Chris Brokaw is an amazingly versatile and productive musician. Perhaps best known for his work with Come and Codeine during the 1990s, he is now adding his guitar to no fewer than four projects; Consonant, the New Year, Pullman, and as a member of Evan Dando’s touring band. On top of this, he just released his first full-length solo project, Red Cities, a fine collection of diverse instrumentals. Far from a vanity project, it’s musically diverse, tasteful, and engaging throughout. He’s also at work on co-developing the music for Rinde Eckert’s “Highway Ulysses,” an experimental theatre project being put-on by Cambridge, MA’s American Repertory Theatre in February and March of 2003. For now, you can catch Chris on the road in America and Europe throughout November and December solo, as well as with the New Year and Consonant. For tour dates, current projects, discography, visit his website at the end of this interview.
Delusions of Adequacy: How did Red Cities come about?
Chris Brokaw: I started thinking up this album back in ’98. The whole thing kind of revolved around the song “The Fields (Part II)”; that was the centerpiece and everything else kind of spun off from there. I got an 8-track cassette recorder around then and started demo-ing the songs and thought, “Maybe I could do this by myself…” It seemed like a good challenge.
DOA: I read that you avoided recording with a computer as a way of limiting your options in the studio. Add to this the fact that you played all of the instruments yourself, and it must have been a pretty challenging undertaking. How did you approach the recording, and besides the obvious difference of not having a band around, how was this experience different from all of the work you’ve done in the past?
CB: I practiced and demo-ed and practiced and demo-ed for months. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and needed to do before I went in to record, although I wanted to leave room for accidents here and there. But I really wanted to have my shit together before I went in. It was really different from recording with a band. Really exhausting, terrifying, sometimes exhilarating. In the end, satisfying in a very unique way.
DOA: Is there a particular mindset you have for each project you’re involved with? How do you go from possibly touring with Evan Dando one week to maybe writing with Consonant another and working on your own material while keeping other projects or opportunities on a back burner? Do you take it one session or practice or show at a time? Does it all somehow fit into a bigger picture?
CB: It’s all juggling; a lot of e-mailing and strategizing. I mean, the A.R.T. job this winter comes at a perfect time – good to have a steady job at home in the winter months. But, therefore, I need to do a lot of Red Cities touring before the end of the year, so I have a lot of tours coming up in November and December … it’s all juggling, though. I mean, I like when there’s a lot of variety, but it’s not like I’m scheming to be insanely eclectic. It all seems of a piece.
DOA: What’s coming up into next year? Have you looked past the A.R.T. project or is that sort of the main focus for a while? I saw the New Year has some shows coming up and you have the solo tour. Any plans for a new Consonant album or solo album, or is that still a ways off?
CB: My plans for after the A.R.T. are pretty open. Consonant is hoping to record in January, and I think that would have a spring release. Evan Dando’s record also comes out then, and I’m expecting to probably tour with one or both of those concerns in the spring. I’ll also hope to tour more to support Red Cities. The New Year hopes to record in the spring.
DOA: As someone who was sort of right in the middle of all the bands coming up in the early and mid-90s, I’m really curious what bands you think got unjustly overlooked from that time? Also, what bands do you think will end up being the ones to be remembered in 20 years?
CB: 90s bands that got neglected? Well, there were several I can think of that really got neglected; Meltdown (from Central Square), Blue (from Philadelphia), Subskin Cables/Sensurround/Chocha (three bands all led by Fernando Avila, formerly from Boston, now in NYC), all totally amazing bands, pretty much totally ignored. There’s a guy in my Red Cities band named Milo Jones, who’s pretty unknown, who’s a fucking genius. As for who’s going to be remembered; remembered by who? Me? You? Greil Marcus? Your teenage cousin? I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that. Sorry!
DOA: That answer wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I think it was really good. It’s easy to forget how subjective things can be when it comes to musicians being recognized. One of the most striking things I felt when I saw Consonant live was the amount of control and experience that you all exude. How has performing live evolved for you over the years? Are you getting different things (benefits, drawbacks, highs or lows) out of playing music then you did five or even 10 years ago?
CB: Glad you’ve enjoyed the shows. It’s hard to say how the playing has changed over the years. At least in the context of playing in rock bands, it’s become very familiar and very comfortable to me. I feel like I know what I’m doing. Some times I feel like I sort of slip into a role, which can get boring, and so I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of playing solo which is completely different from playing with a band. Much scarier, much more of a challenge. I don’t know…it’s still different every night, thank god. It’s still really exciting to me. If anything, I try to take in the environment, that day and night, as much as I can, and try to apply it or have it inform the show that night.
DOA: What have been some recent highlights from the past year or so?
CB: Finishing and releasing my solo record. Putting together an eight-piece group to perform that music. Collaborating with the folks at the American Repertory Theater. Writing, performing, and recording with Evan Dando. Collaborating on a performance with the dancer, Alissa Cardone. Playing some shows with Consonant where we were really getting at things that none of us expected to.
DOA: What are you listening to nowadays and what do you recommend?
CB: Milo Jones – Daddy’s Girl, Thomas Brinkmann – Row, Phillip Jeck – Vinyl Coda 1-3,
Bennink/ Mengelberg – Miha, Alice In Chains – Live, Chris Smither – Don’t It Drag On,
Meditations – I Love Jah, Minsk – untitled 7″, Keith Rowe/ Oren Ambarchi – cd,
Luciano – Live at Weetamix, Arthur Jones – Scorpio, Steve Lacy – Follies, Steely Dan – various bootlegs