7 Questions with Christopher Brokaw

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by Doug Miller and Ryan Meehan

Chris Brokaw is perhaps best known for his work as the drummer in CODEINE and the guitarist in COME, who made several albums in the 1990’s for the labels Sub Pop and Matador that are considered landmarks in American independent rock music. Since 2001, Chris has focused primarily on his work as a solo artist, making numerous albums of vocal and instrumental music. This has ranged from full on rock (“Red Cities”, “Incredible Love”) to explorations of the 6-string and 12-string acoustic guitars (“Canaris”, “VDSQ Solo Acoustic Volume 3”) to the experimental and abstract (“Tundra”, “Gracias, Ghost of the Future”). Throughout, Chris has maintained an active solo touring schedule in the US, UK, Europe, Canada, Australia and Russia. He has composed original music for the following films: “I Was Born, But” (Roddy Bogawa, 2004), “Road” (Leslie McCleave, 2005, which received the award for Best Original Score at the Brooklyn International Film Festival); “Sospira” (Lana Z. Caplan, 2011); “Taken By Storm” (Roddy Bogawa, 2011); and “Now, Forager” (Julia Halperin/Jason Cortlund, 2012). The latter two films screened in 2012 at MOMA in New York City. Chris has also performed and recorded as an accompanist to Thurston Moore, Evan Dando, Christina Rosenvinge, Jennifer O’Connor, Rhys Chatham, Steve Wynn, Alan Licht, GG Allin, and Johnny Depp. He has composed music for the Dagdha Dance Company (Limerick, Ireland) and Kino Dance (Boston); collaborated with playwright Rinde Eckert and director Robert Woodruff on the new opera “Highway Ulysses” (2002, American Repertory Theater, Cambridge, Mass.); performed as one of 77 drummers in the Boredoms’ “77 Boadrum” in New York; and performed as one of 200 guitarists in Rhys Chatham’s “A Crimson Grail” at Lincoln Center, New York. His band Dirtmusic (with Chris Eckman and Hugo Race) performed at the Festival In The Desert, in Essakane, Mali, and collaborated with the Touareg band Tamikrest on an album recorded in Bamako, Mali. We are delighted to have Chris Brokaw as our guest today in 7 questions.

DM: As Codeine first began refining its sound, was there a sense among you, John, and Stephen that you were creating something relatively new, something as substantial as a new subgenre within college/independent rock?

CB: We knew we were doing something very specific, very deliberate, and pretty different to what else was going on around us. We knew it was unique. We didn’t think at all of “genres”, just that Codeine’s music was very specific and was its own thing.

DM: Did early audiences recognize the value in what you were pursuing? Was there much bewilderment on the part of audiences, or did Codeine immediately enjoy enthusiastic responses?

CB: We got both responses. Many people were really baffled by the music; sometimes they’d listen more and realize that we were quite serious. We also got a great response from a lot of people. The people who “got it” really, really got it.

DM: Were there any musical, literary, or film influences on Codeine that might surprise fans of the group?

CB: The Bertolucci film “Red Harvest” was a really big influence on the band. Also, the Nikki Sudden song “When I Cross The Line”.

DM: Where do you locate the genesis of Codeine’s style? From where does it derive? The album liner notes consistently stipulate “All Songs by Codeine”; were most songs born out of jams?

CB: All of the songs were written by Stephen Immerwahr, the bassist/singer. John Engle (guitar) and I helped arrange the songs. We spent many, many hours discussing and arguing about how the songs should be played…All the tiny details of the songs. Definitely nothing came from jams.

RM: You were a part of Rhys Chatham’s “A Crimson Grail (Outdoor Version)” at Lincoln Center in New York back in 2009, which included 200 guitarists instructed by four section leaders. The original score was actually written for four hundred guitarists a few years earlier. How did you get involved with that production?

CB: I’m friends with Jonathan Kane, who has played off and on with Rhys for many years. In 2006, Jonathan invited me (and my friend Doug McCombs) to participate un a tour with a nine piece band, including Rhys, playing his music; specifically “Die Donnergotter” and “Guitar Trio”. We did a week of shows, with Tony Conrad doing an opening set every night. Playing “Die Donnergotter” every night for a week, with that group, was one of the most exciting things that I’ve ever participated in…I can’t even describe how thrilling it was to be in that ensemble. I’ll always feel very, very grateful to have had that opportunity…Anyway, subsequently I was asked to perform “A Crimson Grail” and of course I said yes. This was a much different piece of music, and form of ensemble, but still quite thrilling.

RM: When you find yourself in a group of that many stringed instruments playing together at one time, were you able to focus on the different patterns other portions of the orchestra were playing; or did you have to convince yourself to absorb everything that is going on at once in order to understand the true beauty of that piece of music? What will you remember most from that experience?

CB: I think the indoor rehearsal was the most exciting part; I could hear all of the parts much better than at the outdoor performance. But it was also quite interesting, and new to me, to play in such a large ensemble, surrounding the audience (10,000 people, including my mother) That was kind of amazing.

RM: What is it about working with Geoff Farina (Karate) that makes him different than some of the other artists you’ve collaborated with? Is he a very challenging musician as far as pushing boundaries of his colleagues; or is he more passive and allows the other artist to facilitate more of a musical dialogue?

CB: He’s an incredibly disciplined and focused player. He practices his instrument more than anybody I’ve ever worked with. He’s just incredibly serious about his craft! I think our playing styles go together really well; mine tends to be a bit looser, more prone towards accidents or weird things, but I think the blend is really good. We’re going to record a new album in February – again for acoustic guitars and vocals. I’m really excited about it.

DM: Your musical talent is do diverse in its application—from multi-instrumentalist, to writer, to producer, to film score composer, to record label founder, and more. Do you get bored easily, or is that carousel nature more a reflection of profound enthusiasm and resistance toward becoming one-dimensional, or could it be both?

CB: I think its more enthusiasm. Just learning about new things, and wanting to try new things. Hoping, in the process, to grow and get better as an artist.

RM: You started Capitan Records a few years back, and you’ve been quoted as saying that it is the “worst label on earth”. According to your website, you don’t encourage or accept submissions for release. What is it that has caused you to have such a negative view of something that you created for the sole purpose of getting your art out into the music community? Other than the ability to release your work in such a short period of time, what were some of the other reasons that you wanted to be in charge of your own label?

CB: It’s really just wanting to record things and release them immediately. Some of them in very small quantities. I’ve observed others doing this sort of thing and found it to be inspiring. It’s just fun to make something and release it quickly, sometimes with something of a handmade quality to it. That part of it is really fun and fulfilling, too. Calling Capitan “The Worst Label in the World” is just sort of a joke, but, really acknowledging that I’m not the best person at all to run a record label, that’s not my strength. I just do it so I can record stuff at home and make it available immediately.

DM: As someone who, again, can claim a wide array of experiences within the music business and artistic medium, I’m curious about your perspective on how the business and medium have changed for the better since you first became an active player in the early 1990s to the present. How has it improved? How has it degenerated? What would you change, if you could?

CB: I wish the record stores weren’t all closing. I love record stores, and their steady disappearance is a huge loss. I wish I could change that…Recording and releasing music has become easier. I don’t know…a lot has changed but the fundamentals remain the same. My own imperative for making music has remained the same. If anything, my enthusiasm and curiosity has grown. I’m very grateful and feel very lucky to do this for a living.

RM: What’s up next for Christopher Brokaw in the year 2014? Is there anything big in the works that we should know about? Are there any other forms of artistic expression that you plan on exploring in the twelve months that lie ahead?

CB: My Soundtrack album, from the movie “Now, Forager” will be released April 22, 2014 on Dais Records. I have a new double album of instrumental music that will come out later this year. I hope to have this new Brokaw/Farina album out later in the year, too. There are some other possible projects that I can’t really disclose right now, but hopefully it will be a busy and fruitful year!

Official Website: http://www.chrisbrokaw.com/

Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.

Meehan

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