Lucky Beaches: The First Lucky Beaches Interview

Posted on 10 August 2011
By Richard Lewis
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Nineteen year old joins cult rocker Pop Levi’s backing band, relocates from Liverpool to Los Angeles. Returns several years later, records his own compositions, releases one the best debut records heard this year.

Lucky Beaches, (Luke Muscatelli to his parents) presently fronts a band of the same name, in addition to serving as Pop Levi’s bassist.

Releasing music on his own label Girl Records he directs the videos and creates the artwork for each release.

The stunning, eponymously titled EP mixes largely acoustic lo-fi home recorded songs with a Lennon-esque vocal delivery and a clear pop sensibility running throughout.

Talking in a Lark Lane pub, Luke’s journey from Liverpool to LA and beyond is explained in greater detail.

Hanging round now defunct venue The Kif (next door to Mello Mello) in Liverpool city centre in 2003, Luke befriended Pop Levi and his band over a few months.

At this stage there was already a considerable buzz around the maverick musician. Luke recalls, ‘It was impressive live, (record label) Ninja Tune came up and saw him. Everyone knew they were gonna go somewhere, Levi had been over there (the US) with Ladytron, as tour bassist.’

Fate intervened however when the bandleader made the snap decision to move over to the States. ‘Last minute I remember going to The Kif and the drummer said, ‘Have you heard? Levi’s said to everyone, ‘I need you all to say you can come to LA.’

‘Three of them couldn’t go, which was half the band. I went home and messaged them on MySpace saying ‘I’d love to play guitar for you’. He said ‘I don’t need a guitarist, but I need a bass player’ and I went for it.’

Luke continues, ‘I hung about with them for a bit, got to know them well and that was it basically, in three months. I didn’t know the band even. Looking back now, I didn’t understand anything!’ he laughs.

The situation over in LA wasn’t exactly the highlife however. While many have visions of bands being signed and lounging by the pool for weeks on end in between bouts of recording, the reality was somewhat grimmer.

Crammed into the same house, the band were literally living on top of one another. Luke recalls, ‘For three months, I was sleeping on the floor in the hallway, the drummer and guitarist were sleeping in the same bed with each other. In the other room was the singer and his girlfriend.’

Things improved slightly with the band all moving into bigger accommodation together in the bohemian enclave of Echo Park.

The locale, a favourite of musicians including the classic line-up of Guns N’ Roses is a run down district of LA where cheap apartments are plentiful.

The band, most famous for Sugar Assault Me Now, a UK hit in 2007 and used in countless films and adverts all moved into the same house together.

‘We got a house and it was a bit like the film Help! Then unfortunately it just ended up being Help! What made it last so long was that every time things got a bit rough, we went on tour. It lasted about three and a half years.’

The time spent in LA saw the band record what became Pop Levi’s acclaimed 2007 debut album, The Return to Form Black Magick Party. Luke’s grungey basslines feature on Pop Levi’s most recent single, garage rock stomper Motorcycle 666.

The period proved an invaluable education to Luke in seeing the music industry close up, not to mention him receiving his nickname while there. ‘I went there and watched, not only how tours work, how being a session signed to the label compared to being an artist worked.’

‘When I went to America, I was 19 and I knew nothing about the industry. I had no care. In the past, I just played music in my room since I was a kid, I wanted to be in Oasis or whoever.’

With illegal file-sharing cutting a swathe through the music industry’s vast profits, the loss of revenue began to filter down to the employees.

Luke explains, ‘After 2006, that was when downloads killed it, that was when people started to lose jobs. I just watched all these people in LA, people who were just socialising on the scene, that industry crumbled.’

He continues, ‘I came home largely ‘cos of struggles with money. In America at that time unless you had a job with a major label, it became hard to get visas. I was on artist visas all the time and it got increasingly hard and it started to cost more.’

‘Watching them all start losing their jobs, the only ones who stayed round were the ones who could do it properly, usually the old-timers. All the others who just created jobs just went.’

This loss of income means that most musicians are all in the same predicament Luke feels. ‘Unless you treat it as a hobby and you’ve got another job that brings in the bread, you’re fucked. Everyone I know who’s doing music is just giving it away for free’

On the future of the record industry and culture at large, Luke hypothesises. ‘It looks like everything’s transcending into the virtual world. There’ll still be a currency for stuff that’s worth something, but it won’t be cash, it’s gonna be clicks and buzz.’

Having witnessed first hand the record industry disintegrating over in LA, Luke is understandably keen to control his own affairs, which led to the formation of Girl Records, his own label.

‘It seems to have been handed down to the people now, technology-wise. That’s why you’ve got a wave of people releasing their own music to Spotify. People have been given the tools to do what EMI used to do.’

On the subject of signing bands to the label, Luke is realistic. ‘What have you got to offer an artist now? If you’re an independent label now, like Factory Records and you’ve got no funding at the start, how do you turn over and build a buzz?’

Luke’s filmmaking, utilising a secretive process to give them their vintage Super-8 quality is found across all of his work.

The video for lead EP track Jenny Mo’, a clip featuring a selection of ‘Jennys’ lip-synching the words, reminiscent of the ‘Sallys’ in Oasis’ Don’t Look Back in Anger was created by Luke himself.

His other work as a filmmaker includes the decidedly strange You Don’t Gotta Run, a roadmovie-documentary focusing on Pop Levi’s time over in the US. At points highly evocative of Bob Dylan’s suppressed masterpiece Eat the Document, the film also recaptures the madcap sprit of A Hard Day’s Night.

The film’s saturated colour tones conjour up images of carefree Hollywood movie stars in times past, lounging carefree alongside their swimming pools.

Luke describes filmmaking ‘as important as writing and music’ to him, with his debut novel $terling $ilver Gets Rich currently in the works.

The Lucky Beaches EP will be followed by My First Pop Record later in the year, explanatory titles clearly a strongpoint with the present musician. Entirely DIY, even down to the varied colours of the CD cases, the EP has been created entirely in house.

Boasting a distinctly lo-fi feel, yet retaining a strong pop mindset, the five tracks were largely recorded at home using Pro-Tools and Garageband. The McCartney esque bassline on Jenny Mo’ was created on a Garageband’s ‘synth bass’ setting with many of the rhythm tracks created using drum machines and handclaps.

While Jenny Mo’ is largely treated as the key track from the release, any one of the songs would have been equally deserving of the accolade, from the solo-Lennonisms of Heavy Load to the summery sway of I’ll Let Go Now (Honey, true)

The fully-formed songs on the EP are due to Luke’s skills as an arranger and producer, the latter something he picked up while in LA. ‘I got a bit of money for the last Pop Levi album and I invested it in Pro-Tools and stuff like that. I got to work on how you produce stuff. I’d watched loads of guys who engineered Pop Levi’s records.’

Luke recalls, ‘We worked in Westlake, Quincy Jones’ studio in Hollywood. Thriller, Bad and Off the Wall were recorded there. That’s when I really got into the idea of making and producing my own music, not just be in a band.’

With the EP to his name, the ‘Beaches have half an LP out in the world. The main course, the album proper is due out in the autumn.

The next single Group Hallucination is sure to ramp the interest up even further. A melodic gem clocking in at under three minutes, the song evokes Bob Dylan via Walton Vale instead of Greenwich Village.

On the subject of inspiration outside of music, internet pioneer Josh Harris wins the songwriter’s approval.

The subject of We Live In Public, a documentary made by acclaimed filmmaker Ondi Timmoner, Harris is described as ‘the most famous internet pioneer you’ve never heard of.’

Timmoner, who helmed (in)famous Dandy Warhols/Brian Jonestown rockdoc DiG! tends to focus on those whose genius/madness quotient is at times severely unbalanced.

Luke explains, ‘The first people I got into, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, since then, no-one’s ever come close. But this guy, he hit me like Bob Dylan. He’s like Nostradamus or something. Before the internet became anything, when it was Apple and Microsoft connecting computers, he made the first internet TV show.’

Fascinated by the way the internet shapes daily life, Luke recently deleted his Facebook account after realising he spent far too much time on there.

The band still maintains a strong internet presence however, the Lucky Beaches site pulling together all the strands Luke has created and assembling them in one place.

Ultimately then, the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service deserve credit for their obstinance in renewing musicians’ visas. Los Angeles’ loss is Liverpool’s gain.

What a long strange trip it’s been. Welcome back.

Lucky Beaches EP is out now at Probe Records and the band’s website.