STEPHEN BRODSKY, my all-time favourite musician and a member of bands such as Cave In, Mutoid Man and Kid Kilowatt, as well as his solo material, agreed to answer a few (ha!) of ((((OPENmind/SATURATEDbrain)))))'s questions regarding a wide variety of topics. Enjoy!
Stephen Brodsky and Ben Koller (of Converge) will release their debut album as MUTOID MAN November 29th (digitally November 22nd). Here is the pre-order.
(((((OPENmind/SATURATEDbrain))))) has also reviewed some of Brodsky's other bands, with more reviews coming in the next few months.
1) As this blog is primarily for listeners looking to find new and relatively obscure music, what bands do you think people are missing out on?
I just played last night with a great band from Brooklyn called Me You Us Them. They're like a cross between the Pixies and Failure with the live intensity of Husker Du. Another great NY band is Friend Roulette - killer musicians playing in the realm of a mellower Mr. Bungle. Also there's a band called Circle from Finland that's been active for about 20 years, putting out all kinds of highly advanced music almost totally under the radar. Oh, and I love the newest Milk Music record.
2) Where do you find out about new music?
I look to my friends for filters. Usually if someone is excited enough about something to play it for me, then I'll listen. I also have a select number of places on the web that I frequent to see what's going on. As for the unknown, I think blogs make it easy to scroll quickly for names and designs that strike my interest. When I find something good, I'll see if there's a Bandcamp page to hear more - for the most part, that design seems pretty right on.
3) In non-musical terms, how would you describe yourself?
I'm an Aries, a total fire sign. Was born on the ninth in 1979 - that's 3 nines, and nine is a powerful number. Multiply any number between 2 and 9 by 9, and the corresponding numbers will add up to 9. For instance, 9 times 3 equals 27. And 2 plus 7 equals 9. Or 9 times 6 equals 54. And 5 plus 4 equals 9. Actually it was the RZA who turned me onto paying more attention to numerical wonders. And sometimes little things like that helps me to define my own existence more clearly.
4) If you had to pick one style/genre of music - what are your favourite and least favourites?
Metal will always have a fond place in my heart. Maybe it's because I have too many early memories of doing fun, stupid, crazy stuff with Metallica, Anthrax, Maiden, Sabbath, etc. playing on a boombox or blasting in my Walkman.
Least favorite genre? Hmmm. Maybe classical, only because I'm so uneducated about it. Couldn't hold a conversation with anyone about the differences between one composer's work from the next. But I'm trying to curb that oversight. I have a classical music station dialed in on my car stereo that I've pretty much been playing non-stop for weeks now. Classical music, I've found, is also an effective road rage deterrent. You can't get mad listening to the sounds of masterpiece theater! This is important when driving around New York City.
5) Cave In is the first band I know of that you were in. What propelled you to start learning and writing music? What did the first songs you write sound like? Your first band?
Well, my dad played in a band when he was much younger, and so there was always a guitar kicking around the house. Both he and my mom were supportive of me taking guitar lessons, and basically I had high hopes of being a total ripper like Slash! You can probably hear me stealing some of his licks in my lead guitar playing, haha. My first band was called Parasite, a two-piece guitar duo with an old friend who lived in the same neighborhood. All those songs were based on open chords. I remember inviting this kid over to my house after school one day, because I heard he was a good drummer, probably the best in our middle school. So he came over to hear me play some stuff I was writing, and also some songs I had learned to play. That kid was J.R. Conners, drummer of Cave In!
6) Can you run us through your musical progression chronologically throughout your life?
My folks tell me that when I was a kid, they would play The Moody Blues to stop me from crying. Later, in middle school when I took guitar lessons, I wanted to be as good as Slash in hopes of impressing girls enough to like me. Then I went through my early teens in the start of the 90's and got swallowed up by everything alternative rock and grunge. That was a gateway for punk and hardcore, which hit me shortly after starting high school. I guess from there on it's always been sort of an open palette for me, especially in the world of rock-oriented music.
7) What do you like to work on first; piano, guitar or vocals? Who do you share your vocals with first, generally? Where do you enjoy writing your lyrics?
Generally if I'm kicking around something on the guitar that feels complete, then I'll try some vocals with it. Or a vocal melody will come first, and I'll experiment with guitar as a backdrop. My girlfriend is a great editor, actually. She's not afraid to encourage me to get weirder or push myself to try harder. She'll say things like "You sound really sad" or "What would Prince do?" It's helpful! Sometimes ideas for lyrics come at the worst time. I'll be in the middle of a conversation, and somebody will say something that spins my head in a certain way. Then I obsess over writing it down, which causes me to blank out on whatever it was we were talking about. That's embarrassing! When your muse pops up from out of nowhere, you pay the price and laugh about it later.
8) How did you first become associated with Aaron Turner of Hydrahead? Brent Eyestone of Magic Bullet Records?
I think Aaron first saw Cave In when we opened for Earth Crisis in, like, 1997? That was a big deal for us - our second show ever, and we were on a bill with the most notorious band in hardcore at the time, haha. Maybe it showed in our performance, cause I think Aaron may have picked up our demo then... which was a very lo-fi 4-track recording, no bells and whistles... I mean, he must've really liked us to hear past the quality of that thing! Aaron was also gearing up to re-release a Converge record, which was exciting to us at the time because it's no secret that early Cave In was modeled after them. And Magic Bullet came into the picture a couple years later. I remember getting the itch to put out some solo material. It wouldn't be the first time - in the past, I'd dubbed my own small runs of cassettes for friends. But it was around the "Creative Eclipses" EP when the timing felt right to release my home recordings on a larger scale. I think Brent and I sent letters back and forth and agreed to make something happen with that...
9) Can you talk about your relationship with rock and metal? You have released a plethora of music that incorporates a multitude of styles. I assume you would argue that the two are complimentary and can be used to experiment and harness a broader scope – or something like that, and at other times should be completely separated. Thoughts?
Me and my friends used to joke about going through "metal denial", which was essentially us discovering hardcore music and then turning our backs on the young teenage metal heads that we used to be. Going through "metal denial" involved selling old metal cassettes to buy new hardcore records, cutting our long hair or "demulletizing", trading tight pants for baggier ones and wearing backpacks to shows. Haha! The transformation was very powerful and we were completely engulfed by it. And of course later on, we seriously regretted getting rid of those tapes, and then just ended up buying them all over again! I hope this at least kind of answers your question, in that sometimes with creativity there's a personal divide that takes place... and only through time and experience can we expect to see a closing of that gap, one that symbolizes maturity and understanding. Kind of like what they say about broken necks of guitars - once repaired, they're often times stronger than before the break.
10) When did you hit full-on metal denial?
Maybe when I was a sophomore in high school? It was early that year, sometime in the fall. Adam McGrath and I shared a study hall class. He let me listen to some hardcore cassettes he dubbed and slowly I got hooked, from Chokehold to Frail to Bound and then I started buying my own records, and taking my own risks with that... because you couldn't always listen to bands before you bought their recordings. I was getting my fix for heavy music that way and everything I had relied upon beforehand just seemed ignorant and meaningless in its lyrical messages. But I was also experiencing hardcore firsthand, going to local shows and seeing it all right before my eyes. That world was easy to get wrapped up in, whereas selling my metal tape collection just meant getting rid of a bunch of plastic.
11) What album/memorabilia did you sell that you later regretted the most?
I had a Bon Jovi "Slippery When Wet" picture disc that my folks gave to me as a gift when I was, like, 8 or 9 years old. And I loved that record for many reasons. It gave me some of my earliest visions of what life outside of Methuen Massachusetts could be like. And I used to just stare at it and wonder how these dudes got the freedom to be who they were, to look like they did, and to do what they were doing. Years later, I ended up giving that record away as a gift to a Bon Jovi superfan, and now I miss it sometimes.
12) Are there times when you work on songs and try to force something into them? What is the outcome, generally?
Yeah, it happens that way. Sometimes for the worse, because too much force can send you so far down a path that the original feeling gets left behind. Other times it's good because parts of yourself shackled by fear get free and then you end up being pleasantly surprised.
13) Do you ever consciously stay away from including something specific when writing a song?
I try so hard these days to avoid lyrical cliches but admittedly, I sometimes gravitate towards the predictable or even borderline cheesiness. Oftentimes it's inevitable when working quickly to fill in space with something, you know, just to keep things moving. I guess the challenge for me is to avoid becoming anchored to any temporary lapse of quality material.
14) What styles of music do you consider taboo for your musical abilities?
I've never really given an honest shot about making beats but I'd love to try! Generally speaking, EDM is a world I'd be open to exploring if my songwriting chops were invited into the mix. Also a time machine that could take me back to a session at The Black Ark would be nice, too.
15) How did you feel after writing that intro to “Flypaper”? I love that riff. Listen to it here.
I always thought that part had a Spanish-sounding flare. At first I wasn't sure if this would fly with Cave In, especially in the early days. I guess when I heard Kurt Ballou play it during line-check, then I figured we did something right.
16) Do you remember what was going through your head when you were screaming your lungs out whilst recording ‘Until Your Heart Stops’?
Probably a migraine headache. I just kind of assumed the role of lead vocalist in Cave In because at the time, we had just shrunk down to a 4-piece band, and no one could fathom the idea of trying to integrate another personality into the mix.
17) Was the transition to your ‘Jupiter’-era music easy or difficult for the band as a cohesive unit?
It took some trial and error. By the time we went head-on into writing that record, we had already experienced the van fire that destroyed a lot of our gear. All that destruction became a real unifier in the end, because we had to buy new stuff to play... so there was a sense of rebirth then it came to crafting a new sound for ourselves.
18) What got you hooked on space in the late 90s?
I think when Cave In started throwing various effects pedals into the mix, people's reaction was that everything was getting "spacey" sounding. So we just kind of ran with it, maybe to the degree of even humoring ourselves. Someone found this space print fabric and so we cut it to fit our speaker cabinets. And what metal hardcore bands were going that route in 1997? We just wanted to be a little far out, have some fun and challenge people all in one fell swoop.
19) How did/do you feel regarding being asked about the shifting nature of the Cave In's sound, especially after Jupiter was released?
I'm okay with having that discussion, as long as it seems thoughtful and non-confrontational. Unfortunately those are two qualities that aren't always there. Some drunk punks once cornered me after a show in Richmond and demanded an explanation for why Cave In didn't perform more UYHS material that night. And this was in 2005! They were thrown out of the club, then proceeded to piss on our van and smash a brick through the windshield. Obviously that's an extreme example of how not to approach the subject.
20) Is there anything regarding the RCA years that you would like to touch on that hasn’t been delved into too much already?
I don't know... we were so young when all that stuff started to happen. The day we signed our contract with RCA was on my 24th birthday. That was after two years of meetings, trips to various corporate offices, dinners and seemingly endless discussions about our "future". We essentially invited all these new people into our lives to help guide the ship, and within four years the whole thing collapsed on itself. I'm gonna turn 35 next year and it would be a lie to say that I've recovered from it all. But having been through all that gives me a leveled outlook on my life as a musician... all the dings, scratches and broken bits have actually added a certain value to what I do. And the cracks let some light in, too.
21) How has your hometown influenced your music and you, as a person?
Methuen has been called "the city known as the town of Methuen". So there was actually a significant amount of culture that I got exposed to at a young age, more than what you'd expect from actual "small town America"-type of places. I loved the art classes in high school and there was no shortage of funding for them back then. Methuen is also a fairly safe place to grow up, which allowed me to share an adventurous spirit with some of my earliest friends. It's also a very blue-collar place - actually much of Massachusetts is that way, and that's no disrespect. I mean some of the hardest working people I've ever known come from my home state.
22) What are your most obscure lyrics really about?
I think anyone who sings their own songs is always trying to make sense of themselves and their place within the world. For me it's usually walking the line between overconfidence and outright depression. "Innuendo and Out the Other" is actually a pretty cocky lyric, definitely an early-20's cry of "When will I get my share?" type of thing, because I was young and hungry for recognition in the music world. And then in "Moral Eclipse" there's a lot of sexual confusion going on - stuff like being intimate with someone, and then immediately clouded by the constant worry as to whether or not it's okay to engage like that with the person, or with anyone for that matter.
23) What was the last song you wrote and said, Holy shit, this is awesome?
Maybe "Hit or Mystery"? It started as a fingerpicking exercise on the guitar. Then I wanted things to get a little weirder, which is when the open tuning came into play. Lyrically it's a stamp in time about my feelings for leaving Boston and moving to New York. Which ultimately happened because of a relationship, something I've never done before. So there's a lot of fear in that song, and it took some time to harness.
24) Why Stove Bredsky? And please give some insight into the song "Blood Red Blues" because it's hilarious and awesome at the same time. Listen to "Blood Red Blues" here.
It started with a joke that Aaron Turner came up with, where he'd swap the first two vowels in a person's full name. The results could be pretty funny, such as Aaron effectively becoming "Uron Tanner", later shortened to just "Ron", which I still use. And my name treated in same fashion became "Stove Bredsky", which kind of stuck with my friends... maybe because astrologically speaking, I'm a fire sign and also have a tendency to get pretty hot-headed with my temperament, haha. Let's see... the song "Blood Red Blues" kind of encapsulates my headspace at the time of making "The Black Ribbon Award" album. Definitely smoking too much weed while getting wrapped up in making a record, in order to escape some relationship problems I was having at the time. But I'm happy that the song at least comes off with a lighthearted touch!
25) What are you upcoming plans personally and musically?
Personally I'm still trying to find my way in Brooklyn. Homelife is good but professionally I'm at a bit of a crossroads. Who knows. I put so much of myself into playing music that it feels like I'm too deep in the hole to turn myself around. We'll see though - New York's a do or die kind of place and my instinct to survive is feeling strong these days... other than that, the Mutoid Man album is scheduled for release at the end of this month, which I'm very excited about. And I'm in the planning stages with Mark Thompson about turning the audio from my Vacation Vinyl set into a limited cassette. It was one of the best solo shows I've ever done, and I'll be happy to see it having a life of analog.
26) What are the upcoming Mutoid Man plans? When does the album come out? Will you guys tour? Have you spoken about doing something again in the future?
Well like I said, the record comes out later this month, Black Friday to be exact. Magic Bullet/Nonbeliever are doing the US release. And we got Daymare in Japan onboard for that, too. Also it looks like Robotic Empire will issue a limited cassette run. The push behind the album is exciting, and I'm really looking forward to get that thing into people's hands, through their ears, and ultimately into their heads. Touring is a possibility, since it's something everyone in the group is up for doing. It'll just take the right offer, because we're a bi-coastal thing, with Ben having just moved to Los Angeles. That stuff is real fun and challenging for me to play live, so I hope there can be more shows in the works.
27) What is your biggest regret? What is your greatest triumph? What has been your most difficult life choice?
In some ways, I kind of lost my head during the years Cave In was writing "Antenna". I think in part it had to do with a pride thing, you know, wanting to commandeer the creative ship with probably more force than necessary. So I regret not having the foresight to understand that perhaps a more group-oriented song-crafting process was the way to go. It may not have changed some of the cards we were dealt, like situations at the label that were ultimately beyond our control. And I've expressed this very sentiment to the other Cave In guys - they feel like going through the experience the way we did actually helped to shape their sense of creativity. Or maybe in the aftermath they were all just trying to be nice about it, haha... Ultimately I think playing music was a big step for me. My whole outlook on life changed, the idea of who I could associate myself with all went up in the air, and I finally had a sense of purpose that seemed somewhat attainable.
The final questions. What is your:
Reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein a few times has had a lasting effect on me. I can relate to those symptoms of needing to hide, then wanting to hide, coupled with the aggression that results. And the idea of the creator never escaping the reality of his/her creations - that they will constantly produce a gravitational and emotional pull of varying degree towards their maker.
That would be Ferris Bueller's Day Off. There's a magic happening in that film that I haven't been able to shake for well over 20 years.
The last comic I read that really touched me was Maus. I'm half Jewish so it was nice to dispel some mysteries about my heritage and get wrapped up in characters with personality quirks that are entirely relatable.
Let's see... I don't actually have a favorite sport. Put me in a game of PIG or Around The World and I can sometimes hold my own.
As for an instrument, I wish I could be as good a pianist as Harold Budd. I should try to track him down and see if he'd like to jam.
...Cave In song?
Hmm. That's hard. "In The Stream of Commerce" isn't my favorite, but I do have a distinct memory of writing that one in the basement of my folks' place in Methuen, and everyone kind of looked around at each other feeling like we had just stumbled upon something really fresh for the band. That song, in particular, was a turning point for us creatively, and helped seal the deal for the idea of "Jupiter" being a worthwhile pursuit. And "Sing My Loves" would be a modern favorite. We wrote it so quickly!
...Kid Kilowatt song?
The demo version of "Bicycle Song" is probably the best thing Kid Kilowatt ever did. It's got that mid-to-late 90's scrappy emocore energy (back when it was core, pre just "emo" and before the domination of guyliner and brain-blowout haircuts) and I was psyched to be fronting a band like that - you can hear it in the vocal delivery, I think.
The Converge song "Antithesis" from the original "Halo In A Haystack" LP will forever hold a special place in my heart. It was one of the most unique musical rollercoasters I'd ever heard, from a band I had first convinced myself that I hated! But it was the whole idea of hardcore that initially rubbed me the wrong way - I was aware of its existence for almost 2 years before I came around, and about one year before my full immersion.
...Pet Genius song?
For Pet Genius, I gotta go with "Baby Pink Lemonade". I wrote that for a lady I was falling hard for, and it was my way of trying to get closer into the picture we were trying to create - one that had its various hardships and bumps in the road. But she and I have toughed it out together and are still going strong to this day.
...Mutoid Man song?
For Mutoid Man, I think "Scrape The Walls" has a little bit of everything the band can offer from that EP all wrapped up into one three-minute long jammer. Plus it's the first song we wrote together, scrunched up inside that closet of a Brooklyn rehearsal space.
I guess if I had to pick a solo song that means the most to me, it might be "Lonesome Josephine". The version from "Expose Your Overdubs" has some of my first heavy-handed experimentation with advanced effects on a delay pedal, right around the time that Cave In was going that direction with parts of "Until Your Heart Stops". And lyrically it's a ode to a neighborhood that I'll never go back to - it's the one where I grew up, that will forever appear larger in my memory than making returns could ever allow.
Stephen Brodsky and Ben Koller (of Converge) will release their debut album as MUTOID MAN November 29th (digitally November 22nd). Here is the pre-order.