Within 30 seconds of listening to the opening track of This Feeling’s Called Goodbye, Brothers Past’s newest effort, I knew I’d stumbled upon one of the music industry’s most prolific and best-kept secrets.
The self-described “electronic indie rock” band’s honest lyrics and head-spinning, electronically fused sound has some critics calling them “the future of music.” The quartet from Philadelphia is slowly making waves in a music world largely infested with ego-driven musicians and commonplace lyrics that are continuously revamped.
The band has been compared to Radiohead and The Postal Service, but they’re much less dreary and obscure than the former and less fluffy than the latter.
On the album This Feeling’s Called Goodbye, the sounds of piano, acoustic, electric and bass guitar, analog and electric drums and the Hammond organ are fused with crisp, patterned beats via computer sequencing and drummer Rick Lowenberg’s obscenely fast syncopated rhythms. Each track is distinctly original, including elements of ska, old rock ‘n’ roll and indie rock.Though three of the members write lyrics, sing and harmonize on the album, Hamilton, guitarist and laptop aficionado, could be called the mastermind behind the new album, having written seven of the 12 tracks and constructing the general musical skeleton of the album.
The Oracle was granted an interview with Hamilton to discuss the passion and inspiration behind This Feeling’s Called Goodbye and the drive behind the band with a name that pays homage to all musicians who traveled the long, hard road before them.
Brothers Past will be playing in Tampa on Friday at the Masquerade in Ybor. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door.
Oracle: Some people may say that Brothers Past is a “jam band.” What do you think of this label?
Tom Hamilton: I think the label’s gotten more and more irrelevant over the years. The label doesn’t even define the music anymore. It more so defines the other aspects of the band, such as the fact that we tour a lot and we have a loyal fan base that kind of travels around with us … I think the label is kind of silly, basically.
O: How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard it before?
TH: It’s like electronic music mixed with indie rock.
O: What musicians or bands have influenced the current sound of Brothers Past?
TH: Well, everybody. That’s the idea of Brothers Past. The whole theory behind the name is tipping your hat to everyone who’s come before you. When I first came up with the name for the band it was more so geared toward, you know, the big ones that are all dead, like Hendrix and Joplin and Morrison. As I’ve gotten older and as my career’s caught on, it’s not just those guys. It’s everybody. It’s every person that’s traveled the road before us, you know, Radiohead, U2 – Sublime, even – any musicians out there doin’ it. Respect is basically the whole idea behind Brothers Past.
I listen to Springsteen and then I’ll listen to the Beatles and then I’ll listen to weird electronic music like Squarepusher or Aphex Twin. We’re not really pulling from one pool of artists; it’s a constant process.
O: As far as from a guitarist’s point of view: You mentioned Hendrix. Has he influenced your style of playing?
TH: No, not at all. I don’t really listen to too many guitarists these days, to be quite honest with you. Especially with what we do – with the mixing of electronic music and rock ‘n’ roll. The thing with electronic music (is that) there’s no guitar in it. That definitely makes it so I have to find a new way to incorporate the guitar into the music. The guitar is a very ego-driven instrument, with the guy in the front rippin’ a solo. That’s not really what I do because it’s unnecessary. It’s not about stroking my ego as a guitarist, it’s about music as a whole. So, growing up, yeah, people like Stevie Vaughn and Jerry Garcia and Dwayne Allman were all huge influences. But once I got into my 20s, trying to find my own identity as a guitarist, I realized that the best way to respect all these great, great musicians isn’t to rip them off. That’s not respect. The reason these people are all great is because they contributed something new to the art – because they (were) all innovative. That’s what I’m trying to do – innovate, not imitate.
O: What current bands have you been listening to lately?
TH: Ryan Adams. I absolutely love that guy. Like I said before, Springsteen and the Beatles are a constant in my life. They always have been, really, and probably always will be. I do listen to Coldplay and Radiohead, Broken Social Scene, Stars. A lot of the Canadian indie rock that’s coming out these days is really, really good. There’s a band called The Dears that’s really awesome; Metric (is another). There’s really a lot of great stuff coming out of the Montreal area as far as new indie rock and rock ‘n’ roll. The Arcade Fire, stuff like that.
O: The acoustic guitar seems to rarely, if ever, be found on your live stuff. Why is this?
TH: Mainly just because of technical, logistic reasons. It’s just a kind of pain in the ass to get it up and get it in there. It’s definitely something I’m looking at and working toward. Hopefully next tour I’ll be able to bring out the acoustic and incorporate (it) more into what’s going on.
O: Would you say the approaches to the studio album as opposed to the live shows are different?
TH: Yeah, it’s apples and oranges. A live concert is a party. It’s basically … you’re getting to DJ and mix in dance beats. It’s like, “All right, everyone hang out, have a good time, dance, lose your s—, whatever.” But when it comes to records, it’s a very deliberate, crafted thing. We take an obscene amount of time putting our record together and really honing the craft and making it everything we want it to be. And I think – to just back bounce to one of your earlier questions about the jam band thing – a lot of jam bands don’t do that with their albums. They kind of set up their studio and do what they do live in a studio setting and then sell it. It’s kind of a waste. If you have the opportunity to be able to sit in the studio and really craft something and really sculpt something and really say something … well, then you should do that. You shouldn’t just improvise and play whatever you want and throw it out as an album.
O: Can you talk a little bit about the concept or theme of the album This Feeling’s Called Goodbye?
TH: Sure. Going into it, it wasn’t like, “OK, we’re making like a theme album.” I think there’s a thread that ties it all together. Mainly just because of when it was written and the fact that I wrote most of it. I’m 26. Writing that album basically was going from 23 to 25. You hit that 25 mark and it’s kind of like, “Well … whether I really like it or not, I’m kind of an adult now,” and I think that’s what a lot of s— on the album is. This Feeling’s Called Goodbye is more (about) the closure of adolescence, of baggage that you carry from your teens into your early 20s. Whether it’s that girl that got away in high school or college, failing out, finding a job or career – it’s the closure on all of those things to say, “All right, it’s time to cut all this baggage off and start moving forward with your lives and start becoming a man or woman.” It’s like, “This is who I am. From here on out, what am I going to do with myself?”
O: I heard that the band will start recording a new album in the beginning of 2006. Is that correct?
TH: We’re going to start throwing s—together, but we’re not going to have anything done anytime soon, I’m sure. We’ve been road-dogging it for quite some time now, and we’re going to take some time and take a couple months off – something we haven’t been able to do in quite a long time – and just kind of sit down and take some time and live life and experience some s— and find the muse for the next album and start working on it.
This Feeling’s Called Goodbye is who we were in our early to mid-20s. And this next record is going to be who we are in our mid- to late 20s.
O: Is there a favorite song that you like to play live, in general?
TH: A bunch of songs on the (new) album I really like. “Simple Gift of Man” is a really great song that I think really goes over well live, as well as the first track, “Leave the Light On” I think is a – it’s just a nice song.
O: The widely referenced article by Glide Magazine said that your and (bandmate Tom) McKee’s lyrics are what separate Brothers Past from other bands that have a similar style. Can you talk about the importance you place on your lyrics?
TH: It’s the most important thing in the world. It’s how you communicate, you know, it’s – I don’t know how else to put it other than that. Growing up, listening to Beatles records and listening to old Springsteen and listening to Simon & Garfunkel or, man, any of these phenomenal lyricists. And, you know- it gets you through. It gets you through the hard times and it gets you through the good times, it gets you through everything, and it’s people like that that get you through it because they’re honest. They’re not blowing smoke up anybody’s ass, and they’re just saying it the way they feel it. That’s the most important thing. That’s the thing that I try to do the most is to not try to do anything other than be who I am and say what I’m feelin’ and hope that honesty comes across in a way that makes it so that other people feel comfortable grabbing onto those lyrics the same way that I grabbed onto other people’s lyrics when I was younger and still do.
O: Are there any specific issues or topics that inspire you to write the most?
TH: Ah – just life. You know, the s— you can’t deny, the stuff that everybody has to deal with. The hard thing, not that this applies to me at all, but I just think in general, people when they listen to music they kind of look at musicians and they think, I think people can if they chose to assume that musicians’ lives are great. Fun, you know, or they think you’re a rock star and they think you have all this money and you’re bangin’ chicks three at a time and doing drugs or whatever. Well, that’s not the case. But even if that were the case, even if I had a million dollars and I lived in a big house – you know, drugs, chicks, cars, whatever – there are certain things that are common denominators that everybody has to deal with regardless of your status in life, you know, and I think those are the things I try to talk about the most, because if you don’t have two nickels to rub together or if you’re Donald Trump, either way you deal with the internal feelings of loneliness or relationship problems or love, the things that really just bind us all together. That’s kind of what I try to talk about the most, the things that everybody can identify with.
O: The song “Simple Gift of Man” really stands out on the album, lyrically and musically. What inspired you to write it?
TH: That song in particular is kinda funny, because a lot of people think it’s like a political song or they think it’s about gun control or something, and no, that’s not what it’s about. I mean, I discovered something about myself that I viewed as an undesirable trait, and I kind of looked around and certain people I know, like family and stuff, and learned where I picked it up from and that’s kind of what the gun is in the song. It’s doing stupid s— basically and playing with fire. That’s kind of what it comes down to. And I mean, the gun could be anything. It could be a gun if you want to be literal about it or it could be drugs or it could be infidelity or it could be a gambling problem or something, I don’t know. It could be anything like that. That’s kind of where the whole thing stemmed from. The “tune in, step right up” is kinda like watching this idiot continually do the same thing over and over again, and it’s like “Well, how long is it going to take before he f— up and realizes that’s not what he should be doing?”
O: When you’re in the process of writing the music, is there a sort of leader or is it a widely collaborative and democratic effort?
TH: I kinda put s— together and bring it in to the band. From there, we’ll collaborate. A lot of times it’s more of a – I can play all the instruments in the band, so therefore I have a pretty good idea of how they all work, so I kinda come up with the whole idea, and then I’ll come in and bring it and show it to the guys and everybody will be like, “OK, how about this instead?” or “How about this?” or they like it just fine the way it is. It’s not like a dictatorship by any means, but it’s also not like four guys just jamming until they find something.
O: I heard that Brothers Past is on the bill for the next Langerado festival.TH: This is true.
O: How do you feel about playing festivals as opposed to your own venue shows?
TM: It’s different; it’s cool. It’s like a test, basically, to see what you’re made of. When you’re playing your own shows it’s a controlled environment. You walk into that room at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and you do everything to make it your place. Today, that is your place of work, that is your place of employment, that is your office and you have five or six hours to make it into that comfortable place, whereas at a festival you have about 10 minutes to get up, get your s— on and you’ve got a 45-minute set to prove your point and to make it so that everyone walks out of those festival grounds saying “holy s—.” It’s a challenge, but it’s a cool challenge.
O: What are some of the future goals of the band?
TH: To keep playing and keep making good albums is the No. 1 goal. It’s kind of lame, but you know to just keep spreading the word, getting out there, touring and letting everybody know who we are and that we’re out here and that you should be listening to us and seeing us play.
Staff writer Jeffrey Jones contributed to this report.