Tim Laursen, who writes the majority of the lyrics for The Billionaires, looks through his screen porch out at the woodland behind his family’s Vineyard Haven home, and tries to explain his song-writing method.
“Okay, popping into my head right now, wood,” he says, humming a tune and then seamlessly cranking out a lyric: “Must be romantic cutting wood by hand/Put down the power tools and give me back the land.”
Much of the Billionaires music gets written this way, at least since they moved to Los Angeles nearly two years ago. The five-piece pop band meet up after work in a old paint factory, converted into practice space for 40 bands, in downtown L.A. and start from scratch on a song. They often have a rough cut by early the following morning.
The band completed recording on their debut album Really Real Forever (Too Soon Records) in this factory, where the view is decidedly different to the one Mr. Laursen, 29, is taking in now, back at home.
“For half of it we were in beautiful Chilmark homes, and the other in this concrete box,” he says. The old factory is now divided into 15 by 15 feet cubicles with concrete floors and walls and two windows looking out on industrial parks and disused buildings.
“There’s bums chasing each other, it smells of urine. People sleeping in tents,” he said, “We’re safe on the third floor but it is a hideous landscape. And there’s this silica dust that settles on the equipment,” he said, running his finger through a line of dust on the table in front of him and inspecting it. “That’s pollen and yummy nature. You could live off that. In L.A. it’s all bad stuff.”
The band members — Farley Glavin, Joe Keefe, Seb Keefe, Laura Jordan and Mr. Laursen — either just arrived on the Vineyard or are still in transit from Los Angeles. They have timed a three-week visit to coincide with the Aquinnah Music Festival this Saturday and are scheduled to take the stage around 7 p.m.
Between them they have performed in several bands in the past, including Unbusted, Crickets and Cavity Search. Mr. Keefe, who plays lead guitar and keyboards, was 12 when Mr. Laursen, then 15, approached him on a soccer pitch and asked if he wanted to record some music together. They have been doing so almost constantly for 12 years since.
With the exception of Miss Jordan, the Billionaires are Vineyarders who have managed to develop a loyal following despite having only played one major gig here as a band.
“People were passing the songs around on their i-Pods and it was just getting big when we left, without even playing a gig,” said Mr. Laursen
They lit out for California for a mixture of reasons; one being the time-honoured notion that bands make it big in the big cities, and another, the unwelcome prospect of another Vineyard winter.
“We just wanted to get far away,” he says, “My friends have kids, houses and pick-up trucks with their names painted on them and I’m chasing this ridiculous thing. But music is the best.”
The Billionaires clearly have a good time of it. The band name is inspired by an ode to Vineyard trophy home owners with the one principle line: “Millionaires/ Turning into billionaires/ Can I have some?”
Their music part quirky synthesizer pop, part doleful rock and dotted with sardonic observances sung by every member of the band. A newly recorded demo with nine songs still features bouts of giggles from the band members. One song, a sort of update on Van Halen’s Hot For Teacher, contains a rap about how to write a love letter, from somebody who is ‘comin’ straight out of comma,’” (instead of Compton. It’s much funnier in song than print.)
The band have recently garnered major label attention. One song recently featured on The Real World and another is being used by Warner Brothers movies.
“We’re five people all singing together, going ‘woo hoo’ on stage,” he says, “and it’s sort of a cult vibe, which is what I imagine they identify as the new sound.”
Getting a regular L.A. following at shows has been more difficult though.
“Maybe if we had grown up in a city we would have known better how to go about things. We were like, ‘How do we play at Silverlake?” He says, of a venue in Silver Lake, Los Angeles where they now gig regularly.
“I wish I could say we’ve been tougher and really hung in on the scene. We’ve had some really awesome critical attention but we’re not packing the local rooms,’” he says.
Another issue is that the band is unwilling to be their own manager, in an industry in which bands are now often forced to promote and organise themselves. Mr. Laursen and Mr. Glavin run a small construction crew in Los Angeles, Sebastian Keefe does on-set carpentry for a TV show, Miss Jordan does French translation and voice overs.
Understandably they balk at the notion of being marketers on top of this.
“We have a lawyer — Jeff,” Mr. Larsen says, the last name temporarily escaping him, “he recommended a West Coast tour because we have these pockets of fans around the country, and you have to tour to capitalize on it. But it was left up to me — and I didn’t do it. I don’t know, all that other stuff is so stressful.” He adds:
“We just hang out, make music and wait for someone to take care of us.”