Passion means doing something that might be ordinary but that, to you, it’s matters like life and death. That’s what passion is, going for something no matter what it means to other people.”
Let it be written here as it has been in many other places, Canadians are the nicest people ever. It is not a stereotype if it’s true. Vancouver’s very own BRASSTRONAUT is a six-man band, with Bryan Davies on the trumpet, Edo Van Breemen on vocals and keyboards, John Walsh on bass and guitar, Brennan Saul on percussion, Tariq Hussain on the lap steel and guitar, and finally Sam Davidson on the EWI (electric wind instrument) and clarinet. While their sound is so expansive it defies being lumped into one genre, it’s a type of far out rock that is best termed psychedelic neo-folk. Recently, for a show in Belgium, they were billed as “pigeonhole.” It’s a new genre; you heard it here first. Frontman Edo has a voice comparable to THE NATIONAL’s Matt Berninger, and there are electronica influences in the introductions to songs. Some of the tracks from last year’s record Mean Sun sound like dreampop (Francisco), others tend to psychedelic and trippy (Fossil), while others are straightforward folk songs (Hymn for Huxley).
NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION sat down with Bryan, John, Brennan and Sam to ask about song titles, necessity as inspiration for an album, and the desire to make a mockumentary about the Vancouver music scene, narrated by David Attenborough. There was a lot of laughing, clearly these guys are good friends and enjoy what they are doing. Read on for the most sincerely positive answer to our hope and passion final interview question.
What was the main inspiration for the last album?
BD: Necessity. [laughs]
SD: You have to keep moving forward, when you’re a band, or else what’s the meaning of it all?
BS: We had a bunch of ideas, we really wanted to do another album. It’s good to have a goal, finishing an album, with a particular date.
You did a residency at The Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. There you are visual artists, writers as well as musicians. How did that influence you?
BD: I found it really inspirational to be up there, we were all up there together. To take inspiration from all kinds of art forms, and then you can walk around in the woods and the mountains, it was great.
SD: That was where we met Michael Markowsky, the artist that we collaborate with. He did the album art for the last album.
BD: That’s also where Sam was, doing a residency at the same time, so we met him there.
So tell me about your approach to songwriting, who are the main songwriters?
BD: Well we participate in the creation of the tune, but the lyrics are mostly Edo and –
SD: and Tariq. On the last record it was really collaborative, sometime we would have the tune written and then the lyric, or it would be the other way around.
BS: It’s a nice thing about the band, actually, it’s a collective, collaborative thing, there’s not one person who is doing solely the writing or solely the music isolated from everyone else. Everyone is bringing their own ideas.
You must be good friends for that to work too.
BS: You have to be, hopefully. Ideally. [laughter]
Explain some of “Mean Sun”’s song titles: “Hymn for Huxley” and “Francisco”.
SD: Francisco is referencing the whole Spanish inquisition, Peruvian Incas, that whole bit of history. That’s more Edo…he’s the main force behind that song.
And “Hymn for Huxley”?
SD: That was John the bass player. [We turn to face John who is passed out sleeping in an armchair] John? Which Huxley was that?
Rough jet lag huh?
JW: Sorry, I just woke up. That song refers to Thomas Huxley, the father of modern agnosticism.
Listening to your album, I think a lot of soundtrack and scores because it’s so broad and sweeping and symphonic. If you guys could score anything, what would it be? [Please note they were watching “Return of the Jedi” when I arrived]
BD: I would love to narrate a nature documentary about the Vancouver music scene. Like a mock nature documentary about indie musicians in Vancouver, a la David Attenborough.
SD: Can you give an impression there?
BD: [affects a very British accent] Vancouver, home of one of the largest populations of indie rock musicians in the world….on earth. As they flock the streets of the downtown… [deteriorates into laughter]
SD: What would I like to score….Jurassic Park 4!
JW: Take that Johnny Williams.
BRASSTRONAUT: “Passion in life comes from being healthy and being happy and family”
As far as things happening at a live show, what’s the best show you’ve played?
BD: There’s been a lot of good shows, as far as one of the best shows as far as the vibe and the feeling was that one at the Iceland Airwaves Festival, in a shipping museum. It’s an old boat factory that they’ve turned into a museum. There were over 1,000 people there and a couple members of SIGUR RÓS joined us, from their horn section, to play with us.
SD: It was one of the first shows where we were featured, people were really excited. It was this big international audience. It was in 2009.
Previously you toured with a 12 piece Icelandic band…
BD: Útidúr [sounds like ‘ooh detour’]
…I didn’t even going to try to say it. Also, all of you guys play several instruments as well, does it ever get overwhelming, having so much selection?
BD: Hmm… in our band?
SD: That’s part of the fun of using the instruments is trying to figure out the right way to use them. Often that means not playing, for some of us. For bass and drums, they have to keep the thing going.
BD: Brennan is in the hot spot as the drummer, he’s got to keep that thing going, keep us all together.
Any favorite analog instruments?
SD: I play the EWI [electric wind instrument], which is a modern version of a lyricon. It’s a really rare wind synth made in the seventies.
What would fans expect when they see you live?
BD: Epic music!
JW: To be surprised by the energy.
SD: We’re not a band that plays the same song every night. It this sort of genre there’s a lot of that, of trying to hit it the same way. Not us. It’s interesting and spontaneous.
What’s the worst thing that audience members yell out?
BD: FUCK YOU! [laughter]
Does that happen often?
BD: Just when my friends come to shows. [laughter]
BS: By and large, they are pretty nice.
What do hope and passion mean to you?
SD: Passion means doing something that might be ordinary but that, to you, it’s matters like life and death. That’s what passion is, going for something no matter what it means to other people.
BS: When you have a connection with something, a deep connection, to something, you have to do it no matter what’s going on. I feel like that playing in this band, I get to express myself the way I want to express myself and play the way I like to play. I’m with my friends and we go travelling around, we are so lucky to do that, I can fulfill one of my passions and do art.
BD: Hope AND passion? Passion in life comes from being healthy and being happy and family. Through having passion for life, and just living a life through love and kindness, you just generate hope, not only through yourself but through everybody around you. So I just live my life through love and kindness. I know we joke around and we can get a little crass here and there but I believe in love and kindness, it totally accentuates hope and passion.
SD: Well said.
JW: I hope we get through this tour. I hope we get paid. [laughter]