Tonight, singer-songwriter Cary Brothers will be performing at the Old Rock House with fellow troubadour Greg Laswell and up-and-coming band Harper Blynn. (The latter is also functioning as the house band for the night.) The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $12. ($14 for those under 21.) In this week's paper, I interviewed Brothers about his new album, Under Control, and his return to the road after taking some time off to regroup his life. Below are outtakes from that interview - everything from the pluses and minuses of forming/releasing music on his own label to the magic of the Hotel Café, to Katy Perry's hidden past and why the Thompson Twins rule. Read on.
Annie Zaleski: The artists I've talked to who are doing things on their own and have formed their own thing, they all sound so liberated and so happy. Cary Brothers: I'm on cloud nine. I can do anything I want - there's no one saying no. Listen, every writer needs an editor -- so I definitely have those in my life. So it's not like I'm just doing this on my own, saying everything is amazing. That freedom, it's changed everything. It's changed my peace of mind and the way I form. I don't feel like there's a monkey on my back.
Cary Brothers, "Ghost Town"
What are the biggest challenges you've faced embarking on your own? The second you don't have a huge supplier of money behind you, everything changes. Radio is a completely different story for me now - to hit at radio now, it requires a certain amount of money. So many DJs are like, 'Wow, we love this song, but we don't think you have enough money to push it for six months, so we don't want to play it because you're not going to be able to keep adding stations because you cant' continue to pay radio promoters.' It's frustrating, because it's like, "Wait, but you like the song!" "Oh yeah we like the song, but there are a lot of other songs we like too. And if you don't have money to stick around, then we can't fully support it.'
The good thing is, a lot of stations, a lot of music directors at stations went ahead and played it anyway and added it. Where it's happening, it's been doing well. [And] my experience thus far has been...a lot of the success was in TV and film. To me, that's the new radio. That's my radio.
Cary Brothers, "Ride":
You had the Hotel Café and everybody collaborated and helped each other out. With the way the music industry is going, do you think that's still able to happen, could that happen now? The two organic things I've been able to be a part of that just can't be created were the Garden State soundtrack and the Hotel Café scene. The Garden State soundtrack was, like, a mixtape that was made by Zach [Braff] and a group of friends that loved music. With no idea it would go on to become this thing. That was completely organic and no promotion, no marketing behind it. It just naturally happened.
The same thing happened with me at the same time at the Hotel Café. I was in LA, it's a very dog-eat-dog kind of town. And then I walked into the Hotel Café one night and saw Gary Jules play and [he] just blew me away. I was like, "I have to be a part of this." I instantly knew that. All the people that were hanging out there and playing at the time were of the same mindset. There were a lot of young musicians, we all learned how to play live together. And competitive in the best way - not competitive like trying to beat each other, but [if] someone gets up onstage before you and kicks ass, you gotta step up.
And the other thing about that room, it was such a small place, it wasn't a rock club. The side of my brain that grew up listening to U2 and Cure and Joy Division records, I had to put that on hold and just make it, "Okay, if this song works, it has to work with a voice and a guitar." I was able to strip it down to that, and now I feel like what I've done since then is just building it all back up. In addition to the community that exists there, that still exists. When you look at the diversity of people that have come out of that room - Sara Bareilles... Katy Perry was at Hotel Café. Whoa, I don't think many people know that. Yeah, Katy was playing showcases with us. We would do shows out of town and Katy would come and play. When she just had an acoustic guitar, she was an entertainment machine. She just now has a lot more money to play with to make it even bigger. [laughs]
And she has a great voice... And she just has a sense of humor. Last time I saw her up at the Hotel it was an Easter show, and she came in a bunny outfit. Not like a Playboy bunny outfit, I mean like a giant pink bunny outfit. She was doing that before she had a hit song. It was only a matter of time.
My boyfriend is a huge fan of yours, and he wanted to know how you chose to cover the Thompson Twins' "If You Were Here." I love that song too - I love the Thompson Twins, I'm not embarrassed about that. I think they have some great songs... Absolutely! I'm such a sucker for the '80s. I want to cover an '80s song on every record I ever do. [Note: Under Control has a cover of Level 42's "Something About You."] As long as I can figure out a way to make it sound like mine. With the Thompson Twins thing, I remember being in the fifth grade and trying to hunt down the Sixteen Candles soundtrack for like a year, because it was out of print. I was so obsessed with finding that song that I heard at the end of that movie. And finally I found it - it was a song that was always in the back of my head to experiment with.
Cary Brothers, "If You Were Here":
And the great thing about that song - and also the Level 42 song - they were out there in the public, but never ... maybe moreso with the Level 42 thing, But "If You Were Here" wasn't a monster hit. It was a beloved thing to a lot of people, myself included. I was able to figure out a way to do it that made it sound like it made sense with the record. And the best part about recording both those songs is getting emails from the Thompson Twins and Mark King from Level 42 saying they dug the tune - which, for my inner '80s geek, was like, manna from heaven.