Beans on Toast is the alias of true DIY artist Jay McAllister, who originally emerged with his album debut Standing on A Chair, produced by Mumford & Sons' Ben Lovett, featuring appearances from the likes of Frank Turner & Emmy The Great.
5 album releases and countless Glastonbury appearances later, this year saw Beans playing to his biggest audiences to date whilst supporting label mate, collaborator & friend Turner on his huge UK arena shows in February, ahead of a main stage slot at this year's Camp Bestival, & a current headline tour run, including his largest London show to date at the Electric Ballroom this December.
We caught up with Jay one sunny lunchtime in Leeds and chatted about relaxing, short memory spans and why you should never take a tent to a festival, here's how we got on....
You’re called Jay but you go by the name ‘Beans on Toast’, why?
I think it explains what I do quite well, it’s a simple, cheap, easy, English dish and that sums me up perfectly. I had a bunch of songs years ago and I was looking to start a band, we sort of used that as the band name and then I sort of slagged off the idea of being in a band! I’m the kind of guy who sits in a bar all night thinking up band names. I just feel that 'Beans on Toast' is a clear indication of what you’re going to get!
Give me 3 words that best describe you?
Drunk Folk Singer
What’s your favourite Saturday Night album?
Tempted to say ‘The Heart of Saturday Night’ by Tom Waits, even though its better listened to on a Tuesday despite having ‘Saturday Night’ in the title…..If you’re after a ‘getting ready to go out and party’ album, there’s a newish act called ‘Disco Loadout’ that have some pretty heavy beats, I don’t think they have an album out but it’s great music to get you in the mood….
How does Jay relax?
You’re currently midway through your tour, what have been the highlights so far?
I’m tempted to say the whole thing, it's also easy to say ‘last night’ as it's the freshest gig in my mind but actually last night was a great gig, it was at the Brudnell Social Club in Leeds, it’s a really special venue with this really old kind of ‘working man club’ feel about it, it’s a lovely shaped room, it was a really busy gig and the vibes were strong so yeah, last night was the best. Of course, ask me the same question tomorrow and it will have been the gig that I played this evening, not that I have a short memory span!
What classic song would you have liked to have recorded and why?
There’s one song that we covered in our band, it was by a guy called Todd Snider who happens to be my favourite songwriter of all time, he’s like this outlaw, country kinda dude and he wrote a song called ‘Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern’, we slotted it into our set but we almost used it as our own track, it’s about working in a bar and why you should be nice to the bartender, it’s about sharing, being nice and you getting nice things back, I agree with everything that he sang about in that song, so if I had to choose one that I wished I’d written, that would be it.
Can you remember the first gig you went to?
I sure can, it was a local band at the Army & Navy in Chelmsford, it was a band called Planet Empathy and I was about 14 or 15 years old. The first big gig I ever went to was at The Astoria and the band was REEF, Kula Shaker were the support act, I crowd surfed and hit my head, passed out and got thrown out of the place so a night to be remembered!
How do you approach your songwriting?
Please refer to the above question about how I relax!
So weed drives the creativity required to create music?
Yeah, I’ve always found writing songs really easy, I get bored of my tunes really quickly and I can’t play other people’s songs on the guitar, when I pick up a guitar the natural thing to do is just make up a new song and smoking weed generally makes me want to pick up a guitar so if I have some spare time that's what I’ll do. That’s the process!
Your new album is due out on 1st December, you're not gigging that day, so how are you planning on celebrating the release?
We have some stuff lined up, we’re doing an instore gig at Banquet Records in Kingston which is a major record shop, we’re also gonna pop into XFM to have a bit of a chat with John Kennedy so still bits and bobs, not a gig as such but still getting out there and singing songs to people!
Give me your top 3 tips for surviving a festival?
(lengthy pause)…..just thinking of some top tips. If it's your first one, maybe DON’T bother with a tent and think of it as an adventure to find somewhere to sleep, you’ll meet some far more interesting people that way, DO take some cash as that can help and DO step away from your standard crew and NEVER travel in packs as you’ll be constantly waiting for people to get their shit together, it’s the one place that people don’t really mind you shooting off and leaving people and catching up with them later, wander off by yourself, let your guard down, strike up a conversation with a stranger and see how it all unfolds, expect the unexpected!
What was the first guitar riff you ever heard that sent chills down your spine?
Sam Beer who produced my new album, I met him on a camping holiday when I was 16 years old, he was the first person I met who could play the guitar properly and he could play tracks from the Nirvana Unplugged sessions and they literally blew my mind!
Aside from you, who else should people be checking out in terms of musical acts?
Will Varley who is currently touring with us is an amazing songwriter, he has this timeless classic feel about his material which is really refreshing, tell people to get down to one of my gigs nice and early to check him out. Lori Campbell is also playing at Exeter on December 6th, she plays some really nice, English Rose style songs and another guy who recently played with us would have to be Micky P Kerr who plays almost stand up comedy style tunes and they are hilarious, all well worth checking out!
You used to be in a grunge band (with a Fender Mustang), what cover versions did you used to play?
We played all original material, I revert back to what I said earlier about not being able to play other people’s songs on a guitar through sheer lack of ability, I’m sure that we must have tried to play some but generally, it was our own stuff.
You write songs about everyday things, do you think this is why your fans warm to you so well?
I try not to think about whether people are gonna get it or not, my songs sort of point out the obvious really, it’s just the shit that goes on in everyday life really. The song is what it is, take it as you will, some people try and mask the truth with deep poetry or anything to take the listeners mind off what it is they really want to say but maybe scared of doing, nothing wrong with this approach at all, I on the other hand will say it exactly how it is, straight down the line and I think you may be able to pick that up in most of my songs!
Name 3 people who you’d like to invite over for a dinner party?
My girlfriend (Lizzy), Kate Tempest (poet) & Tom Robbins (author)
Who’s doing the cooking?
Lizzy would do the cooking (I even wrote a song about her cooking! - it’s on the new album)
I saw you in Plymouth in Feb 2014 on the Frank Turner tour, you go way back, how did you meet him?
I used to live and work at a pub called Nambucca in Holloway Road, I used to run acoustic shows at of the back of the pub, it was a great thing we had going on and Frank used to come down when he was still in Million Dead (his old band), he used to pop in and do acoustic songs (often Counting Crows and Neil Young covers) while in-between touring with his hardcore band and when that came to an end, he started playing there a lot more and then his gigs started to pick up again and off he went. He’s really looked after me, you hear these stories about people who start selling lots of records screwing their mates over and running off with the ‘in crowd’, with Frank I never saw that happen, every time his career gets a boost and a step up the ladder, he’s always extended the invite to me, like when I played on his tour in February which included most of the major arena’s in the UK. We still hang out just like we did back in the day! Through doing what I do, I meet a lot of bands on the way up and I have never felt shunned by them at all, I’m unsure why or even how that thought process enters people’s heads and I for one have never been on the end of someone ignoring me as they have better things to be doing!
If you could describe your music in the form of a fictional character, who would it be?
Mr Lover Man, kind of based on Shaggy’s song (Mr Lover Lover), rather than being a superhero with violent and destructive powers, I’d much rather be one who could spread the message of being nice to one another! He’d be the BEST superhero out of all of them, to keep things simple, I’ll go with Dennis the Menace!
We thought it only fair to put Jay through the quickfire questions that people have grown to love, here's how he got on....
Coffee or Tea?
Coke or Pepsi?
MDMA or Liquid Acid?
Mac or PC?
Kebab or Burger?
Lemmy or Ozzy?
CD or Vinyl?
Costa or Starbucks?
The Rolling Stones or The Beatles?
Car or Motorbike?
Camping or Glamping?
Acoustic or Electric?
Fender or Gibson?
Shower or Bath?
Tattoos or Piercings?
Robert de Niro or Al Pacino?
God or Google?
Wouldn't like to say!
We'd like to thank Jay for sparing his time to answer our questions and we look forward to catching up with him in Exeter for a beer before the show. He is currently midway through his UK tour, you can check out the venues he's yet to visit HERE as well as visit his online store and you can even PRE-ORDER his new album 'The Grand Scheme of Things' that is released on December 1st.
28 November LIVERPOOL The Shipping Forecast
29 November NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
03 December BIRMINGHAM Hare & Hounds
04 December CAMBRIDGE Junction
05 December BRISTOL The Fleece
06 December EXETER The Phoenix
09 December PORTSMOUTH Wedgewood Rooms
10 December BRIGHTON The Haunt
11 December LONDON Electric Ballroom