INTERVIEW: Brother SpellBinder

How have you been?

Wonderful, thank you! It’s been a strange fall here in the Bay Area of course with the post election confusion, the horrific fire at the Ghost Ship in Oakland, some personal changes, but overall I feel very fortunate at this time!

Can you tell us a little more about your single Babel?

Apropos of the title, Babel is a song about words.  Isn’t it amazing these little sounds that come out of our bodies and communicate information? How exactly does the brain send this signal that connects with the vocal chords and makes our lips move? If I think about it too much, I start having anxiety because I’m trying to catch myself in the very process of speaking.

Oh, and of course the written word is equally amazing and powerful, sometimes more so. I am easily swayed by words on a page. And sometimes afraid of them. What could they make me do, feel, believe? What’s real and what is my own projection?

​A​ll these thoughts must have connected with some mythical association I have with the tower of Babel… and, well the rest is just babel!

​Any plans for upcoming music videos?

I would like to make a video for our song Madame. This song is the most kinetic on the EP and features what we sound like at our most aggressive. We do have a delicate and old-world side, but we also like to build crescendos and walls of sound live – usually just using all acoustic instruments. I think Madame lends itself well to story-telling and I’m excited to start working on that soon. Any video producers out there?

You have a new EP out When The Earth Was Still Flat​ – what’s the story behind the title?

Funny you should ask! The title actually comes from a line in the song Babel. I guess it came somewhere from my subconscious, but I realized it captures what I want to say about our music as a whole at this time. ​It’s an idea. When the earth was still flat, one could fall off the edge and not know what she would find there. ​C​artographers made maps of a flat world that ​was populated by strange creatures and unexplored mysterious territories. ​Perhaps the​ words conjure an image for me of someone traveling to the ends of the earth, much like the hero or heroine in a fairytale. This person lives in a time of infinite possibility, magical creatures, eternal love. So likewise, I like to think we bring a sense of innocence, curiosity and just a touch of magic to our music.

Tell us about the recording process…

The recordings came together​ like a mosaic, piece by piece and carefully.​ ​I love to get creative in the studio, but we didn’t have the funds for a fancy place, so at​ first ​we ​recorded three songs at home. Babel and Flicker emerged from this round. ​Then we got lucky and were invited to record at an amazing place – Mesa Recording in Sebastopol. From there we recorded Sara, Speed of Sound,​ Follow Me​ and Josephine.​ It was around that time that our wind player dropped out (though we’re still great friends) and we added a drummer and cellist​, so some of the songs came together with different configurations. Finally we decided to record Madame closer to home in Berkeley at Live Oak with everybody​ present on the same day, which is why this song is very ​high ​energy. Thus, the EP ​gives a taste of our journey over the past year, including various band members, sounds and spaces. But it ​all relates to a coherent sound and vibe that is ours​.

​How has this new moniker influenced your sound?

Brother Spellbinder’s sound is very much influenced by the people that play in it. Jamie Wilson, our guitar player, ​is a fan of folk music and has ​​down-home chops​. He’s also open to trying any style and willing to be the grounding force since we don’t have a bassist, though cello often fleshes out the lows now. ​​Jamie and I met right after ​I began playing ukulele ​so​ naturally ​the music went in a folkish direction.I love folk and grew up hearing a lot of passionate old ballads about love, murder and weary travelers, but my first experiences as a lead singer were in a mostly shoegazer band, so I’m also super into atmosphere and texture. The dreamier the better!

We​ are​ able to create the landscapes​ and drama I crave because our musicians play their instruments like extensions of themselves. Gabriel Beistline, our cellist plays with multiple symphonies around Northern CA. He can make a cello weep, soar, bleed… Steve Bollhoefer is just a natural talent. ​We have a similar vision about where the song needs to​ go and ​he ​can improvise exquisitely on his violin. Steve La Porta has played with multiple projects from jazz, to symphonies and us! He’s a solid all around rhythmeister with an eclectic array of world instruments. ​

What is it that fascinates you about the ukulele so much?​

The ukulele is small, portable and sounds sort of like a harp at times. What could be better? It also reminds me of a lute, something lovers play when serenading, or maybe fiends on a lazy afternoon with wine. I have a Fluke – a ukulele shaped like a lute made by the The Magic Fluke Company.

​How much did poetry influence the lyrics on this record?​

​I love that you ask this and I’ll take that as a compliment! Hmm… I’ve been told there is a poetic feel to the words, but​ I don’t think there was any conscious choice to write poetry. I usually don’t write lyrics first, though ​that rule gets ​broken occasionally. Most of my lyrics stem from improv because that’s the best way to tap into the deeper psyche. Melody is primary, lyrics are secondary. ​If you do write words first, they need to bend to hit the right beats and notes. ​But both​ words and vocal melody are ​crucial to the art of songwriting. All the elements ​should​ be there. Although sometimes all you need to say is Louie Louie or Tequila. ​

What myths did you get to explore in this material?

There are subtle references in a lot of my songs, like in Madame and Speed of Sound though Babelis the only song ​that comes to mind with an obvious overt attachment to a particular myth on this CD.

​Any plans to hit the road?​

We would like to hit the road this spring or summer! Would you like us to come visit you?

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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