature some of my favorite guest vocalists, whose names I’m keeping under wraps for the time being.
BSM: Favorite artist, or artist who you admire, or has influenced you in any medium?
BR: If I had to pick one I’d probably say Madlib. He’s an inspiration production-wise and also as far as his career path and longevity. Alchemist too. Dilla. Dr. Dre. There’s a lot.
BSM: You live in Los Angeles. Favorite music to listen to when driving?
BR: I’ve been listening to cheesy smooth jazz lately. It creates a real relaxing vibe while driving around a frantic and pandemic stricken Los Angeles. Real comfort shit. Something about bad sax solos and really clean sounding drums and keyboards that feel like a happy place.
BSM: You recently dropped another new single, “Ultraviolet Violent,” with Blu and Sebu. What was the genesis of this collaboration? What was the inspiration for the song?
BR: I’ve known Sebu for a while. We used to play shows together with the former groups we were a part of. This is before his band Capital Cities was even a thing. We’d been talking about doing something together for a while and I sent him a batch of beats and the beat for “Ultraviolet” happened to be the one that clicked. We both felt like the song could use a verse from a guest artist and Blu came to mind. I got in touch with Blu through the homie Chris Clarke, and he recorded a phenomenal verse and was a pleasure to work with. There wasn’t one single point of inspiration for the song, it kinda just slowly came together organically.
BSM: Your latest album is Pomegranate Juice. Can you take one song from the album and walk us through the create process for making the track?
BR: Yeah, let’s take the song ‘Salt Pinch’ for instance. That one started with a simple drum loop I put together in order to sketch out a melody idea. I’ll start that way sometimes just to set the tempo and work around the rhythm, but will often replace the original drums with something else. In this case, I kept them. I had a cool sounding electric piano thing I chopped up and played around with, and it all fell into place pretty quickly. Some of my favorite work tends to happen the fastest, and that’s one of my favorites from the album.
BSM: Why is the album called Pomegranate Juice?
BR: So I had a fresh squeezed cup of pomegranate juice in Amman, Jordan in 2015 when I was performing there, and it low key blew my mind. That Pom shit they sell in bottles out here really pales in comparison. Anyway, the plan for that album was for it to be sort of like an appetizer for the project I have coming out later this year, and the title felt like a fun way to phrase that for the album, conceptually speaking. Like a refreshing treat in between meals, which is what I felt it was.
BSM: In 2012, you released Little Armenia (L.A.). In the eight years since that release, what have you learned about the music industry? Do you think it is more or less difficult to be an independent musician in 2020?
BR: I think it’s much easier to be an independent musician now. That album was just something that was hella fun for me to make to entertain myself. I didn’t really plan on it being the jumpstart to a career in music. I grew up in LA as a second generation Armenian to parents who came here from Lebanon during the civil war there. I was into rap and basketball and all things American, but also had a strong cultural influence from my parents, whose record collection I ended up taking and making beats out of. I figured no one’s ever made beats out of these records before, and they had a special sentimental value to me as well, so I just started playing around with them and eventually decided to make a concept album out of them.
BSM: You’ve done some remixes in the past, including a remix of JAY-Z’s American Gangster. Do you approach a remix project differently from your work on your own albums? Is there a difference in the creative process for each?
BR: Remixes have always been extremely fun because you’re working around vocals as opposed to recording vocals to music which is usually the process. It becomes a fun challenge to add a whole new dimension of sound to something that already exists. Like a whole different context, which gives it a life of its own. The only difference is, when working on my own music I have the freedom to start from scratch, whereas with remixes you already have a starting point and have to build around that.
BSM: Upcoming projects? New collaborations? Shout outs?
BR: New album Custom Made Life dropping October 16. Also working on a ‘Bei Ru Presents’ rap record with some amazing guest vocalists, which I’m still putting together. Planning to release a series of beat tapes as well in 2021. Also working on a project with Krista Marina, who’s a vocalist I recently connected with. A few other collabs in the works that are still coming together. Doing my best to stay creative in these times as both a distraction from all the negativity happening around us as well as a way to cultivate my own sense of peace and sanity. Hope it connects with others.
And we outta here…peace…peace…peace…
Connect with Bei Ru on Bandcamp:
More from Bei Ru, where you can purchase physical copies of L.A. Zooo & Merch: