beau makes music for modern-day flower children
Raised in downtown New York on Joni Mitchell, long-haired dream girls Heather Golden and Emma Rose Jenney have a lilting folksy sound with echoes of Stevie Nicks.
The first time Heather Golden saw Emma Rose Jenney was at PS3 elementary school in Greenwich Village, known locally as "the hippie school."
"I was reading a book upside down because I was a weirdo," says Heather, "And Emma was this really pretty girl in a cute pink outfit, skipping down the hallway. We were totally different. I wondered who she was. And I'm sure, she thought, 'Who the hell is she?'" Emma confirms that's exactly what she thought. "You had really short hair," she reminds Heather, "like, a bowl cut."
Now 21 and 20, Heather and Emma both have slightly wild cascading hair, the kind you see in footage from the original Woodstock. And their looks have become more similar, too. When we meet in Brooklyn, they had just returned from Paris, where they played a fashion week event for Chloé. Heather is wearing a sheer paisley shirt by the brand with voluminous gathered sleeves, and Emma explains that her wide-collared vintage dress (with mismatched glass buttons) is something she found on a recent weekend in Massachusetts. Both in flat ankle boots, they look like a perfect blend of old Greenwich Village and present-day Manhattan.
Which is how they sound, too. Together the girls perform as Beau, playing folk-inflected instrumentals overlaid with plaintive, heartfelt lyrics. Heather's voice, smooth and bluesy, also seems partly like something from another era. On "Karma" from their self-titled May 2015 EP, it achieves the kind of mystical, undulating power of Grace Slick's.
After that initial third-grade meeting, they remember hanging out for the first time at Emma's apartment. (The girls' mothers are best friends, who also both grew up in Greenwich Village and still live a few minutes from each other.) Heather recalls Emma's childhood home as being more like a menagerie. "There were dogs and rabbits and guinea pigs everywhere, just so many different animals," she says. Emma says Heather trod in her dog's poop on their first play date, but Heather emphatically does not remember this. Either way, she says, "We took over our moms' roles and now we're best friends."
They started writing music together when they were around 13, in their bedrooms, and they still perform some of their very first songs. Several of them will be released on their debut album, That Thing Reality, in March of next year. So far, despite being about to set off for a European tour, the girls have only released a handful tracks. But "One Wing," the opening number on their EP, has already earned them comparisons to Stevie Nicks and Lana Del Rey. And they definitely have the support of people whose support matters.
Ryan McGinley, who is a friend, shot the cover for That Thing Reality. And three years ago, André Saraiva, another friend, introduced Emma and Heather to their current label, Kitsuné, after they played one of their first gigs at his club Le Baron in Paris. Around that time, they also changed the name of their band. They realized their first choice, "The Boos" (after Heather's nickname "Heather Boo") sounded like "la bouse," which is French for cow dung. That, and they also thought "Beau" felt more mature and would suit them better as their sound evolved.
How do they classify their sound? "I feel like songwriting is its own universe," answers Emma, "In terms of musical energy it's something else. It's a function of poetry and passion. So I think our genre is just 'songwriting,' if we were to say one." Heather agrees, adding, "It's like a diary where you can express yourself through melody." Exposing the contents of your 13-year-old journal is most people's idea of a nightmare. But then most people didn't write lyrical musings inspired by Little Richard, Joni Mitchell and southern blues in middle school.
The girls both got impressive musical educations, thanks in part to their families. Emma's dad had a jukebox at home and would play her Elvis and early rock and roll. He also made her mixtapes filled with tracks from old records he found at Connecticut barn sales. (He still makes these now, sometimes for Heather, too.) And Heather's grandmother was a piano player, who would ask Heather to take the other part when she practiced. "The first song she taught me was 'Chopsticks' and it opened up my whole world!"
But now that their earlier songs are ready for release, Beau is thinking about the future. "It's kind of more mature and a little different," says Emma about the pair's most recent songwriting output. "I think we're exploring new territories within ourselves." "We're trying to be more epic," elaborates Heather. The experience of recording with a full band opened them up to new breadths and depths of sound, but they're not planning to add synths to their raw, acoustic stylings any time soon.
"I use, if anything, two guitar pedals," jokes Emma. "When we try to use effects, we're, like, 'Woah! Turn that off!'" Heather laughs. But it's still a good idea to catch one of their shows in New York this month (tonight at Elvis Guesthouse; at Club Berlin on October 27th), just in case they decide to go electric.
Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Ysa Perez