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Music |

Interview: Brasstronaut

Wednesday 03 October 2012

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Ever since being seduced by Brasstronaut‘s jazz/pop/indie/deathpocalypsetronica stylings at Brighton’s Great Escape Festival in 2010, we’ve been eagerly following this Vancouver-based seven piece, intrigued to see exactly where there unique charms would take them next. Sure enough, May this year saw the release of their second full-length album Mean Sun – their most ambitious project to date.

Growing from their already unique sound (you find me one single review that nails exactly what genre their music is and I’ll buy you a coke), Mean Sun sees Brasstronaut in epic mode; warm, husky yet sinister vocals and that trademark trumpet are present and correct, with the addition of many more electronic influences and a diverse set of arrangements. It’s filmic for sure, but there are plenty of quieter, low-key moments woven through the grand battle sequences, creating an album that takes you on a voyage both sonically and emotionally. And with tracks averaging 5+minutes, there’s plenty of bang for your buck.

To get some sense of the scope of Mean Sun, I caught up with Edo Van Breemen of Brasstronaut.

How did your sound develop when you formed as a band?

Without a really predetermined goal for what we wanted this band to sound like, we had the luxury of taking a really organic, albeit drawn-out, path to Mean Sun. Our first release, Old World Lies EP was essentially an acoustic four-piece (drums, bass, piano/vocals, & trumpet), our second, Mt. Chimera was a much more expansive and composed project, adding guitar, clarinet, and strings, but still written as a four-piece, and finally after officially adding Tariq (guitar) and Sam (EWI/clarinet) we wrote this last one as a fully collaborating six-member band. This gradual development has given us a lot of time to experiment with different combinations of our instrumentation and to learn which of those work better than others. Initially, when you form a band with a relatively large number of members, it’s tempting to create big walls of sound all of the time, especially on-stage, but after a while that gets kinda boring, so now we’re more interested in trying to minimize our sonic textures to produce pads and chords unique to Brasstronaut.

Many of your lyrics reveal a dark intensity that most up and coming young bands either fail to achieve or are wary of committing to; what drives you to write these songs? Are they based on life or fictional?

Somehow a handful my best friends have recently established themselves as successful up-and-coming directors. I’m sometimes envious but mostly inspired by their story-telling occupations, so in response I strive as much as possible to convey something visual in my songwriting. Usually the music comes from an abstract mood or emotion, and then needs to be substantiated by an appropriate story, whether in the form of a more straightforward narrative or abstract set of lyrics. I enjoy drawing inspiration from my own experiences as much as I do from history or current events. For example, Francisco is a story about Francisco Pizarro, infamous Spanish conquistador credited with the Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond) colonization of South America. After reading the first chapter of that book, this deep and plodding, almost dub bass-line came to me, and the rest of the song was slowly built around that focal point, with the lyrics coming last.

Your sound is very unique: who are your musical influences?

As a six member group our influences are really varied as we all come from different musical backgrounds. We’re not very dogmatic about our reference points for creating an album aesthetic but Peter Gabriel’s “So” definitely came up a lot in the production of Mean Sun, and so did names like Tim Hecker, and Trentemoller.

What other media informs your writing process? 

Definitely film. I’ve been doing a lot of composing for movies, TV shows, and advertisements lately, and really enjoy responding musically to visual cues. Travel has also been very inspiring as I’ve visited more cities in the last three years than I ever could have dreamed of, mostly through regular touring.

What makes this album different from your previous work? What new things have you found or discarded this time round?

Probably the biggest difference with Mean Sun, in comparison to the recording process for our previous albums was that we wrote in a very old but character-rich warehouse space in East Vancouver overlooking the local neighborhood, city sky-line, and harbour, over the course of a balmy summer month. Instead of slowly nit-picking away at individual ideas, on our own, we were able to turn these into full-band experiments as they occurred. So everything happened much more quickly, including the actual recording process with Colin Steward at The Hive. I feel like the speed at which this record was written and recorded gives it a more coherent feel than anything we’ve put out in the past.


You guys performed for Balcony TV and came to do a street gig for Spindle at The Great Escape Festival in 2010 – do you enjoy these more informal and unusual gig settings? And how important do you think they are for up and coming bands?

We used to, but now that our stage set-up has changed so much, I’m not sure how much I want to pursue the street-performance acoustic thing. Unless for some reason we really specifically strive to create something special for that format. We put so much effort into developing a complicated electronic-based stage setup that I feel our real sound is no longer truly represented any other way.

Vancouver is producing some really great bands right now; are you guys friends with Said The Whale?

Yep we know those guys, and there is certainly lots of good talent coming out of that city, especially with electronic music.

Which other bands are ones to watch, in your opinion?


What’s next for the band?

Touring Mean Sun, and probably self-producing our next record with some friends in New York, where I’m currently living part-time.

Are you coming to Toronto any time soon? We’d love to have you!

Yes! We hope to come sometime this winter.

…and finally: what’s your favourite Madonna song?

Material Girl… hands down.

Get in! Thanks.

You can check out Mean Sun on Bandcamp and buy the album from the Brasstronaut site.

Thomas Dearnley-Davison is Spindle’s Canadian Correspondent. You can follow his insane trans-Atlantc ramblings on Twitter @ThomasDearnley

Brasstronaut are coming to the UK!

03/11/12 Cavern, Exeter, UK.

04/11/12 Buffalo Bar, Cardiff, UK.

05/11/12 The Castle, Manchester, UK.

06/11/12 Taylor John’s House, Coventry, UK.

07/11/12 Surya, London, UK.