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Night Beats doesn’t need your sonic approval

Night Beats in the studio with The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach // Jenna Putnam
Night Beats w/ Calvin Love, Altameda
Mar. 26 (8 pm)
The Starlite Room

By Ellen Reade

Danny “Lee Blackwell” Rajan Billingsley is the frontman and the mind behind Night Beats. Formed in 2009, the group has released four studio albums to date and has toured with significant acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Zombies, The Growlers, Roky Erickson, and The Black Angels.

Night Beats’ most recent studio album, Myth of a Man, moves away from familiar noisey, lo-fi psychedelic soundscapes, and makes way for a high-fi approach. The album’s production is more refined than previous releases, but loses some of the atmosphere iconic to Night Beats. While previous albums were dark, muddy, mental, and psychedelic, Myth of a Man feels like the soundtrack to a modern spaghetti western with its Morricone-eqse compositions.

Produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Myth of a Man features an experienced group of session musicians who have worked with the likes of Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin. Blackwell says that these session musicians helped shape the final product by contributing compositions that aligned with his artistic vision.

Though it has a revolving door of temporary musicians, Blackwell is Night Beats’ only permanent member. The project is—and has always been—and always will be, his brain child.  He attributes this turnover to tour life not being for everyone—life often gets in the way.

“Life happens and peoples’ lives happens. They can have kids, they can have drug addictions or whatever, you know?”

Myth of a Man has garnered a handful of reviews that call it lacklustre and emotionally limp, but Blackwell feels that it is one of his most honest pieces,allowing for vulnerability.

“I function with the elements of keeping it soulful and real. If it doesn’t have a fire behind it, there’s no reasons why anyone would care, there’s no reason why I would care about it and want to continue,” Blackwell says.

Blackwell truly believes in his craft and that he is, at his core, a storyteller. He expresses that storytelling is one of the truest forms of songwriting—this belief is heavily connected to his religious background. He was raised Hindu and Catholic and studied comparative religion at the University of Washington. He says that he admires the complex storytelling present in religion, and that he is fascinated by its ability to ask the larger questions in life.

Blackwell’s own writing tells stories of “life itself” and draws from personal experience, whether it be “tragedy or falling in love, standing in line at T&T or being in a jail cell.” Blackwell draws inspiration from moments: scary moments, happy moments, proud moments, enlightened moments, moments that shape both the way he writes and the way he sees the world.

He isn’t bothered by negative reviews and the approval of others has never been his fuel for making music..

“It’s fun, and it’s real to me. It’s not fake; I’m not trying to please anybody really,” Blackwell says. “You have to do something original and meaningful and soulful to you and to yourself before anybody else can really care about it.”

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