photo: Kurt Sunderman, 2012
Karl Steffey: vocals (2010-11)
ZVS: guitar, bass, vocals
Dan Frankland: guitar, bass:
Brandon Mace: drums
NORTHERN BEACHES: THE UNREAD EPIC
Song of the Coelacanth will always stand, frozen in amber, as a symbol of the friendships shared between me, Karl, and Dan; the summation of everything we had experienced together, fortuitously documented just moments, on the cosmic scale, before Karl was lost.
I'm intimidated by the idea of trying to explain what our triadic friendship was like. At the heart of every person's favorite memories is an entirely subjective, personally meaningful experience that cannot be communicated fully to someone else. It seems ridiculous to try. I will just say that it was long, storied, and epic. For a time, for all intents and purposes, we lived together under Karl's parents' roof, staying up until sunrise - crashing - waking up and starting all over. I'm not talking about wild partying; I'm talking about uproariously hilarious goofing off, intensely meaningful discussions, and chasmically deep friendship, all of which came with an implicit feeling of eternality.
They say you never know what you've got until it's gone. That's not always true. Throughout that time, I was perfectly aware that my life could not be more amazing.
Of course, that way of life couldn't last, and its inevitable collapse caused a lot of depression, especially as other people involved in it faded away, and as the realities of adult life began to creep over us. But the three of us stayed together, and one of the things that continued to bond us was music.
Dan and I first played together in Soul Cries (2004). During that time, Karl was working on an electronic project called Ram's Head (which he continued until sometime in 2007 or 2008). After Soul Cries folded, a succession of failed musical attempts commenced. Dan and I tried to start a project called God Bless America, which then became Free Minds Association with Joe Rosenblum (Red Sun) on drums. That morphed into Silver Linings, where Dan moved to playing guitar alongside me; his brother Joe joined on bass and Karl came in on vocals. That crashed quickly; Dan moved back to bass and we resurrected the "Free Minds Association" name, but when I started playing with Joe Frankland again in a new, stripped-down Silver Linings, FMA faded out.
By summer of 2006, Silver Linings was done again. I called Dan and asked him, honestly, why we weren't working together. We promptly started a new project called World Line. Dan started showing me demos of songs he had written on guitar. They were far too "Dan" for me to learn, so we decided that the two of us should switch off between guitar and bass, depending on who wrote what. Karl and Joe Rosenblum came into the project and a long period of furious writing, especially on Karl's part, was inaugurated.
The problem was that Joe lived three hours away, which meant that things inevitably moved slowly. At the beginning of 2009, Karl, Dan, and I discussed the idea of starting a new project until things could come together better for World Line. Then, on the verge of moving forward, something terrible happened. Due to some misunderstandings, I found myself out of the band - and the friendship.
Karl and Dan continued as "Red Cloud's War" with two new members. Joe Rosenblum and I attempted to start a band called "Greetings from Japan," but it didn't come together. I languished in a deep depression, spending most of my time sitting alone in my apartment, staring at the walls as the sun went down. I couldn't drive on the streets near Karl's house, where we'd all had the best memories of our lives together; I would cry as I approached them.
And then, somewhere near the middle of 2010, something amazing happened. Karl contacted me and asked me to come over. I went to his house and we talked about everything. And life started to fall back into place. I started to get the idea that we should give the band thing one more shot. When I posed it to him, he was quite enthusiastic.
We were desperate to get started. I had been playing in bands since I was 15 (1998) with nothing to show for it. Karl had spent five years in and out of failed projects. We knew it was time to get serious and make something happen. Unwilling to summon the patience to deal with the process of finding band members and learning songs with them, we decided just to record an album and let the other pieces come together afterward. That August, I recorded drum and guitar tracks for a full-length. The list consisted of three unrecorded World Line songs, three Greetings from Japan songs, one re-purposed solo piece, and one entirely new composition.
And then another amazing thing happened: Karl reported to me that Dan wanted to join the band. And just like that, everything was back to normal - the three of us, together again as friends and musicians, as if a year-and-a-half of time had been no more than a small imperfection, a temporary malfunction that was easily repaired. All that despair, cured by a moment of honest redemption.
Dan encouraged me to record bass tracks for the songs that already had basslines; he would write and record bass parts for the three that didn't ("The Heart of Understanding," "Empty Vessel," and "Measure of Redemption"). At the beginning of 2011, Karl added his vocals. I mixed it in my living room, and it was done. Karl decided to call it "Song of the Coelacanth." The coelacanth is a type of fish that was thought extinct until it was suddenly discovered, alive and well, here the whole time. It was Karl's metaphor for everything we'd experienced and everything we were: we'd never gone away; we had always been here and always would be. It was a beautiful encapsulation of how much our friendships meant.
And then Karl died.
His health had been poor for awhile. We were all worried about him. We tried to help him, but didn't know exactly what to do. At the end of April, 2011, at 26 years old, he was taken to the hospital, unable to walk. On arrival, he required a ventilator and was taken to the intensive care unit. One of his last conscious acts was to apologize for not being able to make band practice. And then he went under sedation for a week.
While he rested in his ICU bed, his organs began to shut down. The ventilator was damaging his lungs, but he couldn't breathe without it. It quickly became obvious that he was not going to make it. What had felt days earlier like a temporary scare that would inspire Karl to get his health in order now very concretely looked like the end of an amazing person's unfulfilled life. And that's what it was. We and other very close friends visited him every day. On the off-chance that he could hear us, we tried to keep him in good spirits. The hospital was very accommodating and let droves of us go back there during non-visitation hours. We told stories about our most hilarious memories together and sang songs in his ICU room. I'd like to think that he knew how much he was loved in those last few days of his life.
Song of the Coelacanth went to press shortly after his funeral. When it came back from the plant and I held it in my hands, I didn't feel the rush of joy I had expected after a lifetime of waiting to put out my first album. I felt a somber sense of gratitude; I had helped Karl accomplish one of his goals. His work, his thoughts, his art - here they were, on an album. Proof of his existence and his heart and his genius.
I will never be able to divorce the album from this experience and all that it symbolized when it was made. Within it is years of amazing friendship and musical growth with Karl and Dan. I feel as "blessed" as an unrepentant atheist can feel for having recorded it, preserved it, before it was too late.
Bastion Recordings was founded primarily to release the music of Northern Beaches. They continued as a trio after Karl's death. They played their first show without him, with an empty microphone stand placed center-stage - a practice they maintained at all subsequent shows. They released one more full-length, Music for Dying in Bars (a sustained tribute to Karl), as well as a single and two digital collections of live tracks. N.B. disbanded when, in 2013, Zack moved to New York for graduate school and Brandon moved to Columbus to pursue a career in musical therapy; Dan decided to follow suit and headed out west. Their dispersal ensured that their music, for all that it meant, would go unheard by most.
SEPTEMBER 28, 2012: YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO (2013)
Secular Mystics | Civil Floor Disobedience/Shorthand | Odd Man Out | Ebb and Flow | Madhouse Rock | Alexander | March of Time | The Heart of Understanding
*No longer available
Showing their penchant for increasingly experimental sounds and live performances that use their recorded output as a starting point, not an end, Appendices captures the excitement, power, and originality of this band as they honed their sound in 2011 and 2012.
Odd Man Out (ZVS Remix) | Dub and Flow | Secular Mysticism | Dog in the Yard (Live September 24, 2011) | The Heart of Understanding (Live February 4, 2012) | Excerpt from "Impasse" (Live September 24, 2011) | Empty Vessel (Live March 3, 2012) | Secular Mystics (Live November 3, 2012) | Ebb and Flow (Live March 3, 2012) | Madhouse Rock (Live March 3, 2012) | Ruins (Live March 3, 2012) | Measure of Redemption (Live March 3, 2012) | Encore Solicitation (Live December 14, 2012) | Secular Mystics (Composite) (Live November 23 and December 17, 2011)
*Digital download available from the artist via Bandcamp.
MUSIC FOR DYING IN BARS (2013)
On Music for Dying in Bars, the ever-progressing Northern Beaches guides a journey through beauty and terror, sadness and inspiration, insightful commentary and pure expression. With influences from punk rock, dub, the avant-garde, jazz, electronica, and prog, N.B. veers from the melodic to the confrontational, from the simple to the intensely complex, and from the meticulously composed to the completely improvised. This is a one-of-a-kind album and an epic listening experience.
"ZACHARY SUNDERMAN's guitars are dust storm dense, DAN FRANKLAND's bass murky and muffled, and BRANDON MACE's drums angular and chaotic, while Sunderman's sporadic vocals are poetic yet peeved. ... [T]he eclectic album lurches and heaves like a sputtering, soot-spewing blast furnace." -Mark Suppanz, The Big Takeover No. 73
Civic Religion (An Orientation) | Alexander | Dog in the Yard | Please | Fallout | Group Improvisation | Someday I Won't Be Doing This | Madhouse Rock | March of Time | Alexander (Reprise)
*Digital download available from the artist via Bandcamp.
"CIVIL FLOOR DISOBEDIENCE" (2012)
Recorded mostly live at N.B.'s practice space to computer and cassette simultaneously, this 7" single follows up on the new paths the band has been hinting at, presenting two tracks of heavy, thick, political dub-punk.
Civil Floor Disobedience | Madhouse Rock
*No longer available, but copies (in plain paper sleeve) come with orders of Music for Dying in Bars (BAST007).
SONG OF THE COELACANTH (2011)
The first release from the Midwestern band Northern Beaches showcases a guitar-driven indie-punk approach that treads the line between melodic song craft and heady experimentalism. 2011’s Song of the Coelacanth explores pleasing grooves as well as sonic onslaughts, tight control as well as absolute abandon, directness as well as complexity; but never does it fail to integrate its multiple moods into a coherent whole.
The Heart of Understanding | Odd Man Out | Empty Vessel | Secular Mystics | Ebb and Flow | Measure of Redemption | World's End | Ruins
*Digital download available from the artist via Bandcamp.