BACKSTAGE WITH BROTHERTIGER

It’s Saturday night and I’m at Rough Trade in Williamsburg. It’s about three hours before Brothertiger is set to play, and I find him onstage assembling his equipment. He shakes my hand and invites me backstage, and I do my best to keep my cool. I’m nervous–I’ve been a fan of his for awhile now–but I remain calm and follow him up and around the stage into a narrow, well-lit, concrete green-room. He offers me a beer–he likes beer too, can you believe it?!–and we sit down to chat.

“You mind if I record this?” I ask, recording this. He doesn’t mind.

“Excited about tonight? Gonna have a good show?”

“Yeah of course. I haven’t played in about a month though so I’m a little nervous.”

I’ve seen him live twice before, once at Webster Hall and once here at Rough Trade. “This is kind of old-hat for you, playing here?”

“Yeah, if I’m gonna play a show a month after touring this is where it’s gonna be. I love playing here, it’s an amazing sounding room. It’ll be a fun night.”

“Has there ever been a point where you felt like you had ‘made it’ somehow?”

“No, I definitely don’t think I’ve made it. I mean, my previous two records I put out on a label, and the first one was really awesome with a lot of hype, built up and stuff, but then the second one was kinda ‘eh,’ so that’s what made me want to make this third one on my own. Good press for me is really a big factor, you can get a lot more plays based off that.”

A man enters with a plate of hummus and pita bread. Standard procedure? I’m impressed. We continue without eating.

“But yeah, I mean I’m always reminded that I shouldn’t stop. I’m the kind of person who is always second guessing myself, and with this last record I was really nervous about it because I was doing it myself, and I was like ‘how am I gonna do this as well as it was on the label?’ But getting good press, seeing that there’s a response from people, that’s to me why I haven’t quit.”

“But do you think about quitting or the eventual end?”

“Right now no. There’s this constant battle like ‘is this the right decision? Is this dumb? Lame? I shouldn’t be doing this, what am I doing?’ But then I’ll play a good show or release an album people like and I’m okay. I don’t see it ending anytime soon. I want to expand it, more than anything. Build on it.”

That’s good to hear, as a fan. I add my two cents: “I think the new album does sound different, but like better and thicker and stuff.”

“Yeah, I mean that was the goal. I didn’t want it to sound like typical electronic stuff.”

“It all flows together well. How long did it take?”

He looks to the ceiling for his memory. “We started it at the beginning of last year–“

“Who’s we?”

“Me and my friend Jon who works at a studio with me. He’s an awesome punk/rock producer, so he comes from that background, but the two of us have worked together a lot and it’s always been really interesting. He co-produced it with me. I had all these demos and everything was sequenced out, we booked four days at this studio in Bed-Stuy, and then we spent about three weeks mixing it. So it was done around late March.”

“Of last year?!” That sandbagging son-of-a-bitch! “You were just sitting on it for nine months?!”

“Yeah I was sitting on it. I was seeing if there was potential for another label to pick it up, but finally I got sick of just waiting around, so I was like ‘screw it, I’ll release it myself.'”

“And it’s harder to get a crowd pumped if they haven’t heard it yet.”

“Yeah, that’s the problem. I never really played the new stuff until the tour with JR JR.”

I have to ask: “What are they like?”

“Very cool dudes from Detroit. We had quite a different vibe musically. I think it was a really cool blend, and they wanted me to come. They asked me to come on their tour which was very cool.”

“That must feel great.”

“Yeah it’s a really amazing feeling. I mean they’re on a big label with Warner Brothers, man. But yeah, they have this cool pop sound that’s really striking and different from me. It was really beneficial, I think I got a lot of new fans out of it, but some people were definitely like ‘whoa, this is interesting.'”

The hummus man returns, this time with chips and salsa. It looks delicious, but totally ruins our conversational flow. I change the subject.

“So, why here? Why New York?”

“So I’m originally from Ohio. I went to school for recording in Ohio. I moved here because I had previously interned here at a recording studio. Basically they said that I should move out here, they can give me work, and that I could actually live there too because it’s like an apartment/loft with the studio. So I lived there, which was great.”

“At that point were you aware of your goals to be a headliner? Or just a producer?”

This one takes him a minute. “Well, not to be a headliner–I still don’t see myself as a headliner–but I knew I wanted to produce other people and also make music myself, and this is the best place for me to do that. So I did it and I’ve been here for about three years.”

“You ever get tired of New York?”

“Yeah all the time. I went on tour in October and I was gone for about a month and a half, and I took my friend who did sound for me. So it was just the two of us in this little Toyota Camry. We put twelve thousand miles on it.”

He’s gesturing as if there’s a map in front of him, but there is not. I make do. “Like in the Midwest and stuff?”

“Everywhere, the whole country. Well, except Texas.”

“Fuck Texas.”

“I know right? But yeah, the whole time I was thinking ‘man I fucking hate New York.’ I knew it was just because I was away and on this amazing experience touring, but I got back here and was like “God I just don’t wanna be here.’ But then after a week or two I was like ‘okay, this isn’t that bad.'”

“Like ‘this is where my fans are, so…'”

“Yeah, I mean I draw pretty well here and in a few other cities around the country.”

“What’s your other favorite city?”

“Well, Denver has been really good to me. My manager is from there. We met when he booked me on this festival out there, and I’ve been playing it for the past three years. I kind of half-convinced him to move to New York, and now he’s booking this new venue here and it all worked out. But yeah, Denver has always been a really good show, I like Denver, LA, New York…”

“Those are some solid cities, that’s awesome. So let’s talk about your music a little bit. How do you start writing a song? Start with the beat? Start with the melody?”

“Yeah, you know I was just asking myself the other day, ‘how do I come up with this shit?'” We laugh that one off for a minute, then he continues. “It always depends. Like sometimes it’ll start out with drums, I’ll get a drum loop going and then just play some chords or something. Or I’ll have a melody in my head or some lead or something and I’ll build around that. It really depends on the song. I usually do have a melody or a beat or a hook in mind that I’ll want to record quickly and build around. But I never set out being like ‘I’m gonna write a song about this.'”

“Well do you even think about the lyrics while you’re writing the music? Or that comes dead last.”

“Yeah, that’s the very last thing. I just read Brian Eno’s biography, and there was one thing that really hit home for me about how he wrote his lyrics. He would go into the studio and loop a section and just speak gibberish into a microphone, and then kind of work that until the consonants and all the sounds made sense and sounded good with the melody, and then form words around that, something that makes half-sorta sense. And that’s exactly how I do it.”

“Must have been good to read that in this book, from this legend.”

“Yeah, I thought I was one of the only people on Earth to do that, but the fact that he does–and he’s one of my biggest influences–it was just like ‘whoa man, fuck yeah!'” 

“Do you use Ableton?”

“Yeah, Ableton is my main thing for sequencing and building a song, but then I’ll mix it in Pro Tools. But yeah, onstage is Ableton. I got my two controllers hooked up to Ableton with a synth and drum pad.”

“How much of it is there already and you just press play, and how much of it are you actually doing?” 

“Yeah, I have it all sectioned out, the parts of each song, so I trigger stuff. But if I don’t trigger it, it stops. So there’s work involved, but it’s essentially just a bunch of loops, like the length of a verse or something. And I can modulate each track if I want to, which I do. But a lot of it’s there, ready to go, because…”

“…because you’re singing up there too, right?”

“Yeah, I mean if I had a band, and I did it that way, yeah I could definitely take away a lot of it from Ableton.”

“You could just press play, you know. It’d be a lot easier.”

“I could, and I know a lot of people who literally just have an ipod and sing on top of it.”

“But that’s not who you’re trying to be.”

“No, I try to make it interesting for myself. I try to break up a song in a certain way to make it fun for me to play, to make it to where I can change it up on every show. But yeah, pretty much everything is already recorded, broken up song-by-song, and it’s like this giant grid mess of colors.”

“So your show is never the same every night?”

“No, no it’s not. In fact tonight I’m even playing a new song. At the very beginning, no less.” We laugh. Why would he do that to himself?! “I’m just gonna wing it and we’ll see what happens. If it sucks, it sucks.”

I’m getting toward the end of my cheat-sheet, but we’re having so much fun I just have to extend the conversation.

“What are you listening to these days? What do you listen to when you’re walking around the street or whatever?”

He thinks about this for a moment. “There’s this guy, and I don’t even know how to say his last name, but I’ve been listening to him constantly. He’s this ambient dude who used to be in the band Emeralds named Steve Hauschildt.” This last name is a doozie. We try to pronounce it, fail, but continue anyway. “He’s got this really awesome ambient album that I’ve been listening to religiously. I’m also pretty obsessed with the 80’s though. Tears For Fears all the time–I’m actually working on a cover album for Tears For Fears, doing the entire thing, so I’m just listening to it always like ‘oh I should do that, oh I should do that, etc.'”

“Wow, that feeds perfectly into my next question; ‘what was the best decade to be alive for music?'”

“Oh my God,” he begins, clearly having thought hard already about this exact question. “The 1980’s, specifically 1984-1985. If you could be 18 years old in 1984…”

“Wow, you really had that answer ready.”

“It was the greatest year in pop music. Like in the UK, and with new-wave American bands, Talking Heads, all that stuff. Just an amazing little era right there. 1984 is my favorite year and I didn’t even live in it.”

“You do that Talking Heads cover of ‘This Must Be The Place.’ Why? What made you do that?”

“Well, because it’s my favorite song of all time. I don’t remember why exactly I decided to cover it, but I think I had the idea in my mind for a few years. I tried it a few times and it didn’t work, but finally I got it to sound decent and just released it. So now I have it, and it’s a great thing to play at shows because everybody knows it and likes it.”

“It’s a dope song.”

He looks around like well obviously.

“What would you say is your biggest influence that a casual fan wouldn’t expect? Obviously Talking Heads, but I would expect that, you know?”

He thinks for a moment. “Ooo… Wow, that’s a good question.” Did he really just respond to the quality of that question? Unexpected. I have to come clean about it then.

“I actually crowdsourced that question. That was my friend’s question, I can’t take credit for it.”

“That’s a great question! ‘What influence do I have that people wouldn’t expect me to have?’ Boy, that’s a tough one. That’s a fucking tough question. But it’s good, it makes me think!” I can’t believe he likes this damn question so much. What about all of my questions?!

After much deliberation, he comes up with an answer: “Talk Talk, probably, because I love them and listen to them all the time. Talk Talk’s got a really dry, ambient, slow-going sort of sound, which is not at all what I’m going for. On this last album though I took a lot of influence from them. So, yeah. Gotta go with Talk Talk.”

“That’s a good answer.”

“Maybe people expect it, I don’t know, but that’s the one I can think of. I can’t think of anything too zany.”

“Is there any one musician that you’d like to do a collaboration with?”

“Probably M83. You mean modern music? M83. In the past either David Byrne or Tears For Fears.”

“Well obviously. I mean how bout the Beatles too, I mean come on.” I was thinking more realistically, more in the realm of possibility. He laughs.

“So you just went off tour, and then… now what? What’s the future hold for Brothertiger?”

“Well, there’s that cover album, Tears For Fears, and I’m starting to write some new stuff, so hopefully by the mid-to-end of this year I’ll have an EP. I haven’t done an EP in a long time and I think I need to have one, so there’s that. And hopefully touring again soon, maybe in the summer.”

“Do you like touring?”

“I love touring.”

“What’s your favorite part?”

“I think just going to places I haven’t been. I know a lot of people hate the driving, but I think driving is… just seeing the country for what it is is one of my favorite parts.”

“Is touring your favorite part of what you do?”

“I think recording is, but translating it to a live scene is fucking difficult. But I love touring and recording.”

I’m clearly grasping at straws with these questions, and he knows it. I surrender. 

“I’m all out of questions. Is there anything else you want to tell people?”

“Just that, to whoever is listening to my music and whoever likes it, thanks.”

A solid last answer for a solid interview. I stop recording so I can use my phone to take a selfie. I have got to get a selfie with my main man Brothertiger. I mean, pix or it didn’t happen, right?

BroTigerSelfie

But it did happen, and I’ll never forget it.