It's Hard To Be An Egg: A Chat with Andrew Beaujon
Exploder (Teenbeat, 1992)
TeenBeat 96 Exploder (Teenbeat, 1994)
Eggs were a great indie rock band formed in Arlington and quickly landing a deal with the renowned TeenBeat. The band released two albums in quick succession and landed a spot on the second stage of Lollapalooza 1993. Multiple lineup changes soured the experience and the band were over by the mid-‘90s but they managed to carve out a small legacy among appreciative fans. Beaujon went on to become a journalist and author, including a definitive look at the subculture of Christian rock, “Body Piercing Saved My Life.” Now happily married with children, Andrew was excited about being able to talk his wide ranging career for a devoted audience.
Pete Crigler: What got you interested in playing music?
Andrew Beaujon: I've always loved playing music, whether it was piano and banjo as a kid or bass in bands in high school. I really like the idea of making something from nothing. I'm no great musical talent, but I have always tried to achieve a certain arguable competence.
Pete: Tell me about some of your earlier bands.
Andrew: My band before Eggs was Scaley Andrew. Originally that was a solo project where I made cassettes on Teen-Beat on a four-track machine. That became a band with my roommate and close friend Mark Nelson (later in Labradford; he now makes music under the name Pan American) and James Gordon Meek, who now covers counterterrorism for ABC News.
Pete: How did Eggs initially come together?
Andrew: The first lineup of Eggs sprung out of my friendship with John Rickman. We met at Virginia Commonwealth University and ran into each other at shows. We had a class together and began to talk about playing music. I had a bunch of songs that I'd written during a lousy summer when I lost my job and a relationship fell apart. I'd started playing with tuning my guitar in different ways and settled on a tuning that was the standard guitar tuning but with the top two strings playing B (E-A-D-G-B-B), which gave my chords a nice droning quality. At the same time I had been getting into bossa nova records from the '60s. All that came together in the first batch of Eggs songs, which John and I bashed out in my basement on Vine Street in Richmond. We tried playing with a few people, and the lineup that came together was John on drums, me on guitar, Marianne McGee on French horn and Dave Park, who'd played with Mark Robinson and Phil Krauth in Unrest, on bass.
Pete: How did the band come to sign with Teenbeat?
Andrew: Teen-Beat was a natural home for us. I'd helped to start the label in high school with Mark, dubbing cassettes and selling them at our high school in Arlington. Mark was interested in putting out an Eggs 7-inch, so we recorded "Skyscraper" and "Ocelot" for it with Barrett Jones in Arlington. During the same session we recorded "It's Hard to Be an Egg" for the Teenbeat 50 compilation. Teenage Gang Debs shared the session with us and recorded "On Tape."
Pete: What do you think the scene in Arlington was like?
Andrew: It's odd to look back on these things and realize, oh yes, there was a scene in Arlington, because it wasn't totally evident to me at the time that there was. Mark and I were both living at home at first, he in South Arlington and me with my folks in Alexandria. Eggs recorded Bruiser right after I finished school and moved back to Northern Virginia. John had decided to transfer to American University. Eventually Mark and I found a house to rent on N. Wakefield Street in Arlington, so that was the birth of Teen-Beat House. Jenny Toomey and Kristen Thomson had a house in North Arlington as well, Dischord was in North Arlington, Positive Force was in Arlington, and Galaxie Hut opened sometime around then. So there must have been a scene but I don't remember thinking of it as such. I saw Arlington as part of a greater Washington, D.C., scene that included all the stuff happening in the District as well as up in Silver Spring. But now that you mention it, Arlington was pretty cool.
Pete: What was it like recording Bruiser?
Andrew: We had $1,000 exactly. Mark had put me in touch with Wharton Tiers, who'd produced Unrest's Kustom Karnal Blaxploitation LP for Caroline. He agreed to make the record for that budget, if we could do it in 10 hours. Marianne couldn't make it, so John, Dave and I drove to New York and stayed with our friend Kylie Wright in upper Manhattan somewhere. We tracked the songs in five hours, recording them like a live set, then overdubbing vocals. Then we mixed them the next day in five hours. We shared that recording session, too—Mark used some time to record his cover of "God Gave Rock and Roll to You" during that session, if I'm not misremembering it.
Pete: How did Evan and Rob come into the fold and what did they bring to the band?
Andrew: It was obvious that being in a band with members in two cities wasn't going to work, so John and I decided to continue Eggs with some new folks. John knew both Rob and Evan from classes at American. Evan joined first. I remember he had a very cool floppy haircut and a white bass. Rob joined not long after that. We had a gig planned for the Simple Machine folks' Lotsa-Pop-Losers festival at dc space in October 1991 and threw together a set pretty quickly. I don't remember that we played all that great that night but fortunately enough excellent performances happened that no one remembers us as stinking up the joint. When Mark and I rented that house on Wakefield Street, Rob and Evan moved in with us. The basement became our and Unrest's practice space.
Pete: Was there any differences when it came to making Exploder?
Andrew: We got comfortable with one another onstage and in the studio before we made Eggs Teenbeat 96 Exploder. We began to record at American University's 24-track studio. Rob and Evan were both in the audio engineering program there and were able to use the studio at night. So we got to know one another making records like "The Obliviist, Part 2" and "The Government Administrator" there. We made quite a few seven-inch singles, either on our own or splitting them with bands we liked. Most of that stuff is collected on the How Do You Like Your Lobster compilation. As this was going on, a weird thing happened--Eggs started to achieve a small degree of popularity. It was difficult for us to process at first--we were used to being a band people put up with to see other bands, but then people, especially in New York, started coming to see us on purpose. We also had a great thing happen when Justine Wolfenden, who we met when she worked with the Wedding Present, offered to put out a single for us on her Hemiola label in Britain. That single did unexpectedly well there and John Peel played it quite a bit.
All of which is to say there was a building interest in us making a second album. We began to retool some of the seven-inch songs and write new ones. Rob and I had developed a close writing relationship. I still haven't worked with anyone who is better at understanding where you want to go with a piece of music and then figuring out how to get there. He started writing his own songs for Eggs at the time, too, a trend that would have continued had the band gone on. At this time, though, John Rickman decided he didn't want to be in Eggs anymore. So we worked with a variety of drummers both on the road and in the studio. When we recorded Exploder we brought our tour drummers in to record songs we'd worked on with them. We tracked everything at American over...I'm not totally sure but I think it may have been a year. We brought it all to Inner Ear to mix with Geoff Turner, who we'd started working with more at his WGNS studio in Arlington. (Another part of the scene!) Then we put it together on his computer. Southern Studios had expressed interest in "P&D"ing the record--manufacturing and distributing it in the U.S. and in Europe, and that seemed like a good deal to us and to Mark. They'd done the same for Dischord for a long time and were known as honest people. Exploder came out in February 1994.
Pete: What was success like and how did you react to it?
Andrew: "Success" is an interesting term to apply to Eggs. We definitely very quickly achieved a lot more than we'd ever expected. But we, and especially me, were such miserable individuals at the time that it was very difficult to maintain any momentum. We couldn't quite click with any drummers, and then Evan left. For a band that placed so much stock on things gelling onstage despite the chaos we made off of it, we entered a very frustrating period. Major labels were interested in signing us, but we were constantly on the verge of just saying to heck with it and shutting down operations. I was getting a little older at the time and was worried about how I was going to make a living and wanted to sign with a major to alleviate some of my economic concerns--I was touring with Eggs, working at temp jobs, and just not making much money. Rob was correctly skeptical about what a major-label deal would mean for us. We were playing with Jane Buscher on bass and Ben Currier on drums, touring a lot but increasingly unhappy. We ended up just kind of petering out.
Pete: What was it like touring Lollapalooza?
Andrew: Oh that was fun. Our dancer, Evan Bittner, became a star. (Our live lineup expanded around this time to include Evan and Ian Jones on congas and percussion.) Evan could have been the Bez of the East Coast if we'd managed his fame better. One time he was riding his bike out in Western Maryland and a guy in a pickup stopped and backed up, gravel spraying. Evan thought he was going to kill him but he shouted "EGGS!" at him instead.
Pete: What caused the band to break up?
Andrew: I decided to move to New York. I had a relationship with someone up there that ended as I was getting ready to leave, but I wanted to try living somewhere new. Eggs never officially broke up but we did stop playing.
Pete: How did you come to make your solo EP?
Andrew: Warner Bros. was still interested in me after Eggs went on hiatus so I made a demo for them on their dime in London. The lineup was Justine Wolfenden on viola, Simon Smith from Wedding Present on drums and Nicola Hodgkinson from Boyracer on bass, plus me on guitar and vocals. Warners went through a big reorganization at the time and I don't think the demo really wowed the new folks there. I couldn't do anything with the recordings since they owned them. So I broke out the ol' four-track and made a couple singles, and then the Morning EP for my friend Mark Gordon's Belfast-based label Neptunes. I toured those records in the UK but at this point my side gig was requiring more of my time, so I decided to concentrate on the stable and lucrative field of journalism instead.
Pete: How was the transition from playing music to writing about it?
Andrew: New York is an expensive place to live, and believe it or not, journalism offered a steadier paycheck! I didn't grow up rich, and I needed something I could count on as 30 loomed. I met Ewa Hamilton during one of my UK tours and we got to be friends. When I left a job working at a city guide site for Microsoft, I visited her in Edinburgh and we ended up getting together. We've been married for 22 years now and have two teenage children.
Pete: How did you come to work for Spin and Washington City Paper and did you enjoy it?
Andrew: I came to Spin via my friend Gail O'Hara, who co-edited "Chickfactor." She hired me as a freelance copy editor. The other freelance copy editor was Stephin Merritt. So for a while Spin stories about, I dunno, Bush or Smashing Pumpkins or whatever were copyedited by an indie rock dream team! Spin offered me a full-time gig after Gail left and was replaced by the Great Gaylord Fields. I had a couple other jobs in publishing in New York but wanted to write, and Ewa and I had gotten married and neither of us were really that into New York anymore. Spin eventually offered me a contract that would allow me to write full time if I lived somewhere cheaper so we settled on moving to Richmond. My life is basically a cycle of me moving between Arlington, Richmond, and New York.
Pete: Tell me about how you came to write Body Piercing.
Andrew: My Spin gig allowed me to freelance. I wrote for both Washington City Paper and the Washington Post as well. "Body Piercing Saved My Life" started as an article for the Post about a Christian pop-music festival in Illinois. A book agent thought Christian pop culture would be a worthwhile subject for a book-length study. I spent about a year researching and writing it. It was a huge amount of work that coincided with the birth of my first son. Around the time the book came out, Spin got sold and didn't renew my contract (I think they stopped most contracts, but maybe I'm remembering it gently) so I needed a new gig. My editor at City Paper, Leonard Roberge, suggested I apply for a job up there. I was planning to move back to New York but went up to D.C. anyway and met with Leonard and Erik Wemple. To my great surprise, I loved the idea of working at City Paper and so we moved from Richmond back to Northern Virginia, this time to Alexandria, which is where I have stayed.
Pete: Tell me about your most recent book and what you've been up to lately.
Andrew: I went to a local-news startup called TBD.com after City Paper and then got a job at the Poynter Institute reporting on the news business. Roy Peter Clark, a writing teacher who's a beloved Poynter faculty member, introduced me to his book agent, Jane Dystel. The first project we worked on together didn't sell but she asked me about anything else I wanted to write. I had held a story in my pocket for years since I first heard about it while visiting Edinburgh with Ewa--the story of a soccer team that signed up to fight in World War I together with their fans. That idea sold and became "A Bigger Field Awaits Us." It didn't sell in great numbers but I'm really happy I got it out of my system and am friends with one of the players' descendants.
Pete: What are the former members of Eggs up to and is everyone still friendly?
Andrew: Rob lives in New York. Evan lives in L.A. John's in Richmond. Evan Bittner is in Ohio, and Ian is in Baltimore. I love all of them.
Pete: What would it take for a reunion?
Andrew: Quite a few plane tickets and a bunch of time I'm not sure anyone has.
Pete: What do you think of Eggs' legacy in VA rock as well as nationally?
Andrew: I've been a reporter and editor long enough now to know that legacies are decided by third parties. It thrills me when someone mentions on Twitter that they remember Eggs. We accomplished much more than I ever expected and I'm very happy with the music we made.
Pete: What do you hope you'll be remembered for?
Andrew: Not having any idea how to answer this question!