The London Teen Whose First Song Ended Up Being a Homemade Hit.
Beabadoobee may have only started playing guitar a little over a year ago, but she was born a songwriter. At first, the artist born Bea Kristi melodies focused on earthly matters: phlegm, for instance, and being chased by a tenacious squirrel. At the time, the songs were a musical reprieve from the violin she studied for seven years. But when her dad brought home a second-hand guitar, something fell into place.
The first song she wrote on that guitar was “Coffee,” a hushed, intimate track with a wandering tempo. The song racked up hundreds of thousands of plays in its first days, and the industry came calling. The success required Bea to get serious about music, fast. “I’ve realized how many mistakes I’ve been making,” she laughs. “I’ve realized I can’t play to a click. ‘Coffee’ is all over the place. The tempo is so wack.”
Three Beabadoobee EPs followed: She released Lice in February of 2018, Patched Up that December, and Loveworm last month. The most recent is a six-song collection inspired by a rough patch between Bea and her boyfriend Soren. It’s also a moment of significant growth for the still-nascent artist: the instrumentation, lyricism, and guitar work on Loveworm are a cut above, and it’s reaching ears far beyond her native London. Songs like “Angel” and “Disappear” are more ambitious than the early work—there’s a full band this time around, and Bea’s blooming guitar skills are inspiring a whole new level of songwriting. While The Moldy Peaches and Daniel Johnston are still major inspirations, bands like Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. are now in Bea’s rotation.
Aided by independent London label Dirty Hit, Bea has thrown off the yoke of “bedroom pop” and quickly become a voice for restless teens the world over. It helps that she’s one, too—when we spoke, Bea was revising for her upcoming exams, the last scholastic endeavor she’s obligated to complete. After that, anything could happen.
How’re you spending your Friday?
I’m attempting to revise for my exams today. They’re in a few weeks. I’m doing sociology, and this is the first time I’ve revised in two years, it’s really hard. My last exam is the 14th of June, and after that I’m free forever.
What are you going to do to celebrate? This is a major life event, something you’ve been doing since you were five…
I don’t know. Probably watch a movie or something, I don’t like going out and going crazy. I’ve actually been in school longer, because I got kicked out by one my schools. It was an all-girls Catholic school, it was really posh. The thing is, I did get the grades to pass, but they didn’t like me as a student so they just sort of… let me go, and I was school-less for a few months. I was thinking, “What the fuck am I going to do, what the fuck am I going to do?” [Laughs]
I WENT HOME ONE DAY AND MY DAD HAD BOUGHT A SECOND-HAND GUITAR. I THOUGHT, ‘LET ME JUST PLAY SOMETHING,’ AND THE FIRST SONG I EVER WROTE ON THAT GUITAR WAS ‘COFFEE.’
It was, and it was illegal. They tried telling me, “Oh, come back we’re sorry,” but I had already found a new school. It was a really unhealthy environment as well, all-girls Catholic schools are kind of fucked.
It’s in the past. Let’s move towards the present—you’ve said before that your artist name wasn’t supposed to stick…
[Beabadoobee] was the most random thing, I didn’t think it was going to work out so I just gave myself a stupid name—it’s my finsta.
When did you start playing guitar?
I didn’t start playing guitar until last year, when I was 17. I played violin for seven years, and I guess that made me comfortable with strings. But I went home one day and my dad had bought a second-hand guitar. I thought, “Let me just play something,” and the first song I ever wrote on that guitar was “Coffee.”
Were you teaching yourself?
Yeah, I think the first song I learned was “Kiss Me.” Totally simple. And then I just kept finding easy songs to learn. I’m still pretty rough, I’m not that sick. But I play guitar a lot, I don’t go a day without playing guitar.
When did you start singing?
I never really sang, but I always wrote songs. When I was in Year 7, I remember writing songs for this Friday show and tell thing in school. I wrote a song and made my friend sing it. I also wrote a song about phlegm, and a song about a squirrel chasing me one time. Then I started properly singing when I learned how to play guitar.
What’d your London look like growing up, how did you kill time?
There was this bookstore in a shopping mall in Bayswater. I used to go there every single day after school, I was just obsessed. If I do go out, it’s to BFI (British Film Institute). They just did a big retrospective on Stanley Kubrick, and my boyfriend loves Kubrick. I think that’s how I started going to BFI.
Let’s talk about your boyfriend Soren—you’ve said he was a big part of the inspiration behind your Loveworm EP. Were you at all hesitant to share something that personal?
Holy fuck yes. I was so scared. I thought I was going to get annihilated by Soren. Every song is basically part of a journey through these couple of months we went through that were quite rough. I remember him calling me after listening to the whole EP, and he was like, “I figured out a lot of things,” and I said, “Holy shit, thanks Loveworm.” [Laughs] It opened his eyes—there are lyrics in there that only he and I, and sometime only I understand.
On “Disappear,” you sing: “’Cause the rush of love is gone, and I’m tryna find out why it disappeared.” How did you guys confront that inevitable dip?
That was also inspired by my friend Amir, who was going through the same thing. We both dealt with it in completely different ways: Amir broke up with his girlfriend when he lost that rush, and I was just like, fuck this—Soren is the definition of my type. I can’t lose the person I think I’m going to end up with. People are like, “Shit Bea, you’re 18,” but it’s hard to find someone that you genuinely connect with. And if you find that, even if you lose that rush of love, if you really like that person you should plow through it and try your hardest to find it again, and do different things.
It’s about knowing you have the power to find your way out of those valleys. I also like how on “Angel,” you say “your bones are only painted gold.” It’s a contrast to your earlier song, where you say—
“Your bones are gold!” I’m gassed someone noticed. [Laughs] But in “Angel,” they’re only painted gold. I wrote “Angel” during a really weak point in my life, when “Everest” didn’t mean jack shit to me anymore, so I wrote “Angel” taking the piss out of “Everest.” But I’m not saying “Everest” isn’t telling the truth, it just means “Angel” was written during a very sad time. It’s about finding love in other things, it’s super dark.
THERE ARE SOME SONGS ON MY SPOTIFY WHERE I’M LIKE, “WHY THE F*CK DID I WRITE THAT SONG?” BUT NOW I’M MAKING MUSIC I LIKE.
Who did the Loveworm artwork?
Elliot Bech. He’s the sickest guy, he’s the modern-day Daniel Johnston. I remember seeing his drawing style and thinking that it reminded me of Daniel Johnston. I wanted Lovewormto look comic book-y, and he really brought that to life.
Is there something you look for in collaborators? What’s that process been like as you’ve grown a team around you?
We have to have the same music taste as me. Pete [Robertson], who produced the EP, he made a playlist that had stuff he had produced and listened to, and all the music on the playlist was all the stuff I listened to. Same with the director of my music videos, we need a similar taste in music and movies. If they know Daniel Johnston and The Moldy Peaches, that’s a check in my book.
Who else were you listening to while you were making Loveworm?
A lot of Sonic Youth, a shit-ton of Pavement, I’m obsessed with them. “Spit On A Stranger” is my favorite Pavement song. Dinosaur Jr., Radiohead, Kimya Dawson obviously… Autolux has an album called Future Perfect, and I remember listening to it when I was really high and thinking, “Holy fuck, this is the best album I’ve ever listened to.” [Laughs] You know when you have an album where you can listen to every song without skipping? It’s that album.
As you’ve put out more work, a couple of your earlier demos have been taken down. Does that come from a desire to start with a clean slate, is there something else at work?
I kept the songs that meant a lot to me. I don’t know if we took down any songs, I don’t think we did. But if we did, then it was probably because I didn’t like that song. There are some songs on my Spotify where I’m like, “Why the fuck did I write that song?” But now I’m making music I like.
Since signing to Dirty Hit you’ve supported some huge acts like the 1975, was there a moment when you realized you’d crossed some industry threshold?
When I was 15, during my emo phase, The 1975 was all I’d listen to. Next thing you know, I’m opening up one of their gigs. A few days before that gig I was at his house—I was in his toilet, thinking, “This is so weird, don’t freak out, don’t freak out.”
IT’S SO HARD TO NOT BE A FAKE B*TCH IN THIS INDUSTRY. AND ALSO, DON’T FEEL PRESSURE—I WENT INTO THIS THINKING THIS WAS GOING TO GO NOWHERE. I WAS JUST DOING IT FOR FUN. SO EVERY TIME YOU MAKE ART, DO IT FOR FUN.
When did you know it was time to go with a label?
I had interest from other labels, but what drew me to Dirty Hit was that they were independent. They were small but they cared about everyone—I want to have opportunities, but still be able to do whatever I want.
What’s stuck out to you now that you’re getting into bigger studios with professional engineers?
I’m realizing how much shit I can do, and I’ve realized how many mistakes I’ve been making. [Laughs] I’ve realized I can’t play to a click, holy shit. Bro, I just can’t do that shit. Like, “Coffee” is all over the place. The tempo is so wack.
When I finally got in a proper studio, I said, “Fuck, I need to learn this.” So I’ve learnt, and I’ve grown a lot—I’ve also improved in guitar playing, and I get to use a shit-ton more instruments, which is super fun.
I saw all this music is just a stepping stone to your real ambition, to teach young kids.
Yeah. That’s what stresses me out, that’s why I’m trying to revise. I don’t need school, but on the one hand I kind of do really want to be a nursery teacher. I just get along with kids, I can be best friends with them.
If you could time-travel back to when you just started taking music seriously, what would you say to your former self?
Stop being so fucking sad all the time, because you’ve got big shit in the future, bro. I remember being so stressed out about school at the time. I should have just worked on being happy.
What would you say to a new artist starting out in 2019?
Just do you. Don’t be a fake bitch. It’s so hard to not be a fake bitch in this industry. And also, don’t feel pressure—I went into this thinking this was going to go nowhere. I was just doing it for fun. So every time you make art, do it for fun. With no expectations.