“Zoe,” the second song on the new EP that longtime Durham duo Beloved Binge will release tonight at The Pinhook, lasts for less than two minutes. But the little ditty quickly expresses the essence of Eleni Binge and Rob Beloved, who have been consistent creative, community, and activist powerhouses in the Triangle since relocating here in 2005.
First, there is the beat, a buzzing little electroclash echo, and the accompanying wordless vocals, which suggest a bird call of mating season. At their core a minimal indie rock band with a love of slightly askew harmonies, Beloved Binge has been forever playfully restless, folding in new bits of folk or rock or Greek music to stretch their own sound. The start of “Zoe,” then, is both very surprising and not at all, a reflection of the duo’s guiding spirit for its Durham decade.
And then there are the lyrics, an antiphonal volley between Rob and Eleni that captures their shared rapport and purpose: “I do what I want/When I want to do it/But I don’t eat meat/because an animal grew it.” Alongside the music they’ve made, Rob and Eleni have worked as seemingly tireless vegan advocates in the Triangle, helping to drive such area programs as Triangle Meatless Mondays, Bull City Vegan Challenge, and Durham Vegan Drinks. They’ve even made movies about the stuff.
In fact, the couple’s latest film, #Comments, will take them on the tour that eventually takes them away from Durham and, for at least a year, to a new life in New York. In #Comments, an ongoing series of films, they act out responses to articles about vegan mayonnaise. Starting June 4, they will tour west while showing the film. They’ll spend a month in their old town of Seattle before touring back across the country and finding housing in New York.
Though they still love Durham, Binge says it’s time to try something new and test the limits of their creativity elsewhere, as they’re never going to get any younger. I spoke with Binge about the upcoming change, the changes in Durham, and the challenges of keeping so busy.
INDY: When do you leave? ELENI BINGE: We’ll be officially homeless June 4. We still have our camper van, so that’ll be our main home base. We’re going to be be bringing our fourteen-year-old vegan dog, Syba. We’re super excited about heading out on the road and seeing what happens. It’s strange: you leave a place you love, but there’s also some things out there that you can experience. Life is like a play in the theater, where you can make some decisions, a little bit of improv.
What’s the rough plot?
When you reach a certain point, you’re like, “Half my life is over, if I’m lucky.” So there’s, at least to me, this urgency that I wanna do everything that I feel I’d like to experience. So we want to move to New York, but we’re gonna go to Seattle first and visit people and make that part of a tour with my #Comments film. I set up a bunch of screenings, and I’m gonna continue to do that as I go along. And as I was saying, it’s actually easier to book #Comments than the band. As we go along, we’re filming people at screenings for the new #Comments. I’m gonna have people dress up in wigs at screenings, and I’ll film them: “Here’s the script. You say this line.” Then I’ll edit it together.
Then we’re gonna head up to New York and figure out where we wanna live. I heard everyone was moving to Brooklyn, so I want to try something else. I was looking at South Bronx maybe, but I do want to have close proximity to a vegan donut shop. I love the idea that—and it doesn’t have to be New York for this, obviously—when you kind of rub shoulders with all these different professions and people and artists, you have more likelihood of doing better yourself, getting better at what you’re trying to do and helping one another. Everybody has these different viewpoints, like scientists and artists and musicians. Being in a city like that will lend us the opportunity to get better and do more.
My ultimate goal is to end factory farming, so I’m working through arts to bridge activism and arts. I’m just excited to get the opportunity to do that and disengage from the decade here and into this new place where we don't really know too many people.
I was listening to that interview with Louis C.K. on Marc Maron the other day about why he’s not doing any more Louis C.K. episodes. He said, when you look at your life, you reflect on it in certain sections, like increments. If the show is one section, and if he keeps doing it another ten years, his life’s actually shorter, because it’s just one section. I think it’s important to not keep doing one thing because you have done it and can do it. You try new things.
Photo by Alex Boerner
Rob Beloved and Eleni Binge at a Meatless Monday gathering in Durham earlier this month
So music, for you, is a section that’s especially linked to Durham.
It’s one of those things where the band is fun and good, and I’m always gonna do music. But I’m excited about moving it more into performance art, changing the boundaries of what it means to be a band and figuring that out. I’m excited to not have a tour booked or shows booked. But also this new thing, #Comments, I’ve just never been that excited about a project. It’s something different. When we had our screening here, I was so nervous because I hoped people would think it was funny. Then, people loved it, and I was surprised. I thought I’m onto something. It’s not just this fun thing. It’s actually meant to create bridges in our communications with each other and what we got out of the things we say online.
Walk me through the premise of #Comments.
It’s basically bringing online comments to life. It’s gonna be a series. For the first edition, Rob and I acted out comments from three articles on vegan mayonnaise and followed a lawsuit against one of the smaller mayonnaise companies. We followed that straight through three acts. By laughing at ourselves, can we change the conversation? It’s for anyone who’s ever been frustrated with online comments sections.
Durham has certainly changed during your decade here. Your neighborhood on Queen Street has changed drastically. Does that play into your decision to try something new?
It’s interesting, because when we left Seattle, it felt similar. The friendships we had, the activism we were doing, a lot had changed. That wasn’t really why we left, but it did make us feel like it was the right time to leave, that things weren’t as they were. When I think about Durham in the early days, I remember this kind of camaraderie, getting to know all these people, the sense of possibility.
This album, Never, the End, is kind of addressing that in a way. We have people we trust at any given moment. We can go out. There are nice people, good people, people who want to change the world. We have a nice house close to everything. Durham’s growing. There’s so much more to do. So it seems like, “All right, I should stay here.” But as I’m addressing in the theme of the EP, just because everything is as it should be, or it seems like that, it doesn’t mean you should try to preserve it or embalm it. That’s the very essence of what life is, this constant change.
And you’re looking for that?
I feel ten years is kind of a good amount of time. It’s arbitrary, but it feels like, “OK, I understand this. Let’s move on to something new and challenge ourselves.” I think you can get very complacent if you stay within the same city or a job or a situation. At least for me, I have a restlessness. But yeah, Durham has definitely changed. You go out and like, “Who are these people?” But I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.
Our neighborhood has been an example of that, of the tension between these people coming in buying $400,000 houses and people who can’t afford to fix water leaks. That’s not just in Durham but across the country, those problems of gentrification. It’s good and bad. I do miss the old feel of our neighborhood, where it seemed like people were friendlier. This is a generalization, but there are people who have moved in that would not have moved in when we did. They’re a little more cautious perhaps. As I say, there’s more strollers than dealers now. As a society, that is an issue we still need to address—why can’t people afford decent housing?
How long do you plan to be gone?
It’s hard to predict. My aunt in Greece called me the other day. She thinks I’m nuts. I told her we were moving to New York, and she said, “Oh, you’re just like your dad. You can’t stay still.” And she’s right. We wanna move to Greece at some point. So, we’re calling it a year, but chances are we’ll keep exploring other places. It could be that we’re like, “What are we doing? We love Durham” and come back. But I tend to think that it’s like a step to trying out some new areas with the short amount of life we have left.
There have been three distinct tiers to your work here—music, activism, and film. What stands out the most for this chapter of life?
It’s combined in some ways. With the band, what was kind of nice about Durham is that I felt really welcome here, and I felt like we had just landed on the Island of Misfit Toys. We were part of that island. When I was watching the Scene of the Crime Rovers at the time and everybody had mismatched clothing, I was like, “Oh my god, this is home.” So I feel like our band grew up here, because we were inexperienced.
With the activism, it was a slow process. We did some outreach in Seattle, but it’s here where it started to really focus on what was effective activism and build a community. The last couple years, we’ve had more of this vegan community build up, which has been really helpful. But honestly, I’m ready to do more film-based activism, rather than being a community person. I’m not anti-community, but it’s exhausting, and it takes me away from being able to do more strategic, bigger projects. It’ll be a nice relief to not do that for a little while.
As for the film, I don’t see myself as a filmmaker, but I definitely feel like that’s a fun and important medium to use both artistically and for activism. Durham was this incubator for all three things, and they’ve all progressed from when we were in Seattle.