Time Since Western abuses machines, tries not to sound lonesome
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Andy Brawner began Time Since Western as a solo project, but after making most of 2008's A Sun Goes Down by himself, he came to see bedroom recording as his pitfall. Brawner, who lives in Milwaukee and works in Madison, doesn't consider himself a singer-songwriter or an engineer, though he certainly experiments with both roles. He looks back on A Sun Goes Down a tad critically, but its tunes hold up with an unassuming ache, a healthy mix of straight-up guitars and spacious, reverb-tinkering sounds amidst popularized and overrated lo-fi static. Other musicians fleshed out Time Since Western as a live band for a while, but Brawner's back to playing its shows solo, in Mark Kozelek's Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters fashion. Last year he recorded two new songs, "Dizzy" and "Fire Gone Lee," at Chris Walla's studio in Portland, and he'll be sharing more new material when he plays this Sunday at The Frequency. (He also shares his less-polished audio experiments on a MySpace page called Time Since Whatever.) Brawner sat down recently with The A.V. Club to talk about his new tunes and reigning in his sonic whims.
The A.V. Club: How do you keep something from sounding lonely when you're doing it by yourself?
Andy Brawner: When I made the record, there was a lot of abusing certain machines. That whole record was recorded in a bedroom that was a square, I don't know, 10 feet by 10 feet, with drywall and carpeting. It's not a good-sounding room at all. I think I did fairly good job of obscuring the reality of that space by using reverb and tape delay. I think I ran whole mixes through tape machines to get tape delay, to the point of feedback. There are things on that record that sound kind of like dub stuff to me.
AVC: You used some effects on this record, like the guitar feedback deep in the background on this record.
AB: I think effects are a good way to pretend, cover up the fact that you didn't work that hard on the lyrics or the arrangement or whatever. Honestly, that's what I hear a lot of on that record—interesting use of effects, but kind of for the wrong reason. Those songs from Portland, I would call those songs under-written too, actually, but I think production-wise they're a little more streamlined. Even though there's some noise and atmosphere going on, it's a little more purposeful. With A Sun Goes Down, it's more like, "Hey, this machine's making a really cool sound right now. I'm gonna press record before I lose that sound."
AVC: But isn't that part of the fun of not having a band—that you can get a little weird and there's no one to talk you down?
AB: Yeah, but the songs from Portland, I worked with Beau Sorenson from Smart Studios, and having him there to kind of just steer the process, honestly, made me feel so much better than I ever felt working on A Sun Goes Down, because I felt like I could focus on playing the part and getting a good vocal take, as opposed to sitting at a mixing board turning knobs and stuff. I love that stuff, but I'm kind of feeling lately like it's a separate discipline.
AVC: When you're playing live, what's the most complication you can reasonably handle?
AB: I told Beau the other day, I was asking him about loop pedals, and he was like, "Please, tell me you're not serious." But the truth is, unless you're Bob Dylan or a handful of other people I just don't think you really have much of a right to get up there with an acoustic guitar and sing songs. It's just boring. Just my two cents. I think a loop pedal, used judiciously, can add a couple of layers. It's like with recording: I just need a little smoke and mirrors to feel comfortable. If it's just me and a guitar, it's such a naked thing. My songs, I don't think they're really built to withstand scrutiny. [Laughs.]
AVC: How'd you come up with the abrupt sound of the drum machines on "Dizzy?"
AB: We did that song in Chris Walla's studio. You walk into that place and it's like, "Must be nice to be Chris Walla." That machine—I wish Beau were here to fully explain what that machine is, because I don't even totally understand what that machine is—it's just insanity in a box. Apparently Bowie and Eno and David Byrne were all totally into this machine. You plug stuff into it, and it's just like the sonic apocalypse. You just turn knobs and it does the most insane crap. Somehow we twisted knobs until this rhythmic delay thing came out of it, and just in that spot in the song, it was like, "Hey, that's actually kind of a nice transition in the song, let's keep that." We had the benefit of mixing that song four or five months after recording it, so we had a little hindsight to sober us up. Those songs are fun because I didn't intend to put them on a record. I don't care how it fits into a big picture. They were fun to do.