If the music industry gave out awards for patience or persistence, Bevan Herbekian would have a healthy handful of trophies to his name. The multi-instrumentalist has lent his songwriting and frontman skills to everything from loose punk bands to a highly orchestrated indie pop quartet over the course of the past decade and a half, in addition to playing bass on other people’s songs — at the moment, he’s part of fellow Berkeleyite M. Lockwood Porter‘s band — so he’s no stranger to the realities of trying to “make it” as a musician. But Teenager, the moniker under which Herbekian has decided to release his first truly solo album, represents something new for the songwriter: A chance to blend every genre he’s ever loved, to talk about his travels to New York and subsequent, requisite disllusionment with it, a musical space where he doesn’t have to bend to anyone else’s desires.
The resulting joy is contagious — The Magic of True Love, which comes out April 29, is full of unabashedly earnest, tightly crafted pop songs with seriously big instrumentation. There are head-bobbers, there’s high-flying falsetto, there are shout-along soul choruses. His voice carries the energy of someone very young, but these aren’t songs written by a newbie. Herbekian decided to realease one new song off the album each week leading up to the release, which means you can listen to quite a bit of it online. To be real, though, you should probably buy it. It’s catchy as shit, and the guy’s been at it long enough.
We caught up with him this week to hear about songwriting influences, going solo, and exactly how much time he spent listening to Nevermind.
San Francisco Bay Guardian Your bio says you’re from a small Northern California town. Where, exactly?
Bevan Herbekian I was born in Bennett Valley and raised there until I was 13. It’s that small stretch of countryside/small town between Petaluma & Santa Rosa proper that hides behind the hills off the 101. When I was in junior high, my family moved to Avila Beach, which is a tiny beach town on the central coast. It’s got two streets and a population of a few hundred. It made Bennett Valley look like a real urban center.
SFBG When and how did you first start playing music? What instrument was the first? How many do you play now?
BH I started playing music when I was about 12. My dad taught me the riff to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and I urgently learned the rest of the album on an acoustic guitar. It was one of those aha! moments for me. I was totally hooked and immediately wanted to start a punk band, but everyone I knew played guitar, so I hopped over to bass. Since then I’ve taken to the other rock ‘n’ roll instruments — piano, organ/keyboards, simple synth stuff, various percussion — I humor myself on drums and basically anything else I can get my hands on.
SFBG What’s the first record you really remember loving?
BH Unquestionably, Nirvana’s Nevermind. Around the same time I picked up the guitar, I borrowed a cassette of Guns & Roses’ Use Your Illusion from a friend’s ‘cool’ older brother — he was in high school so he was automatically cool. My dad caught me walking through the front door with it and said something along the lines of ‘you don’t want to listen to that garbage’ and took the tape, but not in the normal parents-are-a-drag sort of way. An hour later he gave it back to me having recorded Nevermind over it. I remember sitting on the floor of my room hearing those drums kick in and thinking what is this?! It was so loud and aggressive and passionate and vulnerable and somehow just as catchy as the early Beatles stuff that I loved as a little kid. Overnight, I became obsessed. I couldn’t stop listening to it. I literally listened to it every day before school for a year.
SFBG Can you name some of the bands you’ve been in before? The last time the Bay Guardian checked in with you, you were in The 21st Century.
BH Yeah, I’ve spent much of the last 15 years playing in bands. Prior to Teenager I was leading The 21st Century which was this highly orchestrated Indie-Pop/Rock octet with horns and harmonies and big songs in general. Before that I was working on solo stuff similar to what I’m doing now and playing in a fun experimental art-rock(?) band called The Tea Set and of a band/friendship club called World’s Best Dad. Right now, I’m also playing bass in M. Lockwood Porter which is a really sweet Americana/rock ‘n’ roll band led by fellow 21st Centurier Max Porter.
SFBG How was making an album on your own different from with a group? What made it feel like time to do that? It’s interesting, because so many people, when they decide to “go solo,” put out a really stark and stripped-down album, but this record sounds really BIG on all levels, in the best possible dramatic power-pop sense….got some ’70s arena-rock guitar riffs, soul jams with big backup vocals, some choruses that sound like younger (less cheesy) Billy Joel stuff.
BH Ha, that’s funny and pretty true! Yeah, this album came on the heels of being in a band with a lot of people. As is the case whenever working with a large group, there are many competing ideas and opinions. This can be a tremendous strength, but the songs that became this record were incredibly personal and I just found myself wanting to work on them in a solitary way. I had a strong sense of where I wanted to take them — kind of a ‘more is more’ philosophy — and when you have that sort of clarity, it’s best to do it yourself. It’s true, many of these songs are BIG and that’s been something I’ve been chasing for a few years. These songs grew out of some very big feelings so it seemed like the right way to bring them to life. There’s love and loss and desire and deep disappointment running through them so I wanted them to sound as large as it all felt.
SFBG On that note — how would you describe your genre on this album? Who would you point to as your biggest influences?
BH I love so much music and I like trying my hand at a lot of different types, so there’s a handful of genres represented here. I see this album almost like a mixtape of my life. There’s nods to many of my musical loves. There’s some rock ‘n’ roll, ’60s soul, indie pop, folk, and ’90s alternative (do people still say that?). In terms of musical influences, I gravitate towards songwriting. I love the melodies and arrangements of Brian Wilson and Motown. The literary and lyrical precision of Leonard Cohen and Belle & Sebastian blow my mind. Bands like The Pixies, Big Star, Harry Nilsson, and Beck — they’re all staples too…and like many of us, I was indoctrinated at an early age into the ultimate Beatles fan club by my dad so that’s a part of my musical DNA too.
SFBG Where does the moniker Teenager come from?
BH With The 21st Century, I was unapologetically ambitious. Even the band name was a kind of over-the-top statement of bravado and staking claim on something bold and large. Coming out of that, I veered the opposite direction. I thought, what’s one of the more misunderstood, under-appreciated, and generally dismissed groups around? And I arrived at Teenager. I think it was also a chance to acknowledge how long I’ve been writing and recording music at home. In a lot of ways, I’ve been doing the same thing for about 16 years so I thought in a way, my time as a musician and songwriter is dead center in those teenager years. Given the pair of meanings, it somehow felt strangely appropriate.
SFBG Plans for the next year?
BH Well, I’ve been putting together a new lineup to play these songs out. I’m quite excited about that. I’m eager to tour come early Fall. Also, because this album was such a labor of love and took such a long time, I’m sitting on a lot of backlogged material. My hope is to get into the studio and cut it all by the end of the year and then whittle it down — maybe to a double album. I’ve never made one and have always been a bit against them in principle — I like editing – -but I think it might be time to give it a try.
SFBG Where do you live in the Bay Area? How does being from Northern California/living here influence your music?
BH I lived in San Francisco for a few years and had a stint in Oakland, and now I’m living in Berkeley. Honestly, I’m not sure how Northern California plays a part in my music. To me, it’s home and sometimes it’s hard to see your home for what it really is. But I love the city and the redwoods and the ocean and the mountains. Being surrounded by all that beauty can really instigate some large dreams and make you feel like the world is an astounding place.
SFBG Bay Area meal/restaurant/food item you couldn’t, hypothetically, live without?
BH Without hesitation, La Taqueria followed by banana cream pie and a cup of coffee from Mission Pie. I’ve dubbed it the ‘double threat’ and there are times when I do it twice a week. No joke, I did it today.