Interview: Beans On Toast on playing Wembley, touring with Frank Turner and more

Hey America, meet Beans On Toast. Beans On Toast, meet America.

Now that you’ve made each other’s acquaintance, we should probably tell you that “English drunk folk singer” Beans On Toast (aka Jay McAllister) is mere hours away from embarking on his first real tour of the United States, during which he’ll be opening for fellow English drunk folk singer Frank Turner. Beans recently took some time out of his busy tour prep schedule to take part in a little Q&A with yours truly. Click here to check it out.

Beans On Toast’s most recent album, “Fishing For A Thank You,” was released in the UK via Xtra Mile last December, and will be released by the same label in the US on June 11th.

(Jay Stone): First off, thanks for taking time out of what seems to be a busy stretch for you. Where does this email find you? In the States, correct?

(Beans On Toast): Sat in my flat in East London, just about to pack. 24 hours from now I’ll be there.

You’re about to embark on a couple weeks of US dates with Frank Turner. Pardon my total ignorance, but aside from SXSW in the past, is this your first real run of US dates?

Yep. As you said I’ve done SXSW and I’ve visited the country a few times, but this will be the first tour.

If the knowledge that most Americans have of acoustic British anti-folk music were plotted on an axis, it would contain exactly two points: Frank Turner and Billy Bragg. That probably bodes well for your chances of getting a solid response here, no? What can folks here expect from your live show?

My shows can be somewhat of a musical car crash: I don’t plan anything, I get drunk and see what happens. I’ve been doing it for a long time so have bags of ammunition to choose from. Each show is completely different.

Given that I’m admittedly (embarrassingly) out of more loops than I’m in, I was only recently introduced to your music through Fishing For A Thank You, which is due out in the States in June. I can’t say enough about what a breath of fresh air it is. It is readily apparent that you don’t take yourself too seriously, and yet there is also an undeniable sense of honesty (however tongue in cheek it may be) in your songwriting. While you use first-person a lot, do you pull only from your own experiences or is that just how you feel most comfortable writing?

Everything I say in my songs is true, or at least true to me and at least at the time of singing it. That’s where I feel comfortable and really the only way I know how.

Continuing on that theme, you write about some pretty intense subject matter, particularly drug tales (though they seem to have become perhaps a little more cautionary since your earlier work), but then you can write a song like “Kate Moss’ Birthday Party” or “An Afternoon With Henry Rollins” which or more tongue-in-cheek goofs. And yet, a song like “Microwave Popcorn” is one of the most genuinely sweet love songs that I’ve stumbled upon in recent memory. Do you find it important to switch up the subject matter from time to time, or is it just what’s in your head when you’re writing?

One of my main inspirations came from some old dude singing at an open mic session at a festival. He was singing covers and said, “All the songs I know are about sex, drugs or politics.” This stuck with me and I guess all my songs are about them three subjects. The sex can turn into Love and the Highs to cautionary tales and the politics might be spelt wrong, but they are the building blocks.

You’ve earned yourself quite a reputation for being immensely DIY, and yet you’ve worked on past releases with guys like Frank Turner and Ben Lovett (the one from Mumford & Sons, not the one from the US that worked with Chris Wollard + the Ship Thieves). How’d those relationships come about, or is the British folk community small enough that you all predictably know each other?

I’d say I know them completely separately so wouldn’t really put it down to any kind of scene. I lived in and run a music venue for a long time (I still kind of do). We had many amazing bands pass through our doors and I’m lucky to have made friends with them along the way. And they’ve been into what I do so they’re up for getting involved.

Speaking of Turner (sorry to keep going back to that well), you opened for him at last year’s Wembley gig. Explain to foreigners just how big an event like that is?

Huge. By numbers it’s 10,000 people but thats not really the case. Emotionally and spiritually it was much much bigger. At the time it was such a huge and brave step for Frank that it brought all his fans together and made the whole event a huge team effort. Frank also put this really special bill together himself, which I was lucky to be part of. It was no normal gig. It was magic.

Your debut album (2009’s Standing On A Chair) rather famously clocked in at over four-dozen songs. Was that all written specifically for that release, or was it culled from years of songwriting. And, in hindsight, was 50 songs admittedly a bit of a reach, or do you think it accomplished what you were aiming for?

I didn’t have an aim so that bit was easy to accomplish. I’d been writing and performing for a few years and Xtra Mile approached me about putting an album out if I could get one recorded. “Standing on A Chair” was recorded over four days – it was just a case of bash it out, and when I realised I had around 50 tunes I thought ‘let’s just do them all’. Not being a huge fan of hindsight I’d say I’m happy with it as a record, although I can’t think of anything worse than listening to it all the way through.

You’ve got yourself a pretty stable pattern of recording in early Fall, putting out an album in early December and touring for the first half of a year, particularly in the UK. Are you going to ride that pattern until the wheels fall off, or do you have hopes or plans to experiment with different ideas in the future?

I like the circle of events that my life has become. Of recent, the circle is spiraling and getting bigger with more opportunities, which is great fun. So bring on the circles and hold on to the wheels.

“Papa Jay” [editors note: you can see the fantastic video for the track here] finds you at that familiar (to me at least) place where your friends start having kids, and you start wondering if it might be time for you to do the same. Any movement on that front since you wrote the song?

Not yet, mate. I’ll keep you posted.

Where do you see Beans On Toast headed? Would you like for this to become your full-time gig, or are you content carrying on a balance between your musical career and your ‘day job’?

I am content. I would never look at singing as being a job, but as much as that is true I don’t really have a day job either. I make do by running parties, working at festivals and organising gigs. None of these I do for any reason than I love doing them. It’s a bit crass to quote yourself but here goes: “Today is the tomorrow that we thought about yesterday and trying to plan the future is a useless way to spend a day.”

Anything else you’d like Dying Scene’s loyal readers to know about Beans On Toast?

That while I’m in the States I’m up for anything and everything. Any suggestions about what to get up to, where to go or what not, please get in touch. I’d like to see the real America, please.

Any famous parting words?

Here I shall quote Kate Tempest: “Mean what you say and say it with meaning.”

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