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Interview: Brazil (Part 2)

The drama of the music industry—we’ve all heard about it to some degree as artists that we follow change record labels, go independent, struggle to make it and so on. But hey, nobody ever said that mixing artistic integrity and the nature of business was easy.

Stealing some space to keep warm from the looming winter cold, frontman Jonathan Newby of Brazil and I were able to sit down before the band’s acoustic performance catch up on what’s happening. As he spoke, Newby speaks frankly about the band’s biggest musical disappointment, the hope of a new record and working with super-producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney, Modest Mouse).

Here’s part two of our interview. To read part one, you can go here.

When you’re on the phone with Dave Fridmann just a week before you’re recording, are you overwhelmed thinking, “I can’t believe this is a possibility?”

At that point, it wasn’t because of everything that had been happening to us leading up to that moment. We’d lost our funding for that first record (which we were supposed to go record in January, and we didn’t go record until May). So there was just five months of sitting around. We weren’t playing a lot of live shows at that time. A lot of the hype of Hostage had died down to the point where it completely died off. We were feeling pretty invisible, and we wanted to be a band again.

We were working 50 or 60 hours a week at these jobs that we didn’t even care to work. And when it finally came time to talk to Dave and people like that, it got to the point where this is just another person that I have to talk to. I’m neck deep in all kinds of stuff right now that I don’t care to be involved in. I’ve had many, many disappointments up until now, so I take everything with a grain of salt. And I still retain that attitude towards anything. I can talk to anyone now without any kind of, “Oh my gosh, I’m talking to this person.” People are people.

Biggest musical disappointment: would the answer be different for your individual disappointment from Brazil’s answer as a band?

I think at some level, every band member or artist wants to sustain their own self with what they’re doing. We weren’t able to accomplish that with Hostage, and I think that was maybe the biggest disappointment. We’d love to make a lot of money doing what we’re doing, but realistically, we don’t write music that sounds it belongs on the Top-40 sort of station, but there are artists who are able to make a decent living doing what they’re doing, and we weren’t able to do that last time, and that’s a disappointment as a whole and also for myself.

Then I had to go and get a job, spending 8- to-10 hours a day that doesn’t involve writing songs, that doesn’t involve playing, and that’s frustrating for someone who is used to doing that for so long.

So the biggest disappointment is the failure of Hostage to be able to provide that?

Yeah, although I wouldn’t call it a failure. I think it was pretty well received critically. From a popular standpoint, it didn’t catch on enough. I don’t mean to ever come across like I’m complaining about that because it just wasn’t the right time.

How would you describe your sound?

I think that we make slightly ambitious rock music. There are a ton of other artists out there that are far weirder and far more challenging than us.

You just equated the words “weird” and “ambition.”

Yeah, because about 65 percent of the time they go hand-in-hand. The other 35 percent is usually involving hacks who try to be weird for weird’s sake. To understand Brazil in relation to how we don’t fit in the Top-40 is if you listen to radio now versus music you hear on classic rock stations, it’s so much more adventurous back then than it is now. Everything has a very straight beat, has the same guitar tones. Every singer today is copying each other as far as how they enunciate their words and stuff.

Back then, you had people like Led Zeppelin, Santana, Edgar Winter Group and stuff like that. People who had seven-minute songs that made it onto radio. “Bohemian Rhapsody” made it onto the charts for over a year when it came out. If we had lived maybe back during that time, we would see some Top-40 action, but I don’t think that’s very likely.

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But you wouldn’t classify your sound as classic rock …

No, you can only be classic rock if you lived in that era. (Laughs). We’re inspired by a lot of that music.

Comparable to anything?

We draw just enough from the bands we like to make a noticeable nod to those bands, but we don’t draw enough to make a sizable comparison. We listen to everything from Sonic Youth to Velvet Underground to Queen to TV on the Radio to My Bloody Valentine and those such things. And we’ve drawn, whether or not you can hear it on the record, some from those artists and many more. But to say we really drew a lot from Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine for this record, you can’t say that because there are so many other variables to the record that it cancels it out. Know what I mean?

Yeah. How would Dave describe your music?

He actually described us the same way. A lot of the music he likes, a lot of the parts from the music he likes, but not sticking to one in particular. It just kind of comes together without being committed to one sort of thing. So he might call us progressive rock. I wouldn’t call us progressive rock, because that brings to mind Genesis and capes and wizard hats and stuff, and we don’t really do that. Maybe some parts could be considered that and others could not.

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