Song-by-Song: ‘Make Shift’ by Beg Friend
Songwriter Joe da Costa takes us inside his debut EP, complete with the otherworldly voice of an old family friend
Beg Friend is the musical moniker of South London’s Joe da Costa, which he adopted in order to access the world of social media and seemingly shameless self-promotion without feeling like it’s actually him – though that’s not to say his songs are impersonal or uninviting, they’re anything but. Stylistically, his intimate sound isn’t too far removed from the likes of Bon Iver and Elliot Smith.
Today sees the release of Beg Friend’s debut EP, Make Shift. Written and recorded over the last six years, they document relationships won and lost and were created solely by da Costa. Here, he gives us the lowdown on each of the EP’s five tracks…
A few years ago I found a mysterious cassette tape at my parents’ house. On it was a strange male voice reciting an avant-garde T.S. Eliot play. He uses the same voice for all the parts in the, already surreal, play. He spoke with such an otherworldly voice. That British accent that you so rarely hear anymore… like Quentin Crisp or Kenneth Williams. I discovered he was a man called Laon Maybanke, a friend of my grandparents; a photographer and actor who took an overdose and died.
I’ve put his voice on a number of songs. I really liked the idea of having his voice living on in art in some way or another. Not sure he’d like the digital elements. Digital elements brought to you by Japanese artist Toshio Iwai’s amazing Tenori-on instrument. Part sequencer, part art installation, I noodle around on this thing all the time. So many different modes and combinations spark a lot of ideas. As I write a lot at night I thought it was appropriate to start with “good evening”.
For The Win
For The Win was written in the midst of a crumbling relationship. It’s a creeping realisation that you are not the person for your partner. I went to a house by the sea to record a handful of songs but I didn’t do well on my own. I don’t know how Bon Iver did it in an icy log cabin. I ran back to the city after a week. When I played the song to my mum she assumed I was on heroin as she thought the lyrics “sure and sure enough” were “shooting, shooting up”. We had a very frank discussion about the dangers of drugs.
Turning In Her Head
Turning In Her Head is a song about paranoia within a relationship. I carry a lot of guilt, shame and regret with me. These songs are where all those feelings go. I’m pretty upbeat most of the time but mainly because I get an outlet in my music. That old trope of music being cathartic or whatever applies very heavily to me.
I talk about how my relationship was paralyzed by what might happen and what had happened before but I still continue to sing “our songs” but now it’s “in a voice I put on”.
It’s an apology. It’s an apology for being a shitty guy and letting people down. I treated people badly and I’m sorry for that. I wrote a song about it. It’s not enough but it’s something. “I’ll fill your heart with useless art”.
I recorded the lead vocals in one take. They were not sung the best but they held a lot of emotion. The song came all in one go which is rare so I recorded it on the closest thing to hand which happened to be a ‘guitalele’ – a tenor ukulele sized guitar. It’s got a certain wonky charm to it.
I feel like I hide behind a lot of imagery and poetry in my songs. It’s safer that way. I’m always impressed by artists like Amy Winehouse or Elliot Smith who are so frank in their lyrics. I think the lyrics of this song are pretty straightforward. “Can I bare the lie, can I bare the light”.
Make Shift is out now via Babylegs Records. All the latest news can be found at babylegsrecords.com/beg-friend