Beirut is an American band which was originally the solo musical project of Santa Fe native Zach Condon, and later expanded into a band. The band's first performances were in New York, in May 2006, to support the release of their debut album, Gulag Orkestar. Despite their name, Beirut had never performed in Lebanon until they appeared at the Byblos International Festival in August 2014. Beirut's music combines elements of indie-rock and world music.
Zach Condon was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico on February 13, 1986. He grew up partly in Newport News, Virginia and partly in Santa Fe. Condon played trumpet in a jazz band as a teenager and cites jazz as a major influence.
Condon attended Santa Fe High School, where he was a student until he dropped out at the age of 17. According to a 2011 interview with David Dye on NPR, growing up in Santa Fe meant that Condon was exposed to Mexican music such as mariachi. He also worked at a cinema showing international films and this piqued his interest in Fellini arias and Sicilian funeral brass as well as providing his first experience of Balkan music.
He later enrolled in community college, but only attended for a short period before traveling to Europe at the age of 17 with his older brother, Ryan. This discovery and Condon's subsequent exploration of world music proved to be instrumental in the development of Beirut's melodic sound. Zach's younger brother Ross Condon has also made a name in music, having played in the Brooklyn-based band Total Slacker.
On his return from Europe, Condon enrolled at the University of New Mexico, where he studied Portuguese and photography. Condon recorded the bulk of the material used for Gulag Orkestar by himself in his bedroom, going into the studio to finish the album with the assistance of Jeremy Barnes (Neutral Milk Hotel, A Hawk and a Hacksaw) and Heather Trost (A Hawk and a Hacksaw), who became early contributors to the band.
On the strength of the recordings, Condon was signed under the name of Beirut to Ba Da Bing! records, and Gulag Orkestar was given a May 2006 release. Condon recruited some friends to play the music live for the first shows in New York, and Beirut was born.
Beirut's first official music video was for the song "Elephant Gun". The second video, which was for the song "Postcards from Italy", was directed by Alma Har'el, and was released later. 2007 saw the first release of the full band with the Lon Gisland EP.
The Flying Club Cup:
Beirut's second album, The Flying Club Cup, was recorded largely at a makeshift studio in Albuquerque and completed at Arcade Fire's studio in Quebec. The music on the album has a French influence due to Condon's interest in French chanson during its recording. Condon has cited Francophone singers Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg and Yves Montand as influences. He also expressed interest in French film and culture, claiming this was his original reason for travelling to Europe. The Flying Club Cup was officially released in October 2007. In September 2007 they did a Take-Away Show acoustic video session shot by Vincent Moon. A DVD, Cheap Magic Inside, was shot but quickly sold out; in December 2010, Beirut, BaDaBing, and Blogotheque authorized its dissemination via digital download.
March of the Zapotec:
On April 3, 2008, Beirut canceled a previously announced summer European tour. The band had already been touring and had completed the U.S. leg of the tour, but before the European leg, Condon stated that after two months of touring, he was suffering from exhaustion. Zach Condon explained the cancellations in a post on the official Beirut website, stating that he wanted to put the effort into ensuring that any shows would be "as good as humanly possible". In January 2009 the double EP March of the Zapotec/Holland EP was released, containing an official Beirut release based on Condon's recent trip to Oaxaca (March of the Zapotec), and electronic music under the "Realpeople" name (Holland). On February 6, 2009 Beirut made their debut television performance in the United States on the Late Show with David Letterman, performing "A Sunday Smile".
The Rip Tide:
In early June 2011, amidst touring the US, Beirut announced that their newest album, The Rip Tide, which had been recorded the previous winter in upstate New York, was to be released on August 30. The band simultaneously released a single from the album, "East Harlem" (which was first recorded on Live at the Music Hall of Williamsburg ), with the B-side "Goshen". The album was recorded, managed, and released under Condon's own Pompeii Records. Reviewers and fellow musicians have noted that, unlike the prior albums which drew heavily on foreign music from Mexico, France, the Balkans, etc., this one has shown Beirut with its own, more pop-oriented sound; saying, "what emerges on The Rip Tide is a style that belongs uniquely and distinctly to Beirut, one that has actually been there all along." One reviewer noted that "the Euro influences of Beirut's previous albums are still there, but the presiding spirit is old-fashioned American pop." This album also differs from Beirut's previous albums in that the music was recorded as a band playing together rather than laying down individual tracks one at a time, though the lyrics were only added by Condon after all the music had been recorded.
Condon plays a rotary valve flugelhorn and the ukulele as his main instruments. He bought the ukulele as a joke stage prop, but found he liked the sound and was able to play it despite a wrist injury that inhibited him from playing guitar. Condon also plays the trumpet, euphonium, mandolin, accordion, various keyboard instruments, and a modified conch shell that appears on The Flying Club Cup.
Live, Beirut's roster generally consists of:
Zach Сondon - trumpet/flugelhorn/ukulele,
Perrin Cloutier - accordion/cello,
Nick Petree - drums/percussion/melodica,
Paul Collins - electric bass/upright bass,
Kyle Resnick - trumpet,
Ben Lanz - trombone/sousaphone/glockenspiel,
Past members include:
Kristin Ferebee - violin,
Jason Poranski - guitar/mandolin/ukulele,
Heather Trost - violin/viola,
Jon Natchez - baritone sax/mandolin/glockenspiel/keyboards,
Tracy Pratt - trumpet/euphonium/flugelhorn,
Greg Paulus - trumpet,
Kelly Pratt - trumpet/french horn/glockenspiel/keyboards,
Jared van Fleet - piano,
The majority of the members of Beirut have performed live as well as appeared on recorded material.
Realpeople is Zach Condon's electronic side-project. It was under this name that Condon made his first (unreleased) album, The Joys of Losing Weight, and the name to which the Holland EP is credited. The Joys of Losing Weight, which was made when Condon was fifteen, has never been released officially, but has been leaked on the internet.
Condon has also released an EP, Small-Time American Bats, under the name 1971. This was recorded with his friend, Alex Gaziano on guitar and vocals, when they were both around 16 years old (2002). Gaziano is a founding member of Kidcrash, another band originating from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Soft Landing was a project started by Beirut members Paul Collins (bass) and Perrin Cloutier (accordion) and Mike Lawless. Their eponymous debut album was released on October 12, 2010 on Ba Da Bing records, and has been described as "a pop version of Beirut" and freak-folk, with a heavy emphasis on dance beats and sheer energy.
Pompeii Records is the record label founded in 2011 by Zach Condon in order to give the band and himself full control over their music. The first recordings released on the label were the band's third album, The Rip Tide, and the preceding single, "East Harlem."
Condon plays mandolin, trumpet and ukulele on A Hawk and a Hacksaw's album A Hawk and a Hacksaw and the Hun Hangár Ensemble and trumpet and ukulele on Alaska in Winter's album Dance Party in the Balkans. He appears on Get Him Eat Him's album Arms Down, on the song "2×2".
Condon is featured on the song Found Too Low RMX by fellow Santa Fean Pictureplane and also appears on the first and last tracks of the Grizzly Bear EP Friend.
Condon also appeared on The New Pornographers' fifth album, Together.
Rock group Blondie's 2011 album, Panic of Girls, features a ska cover of "A Sunday Smile" on which Condon plays trumpet. He also plays on "Le Bleu".
On the benefit album album Red Hot + Rio 2, Beirut performed a cover of the Portuguese-language song O Leãozinho originally written by Brazilian composer and singer Caetano Veloso.
Condon is featured singing on the track We Are Fine on indie rocker Sharon Van Etten's 2012 album, Tramp.