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'Government and culture don't make the best bedfellows'

Indie legends The Beangrowers get ready for this year's Rock the South

The year was 1999, or maybe a tad later. I had just started my first full-time job in the media – incidentally, as assistant editor for this same magazine, the Sunday Circle – when I was assigned to interview The Beangrowers.

The Beanwhat? – was my highly uneducated reaction. At the time, I hadn’t yet discovered Malta’s indie music scene. A couple of phone calls later (this was when Google was but a twinkle in Larry Page’s and Sergey Brin’s eye) I was fully briefed by a more clued-up friend.

The briefing went something like this:

Friend: “Oh, The Beanies. Yes, Maltese band… very hip.” Me: “Oh, we have those here, too?” Hip, I wasn’t.

Friend: “They’re not like the other Maltese singers, imma.”

Me: “…”

Friend: “You know. They’re not about being on the radio and stuff. They’re way cooler than that.”

Oh, my. Full of trepidation, I made my way to the Sliema townhouse where I was to meet Ian Schranz, Alison Galea and Mark Sansone – aka The Beanies – for the first time.

They had just released the single Astroboy, which was to become something of a cult hit by Malta’s standards, and their sheer passion was infectious. I left that Sliema townhouse a firm believer in indie music.

And, the good news is that they will be performing in what promises to be a nostalgia-filled performance during this year’s Rock the South music festival.

The biggest issue is that bands remain safe at home in their comfort zones and think that 10 gigs a year for a starting band is acceptable 
- The Beangrowers

How was the band born?

Ian: As a band, we met when we were 14 years old. Mark met Alison on the bus. She knew the lyrics to the song Informer, and so he told her that we needed a singer.

How did the band change through these years – both from a music and a line-up point of view.

When were younger we had some different friends join in and out, but by the age of 18 the band had stabilized and it has since remained the same, with us three. We retained our same music writing formula, but oscillated between rock and more pop sounds, depending on our mood.

What was the Maltese indie scene like when you started?

Ian: Essentially there wasn't really an indie scene. If you were in a band, you were part of the general music scene. Punk, metal and indie bands all existed together. The difference is that the audiences wouldn’t have ever paid an entrance fee in those days.

And today – how has it changed?

Ian: Thanks to the internet and Malta becoming more cosmopolitan, musicians get the basic concept of what it means to be in a band. Today you can organise a paid entrance, sell merchandise and the audience understands the way it works.

Would you say more people are into indie today than when you started? Ian: In a way, it was the 1990s so there was a huge grunge and alternative scene locally. Everyone had a Nirvana t-shirt back then. But I think that, in all fairness, statistically there are more people into alternative music today.

What has been the biggest challenge keeping the band going through all these years?

Ian: Once we came back to live in Malta, going on tour has to be more of a planned effort. Where do you see the band in five years’ time? Retirement home, or… greatest hits album.

The biggest problems indie bands in Malta face are…?

Trick question! The biggest issue is that bands remain safe at home in their comfort zones and think that 10 gigs a year for a starting band is acceptable.

Valletta 2018 – has it helped the Maltese music scene/hindered/no difference?

Not sure. Government and culture (world-wide) aren’t the best bed follows in general.

What have been some of the band’s biggest highlights through the years? Supporting Elbow, getting to know Wim Wenders well and working with him, selling out the Flex in Vienna, performing in the US, supporting Stereophonic, Deus & Tindersticks, hanging out with Lou Reed, Moby, Kim Deal and Turston Moore in a tiny back stage all day.

What should we expect from your Rock The South gig?

We’ll be performing our newly recorded album. What’s next? Releasing our new album this year and touring, hopefully.

The Beangrowers will be performing at this year’s Rock the South festival, at Zion Reggae Bar in Marsaskala. The festival takes place between April 20 and 22.

https://www.facebook.com/rockthesouthmt/

An edited version of this interview appeared on the last edition of the Sunday Circle magazine. 

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