Leslie Bear isn’t totally sure how she first decided on the name Long Beard. “I was young, probably 18, and it became kind of a joke,” she explains, “I always liked the sound of it. ‘Call Me Long Beard.’ It’s ridiculous, like an old wizard.” For a while it was merely a pseudonym for a book she was planning, but when it came time to pick an alias for performing music it was the most obvious choice.
Over the past four years, it’s become a strangely reoccurring sticking point. It might be that listeners are surprised, or that she’s not what they expect from such a seemingly masculine-named project. It’s a needless thing to obsess over, though; the aspect of Long Beard ultimately worth most obsessing over is Leslie’s music — her haunting voice drifting peacefully over a droning guitar, her intimate solo recordings on Bandcamp.
Since she first started performing, Leslie has developed a devoted following in the tri-state area. In person, she is humble, self-deprecating and incredibly friendly, but barely lets on the amount of work she has put into Long Beard. Luckily her debut album, Sleepwalker, can do all the talking for her.
Long Beard began in 2009 while Leslie was still in college at Rutgers, where she studied psychology and computer programming. Growing up just one town over in East Brunswick, the New Brunswick music scene was one she knew well, and her increasing involvement within it led her to begin writing songs of her own. “I didn’t really know where I was going with them, or if I was even going to do anything with music,” she says. “I’d usually end up writing the songs very late when everyone else was asleep, so that played a big part in why my songs are quieter and more subdued.” These soft, late night songs soon began to make sense once she acquired a loop pedal and set about mastering it, as well as beginning to perform them live.
“Around the time I played my first show I was starting to come out of my shell and realizing I had friends that were so supportive and a good community of people in New Brunswick that support local artists,” she told me after describing her initial fears. “I figured I might as well play shows!” This led to home recordings and the eventual formation of a full band featuring Devin Silvers on bass and Stefan Koekemoer on drums. After two subsequent years of shows (both solo and with the band), she traveled to the Salvation Recording Co. studio in New Paltz and began putting the finishing touches on her recordings with producer Chris Daly. The result is not only a beautiful pop album but a uniquely personal statement laced with sincerity and introspection. The most apt way to listen might be with the lights off and a candle burning.
Sleepwalker is the ultimate realization of the sound she’s been chasing since the start of the project, a frustration detailed in a July 7th Facebook post about her old recordings: “Don’t get me wrong, I love that tape hiss, but it’s 2015 which is the year of (higher quality) and the longest limbo state of my life but I’ve worked too long and too hard (maybe) on a bunch of songs, and what has been released isn’t truly representative of #mywork they are sort of placeholders for the real thing/bigger picture I’ve had for some four or five years.”
I’d usually end up writing the songs very late when everyone else was asleep, so that played a big part in why my songs are quieter and more subdued.
Taking cues from artists as varied as Daisuke Miyatani, Cocteau Twins and Sibylle Baier (among others), Sleepwalker is 35 minutes of intricately arranged songs that use the larger concepts of changing seasons and times of day as structure to present Bear’s more intimate emotions. “It’s a little intense and weird,” she says, “but that’s how I organized it and wrote a lot of the songs, depending on what season it was when I wrote them or what season I wished it was when I wrote them.”
This sensitive approach led to the album being split in two separate ways, one in which side A represents the daytime and side B the night, and the other where this is a change of season every 3-4 songs. A loose narrative guides the tracklist. The album begins in a summer setting, with two bright pop songs about things like sitting on a porch and hating the party. Late August comes with “Summer/Fall,” and the air starts to get cooler, the leaves start to turn. By “Turkeys,” school has started and a decidedly autumnal tone is in the air. “Suburban Sunset,” the song that closes the first side, confirms this: it’s dusk and feels like late fall, summer seems barely imaginable.
Side two opens on a winter night, one that sends Bear to retreat inward. The lyrics become barely audible, floating through the arrangement like just another instrument. The songs are slow and cold and blur seamlessly into one another until “Moths” ushers in the spring. From the second it starts, its percussive strumming brings to mind the clear image of the first night you notice moths flying into the light bulbs of your room and know that warmer weather is coming soon. Finally, this change brings about the end of the album with the heartbreaker “Days of Heaven” and the instrumental “Twinkle Twinkle,” leaving the listener right back at summer where they started. It’s a thoughtful record, one that clearly took a lot of time to properly execute.
The LP is set to be released on October 23, but when asked about the future Leslie replies with refreshing humility. “I would like to keep making music,” she says, “and if people seem interested I’ll put it out, otherwise I’m going to just play them for cows and hope they can be more relaxed and not understand the sad/dark undertones in my lyrics.” To me, that is the exact mentality that I find so important in Long Beard. At any level in the music world there are always going to be people that are exploitive, greedy or just generally there for all the wrong reasons, but Leslie represents the other side of that: the people who are making music purely for the love of it. That’s the way of Long Beard.