If you’ve ever wondered if Seattle’s near 1,000-seat Neptune Theatre could transform into a “listening room” where you could hear a pin drop during a sold out musical performance, you’d have your answer if you happened to be one of the lucky fans who were there last Sunday to hear the stunning melodies of Joshua Radin, Andrew Belle, and Cary Brothers. A few times, “Shhhh, quiet!,” could be heard from within the depths of the crowd, and the masses took heed.
Headliner, Radin, even felt that this particular crowd was, “so polite, especially for a Sunday.” that he blushed on occasion, perhaps feeling the love of adoring fans throughout the theatre. His near 2-month tour is aptly named after his recent EP release, Onward and Sideways. It encapsulates songs based on love letters, written to, for and about his current relationship. Between songs, he spoke about loves lost, and loves found, and made mention of things he wants to remember and make note of, in hopes that he can live happily when things don’t seem to go his way.
Belle has been playing in Seattle on tours for years, and has many fans here. His latest release, Black Bear, has him performing a one-man-show on stage, as a vocalist, and playing a synthesizer keyboard along with a melodic beat key pad. As a part of the group, Ten out of Tenn, he will be performing at their 10th Anniversary celebration at the legendary Ryman Auditorium, in Nashville this April.
It may have been a near four-year hiatus for Brothers to perform a show here in Seattle, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been heard here, there, and everywhere! If you watch TV on a regular basis, you’ve more than likely heard one or more of his songs, which have been placed in television series from comedies to dramas more than 40 times, as well as in sound tracks to feature length films over the past 10+ years. His big break was back in 2004, when his song “Blue Eyes” was featured on the soundtrack for the movie Garden State. He’s had six songs featured on the CW series, The Vampire Diaries. He’s been touring the globe sporadically for nearly a decade, and he continues to write music. He’s always writing music.
An Interview with Cary Brothers . . .
Prior to his performance, Brothers took a moment to be interviewed for Seattle Music Insider.
SMI: Do you remember the first time you told yourself, “I’m going to be a musician?”
CB: Realistically? I think I told myself when I was 13. I always just sat and wrote songs. I think I was 13 when I started recording songs on a little 4-track. I didn’t have a therapist or anything. If I would have had a therapist, I probably would have never written music in the first place. You know, bad stuff happened when I was a kid. Just dark things, and moments of sadness, and I’d always just pick up a guitar, and write, record it on a tape, and put it on a shelf. That process was a completion of a song for me. Making the song was the fun part. I never thought about getting up, and playing them live. It was just about writing the songs, and getting it out of my system. I did that for ten years before I ever even got up on stage and played. I didn’t need it. That’s what was weird for me. Still, I write songs for me. I write songs that I want to hear, songs that I don’t think are out there that interest me. Luckily, people have liked them.
SMI: What inspired your move from Nashville to LA?
CB: I had a strange route. I went to college in Chicago – Northwestern. So I went to LA to work in film and television after college. I worked at a production company, and started a production company, and produced two independent films. I had an office, and an assistant and everything. My parents were so psyched. I was continuously working with writers and directors, helping them realize their dreams, and working on scripts. I was working with Zach Braff on Garden State (that was the last script I worked on), and one day I questioned, ‘Why am I doing this for other people, and not doing it for myself?’ I shut down the company and started playing open mics. I got a job as a camera assistant, and that paid for my first EP. I kind of started my whole life over again. I was 28, or 29 and it was terrifying. I look back on it now, and that was crazy! At the time, I just knew if I didn’t give it a shot, I would have had that regret for the rest of my life. I went to college as an English major, but I was working on film projects all through college. I was an English major because I didn’t want to get stuck with the film thing when I was done, just in case I changed my mind, which I did (laughs).
SMI: Now that you know your songs are chosen time and time again for television series, do you find yourself in a conflict? Writing songs for yourself -vs- for TV?
CB: I’ve never written a song for a movie, or a television show. I think it’s also because I’m kind of a film nerd, and I love film scores. There’s something about the way I write music. It has a filmic quality to it. The way the songs build into these massive pieces, rather than just verse-chorus-verse-chorus storytelling. I like to have that kind of atmosphere and scope that sounds somewhat like a film score. You know, the songs just work. It’s interesting. It’s working, so I’m not going to muck with it. It is interesting about how the rise in film and TV songs, have encouraged a new generation of songwriters to write for that. It’s a little upsetting to me. I came from a generation of playing out of The Hotel Cafe in LA ,where a lot of us were lucky enough to get the attention of music supervisors, and TV show writers, and the stuff just worked. Then this next generation came along, and they were like, ‘We want to do that. We want to write songs to get on TV shows.’ That’s not why I do this. That just helps pay the bills, ultimately.
SMI: Has a film producer ever approached you, and asked you to write a specific song, for a particular show or scene?
CB: For every bit of ‘sadness’ I’ve probably already written a song about it. Story of my life. I write songs for me, not for them.
SMI: There were rumors of a full length EP release for 2015, and with Lovin On You, you chose only four songs. Is it by chance a tease of what’s still to come?
CB: After being on the road for nearly eight years nonstop, and being worn down, I had a lot of life changes. My father passed away, and different things were happening in my life. I needed to just slow down and smell the roses for a second and live in LA. Not that I was running out of inspiration, but I wanted to recharge. I wanted to live life as again for a while, and see what that brought to the music. I also did it for peace of mind and stability, and not going crazy, which being on the road forever will also do to you. I stepped away from being a singer/songwriter for a while and started a synth-pop band called SD3, and we’ve been playing out in LA for the past year. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my life; no boundaries, no guitar, no piano, just me on a microphone and people dancing. It’s weird because I didn’t listen to singer/songwriters growing up. I listened to The Cure, New Order, and Depeche Mode, and I’m finally getting to make THAT music. I think once I got that out of my system, then I was able to realize what I loved about picking up an acoustic guitar or sitting down at a piano again, and just writing a song for the song’s sake. I think this EP is the first step in that. I think we’re going to go back and make a record with the synth-pop band, and I’ll probably do a full-length later this year. It’s nice, because now I know what my solo career is. I think I always kind of put those ’80s synth sounds into prior songs, and now It feels like it’s two separate beasts.
SMI: Do you think you were born in the right generation to bring that ’80s generation music back?
CB: It’s interesting. I was at a party, and a friend asked me to play some synth-pop stuff. I played it for him, and he said, ‘Man, that’s the stuff I loved when I was a kid.’ Funny thing is, there were some younger girls there who said, ‘Wow. I’ve never heard anything like this!’ but they were into it. It’s an interesting time to bring that sound back. But, at the end of the night, I’ll always end the night, sitting on the couch with my acoustic, writing a song. So, the solo side is never going to go away.
SMI: “Fallen,” off the new EP is a bit more folk/Americana than any of your other songs. Were you trying something out of the box? Or is that a genre you may be branching out into?
CB: I think that one has to do with the fact I grew up in Nashville, and having country music so prevalent when I was a kid, I reacted against it. I listened to all of the Brit-pop bands, and tried to get as far away from country music as I could. I was the kid who would be in the car listening to Morrissey, while everyone else was listening to Travis Tritt. Once I was able to distance myself from Nashville, I gained an appreciation for country music. “Fallen” is me getting back to my roots a little bit.
SMI: You’ve referred to your songs as your “kids.” How many kids do you think you have?
CB: I have no idea (pondering). I’ve had a lot of children, and they’re all over the place. There are hundreds. There are probably about 150 that have never even seen the light of day. Ones that I’ve recorded, and maybe I’ll pick up again one day. I have these boxes of tapes, but once I’m done with them, I don’t need it anymore. I don’t really listen to the music that I’ve made. I’m always more like, ‘What’s next? What’s next?’ That’s what excites me. Once it’s done, once I mix it and put it out into the world, it’s not mine anymore. Once a song is done, it’s done. I don’t go back to it anymore. I love putting songs out into the world, and let them exist. People will interpret the lyrics completely the wrong way, but it works for their life. That’s so much more important than what I know the song is about. I have a degree of humility that it’s not mine anymore, and I like that. I like when people tell me, ‘Oh, that song was totally about when my mom used to drive me to school everyday, and about my adolescence and childhood. I get that’s what you were going for.’ And I know that it was about a break-up, or about that one girl, and I’m not going to tell them that’s what it was about. It’s not my place.
SMI: Do you miss the days of MySpace, where everything was in one place? Where do you see the role social media has in promoting musicians moving forward?
CB: The Internet confuses me. It’s amazing how much of my time is spent running my own label, and doing it all, and how much time is spent looking at a ‘screen,’ as opposed to writing music. Now, I’ve got to post to Twitter, and since it’s there, now I have to put it on Facebook, and so on, making sure the music is in all the right places. It was easier when it was just MySpace, like a one-stop-shop. Now I realize you have to keep up with the times. I have to not be lazy about where I’m focusing getting my music out. I’ll call my nieces up and ask them, ‘Are you going on Facebook now?,’ and they’d say, ‘No! Not Facebook now! You need to be on Twitter! You should totally Snapchat that!’ And I think, ‘How do I Snapchat a song?’ It’s terrifying. I don’t even know how to use Snapchat. I run all of my social media accounts though. I designed my website. I designed my record covers. I do it all. There’s a part of my brain that I know that having this ‘success’ at a later part in my life, I want to work twice as hard. From 9:00-5:00, I’m a business man, running my label, sending emails, and then shutting down at 5:00, and write music until 3;00-4;00 a.m. in the morning. I constantly have both sides going.
SMI: I love your comparison of the singer/songwriter to competitive Olympic athletes, in regards to passion, commitment and practice. If you could for one day, put down your guitar and train for one Olympic sport, what would it be?
CB: Wow! That’s a weird one (laughs). I think I always wanted to. I’d probably toss the javelin. I always thought it was such a weird thing, the science of that always fascinated me. Also, I wouldn’t have to run too far (laughs). It’s a limited amount of distance, and I get to throw a spear. I mean, that sounds like the coolest thing in the world.
We turned off the recorder, and continued to talk more in detail about his latest endeavor, SD3, which he described as being like an unreleased John Hughes movie soundtrack. At least that’s what he wants it to be. Then, we briefly talked about ‘the puppies’. You can see the puppies performance below, in his latest video for, “Lovin’ On You,” to where nearly two-dozen puppies occupied his apartment for a 2-day shoot, peed all over, and stole his heart.