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“The first Beirut album was all Zach,” bassist Paul Collins explains, “He wrote it and arranged it by himself, and it really represented his vision as an artist. We all got a bit more involved with recording of The Flying Cup Club, and recorded our own parts and everything, but we were pretty much doing what Zach told us too. Rip Tide was much more of a collaboration. Zack wrote the songs and worked on the demos, but when he brought them into the studio he asked us to write our own parts. We all got really excited about the process.”

Paul has long been excited about Beirut, although for different reasons initially. Originally from Oregon, Paul was studying film at college in Sante Fe when he saw one of Zach’s first solo shows. He was completely blown away by the talented teenager on stage, and approached him after the set to ask if he needed a bass player.

“It wasn’t until about six months later, after Gulag Orkestar was recorded, that he called me and asked me to join his band,” Paul explains. “I jumped at the chance.”

In the five years since their debut album was released, Paul has been a dutiful player in Zach’s ramshackle indie-meets-Balkan folk collective, taking to the stage with anywhere between nine and twelve people to bring the Beirut sound to life. He describes the experience as fun but hectic, an almost-ridiculously large ensemble of players that produced very beautiful, very dense and very romantic music. Times have changed, however. Recently, the band has lost a few players and pulled a lot of cacophony out of the sound.

One of the things that has emerged from Beirut’s new collaborative songwriting process is distillation – a refining of the clattering, nostalgic signature sound to something leaner and simpler. Many reviewers have called The Rip Tide a pop version of Beirut, but Paul believes it is a truer representation of their band, a maturing of Zach’s talents where the songs and not the sound capture your attention.

“We really stripped away the instruments so that there is less of a wall of music and focused on making each part really stand out,” he says. “That’s what makes the difference. It’s still guitar, horns, piano accordion, but the instruments have space to breathe.”

The band was able to find this space because Zach had less of prescriptive vision for this album, according to Paul. For both of the previous Beirut records, Zach hung a picture on the wall where he was recording and used it as a reference for what he wanted the music to sound like. The photo on the cover of Gulag Orkestar was torn out of a book found in a library in Leipzig, Germany and stuck to the wall in Zach’s bedroom where that album was made. While writing The Flying Cup Club, he kept a picture of hot air balloons at the 1910 World Fair in Paris in his sights.

“There was no picture to guide us this time around,” Paul says. “It was far more of a blank slate, conceptually, so we could take more of an organic approach to writing and recording.”

The songs for The Rip Tide were written over six months while Zach was living in a cabin in upstate New York, although he didn’t write lyrics until after the tracks were completed with the band. The recording process was also more organic, with a lot of it captured live and only minimal over-dubbing.

“It was such an immediate way to work,” Paul enthuses. “We could all develop ideas together, and then go back almost instantly and see how our pieces fit together, which sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. When we had finished, we had an album that sounded really warm and really natural, a very live kind of sound.”

Zach has done interviews over the last six months talking about his change of focus as a songwriter, from Eastern Europe and France to places closer to home, with songs that celebrate more pedestrian haunts like East Harlem and Santa Fe. He was a romantic kid, obsessed with a vagabond existence, and is now a married man with a house and a dog.

“It’s interesting to see how his view of the world has changed,” says Paul. “So much of Zach’s early song writing had this very particular kind of aesthetic and some people saw it as a kind of affectation, but it was really just what he was into. And it’s interesting to see what he’s into now. It’s funny that he’s looking homeward with this record, since we’ve spent so much time travelling around the world with the band, but I guess you miss the thing you don’t have.”

Paul is confident that Beirut have found a really clear way forward with The Rip Tide – something that draws on the talents of the entire band while still showcasing Zach’s phenomenal talent.

“It’s really a new stage for the band, but it’s one that Zach seems to be really happy with. It feels like we’re all part of the creative process, and maybe that has taken the pressure of Zach a bit. He has said that he found his voice on Rip Tide. We’ve all found our niche, and it seems to be working for us.”