'It Crackles With Life': Beauty Pill Returns : The Record A virus caused Chad Clark's heart to tear with every beat, giving him a 22 percent chance to live. Eleven years after Beauty Pill's debut LP, he and his band come back resilient.
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'It Crackles With Life': Beauty Pill Returns

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'It Crackles With Life': Beauty Pill Returns

'It Crackles With Life': Beauty Pill Returns

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Beauty Pill is a band from Washington D.C. They just released a new album, 11 years after their promising full-length debut. Chad Clark leads the band, and he has a good excuse for his tardiness. His heart tried to kill him. The story of those 11 years is one of dread, of a very public recovery and ultimately of resilience. Here are two members of Beauty Pill in their own words. First, Chad Clark.

CHAD CLARK: Beauty Pill formed in the aftermath of another band, which was called Smart Went Crazy. Our band has always been - I think the old-fashioned expression was critic's darling. I don't think anyone uses that expression anymore. I think we're a little bit like the critically-acclaimed movie that not as many people see as you'd like.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IDIOT HEART")

BEAUTY PILL: (Singing) The devil won't green light your project until he's seen the treatment, so try to show some flare for presentation.

BASLA ANDOLSUN: My name's Basla Andolsun and I am the bass player for Beauty Pill. One of the things that I liked about Chad's writing when I first heard the band was the lyrics were really interesting. I like things that are a little bit complex, that aren't entirely straightforward.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IDIOT HEART")

BEAUTY PILL: (Singing) Strike sure, strike sharp, strike cold, aim smart - strike deep into the idiot heart.

ANDOLSUN: The first full-length album came out in 2004, I believe. That one's "The Unsustainable Lifestyle." In 2007, Chad came down with a very serious illness.

CLARK: I came down with something that I thought was the flu. It turns out that, unfortunately, what I had was a viral infection in my heart, which is usually swiftly fatal.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARTBEAT)

ANDOLSUN: They realized that his heart had actually torn a little bit. And every time it was beating, the tear would expand.

CLARK: In a couple of times in my life, the doctors have given me exact odds of making it. And at one point, it was 22 percent chance of living for another year. I was fortunate to have health insurance, and I got open-heart surgery - an emergency open-heart surgery - which saved my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANDOLSUN: It was pretty intense seeing him. You know, he's a big, physically present person who has always been very healthy. So seeing him vulnerable like that in the hospital, it was rough.

CLARK: When I was in the hospital, I continued to write and develop music. I got more into technology, because I could not lift a guitar.

ANDOLSUN: Because they literally had to crack his chest open.

CLARK: I got into using the laptop as an instrument. And so the influence of hip-hop and electronic music probably came more to the fore for Beauty Pill's new music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFRIKANER BARISTA")

ANDOLSUN: Chad would play little bits and pieces for me of what he was working on. I remember he came over to my house one day and brought over "Afrikaner Barista" and asked me to play bass on it. And that song was absolutely - it just struck me immediately, I was very excited about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFRIKANER BARISTA")

BEAUTY PILL: (Singing) Here again, here again, here again, here again.

ANDOLSUN: So Chad brought up the idea of doing a recording at Artisphere, a museum in Arlington, Va.

CLARK: A curator there named Ryan Holladay approached me and said, you know, we would like for you to do something musical. And we took a tour of the grounds. At one point, we went and looked into this room, which is the Black Box Theatre. And I was struck by the window looking down into the room, which is on the second floor, looked almost exactly like - if you've ever seen The Beatles' Abbey Road Studio 2 window, the window that looked into where The Beatles recorded. And, you know, I'm a huge Beatles fan, and immediately I got this idea, like, you know, wouldn't it be cool if we allowed people to watch us make a record?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What are these?

CLARK: Please note that I will be seen with sunglasses.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Noted.

CLARK: Sunglasses going on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLARK: Alright, well, here we are at Artisphere's Black Box Theatre. My band, Beauty Pill, has been commissioned to make our record in public. We're trying to do one song a day.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Let's try it.

CLARK: Alright. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMSTICKS CLICKING)

ANDOLSUN: You know, it's kind of intimidating trying to come up with parts for a song while people are watching through an observation window.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T A JURY IN THE WORLD 'GON CONVICT YOU, BABY")

CLARK: Well, the song we're going to work on today is called "Ain't A Jury In The World 'Gon Convict You, baby!" The baby is an important part of that title. We'll start by listening to the demo and learning the piece of music. This is actually a very important thing to note. We have not practiced. The first time that we're all getting together communally to shape this music is today. So there's a basic process of learning even the notes that are in the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T A JURY IN THE WORLD 'GON CONVICT YOU, BABY")

CLARK: Here we go, from the top.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T A JURY IN THE WORLD 'GON CONVICT YOU, BABY")

CLARK: What I've found - the most sociologically - the most fascinating part about this whole thing has been the energy from the observer has been largely empathetic and there's a well-wishing kind of energy you can feel from people that are in the room and at the window. They're hoping that we make it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So that second chorus, I missed the entrance.

CLARK: It's fine.

>>UNIDENTIFIED MAN We can just take the...

CLARK: Actually, the way you missed it was kind of cool.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah. Even my mistakes are gold.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDOLSUN: You know, at the end of the Artisphere experience, I was happy with what we had, but then I didn't hear the songs for a long time. Chad kind of took them back into his own little cave there and worked on them. And I didn't hear anything for quite a while.

He actually lost the files for the recordings at some point. And he didn't mention this to us until he checked with Jean and found out that she had an extra copy of them, fortunately. But that gave us a little bit of a scare. It's like, really? You almost just lost this album that we worked so hard to record?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T A JURY IN THE WORLD 'GON CONVICT YOU, BABY")

CLARK: "Ain't A Jury In The World 'Gon Convict You, Baby" - the title comes from an actual quote. I was on a Metro. I overheard a woman say that exact sentence into a cell phone. I found the phrase really interesting, and it kind of suggests the crime you're about to commit is something everyone can empathize with.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T A JURY IN THE WORLD 'GON CONVICT YOU, BABY")

BEAUTY PILL: (Singing) U.S. flag inside the car in case you forget where you are. Perfumed Paris saw with stripes and stars it's on, it's on.

ANDOLSUN: There are a few songs on the album that talk about mortality. "Near Miss Stories" is one that is pretty explicitly about his experience with almost dying.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEAR MISS STORIES")

BEAUTY PILL: (Singing) Stethoscope on my chest, he says we better do this fast. One of these beats of your heart is going to be the last.

CLARK: "Near Miss Stories" is about the experience of coming close to death and coming away with those kind of banal but profound revelations.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEAR MISS STORIES")

BEAUTY PILL: (Singing) If you see something you want and don't have, let me know and I'll show you how to live without it, without it.

ANDOLSUN: He's very profound about many different things, but when it comes to his own near-death experience, he doesn't dwell on it. It's not something that he talks about that much. So I guess this song, you know, I guess he's processing things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEAR MISS STORIES")

BEAUTY PILL: (Singing) I'm so lucky. I'm so lucky. I'm so lucky.

CLARK: That's genuinely the way I feel. I don't feel unlucky. One could argue that someone who's been through what I've been through has been unfortunate, but I don't see it that way. I see it as very fortunate. I think that everyone who's alive is fortunate. Ending the song as a mantra of saying I'm so lucky - and then it turns into you're so lucky...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEAR MISS STORIES")

BEAUTY PILL: (Singing) You're so lucky. You're so lucky.

CLARK: ...Which is maybe presumptive on my part as a songwriter to speak to the listener directly that way, but I do want to get it across. The things in your life that you may be taking for granted are kind of what life is about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEAR MISS STORIES")

BEAUTY PILL: (Singing) You're so lucky. You're so lucky. You're so lucky. You're so lucky. You're so lucky.

ANDOLSUN: I'm constantly worried about his health and what if things deteriorate. But mortality aside, just his quality of life has changed so much. Like, he literally has a battery that he has attached to him that's keeping his heart pumping. And he has to carry around alternate batteries with him in case, you know, they lose their juice. And that's - you know, it's scary. We'll be in practice and we'll hear a beeping, and it's like, what's that beeping? And it's like, oh, Chad needs to change his battery. It's pretty intense.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRAPETOMANIA")

CLARK: The name of the record is "Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are." I really like the record. I think it crackles with life. And I think you can hear the energy of what happens when you force people to figure out a song per day. I think that that excitement comes through.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRAPETOMANIA")

BEAUTY PILL: (Singing) I want more life than you.

CLARK: I think some people expected - because of what I'd been through - for it to have a melancholy or morose quality, and I don't think it has that quality. It feels alive and it feels electric and it feels like it has color. And so that's the thing that I think I'm most excited about giving to people.

ANDOLSUN: Chad is very excited about wanting to tour. You know, it's something that he wants to do. It's a life or death matter, so it is unnerving thinking about going on tour. But I feel like - I feel like the rest of us would maybe be a little bit better at looking out for Chad than Chad would. We'd make sure his batteries are charged.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DRAPETOMANIA")

BEAUTY PILL: (Singing) It's not (unintelligible).

RATH: That's the story of Beauty Pill, as told by members Chad Clark and Basla Andolsun. Their new album is called "Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are." And later this week, the band will play their first live shows since Chad Clark got sick. They're going back to where they recorded the album - Artisphere in Arlington, Va. Our story was produced by Phil Harrell.

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