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A Beacon School: Keep It Like a Secret

10 March 2024

Photo by Dave Scholten

The nom de song of Patrick J. Smith, A Beacon School’s star is on the rise. Hailing from Brooklyn’s vibrant indie scene, it offers a fresh and youthful voice meshed with kaleidoscopic glints of keyboards and guitar. Preceded by 2019’s Cola and a string of EPs and singles, its latest, yoyo (Grind Select), marks its most ambitious release to date, an auspicious furtherance of a steadily-blooming artistic career.

“It was obsessively crafted the whole time,” Smith says. “I think it’s just really solid all the way through. I didn’t phone in any of the songs. I’m proud of it and stand by it from the first second to the last second. I feel every song has a ton of detail and care. I’m glad I stuck with it all the way through, even though it took a while.”

Where Cola presented a collection of angular, straight-ahead guitar pop, yoyo takes A Beacon School in a far more ambient direction. “The new one is a little more lush and layered,” contemplates Smith. “It’s deeper and wider, and more dynamic. A little more cinematic, maybe.”

yoyo takes a strikingly cinematic turn with “Jon,” A Beacon School’s first-ever instrumental. In its stunning companion video, created by photographer and director Chase Wagner (also the band’s bassist), Smith guides us on a backpacking tour of the city that never sleeps amidst a titillating blur of fireworks and neon. “He is a brilliant videographer,” he enthuses. “I’m so glad we were able to work side by side and make sure they complimented the music.”

Along with the desert travelogue depicted in “Potion” and the floral rhapsody of “KITM,” the clips lend A Beacon School an exhilarating new visual dimension. “I’m definitely not a visual person,” admits Smith. “My biggest fear with any kind of visual thing is that it will detract or distract from the music, which is why we typically use black and white. I feel like colors can inform one’s perception before they hear something. It was really important to me that the visuals jibe with the music, and I think we achieved that.”

Each of yoyo’s tracks posed its own set of challenges, particularly “Mantra,” its finale. “‘Mantra’ is a ton of different sections and parts,” Smith explains. “It’s long and it changes key, and it’s a big puzzle. ‘Middle of Winter,’ as well, was the same. ‘Potion’ was the one song on the album that came together extremely fast. That one was basically one sitting in a couple of hours. It came fully formed. I just tweaked the lyrics a little bit and cleaned it up. But everything else was pretty labored over.”

As Morrissey so famously observed, these things take time, and yoyo proves that time is forever on Smith’s side. Persistence and patience are two of A Beacon School’s most enduring strengths. “I think the songs that survive the long, multi-year incubation process are the ones that I stay excited about,” he says. “There’s still something about them, whether it’s a chord change or a cool production thing, that still has an effect on me. Those are the ones that make it through.”

Though Smith insists he’s an extrovert, he consistently turns inward for creative fuel. Of all of the tracks on yoyo, none speak louder volumes to his insular ways than “KITM”— “Keep It to Myself,” in acronym.

“A lot of the ‘you’ that I talk about is speaking to myself,” he confides. “I think there’s a lot of oscillating and toiling. It wasn’t a conscious idea going in. It was me looking at everything once it’s all done and identifying a theme.” Said themes explore the passage of time, the inevitable processes of growth and aging — in short, life’s proverbial series of ups and downs. “I think where I landed with the name of the record was kind of a back-and-forth aspect and ending up where you started.”

For all of his self-contained tendencies, Smith has come to embrace outside insight, and A Beacon School’s songs are all the better for it. “That’s the issue: trying to hear it with fresh ears,” he says. “I find just playing something for someone else, be it my girlfriend or my friends, having someone else in the room, you can kind of instantly realize where something is.”

Any artist will tell you that the most exciting part of songwriting is in its beginnings. Seeing them through to completion, however, can be another matter entirely. As Smith well knows, there’s joy to be found in the struggle. “I’ve got to make sure I maintain a high standard even though I’m sick of working on something,” he reveals, “and make sure I haven’t lost the original spark that made me want to work on a song in the first place. I just keep coming at it and do as much as I can until it finally takes shape. It takes a lot of swings to finally get it done. It’s important to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s, and get something finished that you’re proud of.”