Jeff Beam has done a difficult but crucial thing in integrating a bit of cheek throughout his catalog early on. The young Maine-based songwriter and Of Montreal admirer swings his own versatile sound, from a spritely early Elvis Costello all the way to a more musing Elliot Smith, but his songs enjoy the burst of energy and life that a half-hidden smile can bring to a melody.

Beam, whose quirky writing will gain indie cred as he continues to grow as an artist, is all set to drop “Venus Flying Trapeze,” his fourth solo effort, on Dec. 10 at Empire Dine & Dance with Chris Moulton and Dave Gutter supporting. GO sat down with Beam to learn about the hard work that goes into such a prolific early career. 

On your MySpace, it says you are “What happens when Jeff Beck drinks Jim Beam.” Clever wordplay, or can you actually back this up?

Buy me a shot, and let’s find out! But I bet “Jim Beck” has the same website bio. 

Among others, you’ve caught the ear of local star Eric Bettencourt. What do you attribute this to?

I don’t think there are too many people around doing stuff like me. There’s not a huge psychedelic scene in town, and I don’t know of many other folks that produce and record every aspect of their albums by themselves. I just think I have a different approach than most people, and I think that gets people’s attention. Eric Bettencourt is one of those cats who does a lot of home recording and has an incredible amount of output. He’s a great guy to have around the music scene. 

What is your favorite kind of song to write?

Short and catchy, with interesting and cohesive chord changes. The best songs come at you fast, pack a bunch of well-connected infectious melodies and are over in a flash. Short ditties keep the listener coming back for repeated listens. 

You just came from two years in Boston. How was that? How do the scenes compare?

Boston was interesting. My Boston band was called The Stereo Flys, and we played gigs around town with two types of bands: uber-indie Allston punks or mind-numbing metal bands. There was hardly anything in between. Nobody was playing much psychedelic music, and there was hardly any good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll. I hope we brought a little bit of that to Beantown. As far as music scenes go, Portland (beats) Boston, by a longshot. 

Who are you for Beatles night? Are you up to the challenge?

I’m playing George’s 12-string Rickenbacker, but I’m singing most of Paul’s parts. “A Hard Day’s Night” is a pretty wacky record, but with Kurt Baker, Ryan Dolan and Scott Girouard by my side, I think we’re up for anything. But seriously, those tunes are just as fresh today as they were in 1964. The chord changes and song arrangements still haven’t been topped. 

Talk about the planting and harvesting of this latest record.

The planting and harvesting of this album date back to this summer. I spent the summer out on the island of Vinalhaven with my girlfriend, Julie, and I wrote and recorded most of the album out there without any cell phone or Internet. There’s an eclectic selection of instruments on the album (I used a lot of household items for percussion), and I was able to spend an incredible amount of time nurturing the songs and polishing the recordings. I’m rather proud of the crop of songs I was able to harvest; it may be the strongest batch yet. It all came together as “Venus Flying Trapeze,” my fourth solo album, due out at Thanksgiving. And Dave Gutter and Chris Moulton were kind enough to jump on the bill for the Dec. 10 album-release show at the Empire. Giant party. 

What will be the best part of 2011 (with minute details, please)?

I’m going to try my hand at Brooklyn for the first part of 2011. Then it’s back to good ol’ Portland to enjoy my time before the impending uncertainty of 2012. Since I’ve released one new solo album every year since 2007, I would also expect a fifth album about one year from now. 

Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland and Boston.


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