Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Besties for Life

Written by Julie Fishkin
After reading about the Besties and listening to their music, I paid attention to their lyrics for a while, spent time with the record, and concluded quickly that it would be dismissive at best to call them "sweet, infectious pop."  Surely, there's more of a punk element here, especially if you listen to their words and hear their story, how they got started, and what their new album Home Free actually means. 
Photos by Timothy Herzog 

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After reading about the Besties and listening to their music, I paid attention to their lyrics for a while, spent time with the record, and concluded quickly that it would be dismissive at best to call them "sweet, infectious pop." Surely, there's more of a punk element here, especially if you listen to their words and hear their story, how they got started, and what their new album Home Free actually means. Unlike, say a Drew Barrymore movie, with some saccharin story about a wholesome girl who finds her own, this is something else entirely. It's not just about the melodic sounds that have been so easily labeled as sweet; it's about true freedom and shedding the weight of whatever holds you back. I met with Marisa Becquist, who I have to admit, is the *sweetest* girl, and whose music stems straight from her personal charm, and soft but decidedly assertive stance.

I confessed to Marisa straight away that I'm not actually a music writer. I don't know much technical terminology or the chords, the harmonies, and the nuances of syncopation. "Who does!” exclaimed Marisa. “Ha, I don't either. That's fine. Not a prerequisite to making music, to appreciating music, to writing about music," she concurred. In fact, she wasn't always a musician. The way the Besties became a band is as brilliant a story as their actual music. Marisa and Kelly Waldrop moved to Brooklyn from Florida, and were living in a big industrial loft in South Williamsburg at 79 Lorimer, as the eponymous title song on their new album explains.
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"Kelly and I had just moved here and our friend Mike Singer had a big Hammond organ and was moving to Manhattan. And since we [we]re the only people he knew who had this huge bedroom—like the whole place was 5000 sq. ft.—we took the organ. We were like ‘Don't put it on the street.’” They both started to learn how to play it, and the organ became the reason they started playing in the band. “We started writing songs on that organ, just the two of us,” she continues, and after showing their songs to Mike, they all saw they had something serious on their hands.

Neither Marisa nor Kelly have any musical background. In fact, they both took one class together in college at University of Florida, Music for Non-Music Majors, and they were, as Marisa points out, “by far the worst people in the class.” After the class, they didn’t play much music at all, writing “baby mini songs on the organ” and sharing them with Mike Singer who decided to join the band because the songs were that good. The three started working on music together and the band was formed. Singer eventually left for LA and Ricky Walsh joined in his place. As a tribute to him, the band named their first album, Singer. Later, Frank Korn joined on drums (though it’s Clayton Rychlik that will be playing with them on their spring tour).
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Since the organ story, the band has toured the US and Europe and were even invited to play the Emmaboda Festival in Sweden with the likes of Of Montreal and Dinosaur Jr. I asked Marisa how they went from making songs in their giant loft apartment to playing a world famous music festival.

"We had out a new 7" and we just stuck a Post-it on it and said, ‘We want to come play your festival.’ And the festival organizers actually contacted us back. It was amazing! It was so much fun; we met so many amazing new people. It's crazy to be able to say we toured Europe and were flown over to play our music,” gleams Becquist. After the festival, the Besties toured Europe for a month, playing Iceland, Sweden, and the UK. “We actually sort of have a following there. It was crazy. After the festival, we played our first show in Stockholm and there were people there singing along to every word. It was wild. Like, you're not one of my friends and you don’t have to be here,” she points out, laughing at the amazing turn of events for the band.
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As far as DIY tours go, the Besties definitely had their share—booking their gigs, finding their own travel means, and meeting great people along the way. Reminiscing about their time touring, Becquist recalls one particularly inspirational story that became a song, "Gothenburg Handshake." She recounts, “Well, the Gothenburg handshake is something someone taught us when we were in Gothenburg, Sweden and it's when you meet someone for the first time and instead of shaking their hand, you grab their crotch. They were like ‘This is a Gothenburg handshake,’ totally bullshitting us. We definitely made some really good friends!"

I wasn't sure if they made really good friends because the Gothenburg handshake is so conducive to bonding or because they have really magnetic personalities and make great music. I have a feeling it's a little bit of both.

Speaking of their music though, as infections and "sweet" as it may sound, the smart lyrics they write, and the poignant stories their music tells are hardly sweet. In fact, I asked Marisa what she thought about being called a "sweet pop band with a sweet new album" and she confessed, "I haaaaaaate it."
She continues, "Yeah, I agree that it's a pop record and that we’re a pop band. That's who we are, there's no way of getting around it. [That’s] the kind of music we make. But [it’s] a little bit defeating when you're writing these songs that are really personal; you're talking about these intense things like dead family members, really painful things…you record it and put it out there and people's reaction are like, ‘Awwweeee, that's adorable.’ We just got a comment the other day about one of our songs, “Bone Valley Deposit” like, ‘The boy/girl lyrics are so cute; It's such a sweet song’ but it's a song about my dead dad. It's not meant to be cute. It takes the wind out of you a little bit."

And yet, the band is definitely not lacking in wind and unswerving energy. In fact, in 2007, they decided to leave their apartment and go on the road, devoting their time and money to the band. They became officially "home free," without a home, but not quite homeless, in the socioeconomic sense. This freeing notion became the title of their new album. "It was incredible," Marisa says excitedly. "It was a scary prospect at first. With the options we had at the time, doing that made the most sense. We were in this situation where we had to move out of 79 Lorimer. Our families sort of teased us that we'd be homeless, and I said, ‘Hey, I'm not home-LESS, I'm home free!’ It's strange how having a home or any sort of possession can become a burden, much more of a burden than you stop to realize."
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It's funny because when I heard the title Home Free, I thought it meant, "We made it, we did it," but it's better than that, more poignant. It's the exclamation point in achieving this desired freedom and victory. I guess that's also how a band circumvents the economic downturns and finds the best way possible to deal with the troubles. It's an enviable and impressive concept. Marisa agrees. "Yeah, I mean, the kids who buy our records never had money to begin with. I was broke before and I'm broke now so it's sort of the same. One victory for the punks, I guess! [laughs]"

A victory for punks or just really devoted musicians who found a sound that rocks and a perfect way to develop it and get heard and loved for it. A victorious moment for pretty much anyone who hears their album.

The Besties started their current tour with a show at Union Pool in Brooklyn on February 26th and will continue through the Midwest to California with a loop to end up in Austin for this year's SXSW festival. I'll see them there!

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