Maybe I’m crazy, or maybe it’s the vocal harmonies, but, although the two bands’ music is different, I get a vision of a California-based Jayhawks when I listen to GospelbeacH.
When I mention that to Brent Rademaker, GospelbeacH’s founder, songwriter, and guitarist, he responds: “That’s cool! I think we may listen to the same old records.
“Beachwood Sparks (Rademaker’s prior band) toured with the Jayhawks in 2001, and I really connected with their ability to write a good rock/pop song,” he says. “They are so rad! ‘Bottomless Cup’ (a song on the Jayhawks’ 1997 album Sound of Lies) is a personal fave. I like that they don't try to be weird — they just write songs and play. Maybe that's what you hear?”
I also sometimes feel a sunny Kinks vibe when listening to Los Angeles-based GospelbeacH.
“I like the way the Kinks reflected their surroundings in their songs,” Rademaker says. “We seem to do that, only in California, not London.”
GospelbeacH’s two albums, 2015’s Pacific Surf Line and last year’s Another Summer of Love, were highly praised. Some of the songs have been likened to the sounds of the Byrds, the Grateful Dead, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
“When someone at a truck stop asks us” what style of music we play, “I just say rock and roll,” Rademaker says.
“Another Summer of Love is a rock-and-roll-band, song-oriented album,” he says. “That was the concept. Pacific Surf Line is more like a communal gathering of vibes and a celebration of West Coast rock and roll. Pacific Surf Line is like taking a train ride down the central coast, and Another Summer of Love is like driving a ’73 Challenger through the desert.”
Putting Another Summer of Love together probably took six months “if you placed the writing/recording and mixing time on a calendar,” Rademaker says. “The triumphs for me were finding our way as a real three-piece band. Jason Soda and I discovered our duet harmony, and Jonny Niemann really textured the album with his keyboard playing. Both of those things have become a crucial part of our sound as a live band.”
The only struggle making the album, Rademaker says, was the absence of guitarist Neal Casal and vocalist Nelson Bragg, who were touring in other bands. Bragg has been Brian Wilson’s percussionist and vocalist since 2003 and performed with Wilson and the Beach Boys on their 50th anniversary tour in 2012.
Prior to GospelbeacH, Rademaker and his mates in Beachwood Sparks received kudos for three solid albums. So I ask Rademaker for his view of the similarities and differences of the two bands’ music.
“They are both heavily influenced by the Byrds, but Beachwood is like the Notorious Byrd Brothers era, and GospelbeacH is more like McGuinn, Clark & Hillman and the Byrds’ Farther Along era,” he says. Both bands were formed for fun and ended up making records and touring.
“I think that's the secret to success for me — just have fun that comes from pure inspiration. Beachwood just wanted to be a country band, and, with GospelbeacH, I wanted to rock and have lots of lead guitar. Thank God I met Soda (who, before GospelbeacH, was in Everest and the Watson Twins).
In September, Beachwood’s 45-year-old guitarist and songwriter Josh Schwartz died from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
“Josh was a fan of our band Shadowland, and he bought a T-shirt off of me one night after a show in Hollywood,” Rademaker recalls about how they first met. “He gave me a flyer for his band Winter Kills. Both Shadowland and Winter Kills worshipped this L.A. band called Lions and Ghosts, so we hit it off right away. He was like barely 18 with a mouthful of braces, and he could play guitar like Neil Young. We became friends, and he would show me how to play ‘Blackbird’ on the acoustic. So I asked him if he wanted to audition for our new band, Further.
“To be honest, during all the tributes (to Josh), I didn't want to be to self-serving, but Josh is really responsible for Further and Beachwood Sparks and any success or good records that I've made — as well as my brother Darren. Josh’s passing has reminded me to play every show like it's my last. I try to do that anyway, but, after three weeks on the road, you gotta dig deep. Josh loved to rock! Sure, he could sing gentle and play even more gentle and pretty, but he was always an inspiration to me that you gotta do it all, like Neil or Petty.”
Of course, like most musicians, there were many inspirations and many musical heroes who influenced Rademaker.
“I really loved Chicago, Three Dog Night, and the Beatles when I was little,” he says. “I played the trumpet, so I loved the big band thing — even Maynard Ferguson, whom I saw play live a bunch. I watched each member of his band from the bass player to the horn section and kinda dreamt of having my own band one day. I think my first real heroes were Mick Jones and Joe Strummer. They did everything so great and looked cool, too. I really started to take myself seriously as a songwriter and guitar player after hearing the Clash, Generation X, and the (Sex) Pistols. The Clash made it seem like anyone could do it, and anyone can!”
The best concert Rademaker attended was a Queen and Thin Lizzy show at Lakeland Civic Center in Lakeland, Florida, in 1977.
“I was blown away by Phil Lynott’s stage presence, knack for a melody and bass playing. He had a mirrored pick guard on his black Fender bass, and the lights reflected all over the arena. He really connected with the crowd as well and made the big place seem small. But then Queen came on and totally blew the roof off the place — dynamics galore and showmanship without being too campy. I went with my best friend and my dad, and we all just got caught up in it. So fun!”
The concert that most influenced Rademaker as a musician was a Patti Smith show in Tampa.
“I saw the Patti Smith Group play a show in front of a large crowd of southern rock fans, and they just came out blazing loud, sounding different than anything I had heard. She was spinning around and putting her whole being into her performance, and she spun straight off the front of the stage. She broke her neck apparently and didn't perform live for many years after, but it was her desire to reach the crowd that really ended up inspiring me. All or nothing — I’m sick of boring concerts.”