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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Madison troubadour Brandon Beebe traded medicine for music
Tough decisions
Mellow folk and heavy rhythms.
Mellow folk and heavy rhythms.

If there were such a thing as musical multiple personality disorder, Brandon Beebe would have it. Sometimes the local singer-songwriter highlights heavy rhythms from the realms of funk, soul and world music. Other times he gravitates toward mellow folk laced with strings and vocal harmonies. And then there's the hip-hop he creates in the duo the Beat Chefs.

There's just one problem with this psychoanalytic metaphor: Nothing about Beebe's music seems pathological. If anything, it's the opposite: healthful for the mind and soul.

"I have all this material. It's just a matter of how to fit it together," he explains.

Beebe's task is more of a balancing act, then, finding enough yin to complement the yang. Each of his styles seems to feed the other, especially on his debut album, In This Place. "Elucidation," a hypnotic ballad, flows into "She's the Moon," whose tribal beat fuses the earthiness of a Ben Harper concert with catchy grooves from the Adam Levine school of swagger-pop. He summons the spirit of Nick Drake on "Neon Trees," and "Ashes" has hints of both Cat Stevens and Death Cab for Cutie.

Beebe says about half of the fans he's talked to prefer the record's softer side. But the other half don't just like the harder side; they're hungry for more rhythms to tease and challenge them. So Beebe's faced with a tough choice: which sound to flesh out on his next release.

He could showcase both, but he really wants to commit to one or the other this time. For now, he's mulling over his choices as learns how to use some new equipment.

Chances are the answer will make itself clear when he least expects it. This has been a pattern in his life, especially when it comes to music. The Oregon native moved to Madison in 2007, when he started a pre-med program at the UW. But before long, another calling made itself clear.

"I got interested in guitar, and soon after that, it completely consumed me," he says. "I could think of nothing else but music. It was magical. I felt I'd be betraying myself if I didn't see what I could do with it."

After all, music could ease pain, and performing filled him with something vital.

Plus, Beebe knew he was cut out for performing. He'd been doing it since childhood, but not with a guitar.

"When I was a kid, I acted in plays, and I was a Native American dancer," he explains.

In fact, powwows brought him his first glimpse of Wisconsin.

"My dad is from here, so we'd come to powwows here," he says. "I have Ojibway and Chippewa ancestors on my dad's side, and he was a cultural leader. We'd hold ceremonies in our house in Oregon. He would drum and sing, and I would dance."

Though "typical American culture" shapes his way of life, Beebe says he identifies strongly with Native American culture as well. Elements of his dad's drumming infuse some of his songs. Other times, the lyrics subtly reference Native American folk tales and imagery.

"That culture definitely influenced my song 'She's the Moon.' It has a heavy, propulsive beat that's faster than most any Native American song I'd dance to, but it has a heartbeat sensation to it, and the lyrics refer to the moon as a she. My dad thought that was very Native American," he says.

Travel is another important theme in Beebe's storytelling, both in song and in everyday conversation. Earlier this year, he made one of the most memorable trips of his career so far: the pilgrimage to South by Southwest in Austin.

"I tried to look at it not so much as going there as a performer but going as an observer since it was my first time for that as well," he says. "So playing a show was kind of a bonus."

Beebe performed in the Majestic Theatre's showcase of Wisconsin and Minnesota artists, which also featured local folk-pop acts PHOX and Count This Penny.

The event was an opportunity to strengthen ties with these musicians.

"Being on stage with so many good acts from around here, it was nice, and they gave me really positive feedback," he says. "Maybe we'll even work together, some of us."

Then this summer, Beebe took home a Madison Area Music Award for his track "Ghost," which was voted best alternative song.

It was the perfect follow-up to winning the award for best new artist in 2012, Beebe says.

Plus, it shows that Madison is pretty confident in him, no matter which direction he takes his next album.

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