The creative partnership between Lawrence Pumfrey and Ollie Pash, co-frontmen of the London quartet Beach Baby, began with a lie. The two musicians met six years ago outside of a bar near the campus of the University of Bristol, where they were students in their first year. Pumfrey, who was studying English literature, had wanted to start a band. On a whim, he asked Pash, a music major, if he played bass. Pash said yes, even though he didn’t have one.
“It was Halloween,” Pumfrey remembers. “I was dressed as Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. Ollie was too cool. He hadn’t bothered to dress up.”
“I wasn’t invited,” Pash counters. “I was crashing the party.”
Beach Baby was born in the late summer of 2013, when drummer Josh “Shep” Hodgson became its fourth member. Bassist Iraklis Theocharopoulos was recruited while he and Pash were grad students at Goldsmiths, University of London. The band fuses dreamy indie pop and post-punk textures, drawing on influences ranging from The Beatles and The Beach Boys to C86 bands and Nirvana. Beach Baby’s first single, “Ladybird,” which premiered in February of this year, begins invitingly with acoustic guitar, a gentle synth, and Pash’s soothing vocals. But then there are the skewed lyrics: “I wanna be your brother / Take a bite of the apple and just spit it out / I wanna be your mother / Raise you up and fuck you right up.” In its review of the single, The Times noted the track’s “pervy, Freudian lyrics.”
“That was probably quite accurate,” Pumfrey says of the description.
The band’s second single, “No Mind No Money,” projects a slacker vibe before building to an infectious, blissful chorus where Pumfrey’s vocal, vaguely reminiscent of Julian Casablancas, is complemented by Pash’s falsetto. Pumfrey asserts that there is more angst to the band’s music than apathy, the latter term coming up in the band’s press from time to time.
“It came naturally to be a confessional songwriter for a while, but now I’m more eager to draw from other places and write slightly in character,” he explains. “It’s also [about] trusting your lyric writing to be instinctive and worrying less about a narrative or a literal interpretation. I still like to have a clear thrust of what the message is to me, personally. Whether anybody else gets it is another thing entirely. And also, just to be like, ‘I really like the sound of that phrase and structure, so let’s not overthink it. Let’s go with it.’”
When Pumfrey and Pash began collaborating six years ago, Pumfrey had been influenced by Leonard Cohen and didn’t own an electric guitar. Their music took on a rootsy, Americana sound. That changed when Pash decided to buy a Fender Mustang and Orange Tiny Terror Amp.
“I was just turning 21,” Pash recalls. “I had played guitar since I was 12, but I never had an electric guitar. I always just borrowed on a temporary basis.”
Six months later, Pumfrey followed suit. Pash credits Beach Baby’s post-punk leanings to the addition of Theocharopoulos, a native of Athens, Greece.
Pumfrey grew up in South West London. His parents exposed him to classical music when he was a child and encouraged him to learn an instrument. He chose the cello, but that didn’t last long. At 11 years old, he took up guitar after being inspired by Nirvana.
“People I knew, kids who I thought were cool, would listen to Nirvana,” he recalls. “So I went to Woolworths, and I remember buying Nirvana’s Nevermind, putting it on at home and going absolutely mental.”
Pash was raised in a small, pastoral village with a population of about 100, the nearest city being Salisbury. He listened to his dad’s records—The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Beach Boys—and began to play piano at five years old. He also learned oboe and guitar. He didn’t think he was proficient enough on piano to become a classical musician but continued to play through university while becoming acclimated with contemporary avant-garde composers. When he reached graduate study at Goldsmiths, he thought he might want to try composing music for film.
“But then I always maintained an interest in playing in bands at the same time,” Pash explains, “and I did that all through my teenage years, playing in bands with my friends from school, writing songs, playing piano, guitar and singing—always with ’60s references. We always tried to take on West Coast music in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way. We were in a band called Pink Bathroom. That was my main band. We had a song called ‘Emerald Skies,’ a song called ‘The Wind.’ We did a cover of ‘Sympathy for the Devil.’ That was our hottest moment. The school was very impressed.”
“I had a bad punk band that I used to play in before I got much more interested in Leonard Cohen,” Pumfrey adds.
Pumfrey and Pash played together in other bands before solidifying the Beach Baby lineup and choosing the moniker.
“It was a name that we had come upon a few months earlier, but someone in our old band wasn’t a fan,” Pumfrey recalls. “As soon as we parted ways, it was like, ‘Let’s be Beach Baby!’”
“It seemed like we had just finished that chapter,” Pash says, explaining that the thinking was, “we might as well properly gut this and start again. “
“It was more a reaction to having really unpronounceable, long, impossible names that people either spelled wrong or you had to repeat three times,” Pumfrey says.
“It fits with our sound, I think,” Pash concludes.
Thanks to sharing a manager with Jungle, the members of Beach Baby played their first shows together opening for the London-based soul collective in Paris and Antwerp in March. Sold-out headlining shows in more intimate London venues followed two weeks later. The band visited the States for CMJ in October and hopes to sustain its momentum during the lead-up to the release of its full-length debut in 2016. Because of band commitments, Pumfrey has less and less time for his freelance job as a script editor through the British Film Institute. Nine tracks have been completed with producer Adam Jaffrey (Bloc Party, Dev Hynes, Django Django), “Limousine” being the first of the of the Jaffrey tracks to be released.
“It’s early days for us,” Pumfrey says. “We’re playing to a lot of rooms of people who have no idea who we are, which is always a challenge, but a good one. It’s a great feeling when you do manage to win people over. You know when you’ve connected with an audience and when you haven’t … it’s still very much, for us at the moment, about going out and playing to as many people as we can and winning as many people over as we can.”