Interview: Brasstronaut

Brasstronaut
Brasstronaut

Comprised of a handful of exceptionally talented Vancouverites with eclectic intentions that seem to coincide with one another’s, Brasstronaut made a stop at this year’s Vancouver Folk Festival; and it’s no question that it was waves rather than ripples that they and their instruments stirred each time they stepped onstage. Despite the catalytic chaos of hopping from town to town and festival to festival, Sam Davidson agreed to sit down in the midst of echoing background music for a brief conversation.

Do you perform at a lot of festival-type events?

Yep! I’m familiar with folk fest, but this is Brasstronaut’s first show at any folk festival.

Do you find the atmosphere different?

Yes! It’s way different than the indie-rock festivals. I mean the indie-rock festivals are a little more- let me characterize folk fest- definitely the demographic is all across the board, children to older people, and I would say that instead of the image, it’s about the music and exploration and collaboration.

Yeah, I think that’s one of the great things about it.

I think so too. You feel very free to do anything and I don’t have to worry about, like, if my hat’s cool enough or something like that.

Of course. Do you find that when you’re performing music, does it change at all depending on the audience?

Definitely. Especially with the workshops, because you’re sort of forced into having two other bands, from possibly different cultures. That doesn’t really happen when you’re playing rock shows, where you’ve gotta go with your set and play every note like you do every night, and so I think the folk fest kinda brings out that little kinda creativity, and just having fun.

So what is Brasstronaut up to right now?

Well, we have all arrived in Vancouver and we’ve sort of been visiting other cities now, so we get these little concentrated weeks of activity. That’s what’s going on now. We’ve been rehearsing every night, together, hanging out, since the 11th, and we’re going into the studio the days after this to track some new tunes that we haven’t rehearsed or learned at all—so we’ve just been focusing on the set that’s happening tonight. Yeah, so we’re working on a new record!

Do you think it’s moving in any particularly different directions? Because your sound has definitely evolved a bit over time.

It’s definitely going to continue evolving.

Any hints on the direction?

More dance-oriented. But I don’t mean electro, per say, but just more of a tempo thing. A little more up, a little more groovy. Less of the melancholy. We’re only really a third of the way into tracking, so anything can happen yet. But so far, so good.

Very good. What do you have to say about the growth of your sound then? Because I feel like you guys have definitely switched, not your style, but your approach at least a bit—even since Mount Chimaera.

Approaches change with every record, yeah. I think everything sounds different just because it’s probably sort of impossible to do everything in the same ways. I think that this one has a lot to do with the fact that we are living in other cities. The previous album was kind of birthed in the studio, we all sort of wrote the songs together while we were there.

I think this next record, there’s a little more assertion of individual voices. The songwriting is happening more on an individual basis, and the songs are formed a little more by the rest of the band. So I think we should find a little more of the personalities within Brasstronaut, I think that maybe our focus is the individual personalities, just acknowledging each person.

Do you think that the songs kind of take a while to reach their final form- does it happen all at once or do the songs kind of grow into themselves?

Well, it sort of depends on the song. Edo sometimes writes songs and he’s got all the parts and harmonies in his head, it’s just sort of there and we just all have to bring those parts to life. Then when I bring in a song sometimes it’s a lot more undetermined, and just depending on what’s going to happen in the studio… so it’s really mixed bag and all of these little variables sort of change the sound. But I’d say we’re taking a slow, leisurely approach to this one- the songs are growing over several months with little bits being added to them here and there.

Do you think that being based out of Vancouver and from Vancouver has affected your music, or even just your experience as a band? Because of course it’s of course a bit of a hub of independent music.

Yeah, definitely. What can I say about the Vancouver scene? I think Vancouver really promotes people being, like, hermit musicians. Staying in on rainy nights. So I don’t know, I feel like there’s a lot of like behind-closed-doors creative activity going on, and then every so often you see little shows happening in these little places. And we’re just so far away from other cities and other centres, that I think Vancouver really has its own little thing going.

I guess this is a bit of a rewind, but do you wanna just introduce the band, member-by-member?

Of course. On lead vocals and keyboards, it’s Edo Van Breemen; backup vocals and guitar and lap steel is Tariq Hussain; John Walsh on electric bass- he also plays with Dan Mangan’s band; Bryan Davies on the trumpet, and myself Sam Davidson on clarinet and electric wind instrument. And Brennan Sol on drums.

So of course in this day and age genres are always overlapping and it’s getting ridiculous to try labelling most things. But I think Brasstronaut is pretty multidimensional… how do you think you would describe you guys’ style?

I do agree with you that the idea of genre-bending is a bit cliche now. It was a thing, but now we just… shit is all messed up, you know? I think we like the term experimental, and we like the term pop. Sometimes it’s called somatic. I don’t know if I’m really feeling all these words, but I think it’s just really Canadian… a blend.

I remember hearing you guys perform a couple of years ago, at a CBC Musical Nooner. It was my first time really listening to you guys, and I got a pretty significant jazz vibe—maybe it’s just the instruments?

Yeah, there is definitely a jazz vibe going on. Because of some of our respective backgrounds- I mean, some of us have formal jazz training, some of us have formal classical training, some of us have none. Just from that standpoint, everything kind of seeps from there. But I don’t think I’d even call it jazz. It isn’t really improvisation, we’re not using jazz songs or jazz forms. But there’s maybe some of the essence of swing and the drama. Little bits and pieces from here and there.

What’s your own musical background like?

Well I studied classical clarinet for a really long time. I thought I was going to play in an orchestra, but then at some point realized that that sort of regiment was not suitable for me. But these days I’m getting a lot more into hip hop, electronic music, and I love seeing all of the music from Africa, Somalia, all these different countries around the world. Every time I see a new band here, it’s like, I’ve got to use this and that, and that little rhythm that I hear.

Are there any artists around right now that you’re a big fan of? Not even just at the festival, just overall.

What am I listening to right now? I’m listening to a lot of Earth Wind & Fire… I’m going vintage R&B these days it seems. Earth Wind & Fire, Chic. I think we all know that big Daft Punk song from summer, it’s funny because Nile Rogers plays guitar in that, he basically wrote that song like 20 years ago, and I think people who like that song should go back and listen to Chic, and they’ll see a whole world of dance music, with the same, original type of vibe. You know the “we’re up all night to get lucky?” You should definitely go back and check out the discography of the band Chic… but yeah, that’s what I’m listening to right now.

Yeah I guess as a band your influences are all over the map… how did you guys end up coming together though?

Yeah of course, we’ve all got different shit on our ipods. But it all started with Edo and Brian, who met at a house party in 2007 or something, and then they were doing a residency at the Banff Centre, and I was doing a residency at the Banff Centre in 2009. So that’s where I met them, and they asked me to join sort of after that, and then when we got back to Vancouver that was sort of when Tariq joined. So it’s been a six-piece since 2009, and we just said, that’s good. Right there. Enough people, enough mouths to feed on the road, so let’s stop there.

How is touring, being on the road?

Touring is, like, awesome, and really scary. It can be a bit of a mess but you’re in a new city every night and you’re, I don’t know… it’s like living like a pirate for a few months of the year. It’s pretty nice.

Last but not least, kudos on the name. Quite the play on words—I don’t know if it has any history besides being witty.

I think it’s just witty. I think that’s all, we thought of it when combo-words were in, in 2008. Somebody suggested it, and we were like, okay. Let’s do it.

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