Quick wisdom from a cool stakhanovist // Chris BROKAW

Interview en V.O (2022)
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     Before his February 23rd concert in Lyon's most rock & roll barge (Le Sonic), Chris BROKAW sat with us for almost an hour to talk about his long and fruitful musical career, ranging from CODEINE to the LEMONHEADS, CONSONANT and TWO DOLLAR GUITAR, to name just a few. We also talked about his solo career, with last year's Puritan as one of his finest hour. The year 2021 also saw him shine with his recreational band the MARTHA'S VINEYARD FERRIES, a trio he formed with Bob WESTON (SHELLAC) and Elisha WEISNER (KAHOOTS), and also with a few COME reissues. We sadly also talked about the tragic passing of Mark LANEGAN the day before. Here's our interview with one of indie rock's most enduring figureheads.

I N T E R V I E W     ////     I N T E R V I E W     ////     I N T E R V I E W


"With COME, we tend to be pretty true
to the arrangements we did before"

Hi Chris, thanks for doing this interview. I suppose you've already heard about the passing of Mark LANEGAN yesterday ?


Did you get to meet him before he died ?

I mean I hadn't seen him in a couple of years, but yeah, I knew him. Mark and I were friends.

Were you surprised by his death or was it something you were expecting ?

Well I wasn't expecting it to put it that way. I'm definitely still in shock. He told me that his covid case was like the worst thing he'd ever gone through. Worse than any drugs, stuff he'd gone through or anything like that. He said he had not been through something that bad before. So in a way given the severity of that I guess I'm not surprised but I don't even know how he died. I don't know what the cause of death was, maybe it was complications but it still feels really sad to me. He and I talked about trying to do music together and we just never did it. On a purely selfish level that's frustrating to me. He was a really sweet guy, amazing talent, incredible singer. It's really sad.

You both appeared on the same tribute to Jeffrey Lee PIERCE, right ?

Yes. Thalia ZEDEK and I did that.

You've actually been playing with Thalia quite a lot over the last few years. Was it because of the recent COME reissues or is there something that always draws you back to playing with her ?

I think we played a lot together in the last few years in large part because I moved back to Boston. I was living in New York for a few years, then I was in Seattle for about seven years and I moved back to Boston five years ago. She asked me to play guitar on a couple of songs on her record Fighting season and I asked her to sing on my Record, Puritan. We've done a little bit of touring together and now that these COME reissues are happening we're doing a lot more together.

COME already got back together a few times. How would you say the band's music has evolved ?

I don't think it has evolved actually. We tend to be pretty true to the arrangements we did before. I think we play it just as well as we did then and I think what has evolved is our appreciation for one another, as friends, as people. But, you know, we haven't written any new songs so we're really just trying to respect the catalogue.

Is it something you would consider doing in a near future ?

Well, Thalia and I have been getting together recently and working on new songs and I'm not  sure it would necessarily even be called COME, if that could be a COME record. It's hard to say because when we do get together to do these reunions we always play with Arthur (JOHNSON, drums) and Sean (O'BIREN, bass) who were in the original line-up and neither of those guys are in Boston anymore. Sean is in New York and Arthur is in Atlanta. So the way that band wrote songs was really dependent on regular rehearsals. The four of us would practice twice a week and usually Thalia and I would get together once a week besides that to work on stuff so just looking at the way that we wrote music before it seems like it had a specific slow process of playing together a lot. It would be really hard to do that now. It's hard to imagine writing any new music that way but I don't know, we'll see.

Isn't it easier now than back in the day with all those new technologies and the internet ?

I don't know. I still think... I don't know. Maybe I view it in a particular way that I could only do it that way. I don't know. We haven't even really discussed it. I wouldn't rule it out but we don't have any plans right now.


"John PEEL was very shy with the bands and all"

Did the idea of rereleasing those albums come from the band or from your record labels ?

It came from Fire Records. They approached me and then I brought it to the band and we were really excited because our catalogue had been pretty dead for a while, stuff had been out of print for a while. We had had a fairly unhappy severance with Matador so we were really excited for that to come to us. They seemed really engaged, really encouraging. It's been very simple so far. The fact that they suggested that we release the Peel Sessions that we did is great. I hadn't listened to that stuff in decades. I didn't like them when we did them. I don't like how they came out and the experience of doing those at the BBC was pretty unpleasant.

Really ?

The engineer who was present was a total asshole... And like I said I wasn't really thrilled with the results. I think Fire made it sound a little bit better than they did then. But they also hired a guy to kind of remaster the recordings and in the process of doing that he kind of tweaked them a little bit. Just enough that they sound better to me now.

They're more acceptable ?

Absolutely ! Not just acceptable but also “Oh, this is great ! ”. So those are coming out on Friday.

That's right, in two days. You seem to have gotten some pretty good reviews already.

Yes, people seem into it. It's great !

I read that John PEEL wasn't present for those sessions ?

No, we had no idea and we were disappointed that he wasn't there. Apparently he was very shy with the bands and all. So he was never at the recordings.

So you didn't even get the perk of meeting the man.

No. I mean it was cool to do it because the BBC is pretty interesting... It's like a huge complex. Huge but very old. Everything looked like it had been built in 1950 and nothing changed. Even the cafeteria and stuff like that. So it was an interesting place to go to and the Peel Sessions have such a legendary aura. It's cool to be part of that.

What about the material for the two albums left to be released? Will it feature extra material as well ?

I think it's just going to be a little bit of extra material. The thing is with both Near life experience and especially Gently down the stream there wasn't very much extra stuff. There were a couple of b-sides, like one compilation track with Near life experience but I don't think for Gently down the stream we had anything else. There's one kinda crazy trip-hop mix that me and the engineer made on one of the songs.Trip-hop was happening then and I was, like “Let's make a bullshit remix of one of the songs” and I haven't listened to it in a while but I thought it was pretty funny. But maybe we'll find a tape we forgot about, like a live thing or something. We'll see. Our label in the US recently released a 7' of these two GUN CLUB songs and there were five other songs that were recorded. I told one of the guys at Fire Records about that and they said they should definitely put that out, the whole set. So maybe that will happen too.

Is there already a schedule for those releases ?

The guys at Fire Records are thinking maybe later this year and they want to put out Near life experience and Gently down the stream at the same time, like have those come out at once. And then Eleven : eleven will be the last one. Matador and Glitterhouse still have the rights to that until 2023.

Last year felt like you were pretty much everywhere with the COME reissues, your solo album and one from the MARTHA'S VINEYARD FERRIES. How did you get to play with those guys ?

With Bob and Elisha ? Well, this is our third record so I started playing with them I wanna say around like ten years ago. Maybe even longer than that. I've known Bob forever just through the music scene and I knew Elisha. He plays in a band in Martha's Vineyard, he actually lives there. The band is called KAHOOTS.

Do they still exist ?

Kind of. They're a really amazing band that made like twelve albums or something. All very short songs, super short songs. And I became friends with them and I played drums on some tours with KAHOOTS. Anyway, Bob and Elisha became friends, they both have studios so they would kind of geek out and stuff. Everyone was joking around : “Wouldn't it be hilarious if we had a band called THE MARTHA'S VINEYARD FERRIES ? ”. I think they joked about it for a couple of years before deciding that they should actually do this. They thought that BROKAW was gonna play drums. So they asked me and I was like “Yeah, of course ! ”. It's a thing that we do kind of sporadically and we haven't toured a whole lot. We definitely wanted to on this one but then the pandemic happened. Now we can't really tour until... Basically Elisha has these two really young kids who are too young to get vaccinated so he's not going anywhere until that situation has changed. But it's a really fun band. It's fun to be in a band where everyone writes songs.

I was very impressed by that. How long did it take you to record? Because as you said, there are three songwriters, but the result is extremely cohesive. Of course you can recognize who wrote the songs with who's singing but your song Betty Ford James can easily be linked to Jail material in terms of content, for example.

Oh, thank you. I wrote Betty Ford James first and then these guys started writing all these songs that had “jail material” in them. They thought it was really funny that line “I'm not jail material” so we were like “Maybe the whole album is going to be songs that say 'I'm not jail material'”. We were just fucking with each other. Basically whenever we've made a record, everybody had to bring songs in. So with this one everybody brought a couple of songs. We spent a little bit longer than we usually do. I wrote a song in the studio. I think Bob wrote one in the studio. So we wrote a few things right on the spot. And some of them are my favorite things on the record actually. A lot of it was really spontaneous.

But it sounds so accomplished.

Well we spent forever finishing it.

I guess that makes sense. Why does Jail material appear twice on the record ? I couldn't tell if they were different versions.

We just thought it'd be funny. I think everybody really liked that song but it's so short, like it's not even a minute long. Sometimes when we're playing it and we finish it, we're like “One more time ! ” and we play it again. So it was sort of with that spirit. We asked a couple of friends “Is this totally stupid or is it a good idea ? ” and they all said it was a good idea. It's the same version. It's not a different performance.

Can you tell us about making the video for that song ?

Oh man. I think Bob knew the guy who made the video. He just sent him some songs, or maybe he sent just that one. I think it was like “ Can you make a one minute video for three hundred dollars or something ? ” . It's a good video. It's a good rock video. He wrote to me and he said  “Ok I've got this idea : this guy is going to be walking down the street and the camera's following him. People are responding to him on the street. He's walking, then he stops and he turns to the camera, looks at the camera, does a little dance and then his head blows up”. I was like “Waow, this is totally crazy ! ” I asked him what his thinking was and he said “Well, it's this guy who's totally overwhelmed and he's thinking about the lyrics, all these different thoughts he's having. He gets so overwhelmed that his head blows up”. I thought it sounded fantastic. And then he did it and I was like “ This fucking video is incredible ! ”.

This wasn't the first time that you wrote such a short efficient song. I'm thinking of On a great lake for example.

Yeah, it's true.

What's your secret ? Because very much like your friends, I felt like the song was way too short as it's so enjoyable and it stops way too soon. It's both great and frustrating at the same time.

I don't know. Well, On a great lake I wrote as an acrostic (Black water) so I just wrote that and it was a minute and ten seconds, whatever it was. I spent so many years listening to hardcore music, one minute songs, forty five second songs, stuff like that. It seems totally fine to me to do that.

It also makes for something very different as well.

Exactly. You can tell if the people are frustrated, especially live. Some will be like “Oh that's it ?” Well, yeah, that's it! That's the whole song. That's it. I can do it again if you want. But that's it. 


"Even the left-wing world was becoming very puritanical"

Puritan was your first song-oriented album after a couple of instrumental and experimental releases. What brought you back to writing more classic songs ?

I think it just took a long time before I had stuff that I wanted to say. There was a period when I was making more abstract music. I really got into noise and started doing noisier things like Periscope kids. Then I went through a really bad divorce and I feel like I made three records that came out of that whole thing, which were all instrumental records : The hand that wrote this letter, the CHARNEL GROUND album and End of the night. And I think that those were all trying to express something that I felt like I couldn't put into words. I didn't want to verbalize everything. I just wanted the music to say what I had to say. I did all those and then I slowly started writing songs. It was a long time when I wanted to express something, but not do it verbally.

Is the name of the record, Puritan, a reaction to what was going on at the time in American politics ?

Yeah, I mean the country is definitely more divided. I'm definitely a left-wing Democrat but it felt like even the left-wing world was becoming very puritanical. It felt like the environment round the time that I was making this record was extremely judgy. I'm not talking only about the MeToo movement, which definitely had its peak around the time I was doing that album. I'm all for people being held accountable for their actions but it was complicated. Not even talking about that specific agenda, there was a super judgy vibe going around. So I wanted to suggest that and I think it's also because the album is basically about me moving back to New England, which originally was where the puritans were from. I just sort of thought it was funny.

Would you agree if I said that this is your most sonically diverse album ?

Right. Yes, sure.

There are some very aggressive long songs while others are way more tender...

I mean I think Gambler's ecstasy was similar, it had a similar mix of stuff. I'm not necessarily the best judge of that. Anyway I'm happy to hear that because I like records that have variety to it.

The heart of human trafficking is very impressive. I was wondering if it was influenced by playing with Thurston MOORE ?

I think there are other things that I did that may have been influenced by playing with Thurston. But I wasn't thinking... I wouldn't necessarily draw that line. As far as how long it was, originally that song was fourteen minutes long or something. And I thought it was going to be too long, which is funny because some people told me they wish it was twice as long. “Argh, you might get bored of it ! ”.  When we first started playing it we would go out and play live before we recorded the album. I thought we had to cut it down and make it kind of concise. A little more concise. I felt like it could have gone in any number of ways, you know? I just went with one decision, I wasn't sure if that was the best decision. It's fun but in a way I'm sort of surprised how much people like that song. I sent it to Gerard (COLSOY) who puts out my records and I really trust his input, he was like “Can we please have that song as the first single of the album ? ” so I said “OK”. People really like that song, so it's great.

You mentioned Periscope twins earlier. How did it evolve from this long experimental piece into this very rocking song ?

I wrote Periscope kids - the one that's on Puritan - first. Quite a while ago. I probably wrote that in 2014 and then recorded the other Periscope kids the same year. I guess I was thinking about the same thing, I was thinking of a couple of people I knew. Again it was one of those things were I was trying to send a message I couldn't put into words. 

So they are complimentary ?

I think so, yes. And it's really about people who are sort of hiding.

Thalia appears on the record. But there are two other female vocalists. Can you tell us about them as I couldn't find any information about them online ?

Right. So my friend Claudia BROOM sang on I'm the Only one for you. She's a singer from Seattle. In the 90s she used to be in a band called JUNED who made a few records on Up! Records and COME met them when we were both touring with DINOSAUR JR., we did like a month of shows together. So we became friends with them then and twenty five years later I was living in Seattle and Claudia lived in my neighborhood. And we started playing a little bit of music together and she hooked me up with someone who wanted some film music and so I wrote some film music for him and at one point he said “You should really write like a Twin Peaks kind of song, almost like a Julee CRUISE type of song” so I wrote I'm the only one for you like this very 50s romantic, traditional kind of song. And I sang it with Claudia for the movie, like a really 4-track lofi version. And I liked it so much that I decided to do that on Puritan as well. And then there's Tricia ADELMANN who sings on I can't sleep. She's a woman I met when I moved back to Boston. A family member of my girlfriend who plays in this country band OPOSSUM. She is one of the singers in that band. I started jamming with them a lot and she's a really great singer. I just thought it would be cool for her to sing on that. I don't think she ever sang on a record before. 


"I don't think that's ever been my favorite thing
to do to be a band leader"

Since the album came out, you have tried to play the songs live as often as possible. You played them with your band but also solo. Isn't it a bit frustrating having to play songs like Periscope kids or Puritan on your own ?

I mean I definitely miss the band. It's really fun playing with those guys, Dave CARLSON and Peter KOEPLIN. I have been playing solo for so long that I got quite accustomed to that. You know it's the same with the songs on Incredible love or Gambler's ecstasy when I'm playing them live solo as well. I think that, at least I hope... Like when I go see a solo performer I think it's powerful to see one person go up there and then just really go for it. I hope people get that out of my shows.

I'm not going to try and list all the bands that you've been in...

Oh, good !

Do you actually know how many bands you've been in ?

No, I really don't !

You played with people as diverse as Geoff FARINA (KARATE) and GG ALLIN so how do you adapt with those different musicians' profiles ?

Well, I have a lot of different interests in music. What I'm interested in listening to and what I'm interested in playing has changed over time. At the time that I played with GG ALLIN, that's what kind of made sense to me. I felt like it was something I wanted to do. It didn't make sense to anyone else that I was friends with. Like my girlfriend, all my friends were shocked, like “This is not cool ! ” and I was in a really argumentative period of my life and I was like “Punk Rock : Gabadadabda...”.
And then Geoff and I were asked to do a split record for this hardcore label in the Midwest. I said “Why don't we try and play something together ? ” and he came over the house. I had no idea what we were going to do. I had a BLIND BLAKE boxset from the 1920s and Geoff walked in and saw the boxset and he was like “Do you listen to that stuff ?” and I said “Yeah”, then he said “That's all I'm playing these days”. So we thought we might just do that. We just sat around and played some of those songs. The second one we did was more sort of a later era. We did one GUN CLUB song, a ROLLING STONES song, a Woody GUTHRIE song and things like that. It doesn't bother me doing that with Geoff and the following week playing drums with the MARTHA'S VINEYARD FERRIES. Those are both things I like to do. If I want to go and do an improv noise gig the next week after that... I don't know what to tell you, I like listening to a lot of different things and if I can try and play those things too then I'm going to do it.

I'm not expecting much but I really had to ask if you had any news from the KADANE brothers (BEDHEAD / The NEW YEAR) ?

No, nothing. They might be doing new music but I literally haven't talked to either of them since just before the pandemic started. I had lunch with Bubba in Dallas one month before the pandemic and I haven't talked with them since so I don't know what they're doing.

Can you tell us about recording Snow ? You had a more minimalist line-up for this one.

Yes, Snow is a very different record from the rest. Like all the other records, we recorded the basic tracks with Steve ALBINI at his place but then the brothers took it and reworked it for years. Matt, who's an excellent drummer, redid some of... When I first listened to the record I thought I was only on one song. I think I'm only on one song. I think he replaced all the drum parts except for one song. So it's much more, even more so a KADANE brothers record. I think I contributed some with the drumming that I did on these records but it's really there.

And nothing regarding the songwriting ? I'm asking because the end of Homebody definitely sounds like a Chris BROKAW song to me. It drove me nuts because I was convinced that the vocal lines at the end were taken from one of your songs even though I never found it.

No, that's all their songs. But I mean, we're all friends with each other... so I don't know. I played the first NEW YEAR record for my mother and she listened to Matt for a minute and she said “It sounds like you ! ” and I listened and I was like “It does sound like me” but I had never really noticed it before until she said so. But no, I didn't write any of the songs.

How different are your experiences between being a band leader and playing for other artists/bands ?

I think with all the bands that I play in and do stuff with, you sort of figure out what your role is. You figure out what's called for at that stage. But a lot of times you don't even have to think about it, it just kind of falls into place. But it's a lot of fun to do something where you're all creating together. It's a lot of fun also when you're just completely serving someone else's vision. And it's the most nerve-wracking when it's your thing and everyone's there to do your thing. Or you know, you have a very fixed idea in your head of what you want it to sound like and if they don't get it right you're like “Aaaargh”. I really like playing with this band but I don't think that's ever been my favorite thing to do to be a band leader. But they're all good.

Do you have specific requirements when you're hiring drummers ?

Just good ones ! I will usually see a band and see the drummer and be like “That fucking drummer's great ! I'd love to play with him ! ”. That's how it was with that guy Pete (KOEPLIN) on Puritan.

What's his band ?

He's in KAHOOTS. He's also in this band DROP NINETEENS. They made some records in the 90s and I think they're working on a new album now. I just thought he's a great drummer. So I moved back to Boston and I reached out to him right away. I asked him if he would play my music together. So for a while it was just the two of us practicing. Then he brought the bass player Dave (CARLSON) and we spent a really long time rehearsing. So, I'm just looking for exciting drummers.

As I said before you went back to touring after being forced home with the pandemic. What are the changes that struck you the most aside from the social distanciation when back on the road ?

Yes, everything has changed. I think everything's still in flock, it's still an in-between place right now as long as it's not over. I'm not going to go in there without a mask. I'll only take it off when I'm sining. I mean if I get covid I can't even leave the country. I'm having a good time but I better fucking test negative on Sunday or I'm really fucking screwed. So yeah, everything's different now. And it would be great if it went back to normal. Things have changed so incrementally, particularly over the last six months so I don't know what it's going to look like yet.

portrait_pencil_grey_500.jpg, by Bingo

"Just the baked goods and the cheese and the charcuteries.
Even just that is enough for me"

Being back on the road enabled you to finally get back to posting about the food you eat all over the world on social media. I must say that they very often look appetizing by the way. So what are you favorite memories of meals as a touring musician ?

Oh, well... So many good ones. I feel like there's this one meal that I had in Portugal a few years ago. It was in a really tiny place where they made everything there, their own sausage and their own cheese, their own fruit, compotes... There was a ton of stuff there that they all made there. It was unbelievable. That was one of my favorite meals. But I really love seafoods and I had some amazing skates the other night in Le Havre. It was the best skate I've ever had in my life. I really like eating Texas BBQ so I'm always happy to go to Texas specifically just to have that. I went to New Orleans a couple of times this past year to do some rehearsing and all food in New Orleans is awesome. Italy's got some amazing food, I just toured there.

What about la France ?

Like I said, this thing I had the other night. I love going to the cheese shops and also different types of charcuterie, the most amazing croissants in the world for one euro. It's unbelievable. It sounds rather simple but just the baked goods and the cheese and the charcuteries. Even just that is enough for me. I had a couple of meals in Paris that were pretty amazing. And I'm looking forward to whatever we're having for diner tonight.

Yes, Thalia is playing here twice in a couple of weeks, you'll be back together with COME in October...

I know, it's crazy ! I saw all that on the board, I thought we were moving in here.

Maybe like a second home ?

I know ! Our new home club. That wasn't really deliberate but I guess this is now one of our new home clubs.

Thank you very much Chris !

Thank you.


Interview by Eric F.

(april 29, 2022)

chbrokawpuritan.jpg, by Bingo
Chris BROKAW. Puritan (12XU, 2021)


Go further

Chris BROKAW : Bandcamp
Chris BROKAW : site web officiel
Chris BROKAW / 12XU


In our written archives :
En marge // Underground - Rockers maudits & grandes prêtresses du son,
                    by bingO (01/03/22)
Chris BROKAW, l'infatigable, 
                    this interview in French version (26/04/22)
20 shades of Chris BROKAW,
                   by Eric F. (06/05/22)

Illustrations : Laurent CALVIN