The Tragedy of Street Dog
Bethlehem Casuals are a raucous live act who have compiled a wide sphere of influence to create music that is impossible to pigeonhole. With influences as varied as Welsh folk and Bulgarian percussion, this sumptuous septet has a sound that’s all their own, avant-garde and adventurous.
I first came across the Casuals when my band supported them at the Talleyrand in Manchester. Their riotous live set was nectar for my ears, full of twists and turns and thrills and spills. With so many people coalescing on stage and in the crowd it was a memorable night and I left the venue in high spirits, wanting to find out more about this musical conglomerate.
Bethlehem Casuals are in huge demand and have been in session for BBC Radio 6’s Marc Riley, had a headline set at Latitude and have played Glasto, Kendal Calling, Bluedot, Liverpool Sound City and many more. They’re currently on tour all over the UK, supporting the release of their upcoming album ‘The Tragedy of Street Dog’ on the 17th of April. You would be remiss to miss this live show! I spoke with Pip ahead of the tour to discuss tight stages, loose grooves and seven persons worth of gear…
Dawsons: Hey guys, thanks for taking the time out to chat with us today, how’s your day going?
Pip – Thanks for asking, it’s going great. We’ve got that 2020 feeling. We’ve just been learning a few covers to whip out at a friend’s wedding, it’s not often we get to play Sophie Ellis-Bextor so spirits are high.
Dawsons: The Bethlehem Casuals vibe encapsulates many genres and sounds, how did the band come to be and what musical backgrounds did you all come from?
Pip – Once upon a time, Bethlehem Casuals was a folk trio that very quickly slipped into a groovy underworld. We started off with a very different sound to how we sound now… the braver amongst you could delve deep into our Soundcloud to find Casuals tunes of old. We come from a whole host of musical backgrounds and though we don’t actively try to include them they seem to have a way a seeping in. We’ve got Awen’s love of Welsh Folk, Nas’s extensive knowledge of Latin American percussion, a bit of jazz sax thrown in there and smeared onto of an indie band trying to escape its shackles.
Dawsons: Your latest single ‘Flaccid Passion’ came out recently, can you explain how the writing process happens when there’s seven of you?
Pip – The writing process is often kick-started by Will our lead-singer coming with a riff or a set of chords he’d like to build a song around. Then we often have a jam around that and see what happens, we might even play it at a gig and see how it goes down. Then at our next rehearsal, we go back to the tune, see how it felt, and start prodding it and changing it until it feels right. Some songs we play for years but we’re still rewriting them when we get to the recording studio – for our single ‘Change’ we had to stay up half the night trying to write the instrumental sax solo.
Cacophony of Bottoms
Dawsons: With so many members it must get pretty hectic scheduling shows and load in! How do you cope with having so many of you on stage?
Pip – We’ve played on stages of many sizes, some that are huge and some that we don’t even fit on, but we’re casual when it comes to these things, we’ve played in people’s kitchens before. Sometimes we have to protrude into the audience and sometimes it’s best just to be in the audience – one of our favourite gigs was the time we played in a poly-tunnel in a garden centre. We’re a flexible outfit and when we are all crammed onto a stage we just thrash around and try not to knock the power out (which has happened a few times).
Dawsons: What’s the tightest stage you’ve played on?
Pip – Once we did a gig in a working Barbershop in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, there wasn’t even a stage there to play on. All our Percussions was nestled in amongst the sinks and Nas had to sit on a barbers chair. Everyone else was basically stood in the audience.
Dawsons: You have both bass and cello in your lineup, instruments in a similar sonic spectrum. How do you find the process of mixing the two together in the recording phase and how does that translate live?
Pip – A lot of our songs end up sounding very thick… We have a lot of midrange in our sound but that adds to the sense of raucousness we feed off. Often we’ll try write things so that the bass, guitars and cellos aren’t getting in the way of one another, or they’re all contributing to one texture and not having to work against one another – our excellent producer Sam sorts all that for us.
When it comes to playing live, getting the cello heard over everything else is a nightmare, but Awen has recently swapped to using a Headway music ‘band’, a kind of innertube-like pickup that wraps around the body of the cello. This has brought the cello out much more in our live shows.
Dawsons: There’s a lot of additional percussion throughout ‘Feels on Wheels’, where does this influence come from?
Pip – We all love listening to music with groove and adding layers upon layers in our recording, but the true percussive influence comes from our percussionist Nas. He owns more instruments than the rest of the band put together and can play each one of them like he was born to do it. When we were recording our latest album, his percussion alone filled an entire room in the recording studio.
Dawsons: This may be a long one to answer (sorry), but what guitars/bass/cello/sax/keys are you using at the moment?
Bass – Fender Precision Blue Mexican Bass.
Joe – 1964 Fender Jazz Master.
Will – Ibanez AF 105 SM Exotic Explorer Sax – a 1936 Selmer Balanced Action Alto and a very basic Yahama Clarinet
Keys – Nord Electro 4 and a Deep Mind 6, and a Micro Korg Cello
Drums – The infamous Stradivarius Frankenkit (it’s really a hodgepodge of bits).
Nas (percussion) – literally everything and anything that will make a good sound, from Congas to a used fire extinguisher.
Dawsons: Are the guitar/bass players serial effects junkies or do you prefer to keep things sounding natural? What pedals do you bring to a live show?
Pip – We’re a pretty pedal heavy sound, and use all these pedals in recording and our live shows.
- Boss DD3
- Aguila optimiser Octave Pedal
- Big Muff (Electro Harmonix)
- Grail Reverb (Electro Harmonix)
- Cry Baby Wah
- Boss CS-3
- JTM overdrive
- Chasebliss – Warped Vinyl
- Death By Audio Reverberation Machine
- Boss – RE 20
Joe (Lead Guitar)
- MXR Iso Brick power supply
- TC Electronic Poly Tune Mini 2
- Ernie Ball Wah
- Wampler modded Boss DS-1
- MXR Phase 90
- MXR Analog Chorus
- JHS Panther Club Analogue Delay
- TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb
Dawsons: What are you using keys wise for the live shows? Did you use any other types of keyboard/piano when recording ‘The Tragedy of Street Dog’?
Pip – For live shows, we use a Nord Electro 4 and occasionally a Deep Mind 6 and Micro Korg. When recording, we have also used a Hammond A100 Organ, a Fender Rhodes 73 MkII, and a Wurlitzer 200A.
Dawsons: Thanks for taking the time out to answer our questions, what can we expect from Bethlehem Casuals in the new year? Any plans for a new record?
Pip – We have just released our new single Flaccid Passion, and we’ve got a single coming out in February and in March and then we’re bringing out our new album ’The Tragedy of Street Dog’ on April 17th! We’ve got a whole tour booked from now until may so check out the dates, and hopefully, we’re playing somewhere near you.
Bethlehem Casuals will almost certainly be hitting a venue near you on their extensive UK tour, so be sure to check them out if you want an unforgettable live show. The album ‘The Tragedy of Street Dog’ releases on the 17th of April, make you give them a follow to get it as soon as it drops! Until it releases you can check out the video for second single ‘Oke’ below.