David Bronson - The IndieLondon interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
NYC singer/songwriter/producer David Bronson talks to us about life in New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and delivering his new album, Story and its excellent lead single Times.
He also discusses his passion for guitars, his views on the current state of the music industry and how he came to be both a song-writer and singer and how much it means to him.
Q. Hi David, first things first, how did you cope with Hurricane Sandy? What was your experience of it?
David Bronson: I was extremely lucky to be in an area of the city that really wasn’t affected at all besides some damage to the public park areas. About the worst of it in my neighborhood was that there was no public transportation for a number of days, so you were essentially home-bound for the week, which of course is nothing at all compared to so much devastation in surrounding areas. My heart goes out deeply to all those who lost homes and had to deal with all kinds of harrowing events, hardships, and pain, and most especially to those who lost loved ones or have loved ones that got seriously hurt. It’s absolutely heart breaking. And stories just keep arriving about friends or friends of friends or family of friends who’ve lost their house, or lost their businesses – it’s extremely serious for a lot of people here.
Q. How did you find New York coped?
David Bronson: I think, in general, the whole event and aftermath has been such a sad and unfortunate event, and has had a sobering effect on the area. It also has undeniably and visibly “slowed down” things here in the NY metropolitan area. It’s perhaps an obvious observation, but when public transportation shuts down, or is even just minimalized, it has (and has had) a massively limiting effect on movement, I guess you could say, but in all forms of the word, not just literal. It’s definitely not been ‘business as usual’ although this condition is something that the city as a whole seems to be slowly easing out of (not including, of course, those areas that have been so drastically affected).
It does, however, feel like that part of the human spirit that kind of pulls people together in the aftermath of a crisis to help each other, especially those in the most dire need; that this tendency and overall feeling seems to have kicked in. One only hopes that with all the complexity, amidst what must be an incredibly massive spectrum of situations of need, damage, and loss, that resources are moved, distributed, and given in the quickest and most effective ways so the people that need them most get them directly. It is certainly an optimistic turn that so many official and unofficial funds, fundraisers, benefits, and associations have been formed and are taking place to directly benefit those affected.
Q. I really like the song Times, can you talk a little about what inspired you to write it?
David Bronson: To be completely honest, what inspired Times most was a new guitar. I was in a kind of second-hand antique store in upstate New York – I love looking around these kinds of places, precisely for the reason that you just never know what kind of stuff you’ll come across. Usually nothing, of course, but there, buried amongst a mass of junk on an old wooden bench, I see this absolutely beautiful (albeit clearly in need of a little care) obviously vintage hollow body. So, I pick it up and it just feels amazing, truly amazing, which for me, is everything – has nothing to do with price, make, reputation, any of that. It’s entirely about what kind of chemistry you have with the instrument.
So, I immediately bring it up to the guy at the front of the store and ask how much. He gives me a story about how he’s consigning it for a musician friend who really loves it but needs the money and he of course needs to make at least a little something so the lowest he can go is $600. Now, I was really not in the market for a new guitar, and certainly didn’t have the immediate ‘budget’ for it, but I’m sort of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy, so I did the responsible thing and asked if he could hold it for a day, which he hesitatingly agreed to.
So, I go back to the place I’m staying, and for about three hours that night I’m online looking up this guitar – a Silvertone (which I know from the headstock) with no model name, serial number or anything on it – just a vintage Bigsby tremolo and three awesome looking silver pickups. So, I’m looking through pictures on Google and I find it – the flagship Silvertone model #1454 in red sunburst, sold for $189.95 from the 1963 Sears catalog. (Silvertone was simply the generic name brand of Sears, and it turns out this guitar was actually made by the Harmony Guitar company). It says these guitars were made as a direct result of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan – after that every kid in America wanted to play guitars that looked like the ones John, George, and Paul were using, so there it was.
I went back the next day and bought it. And immediately started playing it non-stop. I don’t know what it was but EVERYTHING sounded amazing on this thing. I couldn’t put it down. I think I wrote about five tunes in a few months (which for me is seriously a lot), and Times was the first one.
But, since you were probably asking about what inspired the textual content of the song, I’ll just give a little reply to that by saying that this was very much a period when much of what I was feeling (in regards to the whole narrative of Story) was the ‘coming out’ so to speak, of the pit – the really nasty period of a few years after this relationship ended – and it was very much written at least partly in a just-past-it hindsight kind of perspective. I just remember that first line coming out, “I woke up broken to the bone” and it really felt like I was singing about watching my past and kind of feeling sorry for that guy, but then in the same breath knowing (like you know all along) it’s just about bucking up, picking your ass up and continuing on. That this is one moment, there will be a next, and another, and it’ll keep going.
And it was absolutely like the pain you feel when a deep wound is healing – the shit hurts. But at the same time you know it’s a healthy pain. It’s extreme feeling that I was going through. There was definitely still some lingering anger, which I think comes through, but also there was this intense desire to finally, finally, at long last be done, completely finished with this part of my life that had been somehow hanging over for far too long. And I really did feel like it was happening, I was cutting the chord, so to speak, and relieved because you know it’s really necessary, as opposed to living this kind of deferred half-existence, and that’s where the whole kind of vehement outro part came from, that’s really what it was all about.
And to bring it full circle, that hollow body just really was the absolute perfect instrument to get those feelings out. The boom of it, that powerful resonance and percussiveness when you hit the strings was exactly what I needed at that moment, which probably has something to do with why it spoke to me so much. So the song just came out like that.
Watch the video for Times
Q. Guitars seem to play a big part of the song-writing process and you’re seen playing two in the video. What do you love about the guitar sound? And what’s your favourite guitar to play and why?
David Bronson: I guess I just answered some of this in the last question, but you’re definitely correct in noticing that the guitar is central to the great majority of my song-writing, as well as to the overall sound of my records at this point. Possibly more than the sound (I deeply love the sounds of very many instruments, certainly not just the guitar) it’s the feel of playing guitars that I love so much. And each guitar is very different, completely has its own feel and feeling to the way it plays and sounds.
There have been a number of guitars I’ve really loved over the years, but two stand out, which would be my aforementioned Harmony-made Silvertone and my ’62 reissue SG, which I worked an afterschool job for an entire year in high school to save up for. Like the Silvertone, I felt an instant connection with that guitar as soon as I picked it up in the store. Just about the entirety of The Long Lost Story was written on those two guitars.
Q. How much fun was the video to shoot?
David Bronson: The Times video was great to shoot, but also very gruelling. Mainly, as with so much in life, much of it has to do with the people you’re around, and I have an amazing time with those people so that was great. And additionally, I really believed in the artistic merit of the concept behind the video, so in that respect it’s like building something with a solid foundation. When you have no doubts about the essential quality or soundness of a thing, the rest becomes all about fulfilling the idea of that thing, which, if you’ve seen the video you can probably tell had numerous technically challenging aspects to it, which then becomes a very enjoyable process.
For me, that part of it even feels like kind of a release, and while it can be extremely intense in terms of physical and mental effort (and pure hours of work) I find the execution stage to be very stress-free and, in that way, enjoyable. Also the anticipation of finishing something like that is fun to have, and it was, in fact, very fulfilling to finish it to the level that I think is really quality, and then to see the band’s response, and then other people’s, which has been extremely positive.
Q. How does it feel to have a UK release date for your album, Story?
David Bronson: It feels fantastic. It’s like the other half of the picture in a way. I mean, at least half, and probably more, of the music that’s meant so much to my life has come from the UK. I think it’s one of the great stories in the history of music how these skinny white kids in England idolized these American blues men and early rock and rollers and used that to create this massive revolution of Rock and Roll in the 60’s, only to be idolized by the kids over here in the US, which continues to go back and forth in a cycle of creation and influence, adding up to this completely massive tradition of Western music and culture.
I mean, I don’t think anyone would argue (could argue) that, as far as the history of rock and roll goes, with of course a few notable exceptions, the US and UK are jointly responsible for the creation, rise and history of basically the whole genre, or movement, or whatever you want to call it. And again, so many bands and artists that have been so dear to my heart and existence are from the UK, and these are works and artists that in certain, very legitimate ways, have helped define my life, certainly much more so than most other aspects of culture, American or otherwise, so on a personal level I’m thrilled that my record is being released there. And I’ll be extremely excited to play shows in the UK, when that eventually takes place.
Q. I gather the album took quite a lot out of you? And has been split into two? How long did it take to complete the writing process?
David Bronson: Yes, you’re absolutely correct – the album took everything to complete. But I don’t think that’s such a rare thing for anyone who’s decided to make art his or her life.
As far as the writing process, I would say overall that it was a full seven or eight years between the writing of the first and last pieces of the records. And the way I generally work, which was very true on The Long Lost Story, is to work simultaneously on many songs at once, as opposed to finishing one, moving onto the next, etc. One intended result of this way of working in my case is that the songs in a given body of material inform each other and tend to have an overlap between them. This overlap can consist mainly of thematic repetition, but also generally extends to even include motivic repetition (i.e. using the same lyrical, or melodic, or chordal elements in more than one song), which is very strongly the case throughout The Long Lost Story.
Q. Some of the songs are apparently informed by heartbreak, which resulted in a loss of hope and identity. How so?
David Bronson: It seems to be kind of a universal thing that over the course of any particularly emotionally invested relationship (which romantically loving ones tend to be, especially the earliest of these in life), most people seem to have some degree of blurring, or maybe a better way of putting it would be to say that your own identity, sense of self, really, tends to get bound up within the other person, and your feeling of yourself within the context of that other person and the feeling of that relationship. There’s an extremely strong emotional but also psychological association that takes place I think. This was very much the case for me.
I fell extremely hard, at a very early age, and I think more importantly, at an extremely raw and kind of pivotal developmental stage or moment, for another person. And this relationship lasted years, but specifically from adolescence straight through into adulthood, which was, I think a defining aspect of the nature of this relationship. So, when it ended (which in and of itself was a process that lasted a very, very long time, over which there was a great deal of decay, confusion, and general inner turmoil), it left in its wake a very considerable combination of pain, anger and questioning and uncertainty.
And this is where the loss of hope and identity comes in. The ‘loss of hope’ would be specifically the extreme uncertainty that I would be able to successfully trust another person again, which would obviously inform any ability I would have at creating a successful long-term relationship. And as far as the so-called ‘loss of identity’ went, it could rather be characterized as a lengthy period of searching for and re-finding what one who believes himself to be fundamentally a healthy and good person sees as his inner strengths and potential contributions, after a very long period of what felt like the continual erosion, or degrading of these things by betrayal, or deception, or loss of confidence, or strongly differing values, or whatever else.
And I would say that very definitely all of the songs on The Long Lost Story are informed by heartbreak, but they are also informed equally as much I would say by growth, development, loss, time, learning, death, awareness, creation, fulfilment, and ultimately, living.
Q. How did completing the album contribute to any healing process?
David Bronson: The writing, developing, and producing of the music was unquestionably the primary way, and outlet, by which I dealt with, worked out, and made sense of my interior life over this entire period, but it’s a very complicated and multi-faceted relationship, since in many ways the making and completing of the album was exactly concurrent with the development and moving on of my personal life. So, in that regard I’m not sure whether I would characterize the completion of the record more as having contributed to my healing or as being a record of my healing. I guess both would have to be equally true.
Q. The artwork on the album and on your website, blog and Facebook pages is excellent. Who put that together for you?
David Bronson: Thank you, I’m glad you like it. I very much wanted any visual component to be representative of the types of moods, feelings, and themes of the music, so I took it pretty seriously. From the beginning I wanted my brother Jeremy (who is also my drummer) to do the album artwork, since I think he’s a completely amazing and singular visual artist, and one whose particular sensibilities would lend themselves very well to this project. So, fortunately it worked out that he could do the majority of the album artwork (he’s generally quite busy co-running a very successful Brooklyn-based stop motion animation company called Studio Nos).
As a happy coincidence, he introduced me to a frequent collaborator of his, Julia Liu, who I could see right away is a truly gifted and skilled visual artist, and she was very successfully able to bring out the ideas I had for the website visuals (as well as executing the graphical photo-illustration of me on the front cover of the record). I’ve been thrilled with the results of these collaborations, and am very thankful for the ability to continue to work with both of these great artists.
Q. Do you have any plans to come over to the UK for a tour soon?
David Bronson: Unfortunately not in the immediate future, but I do absolutely intend on coming over to play in the next year to 18 months.
Q. What made you want to become a singer and a songwriter in the first place?
David Bronson: I’ll start by saying that for me, these are two very different and separate questions, each of which has its own answer.
I’ll respond first to the songwriter part, since that came first chronologically. Basically, I think that song writing is the natural extension of playing any instrument. The same way that if you find yourself with a camera (and enjoy using it to any significant degree) the natural thing to do would be to make photographs or movies. So, for me, the putting together of different notes into chords, chords into parts, and combining those parts into initial attempts at songs was a very organic kind of progression. And for me personally, since songs seemed to be the heart of what I loved so much in music, it just naturally became a process of continual development that I was very taken by, and became completely obsessed with for a number of reasons.
As far as being a singer, I never really did want to sing per se, but at a certain point it just seemed very obvious to me that firstly, no one was going to be able to sing all of the parts I had in my head as readily as I would; secondly, that no one else was likely to imbue these parts with as much meaning as I would, they being so highly autobiographical and all, and thirdly, I just didn’t feel like taking all the time and effort I thought would be necessary to have someone else do it to the level I knew I would need, so for all those reasons I just kind of organically decided I should be the one to sing these songs.
And I think I was more or less right on all of those accounts, minus the obvious amendment that I think I have been extremely fortunate in finding Maria Neckam, who has embodied, internalized, and performed all of the female vocal parts of both records in a way that couldn’t be more ideal as far as I’m concerned (so in that way I was proven a bit wrong in one aspect, at least, but very happily so).
Q. How would you describe the journey to this point and what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
David Bronson: For me the journey has been a constant building up of my own identity and confidences, both as an artist and a human. I often feel (as I hope everyone does) that I am living a quintessential kind of human experience, insofar as I am resolutely of my particular time and place, while being simultaneously being both alike in the most fundamental ways to all humans who have ever lived, as well as completely unique and utterly separate from those around me. (And I hope this last part, as some spiritual beliefs maintain, and that I at many moments strongly agree with, is a myth of perception, but has nevertheless been a prevalent feeling at many moments in my life).
As for the biggest lesson that I’ve learned, I’d say it’s something along the lines that the universe, or existence, life, or however you want to call it, tends to give back, mirror, or reciprocate what you give it, or put out. (And a very apropos corollary to this might be that worrying about anything except the most necessary, i.e. urgent or emergency, concerns has proven to me to be a pretty fruitless expenditure of energy).
Q. Who are your influences?
David Bronson: Any full answer here would be too long to list. Strictly musically speaking a few that come to mind are: Peter Gabriel, John Lennon, Bowie, Paul Simon, Pink Floyd, Daniel Lanois. But I’ve been influenced by very many artists and other types across many genres and mediums of expression. I consider Stanley Kubrick a massive influence, and Charles Bukowski, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Marcel Duchamp, and I would have to credit my father with having probably the single greatest influence on the way in which I see the world and humanity (which I in turn believe is the largest determining factor of how and why we approach all other pursuits), and both of my parents in terms of the way I behave towards others.
Q. What do you think of the state of modern music in general? How easy is it for intelligent and even guitar-driven songs such as Times to find a place in the mainstream?
David Bronson: I tend to be of the mindset that the current state of music is very likely the same as it always has been… i.e. there are a lot of very good things and a lot of very bad things, and that there will be a good bit, I’m sure, that will be listened to and passed on for a long, long time to come and very much (the majority, I would think) that will be forgotten pretty quickly.
I think intelligence, per se, is not a very high-ranking criteria for whether a song achieves popularity, or for whether a song should be considered a good song for that matter, although I certainly am a believer in the notion that the greatest art tends to carry within it messages that are useful to people, which may or may not have some correlation to the ‘intelligence’ of a work (although perhaps ’weightiness’ or ‘depth’ would be a more useful term).
As far as the ability of guitar-driven songs to find places in the current mainstream, it does obviously seem to be the case that more and more of what comprises “pop music” (i.e. the mainstream) is less and less guitar-driven; is less and less rock music. That being said, however, there still certainly is a rock presence in mainstream culture, and rock music, per se is obviously very much well and thriving, even if it doesn’t represent a sizeable portion of top 40 radio.
Q. If you could cover any track, what would it be?
David Bronson: What a nearly impossible question to narrow down. Of all those that come to mind I’ll say Yes’s Going For The One, if only because I’ve been listening to it again a bit very recently. This is really the second one that comes to mind, but I don’t want to say the first since I plan on doing it live at some point and wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise. (Another classic rock epic, I’ll say that much).
Q. And if you could share the stage with anyone, who would be your first choice? David Bronson: John Lennon.
Q19. Can you tell us one interesting fact about yourself that we may not already know?
David Bronson: I taught pre-school (2-4 year olds) for a couple years while I was getting an M.F.A.
Q. Finally, what are the 10 tracks that are never far from your iPod players at the moment?
David Bronson: The suite on the Foreigner record by Cat Stevens, the whole latest Iron & Wine record (Kiss Each Other Clean), the new Opossom album (I think the whole thing is great but the song Fly gets continually stuck in my head, which is fine with me since I love it), Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up, Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way whole record – that’s at least 10. I also haven’t listened to the new Killers record yet but am definitely looking forward to that, since I absolutely loved their last one (Day & Age). To me, they’re the best huge-ass stadium rock band in the US right now. And I’d like to listen to Jack White’s recent solo record, too. Oh, and just yesterday I heard the new Shins single, which sounded completely like it could’ve come right off a 70’s Fleetwood Mac album. So, it got me excited to hear that whole record, as well.
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