On her new six-song EP, California 1970, released April 21 on her own Red Raven label, distributed by Kobalt Music, Tara Beier firmly establishes herself as a powerful new voice within the alt-folk scene. Drawing from the full range of her influences, from traditional folk and blues to classic rock and psychedelia, Beier bridges past and future sounds while offering a lyrical perspective both personal and universal.
Based jointly in Toronto and Los Angeles, Beier produced California 1970 herself at legendary L.A. studio The Village Recorder, joined by guitarist Adam Zimmon (Iggy Pop, Shakira), drummer Tripp Beam (Moby), bassist Eliot Lorango (Sea Wolf), and keyboardist Sasha Smith (Ariana Grande, Linda Perry). Additional sessions were held at former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum’s studio.
Not surprisingly, the songs on California 1970 reflect her recent time living in L.A., using the city as a conduit for some deeply personal themes. Opening track “Fool’s Paradise” sets the bar high with its taut, slow-burning message of seeking the truth, before exploding by the end into a soaring, string-led chorus. For these traits and others, the song was chosen for the EP’s first video shot at Zorthian Ranch, one of L.A.’s most cherished artist-friendly locations.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Beier is also an award-winning filmmaker. Her most recent project is Covered, which saw her taking on the role of Buffy Sainte-Marie and spending a year immersed in the life and music of the Canadian folk icon. Beier took some time to talk about all of this ahead of her CMW showcase on Saturday, April 22 at Grace O’Malley’s. More info can be found at tarabeiermusic.com.
What did you set out to do differently with California 1970 compared to your previous album, Hero And The Sage?
I wouldn’t say I was setting out to do something different, I would say I was progressing into something else, given my new circumstances and environment. Hero And The Sage, which is still very unknown to the world, just got re-distributed actually. I hope people get a chance to hear it as well. It was produced in Toronto by Bret Higgins of Great Lake Swimmers, and all the songs are very much stories about was what I was going through at the time.
For California 1970, I wanted to produce it myself and I was lucky to get extremely talented session players to create the vibe I was going for. I think what happened on this EP is that I was able to bring in a new voice to my songs. I don’t want to say one is better then the other. California 1970 is what happened to me this last year—different cities, different musicians, different experiences.
The EP reflects the time you've recently spent living in L.A. What are the best and worst things about being there?
L.A. is an awesome city, and it’s huge. There are lots of opportunities, you meet lots of different kinds of people from all over the world, the weather is sunny everyday, and there are beautiful places to go and see. The problem is that everything is very spread out and my friends live in different areas. L.A. is a bunch of cities in one city and the traffic is really,really bad so you have to plan out your day to get anywhere.
I live in East L.A.—Mount Washington—and sometimes I have to go to Venice, which takes an hour and half during bad traffic. It takes me an hour to get to the airport and then you’re stuck in traffic once you hit downtown! Also there is of course the difference between living in America versus Canada. I think America is a great country, but there are certain things, like the reality that guns are everywhere. That’s a little bit unnerving.
The film you made in which you starred as Buffy Sainte-Marie inspired your writing as well. What was the biggest challenge in doing that role?
I did the film Covered because I am one of Buffy’s biggest fans. I have been following her life, and her story for years. She is what inspired me to go into music seriously after making the film. The biggest challenge was the pressure to play a famous person like her. Getting her Maine accent down took a lot of time and research—lots of walks in the park practicing her voice!
Whatever I do, whether it’s in film or music, takes a lot of time and energy out of me. It's like delivering a baby in a way because you’re creating a new life. There was a lot up against me in making this film, a lot of red tape, and all I wanted to do was to make something for her. In the end we had a great run; Covered was named Best Experimental Film at the ImagineNative Film Festival, it screened in TIFF and 18 other festivals in Canada, the U.S., and New Zealand. You can watch it on YouTube and it’s starting to get included in educational programs.
The question is raised more often about why there aren't more female record producers. Having produced your EP, what are your thoughts?
There is a low count of female film directors as well. Women are just not getting the opportunities that men have had. In my opinion, women have to start stepping it up and owning their shit more.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
I had to practice playing piano when I was a kid, and I would be alone sitting in an empty room. There was not any sound in the house except me and the piano. Listening to the tone of the keys in this open space was I think the coolest part of it. Being by myself with the piano is what I’ll always remember.