Interview: Braid releases first LP in 16 years, plays Altar Bar tonight | Blogh

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Interview: Braid releases first LP in 16 years, plays Altar Bar tonight

Posted By on Wed, Jul 9, 2014 at 10:45 AM

Braid (from left: Todd Bell, Bob Nanna, Damon Atkinson, Chris Broach)
  • Photo by Mitchell Wojcik
  • Braid (From left to right) Todd Bell, Bob Nanna, Damon Atkinson, Chris Broach

The critically acclaimed album Frame and Canvas came out in April, 1998. Sixteen years later, Braid, one of the quintessential emo bands of the late '90s, just released its new LP, No Coast, via Topshelf Records. Before the band set out on their July tour of the U.S., guitarist/vocalist Chris Broach talked about twerking, being adults and what the future will look like for the band. Braid plays at Altar Bar tonight with Into It. Over It., Pity Sex and Signals Midwest.

I saw you tweet about not being a fan of twerking. What was the deal with that?

That’s hilarious. Well, I just don’t get it. I mean, I get it. I understand, you know, why people would like twerking and why it’s a thing. You know? I don’t understand why it’s a thing.

I found myself watching TMZ or something. See, my wife, right now, has been staying home with the baby. Let me just contextualize this a little bit, put some context around it. So she’s been staying home with the baby and just getting into a lot of really trashy TV because we just had a new baby and she’s kind of bored all day.

So we were watching TMZ, because I work from home sometimes, and some girl I guess was famous for twerking; that’s literally just it. Shes just famous for twerking, because on her Twitter or Instagram or Vine or something she's just known as, like, “twerking girl.” So they found her in a park or ran into her, and she just started twerking for the camera and I was just like, “This is the most disgusting thing that I’ve ever seen.” Its like America, its just so — I cant believe it. Because then of course every dude in the park just surrounded her and was just like — they might as well have been masturbating. Might as well have been. It was insane. I just couldn’t believe that that’s what someone can do to be quote-unquote "famous." Does that make sense?

So that’s what spawned the tweet, for sure.


What's the meaning behind No Coast, the album title? Is there relevance with you guys being from the Midwest? Can you talk about that?

You can read into it that way, of course. Yes, obviously we’re from the Midwest. Being landlocked and everything, that’s a part of it. That’s sort of a play on words, really.

The idea we had coming into this record was we want to make this an exciting record. We wanna make music because we wanna make music. That’s why we’re doing it. We wanted to make this an exciting record that wasn’t just us like, "Oh all right, well, we put out some cool records. Lets just do another album and people are gonna like it." We didn't want to coast on our previous or past successes, sort of rest on our laurels of any kind. We wanted to make this its own piece that can be looked at individually or within the whole body of work that we've done. We really wanted it to speak for itself and not have it in the context of, “Well, yeah, they did this other album that’s really important. Cut 'em a break.” We didn't want to be cut a break.

We didn't want to cut ourselves a break and we didn't want anyone else to, either. We wanted to make sure that we put out a record that we felt really good about. And that was energetic and exiting and fresh. And we could put some new ideas into. That’s really the idea.

What does it mean to be a band from the Midwest? Is there a meaning to it? Like being a Brooklyn band or California band?

I don’t know what being from the Midwest means except that I've grown up here all my life. I think that one of the things that Bob [Nanna] and I and some of the other guys joked about, was the idea [that] being form the Midwest is sort of like a hard-working mentality, you know? We have to kinda work pretty hard. I’m sure it’s hard being form New York and geting out to L.A. to play. But when you have to cover both coasts … for us to get to the East Coast and West Coast and get people into it, we really had to constantly put in a lot of work, and I think a lot of bands from the Midwest will get what I’m saying. And I think that a lot of bands from anywhere will say, "that’s part of what we’re about, too." A lot of the bands from the Midwest, at least that I know, really do work very hard to get to where they’re trying to be. No one that I know tries to sit around and say, "Let’s write a song." No, let's write a song and do a tour and do this. You know the scene that we came from was all about, "Let's do as many shows as we can and let's play here let's play there let's get on this comp. Let's work hard to get to where we need to be.

Also I think, at least for me and some of the other guys, we never really sat around and went, like, "What should we look like?" I would say ask someone from another scene and they’ll say, “I can tell they’re a Midwest band from the way that they’re dressed," and that’s fine. But I don’t see it. I don’t see it. Maybe because I’m in it. But also maybe I don’t see it because I just don’t care. I used to care, that was when I was younger.

No Coast is your first album since Frame and Canvas. Was there an added sense of pressure with the success of Frame and Canvas and this being your first album in 16 years?

I can’t say 100 percent no. I would love to say no, we’re not worried about it. In some sense there’s a little bit of pressure. That’s why we sort didn’t want to rest on [it], sit around and go, "OK, this record is our best record," or "Some people say that this record is influential" or whatever.

It was more like, you know what? Were gonnna make the best record we can make right now and we’re not gonna sit around worrying about whether it’s better than or equal to whatever. Lets just make a kick-ass record. One of the things that Bob Nanna and I said to each other — we did a lot of stuff on this record where we would work together more closely than we had before, writing lyrics and things like that. One of the things we talked about was, "Let's make every song be a hit on the record." So make every song kick ass. Don’t just, like — "I don’t know what to do here so I’m just gonna throw this in." I know that happens sometimes with songwriting, and I know that I've been guilty of it and I’m sure that other people have. Like, "Oh cool wow, gosh I don’t know what to do here so let’s do this."

Everything was very, very thought-out. We took a different approach to writing. Maybe it's because we're older and we have some more experience. We really wanted to make sure that … I think [the fact] that we haven’t had a record in 16 years did also [add pressure], sure. We've all done other musical projects in between, but the fact that we’re back together as Braid — the music we’re going to make is gonna be Braid. We just wanted to be the best Braid, [make the] best music we could make. We did really try hard to make it something that would be able to stand on its own.

How did you guys end up getting back together as a band?

The short version is I hadn’t been in touch with those guys much at all, until 2010. We kind of lost touch for a while. I was doing other things. They were doing other things. Braid did a reunion tour in 2004 and we hit it really hard. And we did three months straight on the road and then we did a Japan tour. Had there been any in inkling of us doing new music it was squashed by the end of that tour because we killed ourselves again on tour. And that was always one of the downfalls of Braid: that we would tour so hard and play so much, no nights off and we just went so hard at it that we nearly burnt ourselves out.

But I think by the end we just tortured ourselves and we were done. Burnt ourselves out again. “Good reunion, guys.” High five and then we left.

We stayed in touch a little but after that. I didn’t start talking to those guys much until I saw Bob in the city [Chicago]. I started living in the city again, around 2009-2010. Bob was doing this DJ night at this club and he said, "Hey why don’t you come around." It was sort of emo-indie night. It was called Shield Your Eyes, after that Jawbreaker poem. So I came in to guest DJ one night and just hang out with him, and it turned into us doing it every Wednesday night, doing this indie-emo night at thjs place, and we just started getting to talking, talking about it, talking about old times because we were playing all these old songs from these bands. That was sort of what the night was about. We'd be playing Mineral or […] or Jimmy Eat World songs or some more obscure stuff, some of the DC stuff, Hoover and Lungfish and Fugazi and things like that, and we’re throwing a bunch of stuff in. I think really it energized us; we started sitting around after closing with one of the owners, couple of the owners, we’d just have some drinks and we’d be like, "Maybe we should just play, try playing some music together,” because neither of us were really doing much musically. We actually started a new band, and I've said this before in other interviews, we started a new band — me and Bob and some other guys. That didn’t go that well. Bob and I knew how to play together, but I was trying too hard to make it not Braid, because I didn’t want it to be Braid. If the two of us are playing together, let’s make it not Braid. I think that I was trying too hard to make the way Bob and I work together not work, right.

What we ended up doing was kinda scrap that band and said, "Why don’t we just do some Braid stuff? Do we wanna write some new Braid songs? Are the other guys into it?" And around 2010 — end of 2010, 2011 — we started talking about it seriously with the other guys and [were] like, “Yeah, let’s do it.”

For me, as soon as stopped trying to make it sound not like Braid, Bob and I all of the sudden just started playing. As soon as we said, "F it, let’s just do Braid," things just clicked again. When I play one thing, he plays another thing and vice versa. There’s no sitting around going, "Hmm what should we do next?" We just sort of write and it flows naturally.

Then we did that 2011 EP on Polyvinyl and then we did something in 2013, but the goal from 2011 was we were going to write some music and see what happens. Bob and I started getting together more often and writing songs and just sitting down and saying, "Let’s write some new songs," because we wanted to write a new album. So we decided that shortly after the 2011 EP, even though that was going to be a short thing, we’re like, "You know, we really do want to play music together again," because I think that all four of us decided that it was a lot of fun. So that was sort of us getting our feet wet again.

We really went from there. Bob and I sat down and wrote a bunch of songs. We have a bunch of other songs that we didn’t even explore for this record because we didn’t sort of get to them. We have a bunch of different parts and ideas. And I will say this: The stuff that we write together Bob and I do, because we are the only ones that live in the Chicago area. Todd lives in Milwaukee and Damon lives in Nashville, so its easy for Bob and I to get together and write some stuff and kind of show it to the guys and see what they think. But none of the songs were written until we all got together. We did that split EP, that split 7-inch with Balance and Composure and that was sort of the next step. Like okay cool let’s write some songs and that was sort of one Bob song and one Chris song or whatever. From there, it just became, "Now let’s really get serious and write a record."

It was just exciting, and we decided, "You know, we can do a whole record. Why are we fucking around? Let’s do this." And who knows what’s next.

Nothing really came of the other band you and Bob started? You didn’t release anything?

Correct. Oddly enough, we were playing together for six to eight months or whatever, and we had a couple of things we demoed. We didn’t record anything, we didn’t do anything with it. And we’re like, “Yeah, let’s play a show in a few months." I don’t even know if we had a name. We were like, "In three months, we’ll be ready to play some shows," and it was just so difficult to write with other people, when it’s me and Bob playing together. Or maybe it was the chemistry of everyone involved and not just that it’s me and Bob with everybody. He and I are used to working at our pace. So we had to sort of slow down to catch everyone up to our pace. Not that our pace is the right pace. We’ve played together for so long that it’s easy for us to know where we want to go next. So we’d have to stop and be like "No, guys, let’s try this." I think we just determined that it’d be way easier and way more fun if we were playing with guys who knew exactly what we were saying. Because we all speak that same sort of, for lack of a better term, Braid language in the way that we write.

How do things feel now compared to back then, in the late '90s? Does it feel different now, 14 years later?

It’s quite different — I mean, a lot of things are the same and a lot of things are different. The band dynamic is the same, except that we’re all a little more relaxed. So I think that in '99, where we were all very strongly willed and [had] strong personalities and all that other stuff, we all still have that, but I think [because] we’re all 15 years older, that stuff isn't so important. It’s like, "Yeah, okay, cool, I know that this is your thing and this is my thing; this is how somebody else is." We've known each other for so long that those are all things we accept about each other.

So being a band then, I don’t know, it was different. We literally had no other responsibilities than the band. You know, I would come home and maybe wait tables a few nights a week for some extra money while I was home. But my rent was like 150 bucks, so that was awesome. It’s different now that we’re older and doing this, in a lot of ways, because there’s so much more going on outside the band as well and I think that we have so much more life experience to write about and pull from.

I have a new baby, for example, and I work full time and my wife works full time and I just got married last year and Todd got married quite a few years back; he just had a baby, you know, he has a little girl who’s going to be three in August. Damon has a kid who graduated high school at this point. And he’s now in Nashville representing someone else, managing another artist. We all have these other lives that are like real life lives and we have the band life.

It’s a little bit bittersweet in the sense that all I want to do is play music. I think the other guys would say the same thing, but due to financial obligations — I think three of us have mortgages, you know what I mean? [laughs] And we’re engrained in what we’re doing outside the band as well.

It’s still really hard work because we have to make all our schedules work together and back then we all lived together or if we didn’t, three out of four of us lived in the same city and lived together

It is much more difficult nowadays,. In some ways, it’s more fun. We’re gonna do a show and the shows are well attended, people know who we are. Even in the end when we broke up in '99, we’d do a show somewhere in the middle of Alabama for 50 people and then we’d do another show in Boston at Middle East and sell it out, or [play] in Chicago for 1200 people. It was such a difference. We’d go to Europe and we’d be playing squats; they’re dirty, you know, and we’d sleep on the stage.

There was such a difference in the way we approached it because we just never knew what we would get. It’s a lot nicer knowing that we have our own van, our own trailer. We’re taken care of. We’re gonna go somewhere and we’re gonna play a show and people are gonna be stoked. It’s not like such a shot in the dark, who knows what’s going to happen, right? We kind of know what to expect and it’s nice. There’s still gonna be show’s where you’re like, "Oh, I wish more people were here" or whatever. I’m sure that’s going to happen. It’s not such a big deal.

How has touring changed?

Touring changed quite a bit. When we were fully active in the '90s and even in 2004, GPS was not a thing. We had maps. We didn’t have cell phones. Pull over at a pay phone and call the promoter and be like, “Hey we’re going to be there in two hours?” "Yeah, all right, cool." "So where do we pull in?" "Well, you pull into town, there’s a Wendy’s, you’re gonna turn right at the second street after Wendy’s and then you’re gonna do this.” You know it was a lot of old-school ways of getting directions.

We played a lot of UNO. We played a lot of memory games, you know. Where it’s like, “I went to a show and I saw All.” And you go to the next one. "I went to a show and saw All and Bad Brains." And kinda just go down the list. We did a lot of that stuff because there was not a lot to entertain us. Writing letters, sending post cards. It was a totally, totally different time.

We all had phone cards. Go to a pay phone, call and then talk for five minutes on this pay phone, you know, outside the club.

It was different, just totally different. We had a van and it’s dirty and we didn’t know where we were going to sleep. Maybe, maybe once in awhile we would get a hotel, but usually we’d be sleeping on someone’s floor and half the time it would be someone we didn’t know. Most of the time we got lucky but sometimes it would be some place where we would be like, “What in the hell are we doing here?" You know what I mean? It would be a party that would go all night and we would just be trying to go to sleep and we just couldn't. Or we would be partying with them because we didn't care. We were 19, 20, 21; we didn't care.

Nowadays, it’s way different. We go to a show, we have GPS, we’ve got our phones, we got the MiFi or whatever set up in the van so we can do whatever we need to do on our laptops and our phones. And so we’re pretty “headphones on.” I know in our touring van [then] we didn’t even have a tape deck for the first three years. We would listen to local radio stations. [laughs] That’s obviously a huge difference.

[Now] Also, we have hotels because I’m not going to stay on someone’s floor I don’t know. I don’t want to end up at some party I don’t want to be at. I wanna go play the show, have a really good time at the show, give it my all and go rest because I have another show to play tomorrow. I can’t party all night like I used to and still be able to function the next day. That’s a huge difference.

How has the music industry and scene changed?

I’ll tell you what: I don’t know that I understand the industry nowadays. I understood it then. I knew that as an independent band you could sell records and make a living at it and you could tour and make a living at it. I don’t know how people sell records these days, because everyone gets them for free. I remember when that whole torrenting thing started off and I was like, "I really got into the wrong business. I’m never going to be able to make a living at this again." It was a bummer for me. But its changed the landscape of music. So people still figure out how to make a living and do it; people do do it.

I do think that there are less people doing it, that there are less people claiming to be musicians these days than there used to be. I saw some study recently, and by recently I mean in the past couple of years, and it was saying that the amount of musicians claiming to be musicians in the United States on their taxes has been cut in half since before file-sharing. It may just be because all the guys who were eking out a living are actually having to work real jobs and then maybe do music when they can.

You’re touring with support from Into It. Over It., Pity Sex and Signals Midwest. Were they bands you sought out? How did the lineup come about?

Yes and no. Did we have anything to do with it? Yea. Remember when I said we have all those people who help us? Sometimes we’re trying to figure out what band out there right now is doing something cool that we should talk to. Sometimes it’s us saying, “Yeah, cool, let’s talk to our friends in this band.” Like, we know Evan and the Into It. Over It. guys very well. We know them. So that was sort of an easy, "Let's reach out to Evan and see what’s up." That’s simple.

Sometimes it’s like, well there’s this band Pity Sex and there’s this band Signals Midwest that we’ve heard of and someone’s like, "Hey here’s some bands that we were thinking of.” Sometimes our band manager will say, and this sounds so industry-crazy, but sometimes they’ll say here’s a list of bands that we think might go well with you right now. And here’s the thing: Usually it's bands we've already heard about and are stoked about. We’re not just picking bands from a list of bands that have been submitted by some douchebag.

For us, for Braid, we’re not out there everyday touring constantly right now, because we can't be. I think if we were, some of this stuff would be a little more organic, like it is with Into It. Over It., for example. But that being said, I don’t think its different for anyone. There’s one guy in the band whose way more connected than the others and I’ll say that I’m probably the least connected. Only because I’m so busy. My job is very demanding. [laughs] That’s something totally neither here nor there. But also, I’ve got a new newborn and all that other stuff that’s going on and my house needs a lot of repairs. So that’s funny, that’s, like, adult shit, right? Someone will be like, “Yo, hey, check out this new Pity Sex record," and I’m like, "Oh cool," and I check it out and I’m like, "Yeah, let’s tour with them."

It’s always a unanimous decision. We’re not sitting around going, “Somebody make up this line-up and we’ll take it.” Its always like, "Hey, is everybody cool with this band?” If one of us or two of us haven't heard them yet, we’ll go and listen and be like "Yeah, okay, cool. Yes, let's tour with this band. We like what they're doing."

Can you describe the feeling of being an influence on bands you tour with, especially on this tour?

I’m happy to be able to have had the same influence that bands that came before me had on me. That means the whole world to me that we've had that sort of influence on someone else.

If we are that band for bands that are opening for us, I’m extremely humbled by that fact because I know how that feels. It’s exciting to me to have had that influence. When we started doing this, I never dreamed we be that band that someone would say, "Your band is the reason I do music," or "Your band is a huge influence on us," or "This song is the song I proposed to my wife to." This stuff happens

I feel deeply about it. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s an emotional reaction I have to that. Because it makes me feel like I’ve really accomplished something and helped to make someone else’s life a little bit better. I don’t know how much, but a tiny bit.

How do you feel about your new label, Topshelf Records? How did you come to the decision to sign with them? What are they like?

Those guys are awesome. I mean, Seth and Kevin are like are biggest cheerleaders and fans and friends, and I feel really lucky to be working with such a great couple of guys and group of dudes that are doing something so cool. They’re really doing a lot of great stuff. They’re putting out some other great bands, they’re doing some other stuff. We got lucky, I think, in that Topshelf said yes to being able to put out our record, to wanting to put out our record.

Out of sort of this list of labels that we were kinda talking to, the Topshelf guys were super stoked and they were 100 percent into it and I just actually read an interview of those guys [wherein] one of those guys said something like, "If you would have told me we were going to be putting out a Braid record at some point, I would have told you to go to hell." I don’t remember exactly what he said. For a label to feel that way, for them to feel that way about us makes us feel like we’ve found such a great home. Those guys are so stoked. They have so many great ideas about things to do. Theyre really working hard to… They’re just great. I don’t know how else to explain it. We’re lucky. These guys are awesome. We’re happy. We do feel like we’re part of that family.

Just today I was checking Twitter just seeing what’s up and basically a bunch of bands on Topshelf are tweeting about the new Braid record. It jus made me realize that, God, you know, this is such the right place. This is just like it felt back in '90s when we were touring and playing with our friends’ bands. Only now its through social media instead of word of mouth.

I love it. These guys are the greatest. How did it come about? They said they wanted to do the record . We talked to them. We had a phone call with them, we discussed it. It just made sense.

Any memories of Pittsburgh? Your last show here was June 18, 2004, at Mr. Small’s, with Minus the Bear and Murder By Death

The Minus the Bear tour, was that with Murder by Death as well? That tour is really a blur for me. I drank quite a bit and in fact, after that tour, I went into rehab and quit drinking for three years. It was either the tour or me that did it to me. It was a real blur. I don’t remember anything about Pittsburgh. I wish I could tell you more about that show. That’s a little bit of a weird [time]; I don’t even know why I even said that. That’s kinda what happened on that tour. It was awesome. We had a great deal of fun. Those guys were great. I probably can’t tell you much about any city we were in because I was pretty drunk the whole time. That’s another difference between touring now and then. [laughs]

What does the future look like for Braid?

So we’re gonna do these shows. We have some other shows coming up in early July and then end of July and then hopefully doing some things through the fall. We’d like to get out to the West Coast. We’d like to get out to a lot of places. I don’t know how many of those places we’ll make this year. But I will say that I don’t think this is the final Braid record. I don’t feel like that’s what it is. We’re all talking about what’s next.

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