interview: The Be Helds
The Be Helds are Ralston Coorough and Jordon Lybeck. Ralston lives in Austin and Jordon is transient. Somehow they've managed to be in the same place at the same time long enough to release an LP and a cassette. The following interview has been edited for space.
So you guys are both from Montana, yes? You were born there?
In the same city? Where in Montana?
RC: I was born in Hamilton. It’s in the Bitterroot Valley, in western Montana.
JL: I was born in eastern Montana, in Chinook. It’s a rural farming community.
I see. I’ve never been to Montana, but when I was a kid I had this puzzle—it was a topographical puzzle of the U.S. Every state was a piece, and they were bumpy, as bumpy as the state had mountains. And I’d always see the Montana piece, and it was this big, bumpy piece. That fascinated me. And the word “Montana” even looks like “mountain,” like the word is similar—
JL: I think that’s what it means. It means like “breasts” or something, or “crevice,” in some Native American language. It means like “mother’s breast” or “mountain.” I can’t remember. I used to know it. I’ll look it up right now.
RC: You just made that up.
JL: Don’t put that in there! [laughing]
RC: Jordon Lybeck’s an idiot who makes things up.
JL: No, I think it’s here! Let me look it up.
Ok, you can look it up. But that’s like the opposite of where I grew up, in New England, where there are no mountains or anything.
JL: Where everything’s all close together.
Yeah. I just kind of assumed Montana was this vast wilderness... Is that what it is, this mystical wilderness in the middle of nowhere?
JL: Yeah. It’s the fourth largest state, and there aren’t even a million people in it. Western Montana is mountainous, with forests, and then eastern Montana is just plains... It’s flat as shit where I’m from.
So what was it like growing up? How many people were in your hometowns?
JL: I think there were 900 in my town.
RC: I think there were 3,000 in mine. Something like that.
Did you like growing up there?
RC: I don’t know. It was just normal. That’s what normal is.
JL: But you know, there’s this town, Havre, Montana, that was like 20 minutes away from my hometown. It had... 5,000 people, I think? It was like the big city. I also lived on a farm, so Chinook at one point was like the big city, with 900 people.
Were you a farm hand?
JL: Not really.
Did you go out and milk cows every day?
JL: We didn’t have milk cows. But I was a fucking terrible farmer’s son, because I had heart surgery and shit when I was a kid, and I had this ability to projectile vomit when I was at a young age, because of the heart surgery, so when my dad would tell me what to do, I wouldn’t do it, I would just puke. So my dad stopped telling me what to do, because I would just vomit everywhere.
What happened? What was your condition?
JL: My aorta valve, I think it’s called? The one that pumps blood? It had a fucking... it just like, split open. It had a hole in it and so they sewed it back up or something. You can put that I had a pig heart in there if you want.
That’s pretty intense.
JL: So I just wanted to play with X-Men and shit.
So you were just a normal kid, you didn’t have your own super powers.
JL: My sister was a total farm girl, though, she loved helping.
RC: We had animals... chickens for eggs and stuff, but we didn’t have cows. We had horses and goats.
Yeah, I didn’t have any of that growing up. You didn’t go out and play hide and seek on plateaus or something, though?
JL: Nah, we totally played in the barn, in the hay bales and shit. We also played X-Men in the barn.
You just did everything in the barn?
JL: I just did everything X-Men-associated. I think that’s how I got into punk rock music, because I saw like the first punk kid, and he was a traveling train-hopper, and he was walking through town and everybody in town was scared of him. And I was like, oh my god, that motherfucker looks like a superhero! So I went and talked to him.
And he taught you about X-Men?
JL: No, I mean, I thought he was an X-Man, but I found out he was into punk rock and hopped trains. And he gave me CDs, and that’s how I got into music.
Is that also how you got into traveling and train-hopping?
JL: No...I met other friends later in life who were more interested in stuff like that, and it sounded pretty romantic. So I tried it.
When did you guys meet?
RC: I don’t know... 2009? 10? 8? Was that at school, or...?
RC: No, our girlfriends—ex-girlfriends— used to be best friends.
JL: We were always around each other, but we weren’t friends for like two years, but we were always in the same house.
Was this in Missoula?
RC: Yep. So we were always kind of around each other. And then we played in... that other band... there was another band...
[laughing] Tell me about this other band.
RC: It doesn’t exist anymore.
JL: It was called the Cruel World Dream Band.
JL: It was a surfy, proggy band that I was in for like seven years. And—
RC: I joined in the last year.
JL: Yeah, he was in for the last year.
So you guys were both in this prog band. Is prog big in Missoula?
JL: No. We were the only ones. [laughing] Did anyone go to the shows?
Did you have a big projector behind you? A light show? Eight keyboardists?
JL: It was sort of like... rock and roll.
RC: I played a saxophone that I ran through all my guitar pedals and out through like two Marshall amps or whatever. Or a Marshall amp and then another separate cabinet. It was just loud. It was mostly just loud and weird.
JL: It started as like a noise rock band and then it turned prog. I don’t know what the fuck it was.
So you lived in Missoula for quite awhile?
JL: Yeah, I moved there my senior year of high school.
What brought you there?
JL: I just really wanted to play music and didn’t like playing football and basketball. I was moving to Great Falls, which is like an hour from where I’m from, and there’s a small punk scene there, and I met some kids with whom I wanted to move and play music with. So I had an opportunity to move to Missoula and live there. The whole band I was playing music with at the time moved there, which is the same band that I was just talking about.
RC: Missoula was like... 40 miles north of where I grew up, and we used to skateboard there when I was in high school, my friend Taylor and I. And we were like, eh, let’s go to Missoula. Let’s move up there.
So you guys just moved out of your houses?
RC: I moved out of my house when I was 16 to move to Utah for a couple of years, to go live with one of my friends. The guy that I went skateboarding with. Because his family moved to Utah.
JL: They’re polygamists, by the way. I probably shouldn’t say that.
RC: What? Oh, yeah, they were. But yeah, I moved with him when he moved back to Utah, and I was his best friend. And then we both moved back, in 2006 or something.
And you went to school in Utah?
RC: Yeah, I finished high school in Utah. I went to a smaller town in Utah and there was like a graduating class of three. I was the bottom 33%. Which is bad. [laughing]
So what inspired you to come to Austin?
RC: My girlfriend.
RC: Yeah, it’s super lame. That’s pretty much it. She moved out here, and I went with her.
And Jordon followed?
RC: No, we decided to come out here.
JL: I think we had decided to go before her.
RC: She was moving here, and I didn’t even really—I wasn’t really that serious about this girl, but then it just so happened that she was going to Austin, too. There’s a whole other long story behind that, but—
So you weren’t that into it, but you still followed her here?
JL: We decided separately, a while ago... I know why I came here. I know I didn’t want to live in New York, and I had been to Portland, Seattle, LA so many times, but I’d never been here, so we were like let’s fucking try to live there for a second!
Did the band go on hiatus or break up?
RC: We toured down here, and then I went to Washington, DC, for three months—
JL: And I stayed here and met all you people, and got drunk every night—
RC: And then I came back—
JL: And then we toured back up there—
RC: And went to Alaska—
JL: And worked, ’cause we ran out of money—
RC: Yeah, last summer.
You both went to Alaska?
RC: Yeah, we both just got jobs on the Internet.
What did you do?
RC: We worked at a salmon cannery for a summer.
JL: We both got the same job. We were refining fish oil.
RC: Of all the people at the camp, it could be ’cause we were bunkmates or whatever, but we both got the same job.
JL: We sort of got a better position—
RC: Kind of. We just got more hours. Our job was really disgusting though.
RC: Well, we were making fish oil... It’s made out of fish heads. All the heads from the whole cannery come in on a conveyor belt and get ground up in a giant grinder and then get sucked up in a tube, and we have to fill up these pressure cookers—
I’m reading Moby-Dick right now and it sounds exactly like that.
JL: It’s more like Cannery Row.
RC: You just open ’em up once it’s done cooking and you skim the oil off, and the ground is just covered in cooked fish head mush all day. Then we clean it up at the end of the day.
JL: I actually developed a salmon allergy ’cause I was covered in salmon oil so frequently.
RC: We just smelled so bad. We smelled so much worse than anybody else at the whole cannery because we were locked in a little room with the cooking fish heads all day.
That’s wild. Were you playing music in your spare time?
RC: Our friend that we met up there, Joyce, wanted to have a band this year, but I’m not going up there this year. If we all go up there, we should have a cannery band. The only reason we wanted that was to get free booze from the bar.
JL: We made friends with like the only bar in the area, the Red Dog, and they were like if you guys want to start a band and play shows...
What town was this?
JL & RC: Naknek.
RC: I don’t think anybody really lives there. I think it’s just seasonal.
JL: No, there are folks there. Like 10.
Who thought of the name The Be Helds?
JL: Jacob Kahn.
RC: Oh yeah, our friend Jacob.
Is there a story behind it?
JL: No, he’s just a good friend who liked our music. We were called the Gets for a second, and he’s like—he’s like a literary fucking genius or something—
RC: He hated that name.
JL: He was like “This aesthetic, this aesthetic does not fit! You have to be called... The Be Helds or something!”
Just off the cuff?
That’s pretty good.
RC: And we were like no way, but then we thought about it and we were like, okay.
JL: It’s also really nice because when somebody else names you, you never really question it.
RC: Yeah, it’s like, I didn’t come up with the name.
JL: I don’t hate it because somebody else came up with it. I recommend it to everyone.
I think it’s a good name. I think it has this feeling like... It’s like a familiar embrace. To be held. And I think that’s a good way to describe your music. It’s rooted in history, but doesn’t come across as generic or derivative. It sounds familiar, but not like actual music you can put your finger on. You know how people wonder if when a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, if it makes a sound?
RC: [laughing] We say this all the time.
I feel like if you guys were playing music in the forest and nobody heard it, you would still be making this same sound. There’s a timeless feeling that you get from listening to it.
RC: Maybe because we were physically removed from other places.
Do you think so?
RC: Maybe. I don’t know. At least we had the Internet.
Interview by Sean Redmond.
Photography by Jon Chamberlain.