Albuquerque native Zach Condon was a straight-A student until he dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to travel Europe in a drunken haze, cavorting and partying with the locals wherever he ended up. It was during one of these evenings that he was first exposed to Balkan gypsy music, blasting from the upstairs apartment. Condon went upstairs to see what exactly he was hearing, and ended up staying up all night with the Serbian artists, going through albums country by country, note for note. Beirutâ€™s debut album Gulag Orkestar is the direct result of what he learned that night.
Although released in May 2006, most of the tracks on Gulag Orkestar were recorded much earlier on Pro Tools while skipping school in Albuquerque, before Condon moved to Brooklyn and booked time at Sea Side Studios in Park Slope. He was joined by Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost of A Hawk and A Hacksaw, who added percussion over what was originally done with drum machines, and some beautiful violin overlays. The resulting record was a glorious and emotional sweep of music, both shocking in its emotional content as well as the astounding logistical feat of this having all been pulled off.
The album was revered worldwide, and yet in little less than a year and a half, and under a flood of public attention, Beirut released an additional EP (Lon Gisland) and the second album, The Flying Club Cup followed shortly after in October 2007. The Lon Gisland EP was the first set of songs made with Condonâ€™s newly piece together live ensemble, and a further six months of recording led to The Flying Club Cup. Inspired by an obscure photo from 1910 depicting hot air balloons taking flight mere steps away from the Eiffel Tower, the album is a homage to France's culture, fashion, history and music, as Condon soaked up the music of Francois Hardy, Charles Aznavour and, most notably, Jacques Brel.
Initial work on the album was done to computer in a nondescript Albuquerque office space, otherwise known as the A Hawk and a Hacksaw practice room. With the record written, an opportunity to record in a real studio came via a friendship formed with multi-instrumentalist Owen Pallet. The initial plan - simply to add final touches to the songs - developed into something more ornate, as Pallet, whose skills as an arranger have adorned and enhanced dozens of records, added lush string sections and a spot of singing, too.
Caught between the soaring spectacle of the instrumentation and the beautiful intimacy of the songs, you can hear a love letter - a heady missive to the joie de vivre that lights up our existence. Listen closer, and you also hear the further emergence of a singular musical talent: Mr Zachary F Condon, an artist unbounded by cultural borders and led wherever his heart travels.