Barak Shpiez, frontman of Pittsburgh’s Beware Fashionable Women, is a musical force of nature with a penchant for writing indelible pop hooks and sun-soaked harmonies, songs made for summer. He’s also produced two songs for a solo album by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, having won his favor after he reached out to fans for help, following his 2009 bus accident.
Though the band’s name and artwork muses on vibrant 60′s Audrey Hepburn stylings, Beware Fashionable Women is actually made up of four guys who’d rather hide behind their road cases than preen in promo pictures like peacocks, which is quite a nice twist. Don’t you agree?
What year did the band form?
I formed Beware Fashionable Women in 2008.
How did all the band members meet?
BFW is really a revolving door of musicians based around playing the album to a live audience. Some of the musicians on the album were gathered from Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. In the past year or so the BFW musicians’ pool has come from the music scene in Pittsburgh, PA.
What is the band’s favorite venue/city to play?
We’ve played Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and many other cities. One night we played an all ages show in Nashua, NH. We were the first band of four to be playing, and people were milling around while we were setting up. As soon as we turned on our amps… people flooded to the front of the stage. They stayed there, eyes fixed on all of us, pumping fists in the air, for the next 45 minutes. One girl even asked for the setlist.
What’s your funniest band story?
Any “funny” band story is inevitably has failure as one of its themes. We’ve been pretty fortunate, but last fall I booked two shows that I thought had a lot of promise that turned out to be a colossal waste of time. We first were scheduled to play a battle of the bands (first mistake) in Pittsburgh. To top it all off, the promoter did a lousy job of getting interest from other bands to actually perform, so our competition consisted of a No Doubt cover band, a rapper, and a band that tried to do seriously what Tenacious D does comically. We won that round, but I never felt like a bigger loser.
The next day we drove to a city (which I’ll leave unnamed) for a music conference. Everything looked like it was going to be legit. We had hotel discounts, industry panel discussions, tons of participating venues, and dozens of bands involved. When we finally got there, we found the whole thing to be totally mismanaged, underfunded, and a complete joke. Though we had what we thought was a great set time (10:30 PM on a Friday night), the show was an embarrassment. It turned out to be a “play for the other bands and their girlfriends” kind of night.
To make things even better, during the performance of the band going on before us, some guy carrying a baseball and wearing a Yankees jersey and hat came strolling in. As we were setting up, he asked us if he could recite a poem on the mike. Apparently because of the lack of an actual audience, he figured this was an open mic night or something. We said no, we’re performing. Then he asked a girl in the previous band if she would accompany him while he recited his poem. She was Russian, and Russians don’t take shit from anyone. She gave him a cold glare and said no. Unfazed, he got up to the mike and recited some poem about how much he wanted to play for the Yankees. Everyone ignored him, but he didn’t care. When he finished his poem, he left the venue and we played to one less person.
What was the strangest/most interesting thing to happen to the band?
BFW has a publishing deal with an up-and-coming licensing agency. A few weeks ago, about thirty seconds of the song “Parade” was used in an episode of American Picker’s on A&E. It may not be conquering the world, but it is a thrill to hear your song played on TV.
If you could meet any musical hero living or dead, who would it be and what would you say to this person?
I just read Mark Oliver Everett’s biography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know. He has a great personal and professional story, and I actually met him once after he opened for Tom Verlaine. He seemed pleasant enough, but I don’t think I would want to go any further than pleasantries. They say never meet your heroes. That’s good advice.
What do you simply hate about being in a band? You know, like the sound man showing up two hours late for a gig, buying guitar strings from “that guy” at the music store who is more interested in his Chinese food than ringing you up, or trying to find your drummer, (sorry drummers), or insert your band mate who always goes missing, two minutes before your set time.
I hate to sound like a whiner, but where are the promoters these days? Now “promotions” companies are just middlemen between the artist and the venue that serves no more function than being the booking agent. Venues have become inundated with requests to play that they outsourced that job to these companies. When booked at a club, artists are expected to be the sole promoters for their shows, but they don’t have nearly the resources or access that a promoter might have to radio DJs, print ads in the local papers, email lists, interns, etc. By not participating in the promotion of shows they book, promoters have allowed attendance at these shows to dwindle. In response, they simply have raised their cut of the door. So bands can’t make enough money to even fund their own endeavors (promotion of future shows, tours, recording, etc). Promotions companies are a negative influence on any scene and only exist to make venue owners’ lives a bit easier.
What is the band currently working on?
The band is currently working on producing some videos. We’re in the middle of creating a video for the song “The Big Yellow”. If all goes to plan, we should be promoting the video this summer.