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January 18, 2007
Leeching some space to keep warm from the looming winter cold, Brazil's lead singer Jonathan Newby and I were able to sit down before an acoustic performance on their latest tour and discuss the band's triumphs, travels, and travails. In October Brazil released their latest album, The Philosophy of Velocity, what Newby called their "most ambitious record to date." Newby spoke frankly about the band's biggest musical disappointment, the truth about Brazil, and how incredible it was to work with (to use Newby's language) the "sonically adventurous" Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Sleater-Kinney). Read on for something "profoundly enlightening."
---

LAS: Dave Friddman has some pretty impressive credentials. How did you land him as producer?

Newby: It's funny because we had this other producer all lined up to do the record and we had studio time nearly booked and everything. Literally about a week before that was supposed to happen, we lost all funding for the record and we switched record labels.

They wanted to get us into the studio as soon as possible because we were already geared up to do a record. We had a couple guys somewhat interested and were [going to] go with one guy in particular out of California.

LAS: Who was that?

Newby: His name is Brad Wood. He did a lot of big 90's bands like Smashing Pumpkins and stuff like that. And he does a lot of Mewithoutyou records. But on a whim, a guy from our label just thought, "I'll give Dave Fridmann's management a call and see what happens. He does good stuff."

So they sent him some demos and he thought it would be interesting to work with us. Literally a week before we hopped in the van and drove to New York, we had that phone call with Dave and just said, "Here's what we want to do." And he said, "Okay, let's do it."

LAS: What do you say in a phone call like that?

Newby: First you say a lot of gibberish. (Laughs) Then when you regain your senses and you start to be able to focus... Basically in calls like that with anybody, once you get over that, you say, "This is my idea for the record. This is my vision for what we want to do."

LAS: What is that vision for what you wanted to do and how does the initial phone conversation compare with the finished product?

Newby: Well, we wanted to have a record that had old-fashioned production values that sounded not-so-crystal-clear.

Records today sound so smashed and the sound really turns us off. We wanted something that was wide open and we told him we wanted to branch away from the technical, tight, polished sound of a lot of bands who people consider our contemporaries and go for the blurred edges - sort of an impressionistic feel, just more of a noise factor. He totally got it and he was able to help bring that out in the studio.

LAS: Do you think he's achieved that before with other bands?

Newby: Yeah. At least from my interaction with him, he doesn't seem to be one of the most technically minded people when it comes to music. He takes a step back and sees... all the decibel-age as one complete whole and then sculpts the sound.

When you listen to a CD like ours or even the newest Sleater-Kinney record, you know it got a lot of criticism and praise for being so noisy. [Friddman] makes it so that the noise helps along the record and helps tell the story of the record, I guess.

For us, it was leaning our guitars against our amps and getting ear-splitting feedback and running a whole track of that through every song twice and mixing it in. We did all kinds of weird miking things. We took an old taxi dispatch mike...

LAS: A what?

Newby: An old taxi dispatch mike. You know, like "Hey, go pick up this guy" or whatever. (Laughs). We took one of those and ran it through pedals or an old Leslie or whatever. The goal was to make sounds that people would listen to on the record that would make sense, but would be like "What was that sound? I can't even decipher what that sound was."

I listen to a lot of Flaming Lips records and there's a lot of sounds like that. It's like a big daisy chain of this run through that and miked with this... and it makes this weird, other-worldly, martian sound.

LAS: When you were on the phone with Dave Fridmann just a week before recording, thinking "I can't believe this is a possibility?" - was it overwhelming?

Newby: At that point it wasn't because of everything that had been happening to us leading up to that moment. We'd lost our funding for that first record, which we were supposed to go record in January and we didn't go record until May. So there was just five months of sitting around. We weren't playing a lot of live shows at that time. A lot of the hype of Hostage had died down... We were feeling pretty invisible and we wanted to be a band again.

We were working 50 or 60 hours a week at these jobs that we didn't even care to work. And when it finally came time to talk to Dave and people like that, it got to the point where this is just another person that I have to talk to.

I'm neck deep in all kinds of stuff right now that I don't care to be involved in. I've had many, many disappointments up until now, so I take everything with a grain of salt. And I still retain that attitude towards anything. I can talk to anyone now without any kind of "Oh my gosh, I'm talking to this person." People are people.

LAS: Tell us your biggest musical disappointment. And would the answer for your individual disappointment be different from Brazil's biggest disappointment?

Newby: I think at some level, every band member or artist wants to sustain himself or herself with what they're doing. We weren't able to accomplish that with Hostage and I think that was maybe the biggest disappointment. We'd love to make a lot of money doing what we're doing, but realistically, we don't write music that sounds like it belongs on the Top-40 station.

[After Hostage] I had to go and get a job spending 8-10 hours a day that doesn't involve writing songs, that doesn't involve playing. That's frustrating for someone who is used to doing that for so long.

LAS: So the biggest disappointment is the failure of Hostage to be able to provide support?

Newby: Yeah, although I wouldn't call it a failure. I think it was pretty well received critically. From a popular standpoint, it didn't catch on enough. I don't mean to ever come across like I'm complaining about that because it just wasn't the right time.

LAS: How would you describe your sound?

Newby: I think that we make slightly ambitious rock music. There are a ton of other artists out there that are far weirder and far more challenging than us.

LAS: You just equated the words 'weird' and 'ambition.'

Newby: Yeah, because about 65% of the time they go hand-in-hand. The other 35% is usually involving hacks who try to be weird for weird's sake. But I think it's mainly... to understand Brazil in relation to how we don't fit in the Top-40, is if you listen to radio now versus music you hear on classic rock stations, it's so much more adventurous back then than it is now. Everything has a very straight beat, has the same guitar tones. Every singer today is copying each other as far as how they enunciate their words.

Back then you had people like Led Zeppelin, Santana, Edgar Winter Group, people who had seven-minute songs that made it onto radio. "Bohemian Rhapsody" made it onto the charts for over a year when it came out. If we had lived back then maybe we would have seen some Top-40 action, but I don't think that's very likely [now].

LAS: But you wouldn't say you're classic rock in sound...

Newby: No, you can only be classic rock if you lived in that era. (Laughs). We're inspired by a lot of that music.

LAS: Comparable to anything?

Newby: We draw just enough from the bands we like to make a noticeable nod to those bands, but we don't draw enough to make a sizable comparison. We listen to everything from Sonic Youth to Velvet Underground to Queen to TV on the Radio to My Bloody Valentine and those such things. And we've drawn, whether or not you can hear it on the record, some from those artists and many more. But to say we really drew a lot from Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine for this record, you can't say that because there are so many other variables to the record that it cancels it out.

LAS: How would Dave Fridmann describe your music?

Newby: He actually described us the same way... He might call us "progressive rock." I wouldn't call us progressive rock, because that brings to mind Genesis and capes and wizard hats and stuff and we don't really do that. Maybe some parts could be considered that and others could not.

LAS: What is true about Brazil?

Newby: I can interpret that any way that I want?

Give me a second and maybe I can come up with something decent.

LAS: Something profound?

Newby: Something profoundly enlightening. (Laughs). I think what's true about Brazil is having fun and enjoying what we do regardless of any sort of criticism we might come under. With Brazil, it relates to how we write songs and how we record them. It's always been a major truth to us to do things exactly how we think they should be done without being told what's cool and what's not cool. At some points, it might sound exactly like something else. Other points, it might sound completely different than anything you've ever heard. But, the truth of the matter is that we've done what we wanted to do and what we felt was inspiring at the time we made it.

---
Brazil is on tour through February. Check the websites for tour dates, music samples, their stylish look and all else Brazil.

SEE ALSO: www.braziltheband.com

--
Matt Conner
A contributing writer, Matt Conner lives in Anderson, Indiana.

See other articles by Matt Conner.

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