Braid’s Bob Nanna and Chris Broach
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Many influential acts from the oft-maligned emo genre’s second wave have been bitten by the reunion bug in recent years. Whether it’s Cap’n Jazz’s abstract artiness or The Get Up Kids’ pop-punk infusion, the heavy-hitting sounds of the ’90s have been fueling successful reunion tours and new music that isn’t just aping bands’ earlier work. In the case of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois’ Braid, it’s time for the band’s second reunion in seven years.
In 2004, Braid embarked upon a summer-long reunion tour that jettisoned the quartet across North America and into Japan. This time around, Braid is only playing a couple of shows, but the band is releasing new music for the first time in more than a decade. The Closer To Closed EP channels Braid’s youthful energy, but with an adult outlook seamlessly integrated. Before Braid plays Metro this Saturday, Aug. 27, co-vocalists and guitarists Bob Nanna and Chris Broach took some time to discuss Braid’s reunions, the new EP, and how they’re modeling the band after Superchunk.
The A.V. Club: What were the initial seeds of getting the band together this time?
Chris Broach: I don’t know what it was for the other guys, but Bob [Nanna] and I had been hanging out and DJing at a couple places. He was DJing at Bar Deville down here [in Chicago], and at this other place Logan [Bar & Grill], and he invited me in to do a ’90s emo and indie night. We were sitting and talking—and just having that nostalgia of sitting and listening to all these old bands we hadn’t heard in forever—we just started talking about how cool it would be if we did something. Some of our old friends had done some stuff recently—Gauge got back together, Cap’n Jazz had just done some stuff—and we were good friends with all those bands; I went to high school with the Cap’n Jazz guys. So we went to see those shows, and I think all that stuff was happening last summer. Plus Bob and I had already been talking about it while we were DJing, so it just sort of all came together, and we thought, “We should really do this.”
AVC: This is the second time Braid has reunited. This time around, you’re limiting touring to only a couple of shows and releasing new music. How are you approaching this reunion differently?
Bob Nanna: I think you pretty much nailed the two big ones. First of all, we do have new music that we worked on: We have a new EP out. And the other one is we’re not doing a U.S. tour, nor going overseas. We’re just doing two shows, and that’s pretty much it.
I think in 2004 we were still all pretty much touring full time in our other bands. Todd [Bell, bassist], Damon [Atkinson, drummer], and I were in Hey Mercedes, and Chris was touring with The Firebird Band. So we were way into that whole “way of life,” for lack of a better term. Now we all pretty much have families or jobs that—well, [we have] more responsibility in general. [Laughs.] The idea for getting Braid back together to record new songs was for Record Store Day initially. It was only specifically to record because ... actually Todd, our bass player, just had his first daughter—which is pretty amazing—and he teaches full time in Milwaukee. And Damon works full time for the Warped Tour, and I work full time for Threadless, and Chris works full time for Cars.com, so our schedules do not line up at all. Damon is busy all summer, and Todd is only available all summer, so it’s totally not anything that we want to sort of capitalize on and blow up into a big tour, because we can’t do it. And, frankly, we just want to play because we can.
CB: I think this one doesn’t have so much riding on it. I guess in 2004 we didn’t have a new release, and now we do. But we’re taking a “let’s just have some fun and write some songs and maybe play a couple shows” approach. Just see what happens from there. We decided that since all of us are working full time now in various different jobs that it just didn’t work to go on tour. Todd’s wife just had a baby, and that’s his first kid, so we’re all at different places now. We can’t just pick up and be like, “Let’s do a three-month tour.” Back then, we were still all doing it in various other projects all the time, and it’s been a while since I’ve been on the road much longer than a week or two. I can’t imagine doing three months now. I would literally just kill somebody. [Laughs.]
AVC: Would you say that this reunion is more for the members of Braid, whereas the 2004 reunion was for the fans who never saw you?
BN: It’s a weird thing to say, but yes. I think we all sort of missed playing together, and writing songs together, and playing shows together. Whereas in 2004, there was that thought we had that, “Now everyone can see Braid that maybe didn’t back when we were a band.” I think you kind of put it in a good way, in that this just feels right for us to do this. We’re doing these shows that we announced way in advance so that people are able to come in and see it if they want to, but we’re not going to be doing any big tours.
CB: That’s mainly what it is. We know people are going to want to come see it, so: “Let’s do a couple shows. We wrote the songs. Let’s do this; let’s play a show or two and let’s see what happens.” It doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the last time ever we are going to do anything, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to do anything else. But it’s more for us, you’re right.
AVC: The Record Store Day release was just going to be a 7-inch. Was this supposed to be a callback to your time as a band? And what made you release a 12-inch instead?
CB: That was the idea. It was like, “It’s Record Store Day. Let’s get something out,” but we just didn’t record it in time. [Back then] it was always like, “Let’s do a 7-inch. This band out of Indianapolis wants to do a 7-inch, so let’s do one.” We’d do anything and everything that anybody asked us for. So we thought we’d just do something fun, you know? We want to write something, we want to get together and hang out, so let’s write up a 7-inch and get it out.
BN: I thought it would be a fun callback, and it was going to be on Polyvinyl too, which is where we put out our first 7-inch. This is all sort of a moot point, because we didn’t get the record done in time for Record Store Day. [Laughs.] But yeah, it was important for it to be on vinyl. When we got together, we wanted to do two songs, and we were thinking of doing the Jeff Hanson cover as an extra download if you were going to buy the 7-inch. Then [during] the whole songwriting process—which was basically over the span of two weekends here—we just felt so comfortable that we just tried to add another one. And if it sounded good and we were happy with it, we’d just release a 12-inch instead of a 7-inch, and that’s what we did.
AVC: You brought up the Jeff Hanson cover of “You Are The Reason.” Was that meant to be a tribute to him since he died so suddenly in 2009?
BN: Yeah, absolutely, and it was a tribute to his music too. Todd was very close with Jeff, and Todd’s wife was Jeff’s roommate for a long time, and we did shows with his old band, M.I.J., and with him. I did a City On Film tour with Jeff too, so I spent a really good amount of time with him on the road, just him and I in a car. It was during [Hurricane] Katrina. We played Baton Rouge, [Louisiana] two days before Katrina and got caught in the flow of people out of New Orleans because we had a show in Houston. And, I don’t know, we just had this really great experience. When he died, we were all just so shocked, and we just thought this would be a really great tribute that would maybe bring his music to some more people, or at least get it out there to a different group of people. So that’s really it: We just wanted to pay tribute to his music.
AVC: How was getting back in the room with the rest of the guys to write new music for the first time in more than a decade?
BN: It was really, really easy. [Laughs.] It felt as if not a day had passed. I think it might be because, even though we haven’t been in full-time touring bands nonstop since about 2004, we’ve all still sort of played. I played in this band with Damon for a little bit; I still play solo shows a bunch. Todd played on some studio stuff in Milwaukee. So, the whole dynamic of being in a band and writing songs together, it wasn’t like we had forgotten that. And the fact of the matter is that we were together for so long. I mean, we all lived together in Champaign, so when we were a band we would go practice, and then come upstairs and hang out, then go out on tour, then come home from tour and be together. So it really wasn’t tough at all. I’m sort of playing a little bit now with Chris and some other people, and it sucks for anyone else in the band, because Chris and I don’t really have to talk; we already know what we are thinking.
CB: Actually, it was very easy, surprisingly. We got there, and I had an idea that I brought, and Bob had an idea that he brought, and we kind of worked on one together with the whole band. Even the ideas that we bring, they’re never finished. Everyone puts their hands on it, and we change it around and everything, but I think that ... the real answer to this is that it was simple. It was surprisingly simple. We just wrote, and then all of a sudden it was just like, “Oh, we have a new song.” I think if we would have had a week to write, we could have written a whole album. It didn’t feel like any time had passed. Yes, I’ve done a lot of different things since then, and so has everybody else, but for me coming back and playing—Bob and I have just always played really well together. Our guitars work well off of each other. In 2004 we talked about maybe writing more or something, but it just didn’t happen. We’d be jamming onstage before the show or during sound check, and we’d be coming up with all this stuff, but it’s sort of the same now. We just got together and it worked the same as it used to. I mean, 12 years later, we’re writing something and it worked.
AVC: When you guys decided to come back and write new songs, were you worried about having to capture the Braid sound?
BN: No, no. We weren’t really worried about anything. I knew it would happen naturally. It wasn’t like Damon wouldn’t hit the drums as hard, or something, because he was seven years older. The dude is just a beast on the drums. [Laughs.] And the same with Todd; I can’t think of any other person—aside from maybe Todd’s hero, Mike Watt—who is so devoted to the instrument. He just lives and breathes the bass. So I never thought that there wouldn’t be that vibe. The one thing that I really wanted to be concerned with was: I didn’t want it to sound like a bunch of late-30s dudes. One of the records, and my favorite record last year, was the Superchunk record [Majesty Shredding].
AVC: Yeah, that’s a great record.
BN: Love it! I mean, they’re older than we are, and it sounds like it could have come out in the ’90s. It’s just so energetic and so fresh, even though it’s obviously Superchunk and it sounds like Superchunk, it is just so—like I said, it’s just very youthful and still exciting. That was something I really kept in mind while we were writing this stuff was that I never wanted to become adults and write music like adults.
AVC: You didn’t want to lose that spark that made you what you were in that time.
BN: Yeah, of course, I think it got us more excited too. I don’t want to become like a jam band or something. That spark is still there enough, so I wanted to make sure we didn’t get lazy or something.
AVC: How was it going back through the Braid catalog last year when you did liner notes for the vinyl reissues? Was there anything you were embarrassed by?
BN: It was weird. It was really weird. In a weird way, when I did that and went back to listen to them, I was sort of like—and even now when we’re trying to relearn some of the old songs—I’m pretty proud of what we did back then, because it was so weird. We weren’t really concerned about things that bands should be super concerned about, like a catchy melody. It was sort of catchy to me, and maybe to other people who were interested in things like time signatures or whatever. Some of the stuff is a little embarrassing. [Laughs.] It felt good to me, maybe because I was in the band and I like to be a little nostalgic, but I’d be like, “Wow, I didn’t even remember this part.”
There’s a bar in Chicago, and occasionally a Braid song will come on, and I’ll be like, “This sounds really familiar,” and then I’ll realize it’s a Braid song. [Laughs.] But I’m happy with everything. And, like I said, I don’t really listen to it ever, so stepping back from it for five-plus years made it a little more fresh for me.
CB: Maybe that had something to do with the fact that we got a little more excited about [reuniting]. I was surprised Polyvinyl would want to do this. It was like, “Why? People are going to buy it? Well okay!” I think that also got the wheels turning as well. We had talked about doing stuff, and this made it make even more sense, because it showed people were still excited about it.
I feel like it’s interesting that there is still this group of people that is growing and getting into this kind of music. It makes sense to me, because when I was younger I got into Minor Threat 10 years after they were a band. And I’m not saying we are on any similar level to a band like Minor Threat or Black Flag, but it makes sense to me.
AVC: There are a lot of bands now that are citing Braid as an influence and pulling a lot from that era of music. Is this something you’re flattered by?
CB: That’s what someone told me. [Laughs.] I heard some of them. This guy I was living with showed me a couple of bands, and it sounded so much like Cap’n Jazz. I don’t necessarily want to drop a name, but I will, it was either Coping, or—there’s another one that runs in the same circle—Grown Ups, that’s the other one. They’re releasing stuff on cassettes now. I was like, “What? That’s what they sound like, and they’re new?” It was kind of exciting when he showed it to me. He showed this to me after Braid was already getting back together and working on this stuff. They really sound like bands that could have been around back then.
BN: I mean, I like it; I liked that music when we were a part of it, so [I like] the fact that it’s sort of coming back and having a little bit of a resurgence, as far as I know. I try to be plugged into this stuff, but sometimes I’m a little out of the loop. I like it because it’s just generally music that I like. Whether we had anything to do with that, or bands that we were hanging out with had something to do with it, that doesn’t really play into as much as the fact that it’s music that I like. It has energy to it.
CB: It’s very interesting for me. People will come to me on Twitter or something and tell me how much they loved the band—or they’ll have a Braid tattoo—and they are literally 10 years younger than me. It’s cool, you know? It makes me feel like the stuff that we put out there somehow has some legs. I don’t think all of it does. [Laughs.] I listen back to some of the old, old stuff—I had my IPod on shuffle the other day when I was driving with my girlfriend, and some stuff from the first album came on, and I was just like, “What?” [Laughs.] It was so long ago and we were a lot heavier, and just weird. We were just trying a bunch of different things on that first album that we did. If you get past all that, and toward the I’m Afraid Of Everything 7-inch and up through Frame And Canvas, and the release right after that, we were honing our sound at that point.
AVC: Are you going to play any of those songs at the shows that the fans may want to hear, but that you guys find kind of weird in hindsight?
BN: I mean, we’re not completely selfish. [Laughs.] There are definitely two songs that, if it were up to me, we wouldn’t play. I either don’t connect with them too much anymore, or the fact of the matter is I really don’t listen to Braid anymore—and I never did. And that goes for any band. I usually record the stuff and listen to it nonstop for about a week, and then pretty much never listen to it again. I just like to keep moving on. There are one or two songs that we didn’t play on the 2004 tour, so we just want to challenge ourselves to see if we can do it.
CB: There’s probably only one song that we’re going to do from Frankie Welfare Boy Age Five, and a handful of the 7-inches or splits, we’ll be doing those. There’s something from everywhere, and it’s the songs we always enjoyed playing. There’s one song that I always really liked recorded a lot—“American Typewriter” from The Age Of Octeen—but it just never worked live. There are songs that just don’t work live, so we’re not going to play those. There are ones that we actually changed live that actually sound better than the recorded versions, I think. If you listen to that live album, Lucky To Be Alive, I think that’s a better album to listen to figure out what Braid sounded like than any of the other albums.
We haven’t played them in seven years. It’s not like I sit around playing those songs, and I haven’t since 2004. We’re all relearning. I play totally different now than I used to, and you almost have to regress a bit. Like, “Why did I play this?” Bob and I have been playing together, kind of getting the frontline ready because Damon and Todd aren’t coming down until the week before the Metro show, and then the night before. As a full band we don’t really have a lot of time to practice, but we’re all practicing on our own. Bob and I were sitting there laughing like, “Why did I play this? What was I thinking?” We want to stick to what it was, so we aren’t going to be changing anything.
AVC: After Braid, you guys all kept doing music. Is there anything new coming out of the Braid camp?
BN: There’s nothing on the immediate horizon. I do solo shows occasionally, and I’m playing with Chris and doing another little band, nothing full-time because we’re old men. [Laughs.] I do something with my girlfriend now called Jack And Ace, so we’re all keeping busy. Chris has been playing with some friends in Champaign. But as if now there’s nothing immediate on the horizon release-wise.
AVC: What’s this new project that you two are doing?
CB: I want to make sure we are stepping outside of our box and doing something fresh. I think—and I’ve spoken to Bob and the other guys about this—that we don’t want it to sound like what Bob or I have done in the past, necessarily. It’s going to [sound that way] to a degree, of course, because it’s got Bob and I singing. With vocals, we’re going more half-and-half, whereas in Braid it was a lot more Bob than me. We’re trying to do a lot more sharing. It’s new; it sounds new, and it doesn’t sound like Braid. I play a lot different now than I used to. It’s a little poppy, but it’s hard to explain. I’m excited about it.
We’re still trying to find what our sound is going to be. We’ve got eight songs and we’ve demoed four of them. So we’ve got four more, and then we have to go back and do the vocals. Then we’re going to have to listen to them and find out if it’s good or not. If it is, we’re going to start writing more, and rehearsing more, and getting ready to play some shows. With this thing, we probably won’t be ready to start playing until November, December, or maybe early next year. And even with this thing, we’ll play once and a while, maybe do a festival here or there, but nothing major.