Beirut’s Zach Condon admits being a ‘lost and irritable teenager’ who wanted to escape — and why music has a lot to do with geography

Beirut’s Zach Condon admits being a ‘lost and irritable teenager’ who wanted to escape — and why music has a lot to do with geography

ZACH Condon admits he was “a lost, irritable and restless teenager”. Without venturing too far into what he calls “psychoanalytical territory”, the

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ZACH Condon admits he was “a lost, irritable and restless teenager”.

Without venturing too far into what he calls “psychoanalytical territory”, the 32-year-old American is explaining why his songs and the name of his band, Beirut, have a lot to do with geography.

Olga Baczynska

Zach Condon, 32, was born in New Mexico[/caption]

“Growing up, I had this constant need for escapism,” he says.

“So I built up a fantasy world in my head of distant places I was missing out on.”

Lebanon’s capital, he decided, was a suitable name for his band because it was such a cultural melting pot… just like his own intoxicating mix of European-style traditional folk music and indie pop.

Condon says his teenage self was “a bit of a bastard because I was contrary to everything and everyone.


Zach explains how he dreamed of distant places he was missing out on[/caption]

“All my friends wanted to do punk rock and I essentially wanted to do the opposite. And I hate Americana!”

The committed Europhile adds: “There might have been a family influence.

My mum always lauded European architecture as the antithesis of horrendous American urban sprawls.”

Yet despite Condon’s yearnings for far-flung places, inspiration for a career in music was also close at hand.

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Zach Condon began his musical journey on his own but then decided to create Beirut[/caption]

Spending his early years in the ancient New Mexico city of Santa Fe, he would hear mariachi bands trooping to the site of Zozobra or “Old Man Gloom”, a giant effigy ceremonially burned each year.

“But I always felt like an outsider in New Mexico,” he reports.

“Us gringos are not even supposed to be there! (Big laugh).

We’re on native territory and we’re living among Hispanic families who have been there for hundreds and hundreds of years.”


After dropping out of school, Condon found himself working in an arthouse cinema, immersing himself in old black and white European films with exotic soundtracks.

And though he conceived Beirut’s 2006 debut album, Gulag Orkestar, in his bedroom, he infused songs he’d composed on keyboards with glorious swells of trumpet and flugelhorn, evoking mournful yet rousing eastern European funeral marches.

Somehow, he had managed to bring equal measures of euphoria and melancholy to his distinctly un-American sound.

Wind forward to 2019 and Condon is back with Beirut’s fifth album, Gallipoli, the first since 2015’s patchy No No No and a majestic rediscovery of the form that earned him so much acclaim in the first place.

2016 Adam Berry

Beirut’s fifth album is called Gallipoli like a town is southern Italy[/caption]

He says: “I went back to the roots of my own music and was completely unapologetic about it… even creating moments where I’m almost making fun of myself.”

Another quick geography lesson here: The album title is not namechecking Gallipoli in Turkey, scene of one of World War One’s bloodiest campaigns, but a small, fortified island town in southern Italy.

Speaking from the city he currently calls home, Berlin, the eternal wanderer describes his visit to the peninsula which forms the heel of Italy’s boot.

“I saw a street procession in Gallipoli and had an epiphany,” Condon says.


New Beirut songs are also set in specific locations[/caption]

“It was as if I was literally in the movies I grew up watching… a lot of Italian films with Italian soundtracks!

“On top of that, I realised the procession reminded me of Santa Fe. I’m following these people thinking I might as well be walking to Zozobra with the entire town.”

Other new Beirut songs are set in specific locations as well.

The keyboard-driven, reverb-laden instrumental On Mainau Island refers to a tiny isle in southern Germany’s Lake Constance, home to beautiful parks and gardens, while another, more rhythmic instrumental is simply titled Corfu.

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Zach confesses he is upset to go on tour because he prefers working in the studio[/caption]

As this singular musician continues to share his thoughts, there’s no let-up in the blizzard of place names.

Although his musical journey began in the Noughties, it wasn’t until 2014 that Condon finally visited Lebanon to play a festival.

He says: “I found the city of Beirut breathtaking. Even though I was a bit naive choosing the name years ago, cities like Beirut and Istanbul have always fascinated me because culture clashes and conflict can create amazing beauty.”

The new album began life in New York, he reveals.

Galipolli is Beirut’s first album since 2015

Then the process moved to Berlin but the whole thing really came together in an Italian studio with his producer Gabe Wax and other band members.

“I realised I couldn’t finish things I started on my own,” he says.

“I can’t contain my wandering curiosity unless I pull the trigger to sit myself down in a place with a few others to help me flesh things out.

“There was never a bad session making the record and I haven’t stopped since.

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Although his musical journey began in the Noughties, it wasn’t until 2014 that Condon finally visited Lebanon to play a festival[/caption]

“In fact, I’m kind of upset to be going on tour because I’d like to stick in the studio.”

Gallipoli arrives after Condon turned his back on the Big Apple, Istanbul and Paris as his main bases.

“I found Istanbul quite intimidating and though I love Paris to death, I always felt like a total outsider even though I speak good French. And I’ve never really felt like a New Yorker either,” he maintains.

“The music has become too capitalist and competitive and it’s all about who you are hanging out with or what venues you are being seen at. In Berlin, I felt at home right away.

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The lead singer of Beirut said he feels at home in Berlin[/caption]

“I’m among f***ing ex-pats from every corner of the world.

“It’s relaxed, pleasant and there’s a genuine interest in experimenting with music that was missing in New York.

“All of a sudden, it made sense to be in Berlin. Like, ‘Why am I not here?’”

I ask Condon if he ever considered London as a home. “No,” he replies emphatically.

“I have a good sense of direction, a great inner compass and I rarely get lost but I am always, always lost in London. It’s nuts!”


Gallipoli — 5 stars

1. When I Die
2. Gallipoli
3. Varieties Of Exile
4. On Mainau Island
5. I Giardini
6. Gauze Fur Zah
7. Corfu
8. Landslide
9. Family Curse
10. Light In The Atoll
11. We Never Lived Here
13. Fin

He has mixed feelings about his upcoming tour which includes a date at Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo in April. (Let’s hope he can find the venue because Beirut gigs are so uplifting!)

“I’ve been in such a beautiful bubble in Berlin for the last two years that I’m a little afraid to burst it,” he confesses.

“I’m not a natural performer and I’m a pretty private, mellow guy. To put myself on stage sometimes feels extremely unnatural.”

Thankfully, he adds: “It’s not that I don’t love playing for people!”


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