It doesn't take anything more than a few people, a couple of instruments, and a little inspiration to put a band together. Usually, though, there is some vision, some guiding force like a genre or message that compels musicians to get together and start making music. In the case of Little Beards, though, something much more pure was at play: a desire to experiment and "just see what happens."
Sean Kirkpatrick and Nan Little Kirkpatrick have a lot in common. They're both musicians, they both play in other bands, and they both have a deep reverence for 80s synth music. Oh, and they're also totally in love. You might recognize Sean from his other project, the much-beloved Nervous Curtains, and Nan from playing with Frauen. Sean and Nan met in 2008, married in 2011, and decided to make music together as Little Beards in 2014.
As a band, Little Beards' sound is a little tough to nail down, even for Nan and Sean. Sean's a synth player, Nan plays bass, but neither are willing to squeeze themselves into a specific genre-shaped box. There is a heavy dance-pop influence, but Little Beards have a raw, almost grungy overtone that makes what they're doing uniquely interesting.
George Quartz is probably the reason that Little Beards exists, at least in its current iteration. Quartz invited Sean and Nan to play a show, and that encouraged them to take the project a little more seriously. "He was doing a series of shows called The Last Resort, and asked musicians who were couples but playing in different bands to play together," says Nan. "That's when we decided that we should probably write some songs," adds Sean.
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In the beginning, the creative process was a little rough. Sean and Nan, like all bandmates, had to tweak the way that they communicated together, which almost caused the band to break up during their second rehearsal. "I was worried because if I couldn't express how to make the music better. I wasn't going to be able to make it work," says Sean. "I've been in bands forever, and there's always been this crass temperament that when someone does something that you don't like, you just tell them to play something else. That doesn't fly with her."
For Nan, though, the prospect of arguing about Little Beards' sound was actually kind of exciting. "I figured we might fight, but I wasn't really scared of it," she says. "We're really good together in so many other ways, so it was intriguing to explore that." Both agree that they haven't had any major blow-ups over the creative direction, and that they would probably just mutually decide to break up the band if it started to cause issues in their marriage.
The sound that has resulted from the partnership is really uncharted territory for both Kirkpatricks. Sean plays synth and Nan's on the bass, just like in their other projects, but this is the first for both without a drummer. "The process is so different than with my other band. We don't have a drummer, and neither of us have really worked with a drum machine," says Sean. "We're both sort of novices at it, so we take turns programming the drum beats and tweak it until we like it."
Thematically, Little Beards songs tend to be profiles and stories centered around a specific character. The source of these characters is, as Sean calls it, a "secret ingredient," something that he won't reveal. Many times, these tracks focus on the interplay of gender in relationships, giving them room to experiment with bending gender roles and exploring the dynamic of male and female voices.
Nan and Sean also agree that they're both better as musicians as a result of working in Little Beards. Nan grew up playing piano, and only recently picked up the bass in the last few years without ever taking a lesson. "I assumed that I would want to ditch my loser bass and play more keyboards in Little Beards," says Nan, "but it's really helped me appreciate the bass as an instrument, and I've learned to really love playing bass.
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Even though the project started out as something adventurous and experimental, Little Beards is starting to get serious. "At this point, we probably need about four more songs to have a solid album," says Sean. While they write, both agree that they need to carve out more time to write and practice together as Little Beards. It isn't always easy, given that they both have demanding full time jobs. Sean works in the transplant unit at Baylor Hospital and Nan is the Executive Director of Dallas-based abortion fund TEA Fund, not to mention their other musical commitments.
Little Beards hopes to release their first album in 2015, and plans to focus more on booking gigs. The initial response to their music, though, has been overwhelmingly positive. "I'm astounded by the feedback we get from people," says Sean. After uploading a few songs to SoundCloud a few months ago, Little Beards was already being passed around by fans in Europe without any promotion. "It's been easier than my other bands that I've worked really hard to promote and put everything into," says Sean. "I don't know why that is, but I'm cool with whatever happens."
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