“I didn’t wanna be a lead singer, I never felt totally comfortable in that role,” Chad Clark says over the phone from Washington, D.C. He formed Beauty Pill two decades ago, after breaking up the beloved Dischord Records band Smart Went Crazy and producing D.C. post-punk classics by The Dismemberment Plan and Burning Airlines. “I just didn’t want to be the lead singer after Smart Went Crazy. So the idea of Beauty Pill was to have half the songs sung by a woman and half the songs sung by me.”
Clark’s female vocal counterpoint has been provided by a few different singers over the years, and the latest to fill that role is dancer and choreographer Erin Nelson. Her husband, Ryan Nelson, played guitar and drums in an earlier lineup on the band’s 2004 debut The Unsustainable Lifestyle. Nelson joined the band after Clark’s invited her to perform Beauty Pill songs with him at a 2018 concert. Beauty Pill’s first song with Nelson on vocals, “Pardon Our Dust,” arrives alongside a video where Nelson’s work as a dancer takes center stage:
The first single from Please Advise, which is out on May 8 on Northern Spy Records, is a strange and hypnotic song in the classic Beauty Pill tradition. Over a woozy bed of horns arranged by Aaron Harman, “Pardon Our Dust” gradually blossoms into a waltz led by drummer Devin Ocampo. Erin Nelson sings a string of odd phrases, many of them taken from news stories and internet memes — something Prince once said to Matt Damon and the words of a tongue-tied Miss Teen USA contestant. “I love collage as a creative mode,” says Clark, who uses the word ‘oblivion’ a lot to describe the theme of the song. “The way Erin sings, it’s so seamless that it seems like it’s all the same quote, and I think it sounds pretty beautiful.”
The video for “Pardon Our Dust” was directed by Meredith Bragg and conceptualized by Clark, with Nelson dancing alongside text of the song’s lyrics. “My idea in the video is that she is initially expressive and moving freely, and she’s excited to have the camera watching her,” Clark says. “And as the video goes on, she slowly becomes hostile towards the camera, and becomes unhappy about being watched and wants to be left alone. At the end of the video, she’s pushing the camera away, she wants her own space.”
“It was entirely improvised,” Nelson, joining in on the call, says of her dancing. “The movement that you see in the actual video is in slow motion, but in order to achieve that Meredith had me moving triple speed to achieve that. We have hours of me moving faster than I have ever moved, just so we could get five seconds of footage.”
Though Beauty Pill recently released Sorry You’re Here (digitally last June and on vinyl in February), a collection of music composed in 2010 to score a stage play, “Pardon Our Dust” is the first completely new Beauty Pill music since 2015’s Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are, a brilliant record Time recently named one of the 10 best albums of the 2010s.
Please Advise, named after an infamous record label memo from Miles Davis producer Teo Macero, also features a cover of the classic Pretenders song, “Tattooed Love Boys,” sung by Clark and a new version of “Prison Song,” a track from Beauty Pill’s 2004 album that was previously performed by singer Rachel Burke backed by Clark on guitar. The Please Advise version features Nelson on vocals over a new, more complex arrangement by Aaron Harman. “I feel like it’s a duet between Aaron and I,” Nelson says. “If it’s a good song, you can push it into different shapes,” Clark says of the song, a longtime Beauty Pill fan favorite.