The Brag And Cuss
[4/5] Within its first plaintive notes, The Brag & Cuss declares with little ambiguity a new musical chapter for the inimitable Rocky Votolato. Based in folk and dipping more heavily into country than any of his prior releases, this fifth LP finds the now-distinguished Seattle songwriter employing a proper band for the first time; fans might find this alarming, as one of Votolato’s most distinct and appealing qualities has always been his intimate, airy presentation. But with the help of players whose resumes include the likes of Cat Power, Pedro The Lion, Sufjan Stevens and Hank Williams Jr., The Brag & Cuss gently pulses with tasteful power. These down-home, grainy songs prove once again why Votolato has never been just another boy with his guitar. And though a certain dark thread does permeate The Brag, hopeful warmth runs throughout. In continuing to refine his careworn crackle, Votolato masterfully blends the delicate with the hearty in a way that many chase but few capture. Poetic Americana for fans of substance and sentiment. (BARSUK) Ronen Kauffman
Ryan Adams’ Gold
Jeff Buckley’s Grace
Simon & Garfunkel’s Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.
IN-STORE SESSION WITH ROCKY VOTOLATO
You used a full band on the new record. Describe that shift from the minimalism of your previous work.
It was pretty organic. I had written, like, 25 songs, and brought them to my buddy Casey Foubert, who co-produced the record with me, did all the recording and played on the record as well. We listened to the songs in the more stripped-down setting, and it just seemed like they were calling out more for band instrumentation. When I’m making a record, I try to let the songs tell me what they need. I didn’t want to make the same record again, which was another part of what drove that decision.
Despite having roots in punk music, you’ve leaned increasingly toward folk-now your country influence is more prominent than ever. How are these styles connected for you?
I had two points in my life that were super-influential to me in terms of music. I grew up out in Texas, in a pretty small town. So my early life was country music-Steve Earle, Lynyrd Skynyrd. And a lot of that music was what I rebelled against in that second phase-punk rock. Now I’ve started to realize that this is more who I really am, but punk rock is still a huge part of what I do-mostly in the way I view the world. I’m proud to work with a label [Barsuk] that still owns 100 percent of their business independently. Nobody’s trying to tell me how to do things to try to sell more records. We’re not interested in selling records-we’re interested in making good art.
You write vulnerable material. Is anything off limits when crafting your lyrics?
I’ve gotten away from heart-on-the-sleeve confessionalism. I feel like I’ve definitely figured out more of the art around songwriting; working in storytelling or fiction elements as well as autobiographical stuff. So many people are writing songs that are, like, borderline embarrassing. I want to make songs that I can listen to in 10 years and have them still resonate.
What’s a good way to stay positive while exploring the dark corners of the human experience?
Part of it is finding the separation between art and life; I don’t feel wrecked, even though most of my art is pretty dark. I think people can let themselves get wrapped up in that and end up with a negative life, but you don’t have to. I live as positively as I can, because when I create art, it’s not bullshit to me-I do it when I feel like I have to do it, and then I’m done with it. -Ronen Kauffman