Beatbox king Beardyman talks to Eamon Sweeney about his party trick, inspirational squirrels and not being afraid to experiment
When Londoner Darren Foreman appeared on breakfast television, he was tagged with arguably the best guest caption of all time, "Beardyman -- King of Sound and Ruler of Beats".
The relatively clean-shaven Foreman ended up calling himself Beardyman when needing a name in a hurry to do a flyer for an early show. For the record, he did wear an actual beard at the time. He has since become one of the leading exponents of the art of human beatboxing; creating beats, rhythm and musical sounds solely using one's voice. Foreman is the only person to ever win the British Beatboxing Championship two years in a row but, unusually, he isn't exactly one for singing the genre's praises.
"Beatbox is a piece of showboating and a party trick," he laughs. "It's fucking juvenile. For me, I've always had to find another angle to make beatbox worthy of my attention. In 2004, just before YouTube, I was trying to get as much footage and recordings as I could, but by the time it came round to doing gigs, I was bored with it. I realised there was a maximum capacity for a variety of noises. I haven't heard a beatboxer do a new noise in four or five years.
"It's still an incredible instrument and so expressive and here is no other instrument in the world that can be so organic and be drums, bass or a whistle. You can't do harmony, which is annoying, but as a monophonic instrument it's insane. It's the perfect thing to improvise with and looping it is the perfect way to pretend that you're a band."
The modest Foreman even opines that his debut album, I Done A Album, is too long. "I should've probably cut the tracks down," he says. "I think I White Albumed out a bit." He's certainly not the kind of artist you'd find slaving over a record for years on end.
"All of the tracks came out of jams and improvisation," he explains. "Sometimes the whole thing would be improvised from start to finish. For me it's a magical thing where you can make your brain do things that it wouldn't normally. You end up being your most creative when you give yourself constraints. If you do an entire album with one drum machine and guitar you're going to do various inventive things to keep it interesting. It's the same when you give yourself the constraint of time and doing something in the moment. You have no choice but to be as creative as you can possibly be and that's what I wanted to focus on. I didn't want to give myself the option to actually think too much."
Unusual for an artist in the position of talking up his new album, Beardyman is remarkably honest about its limitations. "Shortly after doing the album I did an Essential Mix for Radio One, which is a massively prestigious thing," he reveals. "I did it as a live session out of four jams and I actually think it's got way better material than the album. The less time you have, the better.
"I know I'm not selling my album very well, but I've never been happy with anything that I've done. It's very important as an artist to be your own worst critic. When you're making art, no matter what it is, such as the most stupid tracks on my album, you've got to be critical.
"I'd come offstage after most gigs thinking it was the worst gig I've ever done. It's a common thing with musicians. You see any band come offstage and generally the first thing they say to each other is, 'That was the shittest gig we've ever done. I'm sorry, it was my fault'. It's really funny to watch and sometimes it would be after the most amazing gig you've ever seen."
Foreman feels a deep affinity for a short, one-act play by Glengarry Glen Ross writer David Mamet called Squirrels, which is about an egotistical pulp-fiction writer. "The writer believes his own hype, considers himself a genius and thinks he can create amazing things. He starts this tract with the word squirrels and it's quite a beautiful piece of writing. The whole play is about him editing out lots of it until it's reduced to a squirrel eating nuts. There is a certain kind of abandon necessary to creating something fun in the first place."
Indeed, a high-profile collaboration with Norman Cook never saw the light of day. "I tried to make a track with Fatboy Slim and it didn't quite work," he recalls. "I actually fell ill during the session and I had a terrible flu for two weeks. We had quite a lot of fun, but it was a weird session because the way that he works is very deliberative, and he's been in the game for 25 years or something. He knows exactly what he's doing, laying down a good beat and he's got his engineer there. Then he goes, 'Let's come up with a funny hook'. We're sitting around thinking and I'm finding the whole thing so bizarre. I'm in too early a stage in my career to know exactly what works. My whole career so far has been an experiment."
It's an experiment that appears to be working. If Darren even gets a fraction of the attention for his first album and forthcoming tour that he has received on YouTube, where his views run into the multi-millions, he's bound to have a busy and exciting year.
"I don't want to be the kind of artist that deliberately remains obtuse and does things out of a perception of what people want," he maintains. "There's a certain closed mindedness to that kind of approach. You're just preaching to the converted. There's always ways to present something to an audience that mightn't normally be receptive. South Park is such genius because it's presented in a way that's so slapstick that you completely buy it purely because of the vehicle of delivery. The ultimate aim is always to get better."
Beardyman plays Cyprus Avenue on Wednesday, April 27, and Twisted Pepper, Dublin, on Thursday, April 28. I Done A Album is out now on Sunday Best Recordings
Day & Night