We last heard from Becca Gastfriend, a Brooklyn-based alt-soul singer who performs under the shortened eponym beccs, back in 2016, when she released her harrowing Unfound Beauty EP. The debut (and the powerful video for its lead single, “Therapy”) chronicled her struggles with an eating disorder and celebrated the ups and downs of the healing journey she had embarked on. Now, she’s back with “By the Sea,” a new single that explores coming of age themes, lustful longing, and abandonment, while meandering into hopeful escapism and finally ascending into the higher power of self love.
“By the Sea” is a huge leap for beccs, who makes her debut in music production and filmmaking with the help of co-producer Sam Mewton, guitarist Corey Leiter, and photographer/multimedia artist Katelyn Kopenhaver. “The making of the song — learning to produce, arrange, mix and make a film— made room for me to live what it was speaking about,” beccs says. ““By The Sea” became a testament to women finding out what is possible when they trust themselves and start creating with their own hands.”
I sat down with the John Lennon Songwriting finalist to discuss the inspiration behind the sonically mesmerizing, haunting ballad.
AF: Can you discuss the inspiration and meaning behind “By the Sea”?
Beccs: I feel the original intent behind the song is quite literal. It’s about someone I’m thinking of, but the song, despite its meditative cadence, takes you for a ride. By The Sea mourns the ethereal loss of someone you love as much as it discovers what lays beyond — a return to oneself. I tried to capture, through the sonic and visual direction we took, how both healing and painful this return can be.
AF: How did you connect with your collaborators? What was the creative process for the music video?
B: Katelyn and I have been collaborating for three years now in mostly photography and conceptual work but neither of us had ever made a film. We were at a diner when Katelyn popped the question, “Can you let me make your next video?” I booked our bus right then and there. We were a two-woman crew, writing, shooting, and editing our very first film start-to-finish, working around the sun in the dead of winter with one camera. It was one of the best weekends of my life. Katelyn learned final cut pro in an afternoon and it took us seven editing sessions to finish it up, our eyes and taste maturing as we went. I remember playing K “By The Sea” and seeing her cry for the first time. I’ll just say the song became as much about what Katelyn and I found together as it did about the person I speak to in the song.
Corey Leiter, a most thoughtful songwriter himself, and I had met at a show in Barcelona. I knew his tender touch on guitar was it for “By The Sea.”
Sam Mewton and I met on a Bockhaus bill. Sam had just released his EP Ensnaring (imagine a digital Perfume: Story Of A Murderer meets 28 Days Later). This dystopic soundscape could not have been more different than the demo I was about to send him. But Sam stretched my ears and gave me the space to say no. This sort of collaboration in the music studio felt invaluable to me as a female artist.
AF: Feminine agency is so important when building a body of work that feels authentically your own. Can you talk about your personal growth through the process of reclaiming your voice, and trusting your creative instincts?
B: I feel like I barely got my feet wet – excuse the pun – with “By The Sea.” It was my first stab at producing and arranging, and I can’t begin to fathom how far I have to go. At the same time, it felt monumental relative to my growth. I just never thought I could turn the knobs. I don’t think I was prepared for how much work and stillness it took to sit, listen and learn. At first glance, it’s the technical skills that feel daunting. Looking back, it was the skill of listening—to myself and my song— being patient with the answers and okay with the disappointment that made the greatest difference. It’s true how having so few female producer role models can have a significant impact on an artist. If you don’t see it, it’s hard to believe it. Marina Abramović advised artists to look out into the horizon where the water meets the sky. Observing that expanse has the power to stretch our minds to new possibilities. Luckily, I got out to the sea and had friends and collaborators nudging me back towards me. Thank you, if you’re reading this!
AF: Can you discuss the process of independently learning to produce, arrange, and make a film?
B: I think the first step is dissolving the fear, doubt, and guilt that gets in the way from learning something new, particularly in a field that is male-dominated. It took me a year or so to get past this first wrung on the ladder. I started learning guitar. Then Ableton. I enlisted some friends to give me lessons. Honestly, I had to make sticker charts for myself. It was like pulling teeth. But I did it, though it wasn’t until Katelyn and I had already made the film that I really plunged into the production on this song. Katelyn became a motivation. I didn’t want to disappoint her and I wanted to find the sonic world to match our visual one. Coming back to my cello which I hadn’t touched in years also played a big role in the actual production as did my voice and its different capabilities. I was like “if turning knobs on midi irks me, why don’t we just start with what we like?” So I just messed with my voice. It can do some WEIRD things. It’s funny… the whole thing felt like a letter to someone I love. The more specific and obsessed I got in writing that letter, the deeper I could plunge into the learning of it all. That’s probably why I made these postcards – hit me up if you want one!
AF: Your sound resonates music from generations past. If you could choose a different time period to create music in – even just for a month long residency, which era would it be?
B: I normally would say ’90s and cozy up with Paula Cole (which I’ve actually done!) and Tori Amos and my beloved Beth [Gibbons] from Portishead. But honestly, I’ve been feeling ’60s/’70s Janis Ian and Melanie hard lately. I do have to say that “Mysteries” on Beth Gibbons’ solo album Out Of Season was a big sonic inspiration for “By The Sea.”
AF: What advice do you have for women and girls out there searching to find their authentic voice and creative freedom?
B: Spend time with yourself. Embrace your boundaries. Get rid of the miscellaneous — the people-pleasing mannerisms and language we use to muddy our message, mute our power and cut ourselves short from communicating what we really want and need. Develop the skill of listening to the pit in your stomach. The one that cramps up when someone is crossing a line, when you hear a sound you don’t like around your lead vocal, when you’re about to make a decision, big or small, that disagrees with what you believe in. And take the time to become autonomous, take the time to learn. As my friend Paul says, we are always in the middle. Future you will thank you.
beccs performs live in collaboration with Little Kruta Orchestra on Wednesday, July 17 for The Hum Series with opening act Treya Lam. Purchase tickets here., and follow beccs on Instagram and Facebook for more updates.