Dirty Hit’s fastest-rising star reflects on her 2019, being Filipino in the world of rock, and tour life with friends.
Note: this article originally ran on Set the Tape (link).
Midway through thoroughly answering a question about the differences in writing music by herself in a bedroom vs writing music for her band in a studio, Bea Kristi gets distracted by her manager’s chair making a squeak. Specifically, mid-sentence without even breaking her flow she turns her head and lets out a “you sound like a fart!” before giggling uncontrollably; a reminder of just how fresh-faced and young she is even whilst her growing reputation as a certifiable next big thing precedes her. Bea, who performs under the name of beabadoobee, is just 19 years old and first broke through at age 17 when the sweet acoustic ditty “Coffee,” the first song she wrote on the second-hand acoustic guitar she had only just started teaching herself to play, was uploaded to YouTube, went viral, and subsequently prompted a mass bidding war from various record companies which was won by Dirty Hit, the label Bea had grown up infatuated with thanks to marquee signees The 1975.
That’s a whirlwind turnaround for anybody, let alone a then 17-year-old Filipino-Brit – her family moved to London from the Philippines when Bea was 3 – who’d only just started Sixth Form. But it’s nothing compared to her 2019. After starting the year tipped for big things by NME in their yearly NME 100, she released her second mini-LP, Loveworm, in April and then immediately went back into the studio to work on her breakthrough EP Space Cadet. Synthesising elements of power pop, Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, Mazzy Star sonics if Mazzy had chosen to float around outside of the earth’s atmosphere, and even the candy-sweet perfection of The Wannadies’ “You & Me Song” for standout “She Plays Bass” – she terms the concoction “bubble-grunge,” I think of it more as Bronze-core (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) – the growth she’s shown as a songwriter and performer in even just the six months separating the 2019 releases is staggering.
And I am clearly not the only one to feel this way. Off the back of the EP’s singles, she’s hit the front cover of NME’s online magazine, toured the US for the first time as the opener for the similar-in-spirit Clairo, played other Space Cadet highlight “I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus” to Stephen Malkmus himself, been shortlisted for the 2020 BRITs Rising Star Award (whose track record even for those just nominated is effectively akin to kingmaking in the British music scene), announced as the opener for the UK leg of The 1975’s UK tour next year and, two days before meeting her, been both long-listed for the BBC’s Sound of 2020 poll and released her own Spotify Sessions EP (a major rite-of-passage for today’s industry stars). Big things are ahead for Bea, including soon enough that proper full-length debut album.
But tonight, on a cold and sporadically damp Saturday match-day, we’re in the green room above Sheffield’s historic Leadmill – a room Bea is genuinely stoked by, bounding onto the sofa with youthful enthusiasm whilst I set up the recorder – as the latest Dirty Hit Tour, which sees her performing alongside fellow hotly-tipped friends Oscar Lang (whom we shall have an interview write-up for tomorrow) and No Rome, enters its last leg. She speaks candidly and worldly about figuring out things as they go along, the label which has nurtured her growth and mental health so readily, and her status as a Filipino woman playing the sort of music and with a visible platform that typically isn’t afforded to non-White non-male aspiring musicians. She would also really like Tom Hanks to know that she’s sat by the phone ready to get his production company a Best Original Song Oscar.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
So… your 2019!
It’s been crazy!
I can imagine! I guess in a sense you’re having to find yourself musically in a big spotlight. Is that a challenge, in a way, with a sort of pressure?
I think I try not to see it as pressure. I do the music I do and I love what I do, I just constantly write and that’s always been me. I use my writing process as more of a therapeutic thing cos it kind of organises the thoughts in my brain. But I don’t think I necessarily see it as pressure cos I just do it and release what I release.
When speaking about growth, there’s also been a tonne of artistic growth as well from low-fi acoustic pop to, especially, Space Cadet. I read somewhere that this was your first time writing with a band as well?
I obviously write everything myself still and I find the chord progressions myself. But, obviously, now that I’ve got band members, even rehearsing with them makes me kind of imagine where I can take the song. Now, let’s say for the album, Pete [Robertson], my producer who does the drums and the bass on the records, can now collaborate with Louie on the bass to kind of figure out their own way of interpreting the song and I’ll just be “oh, how about you try this or try this?” But, I really just focus on songwriting and solid guitar progressions. I can’t really write a song without having a guitar. I respect the people who just write like “I know how you do that!” but I have to figure out a chord progression first. But playing live with my friends in a band has basically opened my mind to so much more I can do with music.
Like the alchemy of seeing it all come together helps you expand the concept in your head?
Exactly, yeah. I like learning and this is a learning process for me because I’m so new. I’m only so keyed to my guitar and my lyrics, but every time I go to the studio, I’m always so excited to just hear what Pete’s done and ask him “what’s this?” and “what’s that?” and “what should we do next?” It’s just so much more fun than being alone in a bedroom.
Speaking of which, can you give us any juicy info about the upcoming debut album?
There is a little ongoing story in the album, where every song means something or is related to one certain subject, but I’m just going to say that, I’m not going to say what that subject is. I’m currently writing, and I still have a lot of songs that are half-written which I have to finish off, and I’m recording it in the new year. The sound of it… I think people expect to go to this “oh, yeah, Space Cadet Bea now on, right?” And I guess it’s gonna be a mix of that but I want to be able to touch base with the songs I had on Patched Up and the songs I had on Loveworm to show that growth, but also like making them all link to one another with this one…
Like a nice cohesive career arc across the album, definitive statement of where you are to where you have been to now?
Is there a massive difference in writing for EP sizes compared to full-lengths?
With EPs, I would always write it in the moment cos with me the whole thing about releasing something is that I would have to change my identity. With Loveworm I had my hair red, with Space Cadet I had my hair blue. I think with this album, I have experienced so much in such little time that I’ve been forced to grow up a bit… I think now it’s not necessarily “ME!” Me at this phase right now is kind of describing me as a person as a whole, and that’s how I’m writing this album; my experiences throughout my whole life, not me just now but even me in the future and me in the past. With the EPs I’ve done so far, it was completely relatable to a certain situation that I had at that point in my life, whilst my album is gonna be a mixture of everything.
Let’s talk Dirty Hit, then. I know that they approached you. What drew you to Dirty Hit specifically out of all the offers that you got?
I guess it was the kind of family atmosphere it had? Obviously, I didn’t want to go with a major because I just think they wouldn’t care about me as much. Literally, Dirty Hit cares about my mental health, they care about what I want, and I’m not just saying this to be “YUUH! DIRTY HIT RULES!” I literally had a cry this morning and I spoke to Jamie [Oborne, label co-head]. There’s a few people I trust in my life, and they’re people from Dirty Hit, I can’t lie.
How have you found being on tour with friends? I know you’ve worked with Oscar [Lang] before. [He produced much of her earliest work plus Loveworm.]
Rome [No Rome] and his band have been amazing. It is so nice to be around Filipino energy cos I don’t have a lot of Filipino friends at home. And it’s so nice to be surrounded by people who create music who are doing the same thing that you do and playing shows every night like I do. We just get to listen to each other’s music and vibe off of each other and the fact that we’re all friends. It’s super cool and everyone’s been super lovely. Learned a lot, seen a lot, and especially America as well, those 3 months with Claire [Clairo]…
How was that American tour?
It was really good! Claire is, and I tell this to everyone, one of the nicest most genuine people I’ve ever met! She made me feel so welcomed. It was my first ever tour in the US, playing to crowds who don’t know my music, but she was always there making me feel better and she’s so nice. Even now she asks me how I am and I can call her whenever I feel like shit.
Mentioning Rome, “Filipino energy…” You grew up listening to Filipino music. How do you manage to work that into your own music? Toutsider perspective on youth culture, musically and lyrically?
I think with the music I listened to growing up, which was Original Filipino Music and a mixture of my mom’s music which she really liked, it just came naturally within the music I wrote. Loveworm was very love inspired and a lot of OPM music is very love-inspired, they always talk about love, and it just came naturally. The melodies stand out most with Filipino music because they’re so distinctive and I kind of want that in my work. Growing up as an ethnic minority and going to a mostly-white all-girl Catholic school in Hammersmith, it was intense cos I always felt like an outsider even though I tried to fit in. I had the good few girls that were just completely bitchy to me and still hate me today.
I also think being inspired as Filipino woman to write for kids who used to be like me pretty much motivates most of the music I make. Space Cadet was kinda me accepting who I was, and I get girls who are Filipino who are basically a few years younger than me come up to me that I could see myself in. I didn’t have a Filipino girl to look up to who did the stuff that I’m trying to and I just wanna act like that sort of role model for those girls. Cos I always wish I’d had a girl that was rocking out on-stage who was Asian and badass. When I found Miki [Berenyi] from Lush, that really motivated me to be on-stage.
Do you think some of that can be attributed to the social network Internet era where it forcibly breaks down the heavily white and male barriers of the industry, trying to democratise music scenes and show diverse faces and voices?
Yeah, totally! The internet is a really fucked up place and it can be really bad sometimes, but for me it’s been really good to be able to release everything, get people to know who I am with the music I make, and just to be myself online. If you use it well, see it in a positive way and not abuse that, then the internet is a really good place to connect with people all around the world. I have friends who also do music who are also Filipino. There are so many artists out there who are doing the things that I am doing and trying to get out, and social media has helped them so much because people can discover them from there. So, it’s a good place to be in.
It’s obviously so early in your career even with how crazy this past year’s been and how next year looks, but what else is left on your mental to-do/goals list? I know you said you wanted to do film scores?
Oh, yeah! I definitely want to soundtrack a film! Obviously, that Good Will Hunting soundtrack is amazing by Elliot [Smith], that Submarine soundtrack by Alex Turner is amazing, and Kimya Dawson with that Juno soundtrack and The Mouldy Peaches! I am very much inspired by her because she makes all this bass with grunge-rock and then comes out with this cool new soundtrack that’s just her, this guitar and a bunch of really cute love songs. So, I just really want to do film scores. I’ve always wanted to be a nursery teacher, that’s like my one goal in life! And also meeting Tom Hanks!
Who doesn’t want to meet Tom Hanks?
Exactly! I really want to meet Tom Hanks! On my album!
Score a Tom Hanks movie!
Oh, dude, that’d be sick!
Just keep pestering his agent for whatever he does next!
I keep pestering him and his wife! So, I’m trying!
Next time his production company makes a film just go “Best Original Song Oscar, Tom. You want me for that!”
Have you got any personal music recommendations? What’s floating your boat right now?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Radio Flyer and Duster. Very guitar-based, late-90s, and all that shit. I think it’s the album Stratosphere? But yeah, it’s from the late 90s and I’m really into it right now.
Is that influencing the direction of the album at all?
Oh, yeah. I think as I’ve been growing as a guitar player, I’ve been forced to kind of grow playing guitar. So, they really have kind of inspired me with different chords.
Space Cadet is available now to stream and buy on vinyl from Dirty Hit. beabadoobee will be touring the UK with The 1975 in February.
Callum Petch thinks it’s pretty shit that we didn’t date.