In The Studio: Braid

March 9, 2011 by Annie Zaleski

In The Studio: Braid

EXPECT IT:TBA via Polyvinyl

 

During the ’90s, Braid were one of the leaders of the Midwest’s post-hardcore/emo scene. The Champaign, Illinois-based quartet released a slew of singles, splits and full-lengths, with the highlight arguably being 1998’s landmark effort Frame & Canvas.

“People are like, ‘What does Braid sound like?’” says bassist Todd Bell. “And I always say, ‘It sounds like the four of us playing together.’ You can’t really explain it.”



Braid toured with fellow scene staples the Get Up Kids, Rainer Maria and Burning Airlines (even doing a stint opening for Less Than Jake), but broke up in 1999. And except for a 2004 reunion tour, they’ve been dormant since the split, although each member has stayed in music: Three-fourths of the band continued playing together in the poppier Hey Mercedes, while the Firebird Band, Certain People I Know and the City On Film also feature various configurations of Braid members.

In late January, however, the band announced that they were going to record some new music—which they did over the weekend of February 19 at Chicago’s Million Yen Studios. With longtime pal J. Robbins producing, Braid knocked out four songs, which are set to appear on a still-untitled 12-inch EP. (The songs are currently waiting to be mixed by Robbins at his Magpie Cage studio in Baltimore.)




Bell credits Robbins for helping things go so smoothly. “You take four guys that haven’t played together in 10 years, and you put them with somebody that they don’t know, there’s no way we could have gotten done [in a weekend],” he says. “I think he said, ‘You guys just made my year,’ when we asked him to come out and track it. He knows what we sound like and where we’re trying to go, so you know [his suggestions are] coming from a person that is respectful of what we’re trying to do and completely trustworthy, because he enjoys the music and what we do.”

Fans might be disappointed that Braid aren’t releasing a full-length, but there’s a very good reason why they aren’t: Finding free time in everybody’s schedule proved to be a challenge due to day jobs. Vocalist/guitarist Bob Nanna does social marketing for the T-shirt company Threadless, drummer Damon Atkinson is the production office manager for the Vans Warped Tour and guitarist/vocalist Chris Broach is in grad school. (Bell teaches and is also in grad school himself.)  In fact, Bell says they started talking about playing together again a year ago.




“We were like, ‘We should try to totally get together’—not necessarily with the intention of writing songs, but just get together and play and have fun,” he says. “The more and more we talked about it, the more excited everybody got.” The timing finally aligned during the recent holiday break. “We said, ‘Hey, these are the three days we’re going to try to get together over Christmas,’” he says. “’We’ll jam, we’ll rock it out, everybody will come in with ideas, and if stuff works out and it’s fruitful, we can consider releasing it.’”

Mission accomplished. The songwriting chemistry Braid always had—“We’re a song-manufacturing band,” Bell notes—returned, and the band wrote several new songs in that timeframe. “There’s one song in particular that’s really bass- and drum-driven, and it’s fun,” he says.
“It’s a really, really fun song. It’s almost funky, a little bit funky. But kind of groovy. I think all the Braid stuff’s really been groovy, because Damon is so kick-drum oriented.”




Besides this song, the EP will have two more new Braid originals and then a cover of a song by singer-songwriter Jeff Hanson. A good friend of Nanna, Atkinson and Bell, the 31-year-old passed away suddenly in June 2009; the bassist convinced the rest of Braid to cover his favorite Hanson tune.

“We were throwing around the idea of doing a song out of respect and in memoriam for him,” Bell says. “We thought we’d just do one of his songs and kind of make it a Braid rocker,“ adding, “[Hanson was] an incredible guy—one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. It’s a tragedy. We miss him so much, and we thought this would be a cool little thing for us to show our respect.”

Overall, Bell isn’t quite sure yet where the new music fits in with the rest of Braid’s catalog. However, he says the band will be doing “at least one show” sometime this year, which should help give him a clearer idea. Either way, he and the rest of the band are satisfied with the results. “Bob said he played the demos for somebody [before we went in with J] and their reaction was, ‘Oh, my God, it’s Braid,’” Bell says. “Which is cool. Honestly, Braid haven’t written anything in 10 years, and we’ve all been playing [in other bands]—so what happens is you just become better at what you do, and you progress. We didn’t want it to sound like a totally new band, but hearing that from somebody outside of the group, saying, ‘It sounds like Braid, it sounds like what I expected it to,’ made us all kind of relieved a little bit.” alt

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