Interview with Chris Brokaw
By Roo Simpson
What are you up to at the moment? Any projects you’re working on?
Well I’ve been just kind of wrapping up this film score that I recorded last winter, which is the soundtrack to a film called “I Was Born, But…” which was by a filmmaker from New York called Roddy Bogawa. The film is doing the film festival circuit right now, so I’m actually going to Chicago tomorrow – the film is showing at the Chicago underground film festival and so I’m going to play a set at the party for that afterwards. So, the soundtrack is coming out in November.
And, I played guitar on two songs by a band here in Boston called Karate who are a pretty big band internationally, so I’m going to do a tour with them in October where I’ll be opening for them and then playing with them on a couple of songs. And then, in November I’ll be going to Europe for about two weeks, and then I’m going to do the West Coast at the end of the year and I think coming to the UK in January.
How did you get on with the UK audiences when you were last over?
It was fun. I think probably the Glasgow show (at Nice’n’Sleazy) was the best on that trip – that was a really fun show, and I had a really nice time in Nottingham.
Regarding the My Confidante + 3 EP, I was wondering how that project came about, and what is was like working with Liz Phair and the other women whose songs are featured?
Well, I didn’t actually work with the other women on it. Basically, I had been approached by a guy I know, he was trying to put together a compilation of men doing songs written by women which I thought was a very intriguing idea. And I was thinking ‘oh, there’s so many songs that I’d like to do’, and then I was thinking ‘well there’s so many songs written by women that I’m friends with that I would like to do’. And I knew there were at least a couple of songs written by women that I’m friends with that they’ve never even released. My friend Holly (Anderson) had some songs from like 15 years ago that I always thought were just amazing songs, that she had never recorded. And y’know Liz had given me a CD of a bunch of songs a really long time ago, a lot of which she had never recorded. There were just these great lost songs, and I thought it would be kind of an interesting idea to make this EP that would have one song by me, and then 3 songs by these friends of mine. I think the women were all happy with it.
You’re obviously involved with many different bands and projects, such as Karate, Consonant and The New Year, how do you juggle it all?
I think the way it works is that none of these bands are kind of full time bands. I think when I was playing with Come, that was really kind of my one band - my full time band. And y’know that’s what I had to do with Come; we toured so much and we were really sort of going for it with that one band. Whereas, with Consonant and The New Year, most of the other guys in those bands have kids or have other careers. So, none of those guys want to be on tour for a month at a stretch, and it’s fairly easy to fit in the time to do everything that you want to do, or that I want to do with them. There are a couple of train wrecks here and there scheduling-wise, but by and large it’s been easy to juggle.
Of those different bands that you’re playing with at the moment, is there any one in particular that is your favourite, that you enjoy playing with the most?
I would say that I’m happiest doing my own stuff. I really like playing solo a lot, and that’s mostly what I’m doing this year. It’s definitely easier to schedule yourself and not have to call 5 or 6 other people. I just did some touring with The New Year, and I really love playing with those guys. They’re really great songwriters and really fun people to travel with.
How do you feel about your reputation as “Boston’s hardest working indie rocker”?
I think that’s more of a local reputation (laughs), just because I’ve been here a long time, and Boston’s a really small town.
What’s the music scene like over there at the moment?
It’s great. Although I’m always really bad at answering what the scene is like here right now. There are so many bands here, and there’s so much going on here that I feel like I never really have my finger on the pulse of what’s happening. It’s hard for me to keep up with all the developments here, but it’s a great town. It’s a really good town for music, and it’s really very nurturing.
Moving on to the inevitable Evan Dando questions - how and when did you first start working with him?
I started working with him in 2001. Evan and I had known each other for a really long time, just as acquaintances. Oddly enough, I was actually at the very first Lemonheads show, and he was at the very first Come show so we sort of have that in common. I was approached by his manager at the time, Tom Johnston (who had been Come’s manager for a few years) and Evan was about to go do some shows over in England - the Fleadh festival and a couple of other shows. Tom asked me if I would go over and just play guitar with him on these shows, and it would be just the two of us – Evan playing acoustic and me playing either acoustic or electric guitar. I was pretty intrigued by the idea of having it be the two of us, probably more so than having it be a full band, so I met up with him and he taught me like 25 songs in 2 hours and then we went and did these shows. It was really fun, and for the next year or so he would just call me every month or so and say ‘do you wanna go play some shows in Ireland?’ or ‘do you wanna go play some shows in Australia?’ He was doing these little sort of mini-tours for a while before he finished the record. It was very fun and a casual thing for a while and then we finished the record, and his album was out and we did all the touring last year.
Could you please share your memories of the best/worst moments from the Baby I’m Bored tour?
The first couple of shows in Ireland with the whole band were really fun. I remember the Dublin show was really intense, really good. We did a short tour with Juliana Hatfield playing bass, and we did this one show in Seattle which was amazing – I know somebody’s got a recording of it – it was one of those really effortless nights. As for worst nights, I don’t know, just nights when everyone was tired, nothing specific.
Do you prefer playing at small or larger venues?
Generally I like playing the smaller places. I’m not really crazy about playing festivals, although Evan and I did this one huge festival in Italy. It was kind of in the middle of the tour and they weren’t able to fly out the whole band, so it was just the two of us playing on this huge stage in the middle of the afternoon. It actually ended up being really fun, so I’ve got more of an open mind now about festivals. I always found the sound and the vibe on the stage to be really weird, but I think it can be okay.
Do you have any plans to work with Evan again in the future?
I hope so. I saw him a couple of months ago at the beginning of the MC5 tour, and we were talking about trying to get together and work on some songs and hopefully work on some recordings in the future. I love playing with Evan, I think it’s really fun, and I always have a nice time with him so I hope we’ll do some more stuff together.
You said earlier that you especially enjoyed playing just with Evan rather than the full band. He’s said recently that he’s now working on a new Lemonheads album? If you were approached to get involved with that would it be something you’d be interested in?
Yeah, of course. It’s hard to say just in terms of all the touring that would come up after that, ‘cause I’m working on my own stuff, and I know it’s a really big commitment. It’s hard to say. If I can do two things at once that would be great. I’m very curious to hear what exactly it means for him to do a Lemonheads record rather than an Evan Dando record. Maybe he’s written a bunch of songs that sound like Lemonheads songs, so it just makes sense to call it the Lemonheads.
Having heard both you and Evan singing My Idea, I wondered whether you and Tom Morgan wrote that with Evan or yourself in mind?
It was definitely for Evan. Basically Evan was in Australia hanging out with Tom, and Tom had like 30 seconds of a song and he gave it to Evan and said ‘I can’t finish it, but either you or Chris should finish it’. So, I ended up finishing it, which was kind of a fun project to try and finish this little song. I finished it like the day before we went in to record it for Baby I’m Bored. It was definitely for Evan’s record but then when I’d finished it I was like ‘oh, I sort of wrote this song with this guy’, so then I started doing it, it was a nice little project that I wasn’t expecting.
So with that song it was just a case of Tom passing the song on to you. Have you actually worked directly with him at all?
No. I met him when Evan and I went to Australia in 2001, and we hung out for a couple of days, and then at one of the shows in Melbourne we played together for a few songs. That’s really the only time I’ve ever spent with him. Really nice guy, and obviously very talented. I think it’s the kind of thing where he’d have to be over here, or I’d have to be over there to work on more stuff together, and we’re a long way away.
We're shortly going to be compiling an album of cover versions spanning the entire Lemonheads back catalogue and Evan's solo material. If you were one of the contributors, which song would you choose, and why?
Wow! What song would I chose? Well, I had a dream a couple of weeks ago that I was opening for Evan and I was going to start my set with Ride With Me, but I was afraid that he was going to get pissed off. So, I like that song a lot and I really like Favorite T a lot. Both of those, especially Favorite T, it’s just the way he structured - that song is really sophisticated. Evan’s a really sophisticated musician, I think much more so than some people give him credit for.
What are you listening to at the moment? Any bands you could recommend?
Let me think…there’s a guy from Connecticut who calls himself The Dirty Projectors, I like his stuff a lot. There’s this sort of punk/metal band from Boston called Converge that I like a lot, they put out this record a couple of years ago called Jane Doe which was really amazing. And I know that they have a new record coming out next month which I’m looking forward to. Thalia Zedek has a new record coming out in September which is awesome, it’s a really good record. There’s a Canadian singer named Leslie Feist, she just put out this record under the name Feist which I know is out in England. I haven’t actually heard that record, but I’ve heard other stuff of hers before and she’s amazing. I wanted to do one of her songs for the EP – a friend of mine had given me a demo tape of hers about a year ago and the songs were really incredible. I knew that she was going to be making an album, but I didn’t know which songs she was going to be doing. So I sent her an album and asked her if I could record this one song, and she wrote back and said ‘actually, I’d prefer that you wait ‘cause I’m going to put it out on this record, and I kind of want my version to come out first’, which was totally fair. So I guess it’s out, but I haven’t heard the record yet.
I know you’ve got lots of touring coming up for the rest of this year through to the start of 2005. Any ideas when we can expect another solo CD from you?
Well, it’s hard to say. I was actually in the studio for the last several days working on a record, which will be much more of almost a pop record. The soundtrack that’s coming out is mostly instrumental, mostly just electric guitar music, so I’m sort of working on this pop record, which hopefully will come out sometime next year. We were mixing until about 5 o’clock this morning. Hopefully that will come out in the spring.
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