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coverpic flag US - Massachusetts - Full Moon 101 - 12/26/04

Chris Brokaw
An interview with...

Workaholic?! - Chris Brokaw: one of Boston's finest musicians

Despite his involemnet in a myriad of musical activities over the last five years, Boston-based multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Chris Brokaw is still best know for his role as the drummer in the seminal Codeine and his work as a member of Come - even though these bands disbanded over ten and over five years ago respectively. In the meantime, Chris has kept himself busy playing solo, releasing two albums - Red Cities and Wandering As Water - plus a couple of EPs under his own name as well as playing with The New Year (featuring Matt and Bubba Kadane, formerly of Bedhead), Consonant (helmed by Mission of Burma's Clint Conley), the folk-tinged supergroup Pullman, plus working with Evan Dando on his solo release and on the stage and being involved in the Boston collective The Empty House Cooperative. And that's not even a complete list of his activities! His rather splendid website is a good point to start if you want to dig a little deeper.

This past year, Chris has - for the first time ever - concentrated on his solo stuff rather than his many band activties and that has resulted in the just released movie soundtrack I Was Born But... (on Atavistic in the States and 12XU in Europe), the score to a film of the same name by US director Roddy Bogawa. Despite his hectic schedule, Chris found the time to answer some of Luna Kafé's questions recently.

Luna Kafé: You're just wrapping up another year with over 100 shows, playing mostly your own solo gigs. That must've been quite a difference?
Chris Brokaw: It felt good to be really concentrating on my own work. It feels more and more natural to me and I feel like I get better at it the more I do it. It feels like my voice is getting better - like my voice is like an amplifier that used to only have one knob on it - "volume" - but now has several tone knobs as well.

LK: Will you go back to playing more band shows next year, or do you plan to continue mostly on your own?
CB: Hard to say. I've recorded a new album that is kind of a rock band record, so i will probably tour some, when that comes out, with a full band. Probably some band touring and some solo touring. The New Year has a couple of tours in the works for next year; and a couple of other band possibilities in the works...

LK: Most people I meet tend to say that travelling all by yourself obviously makes sense financially, but it does get lonely. How are you coping with that?
CB: It has gotten lonely for me, too! So I'm trying to do more solo touring with other people. I just did a US tour opening for Karate, and we all travelled together and it was really fun. I'll be doing the same next month with Early Day Miners. We're touring the US Jan 18-Feb 5.

LK: Looking at your solo discography, I realised that you've done a Split-EP, an instrumental rock album, a solo acoustic album with (some) vocals, a rock EP of mostly (obscure) covers and now a soundtrack. Is doing sort of unexpected things your masterplan now or is all of this just a continuation of the old Come tradition of not having a major plan at all?
CB: Well, it really has happened that each of these records is what made sense at the time. I understand that on some commercial levels it might not be the best for business, but....why shouldn't it be? I think it's good - they're all slightly different, but they're all me. There's variety. That's good, right? And the next one will different from the rest, too! It's really not been deliberate, it's just that there are a lot of things I want to do.

LK: Your latest release is the I Was Born, But... soundtrack. Obviously scoring a movie or play is not new to you. What would you say was the main difference between this movie and and the score for the Highway Ulysses theater production you worked on a couple of years ago?
CB: I wrote all the music for I Was Born, But.... whereas all the songs for Highway Ulysses were essentially written by the playwright, Rinde Eckert, and then hammmered into different forms by The Empty House Cooperative. 'Ulysses' was very much a group effort, very communal, whereas the film score was a very solitary effort. Both were fun and rewarding but in very different ways.

LK: The tracks on the album are split between instrumentals not unlike those you've done before and - for a lack of a better word - "atmospheric stuff". Is playing the latter just as interesting to you as playing "real" songs and if so, can you explain to a non-musician (and lover of a good pop song) why?
CB: The more atmospheric stuff is rewarding to me largely from the improvisational, or "accidental" nature of a lot of it, which makes it unique from the more tradionally composed 'songs'. I listen to a lot of jazz and 'experimental' musics, for want of a better term, so playing stuff with less structure is not so strange for me. A song like "Chinatown" was one take, one guitar, no overdubs - the first and only take. A lot of cool things happened in the performance that I wasn't expecting and I'm just glad the tape was rolling. I'm as proud of that one as anything else on the record.

LK: Despite the fact that I usually like songs a lot more, I really dig the second track, "Dust". Probably because it seems to have a certain My-Bloody-Valentine feel. (How) did you prepare yourself for working on this score? Did you listen to a bunch of soundtracks and other atmospheric music to get in the right mood or was the movie itself inspiration enough?
CB: "Dust" is a good one....that's the one song I'd actually recorded about four years ago, when I was doing demos for "Red Cities". It didnt seem to fit with the rest of Red Cities, so I saved it for later. I didn't really have to prepare at all for this. I knew that Roddy liked what I do, and trusted me, and I just went with it. Just watching the film was enough to know what to do.

LK: The song "On A Great Lake" already exists in a alternate version with vocals (on the Acuarela 3 compilation) - any plans to use some more of the soundtrack numbers and fragments for future projects?
CB: Well... "Reeperbahn" now has lyrics and will be on the next record under the name "The Information Age", with a whole band. And a new version of "The Average Gringo", under the name "Gringa", again a full band version, I think a lot better.

LK: Most of the songs seem to have titles linked to the scenes they were used for, but what about "Reeperbahn" (and more generally, how do you usually find names for your instrumental pieces)?
CB: Actually, that's a funny one... I was trying to write lyrics for that song while sitting on a train leaving hamburg at eight o'clock on a sunday morning... The sun was rising on the Reeperbahn... but it started to turn into a "road song", you know, a song about being on the road, which I really did not want to do. I decided when I was about 13 years old that I never, ever wanted to write a song about how hard it is to be on the road. I think it was from listening to Jackson Browne's "Running On Empty", and my little punk rock brain saying: Fuck this rock star, what the fuck is he complaining about? - nonetheless I kept thinking about it as that 'Reeperbahn' song. Usually the songs will actually have names that I attach very specifically to that music for specific reasons, but occasionally it's as random as this and just sticks with it.

LK: Evan Dando is touring Germany (and possibly other parts of Europe) in February, but you're not playing with him this time...
CB: I'm not, but i think that's only because he's trying to economize! I haven't seen Evan much this year but I do hope we can play again at some point. I really enjoy playing and hanging out with him. Also, I mean, I think he sounds best all by himself. I was glad to accompany him, I was really flattered that he wanted me there, but, he should play solo, I think it serves him best.

LK: Silly last question, but I need to ask it anyway: What are your plans for the coming months (or even beyond that)?
CB: US tour Jan 18-Feb 5; possible UK tour in February; recording a duo record with Geoff Farina (Karate) for Divot Records in the spring; West Coast tour for The New Year in April; possible shows in Mexico with The New Year; possible Japanese tour in the fall with Geoff Farina; release of my next album at some point. And you never know what else...

Copyright © 2004 Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

Image copyright © 2004 Tamara Bonn

You may also want to check out our Chris Brokaw articles/reviews: The Codeine story, - Brokaw, on his new album The Periscope Twins, The Codeine story, The Periscope Twins.

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