Andrew Braun is a member of Rococode, whose latest record Don’t Worry It Will Be Dark Soon was released in February 2016. Paul Bergman’s latest record Anthropology was released in late 2015. Andrew and Paul both grew up in Altona, Manitoba, and were in a band together in high school. Andrew is presently based in Vancouver, BC; Paul remains in southern Manitoba. This dialogue about art and the meaning of musical endeavour took place via email over the summer of 2016.
Paul Bergman: What do you reckon changed between your first record, Guns, Sex & Glory, and this one?
Andrew Braun: I’d say, above all, that the biggest change would be a more developed sense of identity for the band. We made our first record not really knowing what the project was—no band name, no live shows, no real plan. And despite our best efforts to stitch the thing together, it’s a pretty disjointed affair. Since then we’ve played a couple hundred shows and we’ve written a couple hundred more songs with a “voice” in mind. And we’ve grown up by six years.
Bergman: To what extent is “locating an identity” an act of cultivation and to what extent is it an act of uncovering?
Braun: Definitely a mix of both. A lot of the shifts we’ve undergone have been born of circumstance—we couldn’t afford to record in a studio, so we ended up in a cabin, which had a major impact on the overall sound of the record. We’ve also had to figure out how to play stuff live in an economic and sustainable way, and we’re out there noticing what people react to and what we like ourselves, and that helps steer us in the right direction of what to cultivate and what to let go of. So on the whole, the process of locating an identity has (to this point) been mostly an organic one where we’ve chosen the moments and circumstances that we’d like to exploit. Maybe that’s not a great word choice, but whatever.
Bergman: How do you go about discerning how much of the steering is decided by what people react to (and how) and what you yourselves like? Is it perhaps like you sing in “Diamond,” “I’m digging inside to see just where my soul lies / I sift through the graveyard, I’ve got nothing to fight,” in that there’s an element of deep and enduring inner work, irrespective of the crowd, coupled with a care for and attention to what’s gone before, what’s worked, and what might be of use now and in the future? Does that make (some) sense?
Braun: Yes. Makes a lot of sense. But I think you can get a much clearer sense of what’s working in a song when you play it for people. It’s not a matter of their reaction at all, but it’s naked and vulnerable and reveals its strengths and weaknesses much more quickly.
Bergman: When did music first begin to interest you, and what compelled you to begin creating music?
Braun: Music was just something my mom made me do. It was a constant battle, but she sat down beside me on the piano bench and practiced with me probably five times a week. She bribed me with whatever it took to keep me taking piano lessons—for a while it was hockey cards, then eventually it was a guitar. Playing music was a much different experience with the guitar because I never took any lessons and the music was not just something I was reading off of a page. I think that’s what led me to start trying to write songs. I do remember quite a major turning point coming when you burned me a copy of your Radiohead at Glastonbury bootleg. That live set, and eventually OK Computer, really compelled me to want to create in a more serious way.
Bergman: Is there art (music, literature, painting, whatever) that you go back to from time to time to remind yourself why you got on board this ship in the first place?
Braun: I definitely go back to the stuff that I know was important along the way, but I think it’s a lot harder to keep looking forward and find new things that can have the same impact. Being older and obviously more critical and discerning has something to do with it for sure, but it’s definitely a challenge to find new things that move you with the same impact as the stuff that got you started.
Bergman: What are some examples of important art that has endured for you?
Braun: Most of the Radiohead stuff has endured, certainly, and recently I’ve been pretty into the mid-’90s trip-hop stuff like Massive Attack and Portishead. It’s pretty interesting to have a second go-around with some of this music as a more mature individual and as a more experienced and knowledgeable musician. I think the difficulty with finding new things with comparable power is all about age. I mean, I can still sing all the words to “Semi-Charmed Life,” but it takes me a lot of work to sit down and memorize lyrics for anything that wasn’t soaked up and stored away by my teenage brain. I think we are just feeling a lot of everything in those ages of teenage discovery, and our reactions to art are no different. It’s just different now than the shivers of listening to a CD for the first time in the dark in your room.
Bergman: So is it that initial spark that keeps you going, or the hunt for another, or something else altogether? It is not exactly an encouraging time in the industry, what with a flooded market and diminishing income, and it must be difficult to dovetail into the rest of life. How do you do it—what sort of prioritizing and routinizing helps make it happen—and why?
Braun: I don’t feel like I’m chasing the initial spark at all. There’s still magic in the mix, for sure, but at this point I feel like if this is what I’m going to do with my life, I have to treat it like a job. Being in a rhythm of creating is a thing that I struggle with a lot. I very strongly believe that it’s something I should be doing every day in order to keep sharp and keep growing. That’s not a philosophy I’ve ever been able to embody for any sustained stretch of time though. I try to make it a high priority in between touring stuff, and it will become more and more important as we gear up for another record. I try to make something every day, at least when I’m at home. I haven’t yet mastered the art of working on music out on the road. I’d like to get there one day too. But I guess I look at all the things that I have to do—running the business side of the band, preparing and performing live shows, making whatever other money I need to pay the bills, working on the computer all day—as part of the life of a creative person at this point in time. It’s all pieces of working toward the creative endeavours in some way, and I don’t really mind doing most of them.
Bergman: Well now, that is a refreshingly holistic take on the agenda of a contemporary musician. Within that stew of tasks, which do you find the most frustrating? And what are the best bits?
Braun: I think all the varied tasks have their moments of extreme frustration and complete satisfaction—filling out accounting spreadsheets, writing a song, posting on social media, figuring out gear, rehearsing—all of it goes both ways. And the internet makes it really easy to get music out there and makes it really hard to be heard above the noise.
Bergman: What do you think the role of music is?
Braun: I think it’s different for every individual, but at the same time it’s a great uniting force. As creators of music, we are trying to make a connection. I mean, writing and recording can certainly lean toward self-indulgence, but if you’re creating with the intention of it extending outside of yourself, you have to hope for and work toward establishing some kind of understanding. It’s hard, for sure, but it’s easy to feel when it’s working.
Bergman: In “Cuttime” you sing, “Cutting up precious time with ways to die”; in “Doom and Bloom,” “Caught the gloom ’cause it was nipping at you, we could feel the thaw”; and in “Baddest sun,” “Wake and chase the silver lining.” There’s a sense in this that the stakes are high, that things are fleeting and precarious, that there are dark and dulling forces at work, but there’s a shot at redemption. What’s the hope, the silver lining, then, that you’re chasing in your life, your work?
Braun: The whole record was written while I was in the most severe depression of my life. All those songs are about trying to climb out of it in one way or another. I’m not entirely sure what would make up the silver lining I was chasing, other than, you know, actually wanting to be alive and stuff.
For more on Andrew Braun and Rococode, visit rococode.com. For more on Paul Bergman, visit Facebook.com/paulbergmanmusic.