earlier last week, we featured louisiana band brass bed, with the immensely catchy “olivia” – one of the gems found in their self-released debut album midnight matinee. the record has an uncanny ability to draw the attention of music fans and obsessives from past and present, building upon a myriad of influences from classic pop by the kinks, the beatles and the beach boys to modern eccentrics, ranging from the psych pop of the flaming lips to generous helpings of the experimental indiepop of the legendary elephant 6 collective.
more than simply the sum of its influences, brass bed has been impressive in creating a sound that references these undeniable influences without limiting themselves to any one influence or any genre for that matter. the result is an enjoyable journey through pop history that looks forward rather than back. and it’s the process of creating this impressive debut that forms the subject of our interview today, with frontman christiaan mader kindly giving us an insight into all that goes into brass bed.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the band got together?
The band began as a 3 piece recording project founded by myself, Peter, and Jonny. We spent a couple of weeks over a summer home from our separate colleges in my parent’s house playing with a digital recording deck I had. We practiced composition, layering and dubbing, and arrangement with an assortment of about 13 songs. To be honest, looking back most of those tracks were rubbish. Oddly enough, 2 of those tracks are still in our repertoire though. One of which (On The Road) appears on Midnight Matinee. Kind of weird now that I think of it, that we have a song that we wrote at 19 and 20 appearing on an album 4 years later. Sheesh, I’m kind of blabbing here. Anyway, we started Brass Bed as means to perform the tracks we recorded. So we added a buddy to play keys, bass, and guitar and we started playing that stuff live, eventually making an EP. He went to school and we ended up writing Midnight Matinee as a 3 piece. We got Andrew and Jacques shortly after to tour with us, and they’ve since become permanent members of the band, included into our writing element. That aimless chattering of a story brings us to 2008 as a 5 piece.
I understand you guys had done a couple of home recordings prior to Midnight Matinee. What prompted the step to take it to a new level with this debut release?
In short, we graduated college. Most of that home recording stuff was done on breaks from school. Jonny, Peter, and I went to school in 2 different states so treating a band seriously was not really an option. We knew that we wanted to pursue what we had professionally, and we jumped at that opportunity when we graduated. That afforded us the time to tour, build a fan base etc. to get us enough confidence and money to hit the road and enter a professional studio.
How has the whole experience been so far?
Its been a learning experience. Not to say its been frustrating, but I never imagined the amount time and attention to detail was required to make a successful record by yourself. The good news is, I think this release is building the connections and experience to make the next release much easier.
Do you think that would have been very different if you were signed to a label?
Yeah, at least I hope so. Someone else would definitely have done the leg work that we had to bear. It’s certainly not impossible, hell I’m talking to you in Singapore right now! But I do think with label support we’d have more time to focus on what we actually do well, that is writing and performing music.
For me, Midnight Matinee is very revealing of the numerous influences in your music, sometimes in a very direct way (the Beatlesque sighs in “Polar Bird” and the Beach Boys harmonies throughout the album, for example). How did it work for you, bringing all these elements together?
That’s just the way its been natural to us I think. We have very short attention spans for specific sounds, so we tend to try everything listen to. My feeling is if you spend enough time sort of practicing different writing styles through the songs we write, that you develop your own voice. Especially when you include the creative voices of 2 or 3 other people. So if I wrote a song that had a direct inheritance from the Beatles, Jonny would say be listening to the Flaming Lips or Os Mutantes or something and somehow that influence would creep in somewhere.
One thing I’m sure, you must love the Kinks very much, considering the number of “character” songs you have (Olivia being my favorite). Is this album more of a foray into creative writing, or is it inspired by stories from your own lives?
If by creative writing you mean, our twisted minds, I’d say creative writing. I’ve been working on writing different character pieces in the Ray Davies‘ style, and its not an easy one to master. He’s got a deft hand at being critically humorous and insightful, without being too silly or cheesy. Olivia is about as close to that as I’ve gotten, although at the time I wouldn’t say I was actually trying to write a Kinks song. But I think that’s an example of how those influence just sort of creep in. Lord knows I’ve listened to Arthur and Something Else enough. Jonny wrote James Fellows Jr long before we recorded, and I think that’s a damn good song in the same sort of Davies’ character sketch, but I’m not sure if that was intentional. We wrote Olivia sort of together. He came up with the idea of the “Oliviaaaaa” chorus at the end in the vein of Victoria, or Gloria, or something. We wanted it to be an “ia” we knew that. So we put that on top of a recording I had done by myself, and I wrote out a verse melody and middle part. And came up with a little piece about voyeurism.
The song’s just not the same without the “ia”s! And I love the voyeurism bit, which really brings the songwriters back into the picture, doesn’t it? I don’t see that kind of authorial awareness very much today, and it’s so much more beautiful when you deal with olivia’s own alienation at the end.
Hey thanks! You know one thing that I’ve notice over the past couple of months is that folks who’ve heard the track and like it tend to think its about a girl that I suppose I would be in love with, which is obviously far from the case if you listen to the lyrics. Love is not at all a topic here. Strangest thing I’ve found is girls on Myspace named Olivia (or at least I assume they’re girls) that want to use it on their profiles etc. To be sure, I think Olivia is the sympathetic character there, I don’t speak of her negatively so much as I speak negatively of her circumstances. But still, the gut reaction the listener gets (I hope) is that its a pop song. It makes me feel kind of subversive to have some sort of commentary in there that folks initially think is a silly love song.
And how have listeners and fans been responding to your songs as a whole?
I’d say very well, and across a nice diversity. We’ve had folks from all kinds of different crowds tell us they love our pop sensibility. I think some folks are kind of refreshed to hear something that’s relatively cheery and catchy but not vacant or color coded.
That’s so true. I recently made that comment to a friend as well, that it’s so much harder making a good, sincere happy record that doesn’t end up sounding cheesy. Is the “cheery and catchy” sound something that you’re trying to achieve, or does it just flow out naturally for you?
I’d say for the time being, yes. But I do think we delve into some other moods on the record with BBC Midnight Broadcast, Postcard Paris, Killer Bees. Actually now that I think of it, the record is more ballad laden than I remember. Material we’re working on right now definitely tends toward that cheery pop direction, but I’d also say its getting more dissonant and progressive with the new line up. I think we always try to be “catchy” in the since that we want the melodies to be memorable, not necessarily any technical feats or anything. I yearn for a time when Pete Townsend could be both a guitar smasher and a writer of pop songs. Maybe its wishful thinking, but I’d like to think that we could make some catchy and cheery music that it’s also somewhat violent. It certainly feels that way to me when we play this stuff live. On record we think. Live, we thrash.
What can we expect in future from Brass Bed?
Mastery of the hemisphere! No seriously, I think you can expect to see us putting a new record out in 2009. It will be the first album written as a 5 piece. From what we’ve written already its getting somehow more weird and more pop at the same time. We’ve grown a lot hitting the road, and I think our palette has gotten much wider with the new members.
All the best for that! Will definitely look forward to that record! Thanks again for the interview.
Thanks for taking the time ask insightful questions, Dan! It’s been a pleasure speaking to you.
brass bed’s midnight matinee is now out and available for sale at cdbaby and mp3 download at itunes and amazon. the band is also currently on tour, details of which may be found on their myspace site.
mp3: brass bed – bbc midnight broadcast
mp3: brass bed – olivia