Basement Tapes: William Beckett welcomes nostalgia, new fans

Hayley Fick

On his way through Austin headlining the What Will Be tour, William Beckett stopped by The Daily Texan to talk about his new solo career.

Beckett is known for his previous work as the frontman of The Academy Is…, a Chicago-based band that emerged in the midst of an alternative music takeover that was spearheaded by Fall Out Boy in the early 2000’s. Unlike attempted comebacks that leave you still missing 2005 (I’m not going to name any names), Beckett shows promise of many great things to come as he  begins to define himself as solo artist. The Daily Texan talked with Beckett about his fan base, his musical evolution and what's next. 

DT: How have you seen your fan base change?
Beckett: It’s cool because it’s a pretty good mix of old fans and new fans. It’s also interesting because when a lot of young fans bring their parents, the parents dig it too. That’s good for me. I’m not trying to make music for a scene.

I’m not trying to make music for a particular demographic. I’m not trying to make music for anyone other than everyone. I don’t care about what else they listen to or what they wear or what they drive. All I care about is that connection. It’s music for everyone. It’s not music for a niche.

DT: You were always really involved in the songwriting process for The Academy Is… Did you start writing any of your solo music back then?
Beckett: It’s a brand new perspective. A big part of what I was bummed out about in [The Academy Is …] was towards the end I was pretty stifled as a songwriter. Whether it was self imposed or something about the environment I was writing in, probably both, I couldn’t really express what I wanted to say.

As soon as I stopped the band and started writing on my own, it was like a renaissance basically, a golden age. I love what we accomplished. I’m really proud of what we accomplished, and at shows I’ll still play Academy songs because they mean just as much to me now as they ever did. 

DT: Are there any The Academy Is… songs that you still like to play in particular?
Beckett: There’s a song called “Down and Out”. I actually wrote that song on my own. It means a lot to me, and it means a lot to the fans. I like to play songs that people want to hear. If they yell something out, I’ll play that. Thankfully they don’t yell things out that I don’t like playing. Or I just conveniently don’t hear them. I conveniently didn’t hear when someone want[ed] me to play “Snakes on a Plane”.

DT: I actually wanted to talk to you about [Snakes on a Plane] a little bit. For me, back then being a fan of The Academy Is… also meant being a fan of Cobra Starship or Gym Class Heroes because it just felt like such a family.  You toured together; you did music videos together. Is that moment ever going to happen again in music?
Beckett: You’ll see some collaborations on my new record. I have a few friends that have come in and sang parts. But that thing that we had, I don’t know if it will ever happen. It’ll probably happen again. It’s just that we embraced alternative music as a family much like those sort of things are embraced in hip hop and rap music.

We kind of borrowed that model to band together and not be necessarily competitors but to support each other no matter what. It was natural for us to be that close because we shared management. We were just friends. We still are friends, but that moment in time was very, very special. 

DT: Alternative music and hip hop music are oddly similar in some ways. Do you think that is on purpose, or do you think there are some inherent similarities between the two styles of music?
Beckett: In any genre of music there’s going to be camaraderie. There’s going to be people that co-conspire and work together and collaborate. I think it’s a cross-platform thing where you’ll see Taylor Swift bring out The Civil Wars on tour. It’s those artists that try to stand on their own mountain; I feel like it’s very difficult to survive that way, to not want to help anyone or to not want to take help from anyone. To try to be your own genius and no one else can help you because you’re just that good. I don’t believe that you can succeed that way. And that goes for anything you want to do in life.

Then, maybe because he could tell by the look on my face or maybe because he had a sudden moment of self reflection, Beckett asks himself the question on the tip of my tongue.

Beckett: Then you can say, then why are you solo? What’s that all about? If you are saying this, that’s contradictory.
Beckett: It’s not really because I still have a team of managers and agents, so we do work together, only in a different capacities. It’s not like there are four different people responsible for the same job, that’s when nothing is going to get done. 

What’s next?

After he finishes the What Will Be Tour this month, Beckett will be touring the east coast with Hellogoodbye and Relient K; then he will be on the entire Vans Warped Tour this summer. You can expect Beckett’s first full-length solo album after Warped Tour in Fall 2013. He says working with producer Marc McClusky, who has also worked with Weezer, Ludo, and Everclear, has created a more consistent sound than the 3 EP’s he released last year.

He gave fans a little taste of a new song, “Benny and Joon”, in fashion with the cinephile’s previous film-inspired songs like “Scarlett (Tokyo)”, on his What Will Be tour. If “Benny and Joon” is indicative of the rest of the album, we can expect more of the fun and surprisingly full-bodied sound we’ve heard so far from Beckett as a solo artist.