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It's a bright, cheery East Bay afternoon, and Miles Kurosky is walking, sunglasses on, talking on his cell phone. The singer, songwriter and guitarist for Beulah has arrived a little late for our interview, but he lingers on the phone anyway, trying to reassure the caller about something. Finally he hangs up, offering an apologetic smile. With his round face, childlike shock of hair and twinkling eyes, he resembles a character from a French version of Peanuts. Despite his European looks, though, Kurosky is a California boy: He grew up around Los Angeles and moved to San Francisco in the early '90s. The dot-com boom pulled his San Francisco apartment and practice space out from under him, so these days he lives in an isolated part of West Berkeley -- the kind of neighborhood where everything interesting is a drive away.
Kurosky doesn't have a car, but he doesn't really need one. He's been spending most of his time these days in Atlanta with his girlfriend. You can hear the change of place in his voice: A tease of a Southern accent tugs at his vowels as he explains that the caller he couldn't get rid of was his manager, Jordan Kurland, reminding him to be nice during our interview.
Kurosky laughs it off, but Kurland's warning was probably in order. Kurosky is known for being a pit bull among the Hello Kitties of indie rock. Rile him up in an interview, and he'll take a pound of flesh off anything put before him. On good days, he trashes overhyped bands, crappy magazines, British culture -- any number of deserving targets. On bad days, the victims are his own bandmates, especially Beulah guitarist/trumpeter/co-founder Bill Swan, whom Kurosky attacked with a beer bottle during one memorable interview.
A few hours later, Kurosky reveals that his manager had more specific concerns: The bandleader had spent the previous day contemplating suicide in his apartment.
For a man on the verge of putting out his finest work to date, it's been a very cloudy year.
These days, the unemployed Kurosky will go wherever Beulahmania seems to be growing. And it is growing. 1999's When Your Heartstrings Break sold 20,000 copies. Tours that followed found the band playing to festival crowds across Europe. On a recent tour of England, the inhabitants of a small Welsh town chartered a bus to come see the group play in Oxford. After the concert, excited fans cornered the band in a restaurant and ran through a cappella versions of its songs. Once, in Japan, Kurosky was followed into the bathroom by a group of stone-faced, staring young men. His immediate fear -- that he was about to be mugged -- subsided when the onlookers broke into sheepish smiles and greeted him by name.
It was in Japan in the fall of 2000 that Kurosky wrote much of Beulah's new album, The Coast Is Never Clear. Kurosky was visiting a friend in Tokyo, doing interviews and making promotional appearances on Japanese television. Over the eight-week stay, he worked out skeletal versions of nearly a dozen songs, then sent tapes to each of his bandmates: bassist Steve LaFollette, Swan, keyboardists Pat Noel and Bill Evans and new drummer Danny Sullivan (formerly of Screeching Weasel, Pansy Division and the Groovie Ghoulies). Kurosky included a request that each player flesh out the rough mixes however he saw fit.
As soon as he got back, Kurosky mixed and matched the parts he liked from each member's tape, creating a sonic blueprint for the band's dates at Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco.
It was at that point that things started to go wrong. Or, more specifically, Kurosky started to go wrong. The other bandmembers were used to him being bossy and critical in recording situations. ("Miles was listening to my mandolin solo over and over again," reads a note from Bill Swan's studio diary. "Another Obsessive Compulsive Disorder moment.") But now Kurosky's unpredictable mood swings were extending beyond the point of tolerable eccentricity.
"While I was making the record, I was losing my mind," Kurosky says matter-of-factly. "Or I thought I was...I remember telling the guys during the making of the record -- I was just like, 'I think there's a bad Miles and a good Miles, and I think they're both inside of me, and it's freaking me out.'"
Kurosky went to see a psychologist, who diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. The psychologist gave him two choices: Start taking an antidepressant or begin daily counseling.
With the album's lyrics yet to be written, Kurosky chose therapy. "I didn't want to take the drugs," he says, "mainly because I was worried it would affect my songwriting. I definitely didn't want to be taking drugs to make me happier and have that be in my songs, because that's not how I really am and how I was feeling at the time."