Welcome to Beyond The Beat. I’m Jared Linnen, and in this podcast, I will be diving deep into how some of the biggest and baddest albums were made. It’s the stories, the adversities these bands and artists had to overcome, and how these people got to that place in time where they were able to create a masterpiece of an album. Beyond the Beat is meant to be a long-form podcast, combining my two favourite passions, music and history.
Ep. 13 | Metallica - The Black Album
1:17:46Nothing’s worse than when a band stops taking chances and puts out the same record 4 times in a row. But it’s scary to get out of your comfort zone, away from something tried and true. By 1990, Metallica was faced with that crossroad. They had built a solid following over the course of 4 albums, staying loyal to their mission of producing bone-crunching thrash metal. But it was very much the blueprint of Metallica up to that point. Apocalyptic lyrics layered over sophisticated music. For the 4 members of Metallica, just the fact people could put their music into a formula was upsetting. In an era when it was felt that it had all been seen and heard before, there was one corner Metallica had never ventured into before. To make the one record, the one outrageous move – they had sworn as kids they would fight to the death never to make. Yet the one they were now swiftly coming to realize their musical lives might depend on. That is something so blatantly commercial no one could have seen it coming. Or as drummer Lars Ulrich put it “cram Metallica down everybody’s fucking throat all over the fucking world.” With Metallica’s 1991 self-titled album, more popularly known as The Black Album, not only did it solidify them as thrash metal’s biggest band….but it catapulted them to become the world’s biggest rock band, period. Their 5th album transgressed every boundary they’d set for themselves, and every one set by the media and public expectation. They had proven that heavy, powerful music could come through more than one medium. Theyʼd added a more commercial dynamic to their music and opened their appeal beyond genre. It wasnʼt until theyʼd fleshed out all the 12 Black Album songs that they realized how far from their thrash roots they had progressed. The message within the Black Album speaks to the leaps and risks the band members took in making it. It speaks to individualism, liberty, personal development, and the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. It’s an appropriate theme given the enormous amount of work and dedication the album took to produce. Nevertheless, they pushed through to create an album that would transform their lives. While making it, frontman James Hetfield summed up the band’s philosophy, saying, “I donʼt think we need to justify ourselves at all. Weʼre doing our shit our way. The integrity is there.” The result speaks for itself, or to echo that statement more poetically, as James would write, “So close, no matter how far, Couldn't be much more from the heart, Forever trusting who we are, No, nothing else matters”
Ep. 12 | David Bowie - Let's Dance
1:02:26David Bowie was not a fan of vacations and taking time off. Holidays to him are boring. So as the tireless workaholic went away to the south pacific in 1982, to cure the boredom he brought along his favourite blues and R&B records from when he was a kid. Little Richard, James Brown, Buddy Guy, Albert King. Little did he know, but that vacation would shape his whole future sound and direction. It shaped him deciding on 'Chic' hit-maker Nile Rodgers as producer, it shaped him bringing along an unknown Texas blues guitarist by the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and it shaped the enthusiasm and optimism of Lets’ Dance as a whole. Let's Dance was an attempt at recapturing that warmth he felt from that old stuff. As Bowie told MTV in 1983, “It’s fundamentally trying to regain the same kind of immediacy and excitement that one feels in one’s old record collection." Who says you can't recapture the good ol' days. Let's Dance sent Bowie into the stratosphere as a pop artist, attaining number 1 status in Britain, but also more crucially in the U.S., having largely ignored him since the mid-70's. Thanks to clever videos for the title track as well as "China Girl", Let's Dance was his biggest selling album up to that point (and since). Proof that the risky ambition paid off of exchanging all the mystery about him for mass connection. Let's Dance is Bowie being communal: it’s intended to be shared. Bowie embraced his own nostalgia, and with it achieved the same outcome as those old impressionistic artists from 50's.
Ep. 11 | Foo Fighters - The Colour and the Shape
59:44When you hear Dave Grohl's name today, the first thing that might pop into your head might be rock star, or success, or incredible songwriter, or confidence. The reality is, his life had to fall apart in some sense before he could realize all of those traits. As the saying goes, when it seems your life is falling apart, it may actually be falling into place. The Colour and the Shape has been described as by Dave as a therapy album. The band went into the recording process unsure of how they would gel. And the weight of Dave's divorce hung particularly heavy over the album, even though he didn't realize the full extent of it until he and producer Gil Norton began sequencing the album's running order. Once they finally sequenced the songs, it ran like a therapy session. One man's quest to make sense of the world crumbling beneath his feet. The opening track "Doll" has Dave whispering "In all of the time that we've shared, I've never been so scared." From this point on it desends into a free-fall; Dave dealing with love and obsession, insecurity and betrayal, childhood dreams and adult responsibilities. And throughout it, he flirts with rage. By the end Dave finds confidence and realizes he can make it though life's trials and tribulations. In "New Way Home", the album's closer, he repeats the phrase, "I'm not scared." Whatever Dave was scared about when the album started has been resolved, as he'd say after the album was released, "I go through this whole therapy session and I end up at the last track when I realize that it's ok, I can make my way through all of this and I'm not that freaked out at the end. We we were joking for awhile when we were thinking about artwork for the album I thought 'Why don't we get a picture of a therapists couch on it.' For the rest of my life, when I listen to this record, it will be the fall of 1996 and my journal entries, which is a little strange." While the Foo Fighters self-titled debut was more of an experimental Dave solo project, The Colour and the Shape proved to the world Dave could bring a group together to be a full-fledged rock-band. It debuted the Foo Fighters as an American rock group that would be a major presence over the next two decades and immediately dismissed skepticism over the band as a flighty over-ambitious second act for Dave. But maybe more importantly, The Colour and the Shape gave us Everlong...one of the best damn rock songs ever made.
Ep. 10 | System Of A Down - Toxicity
51:44Like Systems debut album, Toxicity seemed utterly chaotic upon its first listen, but the small refinements of more melody helped it become more accessible and gain mainstream attention. Not even the events of 9/11, (a week after the album's release) and having Chop Suey ripped from radio playlists, could tear it from the airwaves. People were attracted to their distinct style of fun interesting guitar riffs, Serj’s ‘swiss army knife’ vocals on top of Daron’s strange singing, the fun and unconventional drumming, and the diversity of their songs. They managed to get more poppier over time without giving the feeling like they were selling out. Also, their politics weren’t so overt that it distanced certain listeners. They still had political songs, but they did so in a way that was more surreal, adventurous and musically accomplished without sacrificing any of the heaviness or intensity that got them signed to a record deal. Toxicity provided a perfect soundtrack to post-9/11 anxiety. System in a lot of ways had a contradictory sound. It can sound both incredibly juvenile and surprisingly mature, which leaks in the lyrics as well. As Daron said in an interview, “We like to stay on that verse-chorus type of tradition except sometimes the verse will be a waltz and the chorus will be hardcore.” How many popular bands can say that Waltz is a component of their music? They didn’t follow the so-called rules of Heavy Metal. No one before sounded like System Of A Down, and no one really since. But as Rick Rubin said, they transcended not fitting in, and those are the best artists. Those are the revolutionary bands, and those are the ones that change the world.
Ep. 9 | Kanye West - The College Dropout
1:25:27Ambition is the key word for College Dropout. Kanye is saying if you work hard enough, you can achieve your dreams, like Kanye’s dream of working with Jay Z one day. Like Kanye’s dream of being respected as more than just a producer, but a rapper. It wasn’t easy. But maybe it was because of his near-death experience in a car accident, that he had this newfound perspective on life. College Dropout was Kanye’s 2nd chance. He was on borrowed time after he saw how fleeting life could be. College Dropout was his healing process, his rehabilitation album. As he says in Through The Wire. “I’m a champion, so I turned tragedy to triumph, Make music that's fire, spit my soul through the wire” Maybe at the end of the day, all Kanye wanted to do with College Dropout was establish himself as a rapper, but the album ended up expanding the musical and emotional language of hip-hop. Claiming to be the first 'n**** with a benz and a backpack', he challenged all the rules and boldly danced across boundaries others were too afraid to even acknowledge. A young man who told an underdog story of reaching independence. Achieving his creative aspirations, and speaking for the common man was what hip hop needed. But at the same time, you got a brazingly confident man who loved fashion, loved spending money, and loved women. A few years after its release, Kanye’s cousin, Devo Springsteen reflected on the album’s impact in an interview “There’s pre and post-'College Dropout.' Hip-Hop is often equated to rap music and there are a few kind of tribes within that demographic. You’re a gangster, a baller, a backpacker or you’re a seller. If you’re going to rap, which of the lanes are you coming from? I think with Kanye, his approach brought in different types of influences away from these categories. I can be from the suburbs, Midwest, I can wear Polo shirts and I am still Hip-Hop. As long as you’re honest about yourself, you’re Hip-Hop.”
Ep. 8 | Pearl Jam - Ten
1:21:36As debuts go, Ten was uncommonly intimate, dragging the listener through an array of emotions. Lyric topics range from incest, murder, growing up without a father, war and greed, suicide and bullying. Singer Eddie Vedder wore his heart on his songwriting sleeve. He was a happy-go-lucky surfer guy on the outside, but obviously was dealing with a lot personal issues internally. The songs moved people, showed them a new style of commitment that had been increasingly absent in rock. They were able to tow that line between offering an escape from the real problems in the world, and making the listener feel like they're not alone with those very same problems. Of getting a generation of kids singing a rallying cry about incest, “Oh, I’m Still Alive.”. As Eddie would later say, it was kind of a bummer all these songs about dark life issues were so relatable. But when you sell that many copies of a record, you know you’ve touched on something special….you’ve connected with an untold amount of people. While the lyrics touched on a variety of important topics, the music on Ten is groundbreaking. It combines the excitement of classic arena rock, the what-the-f*ck attitude of punk, high-speed psychedelic guitar virtuosity, and Vedder’s truly distinct vocals to create an absolute powerhouse of a listening experience. Ten would eventually be considered alongside Nirvana’s Nervermind as the dawn of the grunge movement. With a front-lines look at seeing what was popular in the 80’s nearing it’s end, Eddie wrote in RollingStone magazine’s 1991 Year In Review issue, “Finally, music gets to the point. Ian sings, ‘We’re all here’, Perry sings ‘These are the days’, Cornell sings, ‘The wreck is going down’, and he’s right. Wake up, or die in your sleep.”
Ep. 7 | Nate Hilts of The Dead South (Interview)
1:26:03It was early August 2020, Fishing Lake, Saskatchewan, at the cabin of the lead singer/frontman of the Dead South, Nate Hilts. Over Jameson whisky and rye and cokes, I sat down with Nate to talk about the history of the band, how Nate got his start in music, what the band is up to since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and an in-depth look into some of their songs, particularly off their 2014 debut album, Good Company.
Ep. 6 | The White Stripes - Elephant
1:42:17Two opposing elements form the framework of the White Stripes, it's what makes them unique, strange, and so interesting. Jack and Meg White shroud themselves with mystery in their personal lives and they embrace cheap gimmicks such as a colour code, but the music they play harkens back to old Mississippi Blues from the 1930's with a Iggy and The Stooges 70's garage rock twist. The White Stripes are that simple in their music, and that complicated and mysterious with everything else. It’s easy to point to their 2003 release of Elephant as the White Stripes best work because it has their biggest hit, Seven Nation Army on it, but the album is much more than that. Elephant saw a maturity in the band and the songwriting, more than the minimalistic rock sound of White Blood Cells, and more than the polish pop twist to their blues rock sound on De Stijl and their debut self-titled album. Who knew blues-tinged rock & roll scaled back to its most essential elements — one guitar, a simple drum kit and sneering vocals, could top the charts in the early 2000's. But as Jack says, "The whole point of the White Stripes is the liberation of limiting yourself." The limitation of being a two piece rock band and analog recording in a pro-tools world was against the grain and off the beaten path. But Jack and Meg never took the easy route, and that’s why they and their works like Elephant will be in the rock pantheon with their heroes.
Ep. 5 | Motley Crue - Dr. Feelgood
1:08:43For the first time in their history, Motley Crue recorded an album with all 4 members completely sober. Without those usual distractions, they produced 1989’s Dr. Feelgood, their best selling record to date. Bassist and songwriter Nikki Sixx said, “In 8 years together and with millions of albums sold, we had never recorded properly. No one had ever pushed us to the limits of our abilities before.” Dr. Feelgood capped off an era, a decade of decadance, and summed up what Motley Crue stood for. A glam-punk band that pulled no punches, not trying to be anyone else, with a focus on what was truly important, the music, and none of the other bullshit. It was their finest effort, front to back. Motley Crue was able to create something inspired, glam, sleezy, emotional, upbeat, dirty, and as Nikki would later say, an album they were finally proud of.
Ep. 4 | Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
1:30:55With Rumours, Fleetwood Mac blurred the distinction between art and life. The creative process of the album got all mixed up with the disintegration of the musicians romantic relationships. It was during the recording of Rumours in 1976, where all 5 members of the band were going through breakups, and 4 of them with each other. It was the musical soap opera that appealed to so many people. It wasn’t designed by a PR person. Fleetwood Mac had the unique ability to be all things to all people. They were 3 English rockers and 2 Americans, they were a mixed gender band that had blues roots and pop savvy. It was a magical combination that fortified itself with Rumours. By ignoring and burning through the personal tragedies and turmoil, sacrificing the connections that each band member lost, the members of Fleetwood Mac created one of the greatest rock n roll albums in history.