Toronto psychedelic folk-rock band, Beams, streamed a bonus pre-recorded film to coincide with the formal release of their third studio album, “Ego Death,” last Friday. Shot on location around their home city, this professionally produced movie (Last Frame Pictures in association with Wavelength Music) not only featured live recordings of all ten new album tracks, but added audio and video commentary from all six band members in-between songs. The footage provided the viewer an insight into how Beams have faced the challenges of a global pandemic amidst the creation, the recording, and the releasing of this album, and the on-going uncertainty of sustaining their own livelihood as independent musicians.
Beams set out to film versions of each song from the album back in early 2020, and as they were ready to get underway, the world as we knew it came crashing down around us. Keen eyed viewers will quickly detect that the live video footage features only five members of the band, with guitarist Martin Crawford isolated in his British Columbia home due to the pandemic. Contributing prominently during the band commentary segments, Martin made frequent references to his last on-stage appearance with Beams in January 2020 at the historic Dakota Tavern, questioning if this could ever happen again. While he has not officially parted company with the band, the mental and physical anguish from the ongoing nature of Covid-19 leaves the guitarist at a crossroads, where the uncertainty of his professional music career and desire to return east lies in the balance.
Ever grateful to their Toronto home and the venues that have helped establish their presence within the independent music scene, Beams took advantage of this film to give back a little to the community at large. Capturing footage from their own rehearsal space, to the recording studio, and iconic venues such as The Horseshoe Tavern and Dakota Tavern, the band shared stories of their personal connection to such places through the camera lens. Performing all tracks sequentially, as per the album, “Born to Win” kicked off the event, captured in their rehearsal space located in the basement of an upscale commercial building downtown. For Anna Mernieks-Duffield (guitar/banjo/vocals), the band quickly developed a strong connection to this space and the aura it provides them. “It just showed me how important it is to have a space like that, where you can spread your wings and start to make the sound that you wanna make,” she shared. “The band’s rehearsal space has been operating since the 1980s.”
A room that has historical ties to both The Tragically Hip and The Pursuit of Happiness, Beams also recorded their live version of “Rain God” in this space, which featured also during the album’s final number, “A Flower Blossomed,” as part of a montage sharing footage across all of the locations used (including remote snips of Martin adding his lead guitar duties). Both Mike Mernieks-Duffield (drums) and Keith Hamilton (vibraphone/vocals) emphasized the historic value of the space, adding their gratitude for being able to currently call it their own. “It’s a place we would like to keep for as long as possible,” added co-vocalist Heather Mazhar, “And everybody works pretty hard to keep it going.”
“Ego Death” was recorded at Union Sound Co., under the guidance of engineer Alex Gamble, and Beams opted to film “Find Me” at this location. “You can get nervous easily and then become hard on yourself in the process of recording,” shared Heather. “That didn’t happen at Union Sound with Alex.” Both “Break Glass” and “Time Drain” were filmed at an eerily empty Horseshoe Tavern (kudos for the sentimental focus on the famous checkerboard floor), complete with footage of the anti-lockdown protest march taking place on Queen Street as the band were moving their gear into the building. An equally empty Dakota Tavern (more great images captured the recognizable descent into the basement room) saw a performance of “Til The Morning Comes,” itself a pivotal album moment where Anna re-introduces the banjo to their repertoire. “See The Light,” recorded at The Boat, included Anna’s friend, and Ace Of Wands bandmate, Lee Rose on violin, while “Sweet Tea,” a personal favorite of mine, was filmed inside friend Matt Durant’s art studio near Trinity Bellwood’s.
Taking a momentary hiatus from the city, Anna delivered a solo acoustic version of “Three Star System” out on a private dock overlooking one of Ontario’s many scenic lakes. “I’ve been watching some of the things I love fall apart, from our actual family unit to certain dreams I had about the future,” she shared. “But this special place that I’ve been coming to since I was born, it’s still there, the one thing that’s remained and what it symbolizes. Yeah, it’s really important to me.” And after closing with the video montage of “A Flower Blossomed,” Anna took one final moment before the credits rolled to share her own personal and heartfelt feelings about life over the last twelve months. “Honestly, I feel like this whole experience of being a band during the pandemic has given me a lot more hope for my ability to maintain the energy needed to be in a creative project like this,” she offered. “When the dust settles and you start to see the figures around you taking shape, and you see the faces on those people that are still standing there with you, those are the people that I know will be in my future.”
Team GDW are grateful for the guest access provided by Anna Mernieks to enjoy this exclusive event. Learn more about “Ego Death” at: https://beamsbeams.bandcamp.com/album/ego-death
See the original trailer here.