"The EP was called jazz so many times, but that’s just a bunch of chords that work like any other sort of indie thing... it’s just got a horn on it instead of a guitar."

Illustration by Merida Anderson
Illustration by Merida Anderson

Edo Van Breemen, Brasstronaut’s vocalist and keyboardist, admits the band is hard to classify. With trumpet, clarinet, flugelhorn and lap steel taking prominent roles, they don’t quite fit in with other indie bands, and the constant association with jazz makes them cringe. Their new album, Mt. Chimaera, might have to sit in a few different sections at the record store, but whichever section you find it in, you’ll find that its soothing bittersweet mood passes too quickly.

Discorder spoke to Van Breemen just after Brasstronaut arrived in Montreal on March 23.

Discorder: You guys recently wrapped up at SXSW. How was it?

Edo Van Breemen: Yeah, it was a pretty grueling day yesterday. … We were in Austin for the week and it was awesome.

D: SXSW has a reputation for being a festival that introduces a lot of bands to a much wider audience. Do you think it’s done that for Brasstronaut?

EVB: I don’t know yet. I think so. There were a lot of people at our show but I don’t know who those people were. But, there were some guys from different blogs around the world, so I’d say that’s true.

D: Did you guys discover any bands while there?

EVB: I guess the biggest surprise for me, well, I knew about this band before, but there’s this band called Liars and they’re definitely the best thing I saw at the festival … Duchess Says was also amazing. Again, I’ve known about her, but I’ve never seen a live show and it was phenomenal. … at one point in the performance she actually tackled me. She jumped off the stage and tackled me to the ground. It was a visceral performance to say the least.

D: Tell me about how songs are written for Brasstronaut. Who does the writing? What’s the process?

EVB: We all kind of do the writing. At this point we’ve done a lot of writing where one person brings an idea to the group and then the song, we jam it out as a band and then we kind of work on it for months. Usually, before it goes to recording, it’s taken us, well, our average time is probably a year. We’re trying to speed that up a little bit. I think it’s sort of like we’ll get it to a point where it can be played live and then play it live a bunch and then rework it, so we tend to take our time with arrangements.

D: I heard that there was a lot of back and forth with the recording and your producer Will Howie with what you had initially recorded at the Banff Centre.

EVB: Yeah, that’s true. When … we came out of the recording sessions [in Banff], because we recorded everything in seven days, it felt a bit rushed and I don’t think we as a band were prepared for the level of post production that we were about to go into. We thought that we could record these songs, mix them and that would be it. When we started hearing the songs, we realized that they didn’t sound the way that we wanted them to sound. But we didn’t even know how we wanted them to sound on a recording. … so we took them back to Vancouver and then for the next nine months, or eight months, we worked on them at our own studios. … like mixing them and then overdubbing them at our houses. I did a lot of stuff, actually in my garage, just putting things through re-amping them and trying to get different sounds and analyzing what we had. … there was a time that I was quite frustrated because I didn’t really know where I should stop. Fortunately we were working with great producers.

D: Do you feel that “Slow Knots” and “Lo-Hi Hopes,” the album’s singles, are the most representative of the album?

EVB: No. I don’t think that the album has a single song that really represents the overall quality. Maybe in terms of instrumentation “Lo-Hi Hopes” is good because you can really hear everything, all of the different instruments get a chance to play out. Also it’s got a blaring trumpet solo. There was some discussion as to where and when we should let the improvisational skills of the horn players shine through because we didn’t want it to be just like a jam record. We wanted the songs to all have intent and work as fully composed pieces, so we were pretty adamant about not being blasé about those kind of things. But yeah, those songs represent a good cross section of the record.

D: I read an interview that you guys did with Left Hip back when you played the Victory Square Block Party, and this quote that seems to come up in a lot of media, where you said that Brasstronaut’s sound is like “a soundtrack to the first day of really getting over a really bad break-up.”

EVB: Oh, it was really kind of a joke and Pitchfork ran with that one, so we’re dogged by it, but yeah I know it. I mean, it’s just one thing of a thousand, million things I’ve said. That’s not a representative quote.

D: What do you think of the media for latching on to that, especially with Pitchfork?

EVB: It was just them, and people need hooks to write. And I’ve come to terms with the way that things get misconstrued in the media, especially with people trying to classify the band within a genre or a set of genres. I found that to be very annoying, but you just keep doing what you’re doing and hope that some people get it. … Like one thing the media says, “this is a jazz indie band.” That’s like an awful thing to read sometimes … we’re just making music and we’re using all of our influences to make theses songs. We’re definitely not just like a jazz-rock band. I’d say that we’re writing more pop, experimental pop songs. Sorry, I’m kind of going on a bit of a tangent.

D: That’s okay.

EVB: I think that the media, a lot of the time will try and create a kind of a hook to frame the story and then they’ll build around their hook and they’ll use the music or what their interpretation of the music is, or what’s existing in the media already to support their hook. So that’s not really saying anything objective about the music.

D: Do you think that Brasstronaut is more prone to being classified with these hooks because your sound is eclectic and not really like anything else that’s going on?

EVB: I think so and I think maybe some people think that it’s a deliberate thing that we’re trying to do—that we’re trying to be so different and it’s really not what we’re about. We’re really good friends who are primarily just interested in making music together … it’s not like we strategized to create something that would be weirder or a little bit more unique than other rock bands. I think that people go for that because it’s got a horn and then people say, “oh, a horn, this is like a jazz band.” Even “Requiem for a Scene.” The EP was called jazz so many times, but that’s just a bunch of chords that work like any other sort of indie thing, or emo, or whatever. It’s just got a horn on it instead of a guitar. … Well Tariq [Hussain] and I have not gone to music school, but the other four guys have. And they’ve played in jazz bands, like, a lot of them, and they’ve also played in a lot of other kinds of bands as well, like classical ensembles, Latin bands. So you can hear the influences that will come in, and certainly in the way the trumpet is played by Bryan [Davies], like he’s taking cues from, like, Miles Davis or whoever. He’s influenced by people within that genre, but not necessarily by the genre. I think that’s what I’ve been trying to get out there.

D: And is the band as a whole excited about John [Walsh, their bass player] and his wife’s baby on the way?
EVB: Oh yeah totally totally! At this point, … we’re definitely over the mid-mark of the tour and we’re pretty excited to go home and see our friends and family. But yeah, John is very excited, and you can put that in print, we all are.

Brasstronaut will be playing a homecoming show at St. James Hall on May 6 and opening for Bonobo at the Commodore during the Vancouver International Jazz Festival on June 30.