I would really like to thank Cary Brothers for doing this interview while on tour - it is very much appreciated, and I'd also like to thank Jenna LoMonaco for helping me with everything. Thank you.
How did it all start? What pushed you to actually become a musician?
I was always making things when I was a kid. From sketching and painting to building forts to writing stories, that need to create something has always been there. I was lucky/unlucky enough to have my bike stolen when I was thirteen, and I used the insurance money to get my first guitar. All the things you have to deal with in high school were channeled into songs for me, and my guitar kind of became my therapist. Songwriting was always something that I did first for me. A lot of the early songs were actually a way for me to deal with the death of a close friend of mine in high school. I would record songs and put the tapes on a shelf and move on. Once they were done, they were done, and I didn't need to revisit them. It wasn't until many years and hundred or so songs later that I got the balls to get up and play in front of people. When I moved to LA and found the Hotel Cafe, an incredibly supportive venue with a great community of singers that play there, I found my place on a stage.
What is your favourite thing about being a musician?
First, I just love making melodies. The storytelling/lyrical aspect is one part of the job and I have to get to a very personal and sometimes uncomfortable place for that, but the real pleasure is making melodies that can hopefully take people somewhere emotionally. My favorite songs are always attached to a moment or time in my life, and that moment is as important as the song. A song can't exist in a vacuum. It's not really good until a listener takes it in and makes it a part of their life. So to me, the best part is hearing stories from people about the tunes getting them through tough times or reminding them of great times. It's a gift to be able to do something that people attach to memories. That's why I don't have a lot of ego about this career - those memories are a lot more important than what I do.
Myspace seems to play an important role in getting your name out there. How do you think the internet has changed the way you market music?
I can't imagine doing this back in the days of snail mail and flyers. The internet has allowed me the ability to run a label out of my house with very little money yet have an international presence... even though I'm doing it in my underwear on a laptop on a Sunday morning :) I got on the MySpace train just before it blew up, staying up all night sending messages and adding hundreds of people one by one (before they made spammy programs to do that for you), so the MySpace people have been very good to me because I was an example of what they thought musicians could do with their site. MySpace is kind of a monster now in terms of the scale of it, but it worked for me. It's the same thing with iTunes - you can create a whole record on a computer and post it online without spending a dollar on distribution. People talk about the music industry falling apart, but I think the naysayers are just the people in power who are slowly realizing that they're losing power. I don't have any need to be a big pop star - there will always be a place for those people on the top forty charts - but I can sell enough records to keep my rent paid, which is fine with me.
Is it true that you played the piano before picking up guitar? If yes, what made you "switch"?
To be honest, I think it was girls. To a young man on the cusp of puberty, the piano didn't seem that cool, and at that point I was pretty much just thinking about girls. And I was sick of taking piano lessons where I was learning the theme songs to 80's movies every week. I completely regret giving up on the piano so young, but it came back to me a couple years ago. It was nice to send my old piano teacher the "Garden State" songbook that got published so she knew I wasn't a complete musical failure.
The last name "Brothers" is sometimes misleading. Has anyone ever mistaken you for a full band?
Every single day. The advantage to doing this independently is that I have total creative control, but the disadvantage is that I don't have the marketing/advertising money to tell people that I'm just one dude. If people like the music, that's the important part. They can figure out who I am later.
What took so long for an actual full length to come out?
At first, I just didn't have the money to stay in a studio that long with the producer who I was working with, and that's why I made EPs. I only had cash for four songs, and I didn't have the capabilities to record at home yet. After that, I started touring so much that I was never around long enough to make a whole record until I took a break at the beginning of the year. I also knew that I was growing up a lot on the road and that the longer I waited, the better I would know my voice and musically what kind of statement I wanted to make. A full length record just felt so important, almost like having a kid, and I didn't wanna fuck it up.
People have been wondering why there are so many old songs on the new album; is there any reason behind this?
Well, there are only three tunes from two different EPs on the new record, and I would say it's because I wasn't happy with the original versions and wanted to take 'em up a notch on the full length. I had so little money to do the EPs that we recorded a song a day, and whatever wasn't recorded in time didn't make the song. I completely re-recorded "Honestly" and finally finished "Ride" the way I wanted to for this record. And I got a full string arrangement on "Loneliest Girl in the World." So I didn't just drop the same songs on the record. I think I made them better and final, at least to me.
The new album is going to be an independent release, but have any labels approached you so far?
Labels have been "talking" to me for years, but they were really confused at how to define me in their marketing terms. I kept throwing different sounds out there so that I couldn't be branded as any one kind of artist, which is just confusing to them. By the time they really got interested, I was pretty comfortable doing the way I was doing it with my Indie label Procrastination Music. I partnered up with a company called Bluhammock for this release just so that some of the work was taken off my shoulders, and I could really concentrate on the music. They have been really supportive and have let me do my thing with no interference. I've seen too many friends of mine get destroyed by the majors despite being great bands and making great music, so I'm not willing to put my life in the hands of some corporate machine that won't take my needs and experience into account.
Many of your songs seem to be about love relationships; how true would you say this is and are they (your songs) always about personal experiences?
Like I said before, songwriting is therapeutic for me, so it's all personal. I feel like if I tell someone else's story, I risk it being fake, but as long as I write what I know there's truth to it. People may like it or not like it, but it's 100% honest. I may start writing a relationship song about a girl I've known, but in many cases I end up writing about myself and the world. I definitely have a comfort zone - "The Last One" on the new record is the first time I've written something overtly political, but I still disguised it as a break-up song. It's essentially about trying to break up with corporate America. Now that this record is done, I feel a little more freedom to experiment. Maybe the next record will be all speed metal songs about furniture. Who knows?
Do the lyrics come first, or do the melodies?
Melodies first. Always. I'm not the kinda guy who walks around with a notepad and calls himself a poet. Good for the people that are talented and can do that, but I'm a songwriter which means to me that the music and lyrics are at the mercy of melody. There are some songs I love but I don't even really know what the person's saying in the verses - the vocals are just another instrument and the entire thing exists as a whole and makes me feel some way. Sigur Ros is a good example of that. Love those guys.
What do you do while on the road? It must be different touring by yourself and not having band members around.
Right now I'm in a hotel room in Massachusetts on the Brandi Carlile tour recovering from two very fun sold out crazy shows and post-parties in New York. I brought a cellist out to play and sing with me on this tour. Sometimes when I have a little more cash, I'm able to bring the band or one person with me so I'm not alone in a car talking to myself all the time :) I got pretty fierce with the partying on the road for a couple years, and I'm still always up for a good time and some Jack Daniels after a show, but I'm trying to keep my body and voice in a decent place so I can keep doing this for a long time.
Visiting other places must be fun. What's your favourite tour and experience so far?
My first real national tour opening for Aqualung two years ago was amazing because it was their first headlining thing across the states. We learned a lot together and have been great friends ever since. I would however have to say that the Hotel Cafe tour that I organized for the last two years is unbeatable. We have a house band that learns all the songs, and different artists come on the road for a few weeks at a time, so there are so many different overlapping musical styles and personalities that it keeps you on your toes. I was never someone who traveled much when I was young, so going to London on the Hotel Tour was pretty incredible for a kid who grew up worshiping British bands.
You often work with your friends (Radin, etc), but is there ever any sense of rivalry between you and them?
I love the honesty of that question. The truth is no. We all know how fragile this industry is, and between Josh and I and all our friends that play in LA (and all over the place), there is a really supportive community. I've been lucky to surround myself with people that cheer you on when you're up and lift you up when you're down, and I do the same for them. LA in general is not like that. There are some competitive douchebags I've come across, but their time will come - the way I see it, they will see all the same people on the way up as they will on the way down :)
Zach Braff also seems to be an important figure. What would you say about that and how did you meet him in the first place?
Zach and I kind of knew each other in college at Northwestern, but it wasn't until he moved to LA that we became good friends. When he was waiting tables pre-Scrubs and I was playing crappy open mics around town, we found a creative trust that we still have to this day. He would always listen to my tunes first and I would read his screenplays. When he asked me if he could use "Blue Eyes" in this little independent film he was directing, we had no idea that the film and the soundtrack would ever go on to be as successful as they were. He's a good friend and a limitlessly talented dude.
What is the best compliment you have received so far and how did you respond to it?
There have been some people who used "Blue Eyes" as a first song at a wedding, which is weird but cool, but I gotta say that there's a dude in upstate California that said he drove up the coast listening to "Ride" for a weekend because it reminded him of his dog that had just died who he had for years. I wrote him back and just thanked him for sharing that. I'm kind of a sucker for dogs. I've had a couple musical heroes say nice things, but I'd rather keep those stories to myself.
Your songs have been featured on some movies and TV shows; if you could go back in time and include one of your songs in a movie, what song of yours and movie would you pick?
I would say I would go old school and put my tune "The Last One" on the Say Anything Soundtrack. For the extreme 80's-ness of it all. Seriously, I would love to have a song in a Cameron Crowe movie one day since he's one of my personal gods.
A lot of your music is slow, but what do you personally enjoy listening to?
To me it's about the power of a song than the speed of it. Like the song "Transatlanticism" by Death Cab is royally slow, but when it's over I have been blown away much more so than by the fake-punk, heavy guitar pop shit that seems to be everywhere these days, which has about as much emotional impact as chewing gum. I have songs for different moods. There are great make-out records like Beck's Sea Change and any Sigur Ros. Bowie, The Clash, The Pixies, and Peter Gabriel work at any time. My driving-too-fast song of the moment is "Abel" by The National though it came out forever ago. Night driving always seems better with The Cure, Buckley, or a little Otis Redding. I would most likely be found singing in my car to Wilco, Feist, Prince, or my buddy Kevin Devine's song "Cotton Crush." Last records I got were the most recent stuff from Chris Garneau, Idlewild, William Fitzsimmons, and Explosions in the Sky. All good stuff.
I read that you liked Elvis in your younger years. Would you still consider yourself a fan and has he had any influence on your music?
As a kid from Tennessee, the spirit of Elvis kind of loomed in the air. I did a pretty kick ass impersonation of him when I was five. I loved the idea of Elvis - the good looking country kid who defied authority and won as opposed to the fat guy in Vegas who couldn't handle what he had created. I will always appreciate what he did for music, but as I got older, I wised up and found even more appreciation for all the black musicians who did it first and rarely if ever got the credit or the money.
Is there anything else you enjoy almost as much as playing music?
No. Even if all this falls apart and I end up in a normal day job, I'll still come home and write songs every night and be just as happy. At this point in my life, I don't know how not to do it.
Any last words you would like to say to your fans and the people who have yet to hear your music?
Thanks for even taking the time to listen. There's so much music out there now that's a bit overwhelming. It's the support of fans that even got me in a position to make this record, so I really owe them everything.