Tom Mckee and Tom Hamilton of Philadelphia based indie-electronic band Brothers Past recently caught up with Deathwaltz Media Group for an exclusive interview about their new album, their evolution as a band, and the constantly evolving music scene. Their new double album, Everything Must Go 0111, will be available for digital download on March 27, but fans can grab a physical copy at any of the three CD release parties: Thursday, March 22 at the 8x 10 in Baltimore, MD; Friday, March 23 at the Westcott Theater in Syracuse, NY and Saturday, March 24 at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, PA.
Deathwaltz: You guys have a huge CD Release Party this weekend at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. Brothers Past will be supported by Marco Benevento Trio ft. Claude Coleman/Dave Dreiwitz of Ween & Binary Bits. (Event Link: http://goo.gl/8HGVY). So, how excited is the band? Any special surprises planned?
Tom Mckee: It is a big weekend! To be honest, I have been looking forward to this weekend for seven years, and now that it’s here, I want to enjoy every second of it. This record was a long, strange trip indeed. Some of it could have been recorded in 2002, some of it could have been recorded in 2006 and some of it has been written since the hiatus in 2007. But the whole record sounds like right now. So I’m glad we waited as long as we did because all of these songs would have sounded drastically different if we had recorded them when we wrote them. We made this record on our own terms and on our own timetable and in the end we realized we had created a really beautiful synopsis of what Brothers Past has been throughout our career. We really can’t wait for people to hear it and these shows are a chance to celebrate that.
Deathwaltz: Explain the significance of the album name “0111”
Tom Mckee: We came up with the idea to do a series of monthly releases on our website as part of our ten-year anniversary in 2011. We released 12 songs directly to our fans over the course of the year and included a live soundboard recording from throughout the band’s history. The series was called Everything Must Go and it basically allowed us the freedom to record any songs from our catalog and experiment in the recording studio in a way that we had never been able to do previously. We were so pleased with the results that we wanted to release them in a more traditional fashion. So we decided to release a double album with that music and 6 other songs that we had been recording. The 0111 is a reference to 2001, the year we solidified the classic BP lineup and 2011, when we completed our 10 year anniversary. So the record is very much retrospective, but there is plenty of new material for fans to sink their teeth into. Really it’s just a perfect representation of Brothers Past.
Tom Hamilton: 0111 is short for 2001-2011, the band’s first decade together.
I don’t look at this collection as a “retrospective” as much as I view it as finishing the first era of our career with respect, class, and an exclamation point. Through recording this project, we learned a valuable skill set that we feel is going to play a huge part in the next phase of our creative career together.
The majority of our early time together was spent on the road and learning how to function as a DIY touring machine. After the completion of this album I feel we now have that same amount of DIY savy, but in the recording studio as well.
Deathwaltz: Most of your time is spent in the studio, whereas when Brothers Past first started you where on the road much of the time. Now that Brothers Past has been revitalized in a way, do you see dedicating a lot of time on the road again as necessary to push the band forward? If no, then what?
Tom Mckee: I really don’t know man. I mean the short answer is yes. You need to tour to keep the machine rollling along, etc. But the reality is we’re not much of a machine. We have the four guys in the band. We have a full time sound tech who is a long time friend of the band. We have a booking agent. That’s about it. We’re self-managed and don’t own a van. And to be honest, it’s a lot easier this way. It’s a very lean operation. We are all working to grow the band but I’m not sure that we will ever be road warriors again. I could see us doing a couple of weeks out on the road at some point but I really am not looking to do 2-3 significant tours a year and I think the other guys would agree. We all have other projects and other commitments that are important to us and we are all supportive of each other’s endeavors. The reality is that in 2011 there are many many ways to connect with your audience. Touring is definitely a big one but it’s not the only one. We do a lot on the social media side of things to build the band and that helps too.
Tom Hamilton: I think we’ll take it as it comes and do what feels right at the time. One doesn’t have to be grinding their dick in the dirt on the road in order to move forward. Sometimes that type of strategy can hurt as much as help.
We burnt ourselves out musically and personally by the time 2006 hit and the following couple of years were detrimental. With the luxury of hindsight, we won’t make the same mistake.
There are many ways for a band to express itself aside from the live concert and I’m sure we will explore a lot of those avenues over the next part of our career.
Deathwaltz: You and Tom handle most of the songwriting. When you guys approach process of constructing a song, are you writing separately and sending pieces of songs to each other to critique, or is it more a collaborative process?
Tom Mckee: It has been various things over the course of our career but these days it is much more collaborative. I am kind of the guy in the band that gets things started and he is kind of the guy that gets things finished. I spend a decent amount of time playing around with programs like Logic and Reason and create little songs that aren’t really songs but more like musical ideas. Chord progressions, melodies etc. Tom and I go through them and we start taking the ideas and crafting them into songs. He plays just about every instrument pretty well so once we get going things can progress really quickly. He has a gift for hearing a piece of a song and knowing exactly what the song is going to be. And once he gets a vision, I kind of let him do his thing. I make little suggestions but we have worked together for almost 15 years now and at this point I trust that he will always do what is best for the song. One of the things I am looking forward to most about getting this record out is that we can start working on the next batch of new material because it is really piling up.
Tom Hamilton: It’s more collaborative these days. We’ll get together with the intent of writing. Go through demos, pick the good things and shitcan the bad ones and start building from there.
Deathwaltz: It seems with the rising popularity of electronic music, many bands are adapting their songwriting to fit the trend. It’s nothing new to you guys though, you have been writing electronic music for years now. Do you feel the electronic aspects of your songs are evolving with new production methods and is that something you guys are focusing on? Which of the band members is most interested in pursuing new production methods?
Tom Mckee: Rick and Clay are definitely the guys who are most in tune with what is happening in the world of electronic music. And Clay especially brings a lot of valuable insight into the mixing process. Rick is really great about finding stuff for the band to listen to and sometimes we let that stuff influence us. Tommy really doesn’t listen to any electronic music, which is fantastic because he understands what it’s supposed to do, and he understands how to make it, and he’s creative enough in the studio that he doesn’t have to steal someone else’s tricks. He just comes up with his own, and they are unique and interesting. There are a lot of things about Brothers Past’s sound that is very reminiscent of modern electronic music and there is a lot of stuff in there that maybe doesn’t quite fit with whatever someone’s definition of that may be. And that’s what makes Brothers Past interesting, for me at least. I really don’t care what is popular in the world of electronic music right now and I would have no interest in copying it if I did. I want to make new innovative music.
Tom Hamilton: I’m always trying to find something new, different, or exciting when it comes to recording. Fortunately with BP, there is a lot of freedom to move around genres and I try to take advantage of that as much as possible.
Deathwaltz: We here at Deathwaltz are fascinated by the idea of garnering support through grassroots methods and building a dedicated following based simply on love of music & the community it creates. Brothers Past seems to be the epitome of this; you’ve gained popularity through incessant touring, giving music away for free, and even handing out flyers/cds yourselves after shows. Is this something you guys initially set out to do in order to preserve the integrity of creating music for art vs. the sake of creating music for business? If you can pinpoint something different, can you explain the manifestation of this?
Tom Mckee: What I learned early on in my career is that no one is going to put more time, energy and love into this thing than we are. I’ve never had a problem rolling up my sleeves and working hard and I love that the band still has a DIY mentality. I still hand out fliers at shows because l like connecting with people and talking about the band. We interact with our fans on Facebook and message boards because many of them are friends at this point. I think community is a really important thing,and it’s always something that I have been aware of in regards to the band and tried to cultivate.
Tom Hamilton: I think it has always been about doing things on our own terms when it’s come to the music.
Deathwaltz: Since Brothers Past has been rooted in Philly for 10+ years, what are your opinions on the Philadelphia Music community today? Have you seen an evolution or a progression? Is this somewhere that you think Brothers Past has been able to prosper and will continue to? And for what reasons?
Tom Mckee: Absolutely a huge evolution and huge progression since we started playing. Go back to 1998, which was the year Tom Hamilton and I started making music. There were a couple of bands out of Philly with a national buzz — Huffamoose, maybe Marah, but nothing that substantial. The Disco Biscuits were getting their thing going but there was no real scene here. Fast forward to now: Biscuits are huge, Lotus is huge. Dr. Dog is huge. The War on Drugs and Kurt Vile are huge. We have our thing going on. And there is a great scene. Lots of good young up and coming bands who are making some waves the way we were in 2001 and 2002. We love Philadelphia and we have met and worked with so many great musicians here that I couldn’t imagine calling another place home.
Deathwaltz: Gotta ask this one. It seems there is a large crossover between Disco Biscuits and Brothers Past fanbases. It has become even more evident recently with The Disco Biscuits playing less and rumors of them calling it quits. We know music isn’t a competition and you wish nothing but the best for the guys, but if they do call it quits, do you see that as an opportunity to grow the Brothers Past fanbase? And if so, what kind of things do you see you guys doing to fill that void and capture the opportunity?
Tom Mckee: No. I wish nothing but the best for the Disco Biscuits and having gone through a period of inactivity with Brothers Past, I can say that it was the best thing that ever happened to our band and I hope it is the best thing that ever happens to their band. I don’t much worry about the comparison because I think that it is easy to see how the two bands are unique once you have listened attentively enough. I think Brothers Past will just continue to do what we do and try to evolve.
Deathwaltz: Let’s talk about a hypothetical Brothers Past festival, since I’ve heard the idea being tossed around online. Who would you like to headline along with Brothers Past, where would it be, and who would you want to be involved in making it happen?
Tom Mckee: I would love to do a festival that merged the Indie rock side of what we do with the electronic side of things. Reach out to some Philly bands like Dr. Dog, Kurt Vile, but also some of the electronic stuff like Lotus and Conspirator. I caught Papadosio for the first time at Aura Music Festival and was impressed with some of the things they did. And Todd Stoops would have to be there in some capacity, even if it was just to drive me around in a golf cart and manage the vibe of the whole thing.
Deathwaltz: Which festivals is Brothers Past slated to play this summer?
Tom Mckee: The ones that have been announced are Electric Forest in Michigan, Nomadic Roots in Virginia, Mantra Bash in North Carolina and Camp Barefoot in West Virginia. There is at least one other significant festival that is confirmed that we cannot announce yet and several others that we are talking to. It should actually be a pretty strong year for us festival wise.
Deathwaltz: 3 bands today that in your opinion are “pushing the envelope”
Tom Mckee: Mastodon, Radiohead and the War on Drugs.
Deathwaltz: Beatles or Bob Dylan?
Tom Mckee: Beatles. C’mon. I told you only serious questions.