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Long Beard’s music moves with the magic of dreams.
Maybe that’s because the project’s mastermind, Leslie Bear, has been moving in between the dream of being a musician — and avoiding the subject entirely by pursuing a straight job as a computer programmer — for many years now. A lengthy hiatus between her debut album, Sleepwalker, which came out in 2015, and this week’s release, Means To Me, means that a few of Bear’s former indie contemporaries have seen their careers grow by leaps and bounds in the intervening years. Of course, that’s the tricky thing about creative work. Sometimes it’s a smooth, steady progression, and other times, it’s fits and starts, and unexpected left turns.
Whatever the shape of the journey, one thing about Bear’s current trajectory is undeniable: Means To Me is one of the finest independent releases of the year, a gossamer, surrealist artifact of aching that represents the pinnacle of dream pop in 2019. Slated for release tomorrow by the excellent East Coast indie label, Double Double Whammy — who’ve put out work by artists like Frankie Cosmos, Hatchie, and Yowler — Means To Me catapults Long Beard into the musical ranks she always been destined for, drawing easy comparisons to her labelmates and other contemporaries like Japanese Breakfast, who recently brought her out on tour.
Actually, when we met for coffee in Bushwick last month, Bear told me that Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner was instrumental in helping her find the way back to making music as Long Beard. Zauner invited Bear on tour with the band to play bass, listened to new songs, and encouraged her to pursue releasing this album. Regardless of who supported her, Means To Me is an accomplishment that Bear can call her own. We talked about her early interest in music, how touring with Japanese Breakfast sparked her to leave a toxic corporate job, and the album’s themes of home and self. Read a condensed, edited version of our conversation below.
I feel like it was a very long time between records, but I could just be speaking as a fan there. Does it feel that way to you?
Yeah, I mean it’s been four years. It’s a while, definitely.
Why don’t you start off by telling me a little bit about when you started getting into music, when it started to get serious, and how it eventually became Long Beard?
I started playing music at a pretty early age. I was playing piano and trying to figure out melodies that I hear from songs I liked as a kid. One of the first ones I remember was in The Land Before Time, and I didn’t even know until kinda recently that the song — “If We Hold On Together” — is by Diana Ross, which is pretty cool. When I was ten or eleven I took piano lessons and I really learned a lot from that. Then when I was a teenager I started dabbling with guitar. My friend had a guitar that she never played, so she let me borrow it and I played around until I figured it out., started writing songs, and found people to play with. For Long Beard, I’ve been doing a lot of the songwriting for a long time, since I was around 18, maybe. But I didn’t start to actually play shows under the name Long Beard until like 2013. Then I made a record and I put it out with Team Love Records, and that’s the story of the debut.