BRONZE RADIO RETURN
- July 2013 -
HAVE A BEER WITH BRONZE RADIO RETURN
Roots-rockers Bronze Radio Return recently released another full-length record, Up, On & Over, which confirms our belief in that old saying: “the third time’s the charm.” The band formed in Hartford, Connecticut, in 2008, when lead singer Chris Henderson met Patrick “Packy” Fetkowitz [lead guitarist] at the Hartt School of Music, an internationally acclaimed performing arts conservatory. Five years and four band members later—drummer Rob Griffith, keys player Matthew Warner, bassist Bob Tanen and harmonica/banjoist Craig Struble joined shortly thereafter—the group is taking the U.S. by storm [van], promoting the release of their third album and playing sold-out shows in cities across the country.
We had some beers with the guys before their July 6th show at Evanston SPACE to talk about recording their album on a farm, their favorite thing about home and whether or not they view their most recent collaboration as a return to their roots.
The Show: July 6, 2013 at Evanston SPACE
Drinks of Choice: IPAs and whiskey
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: What are your guys’ drinks of choice? It doesn’t have to be beer.
Rob: There’s a fair amount of bourbon enjoyment. I like Bulleit, personally.
Chris: As a band, for beers, we like IPAs. We just came from Founders Brewery in Grand Rapids [Michigan], and they have some killer IPAs.
Rob: Also, Jameson, across the board.
Chris: If we’re up North, we like Allen’s Coffee Flavored Brandy.
Kristen: Never heard of that.
Chris: It’s regional.
Kristen: What were you doing at Founders Brewery? Was it a show?
Chris: We played there for their Fourth of July festivities. They have a stage and obviously really good beer.
Rob: They do a couple of concerts a week there and various events throughout the year.
Kristen: How long have you guys been together officially as Bronze Radio Return?
Chris: We’ve been playing together as a full band going on almost five years now.
Kristen: This whole crew? I feel like that’s kind of an anomaly—to have that many people consistently stick with it.
Chris: Absolutely. We’re a pretty tight-knight group. We like to fight like brothers and then make up.
Kristen: I saw your van parked outside and I thought, Holy shit. Six of them in that thing?
Craig: Looks are deceiving. It’s a fifteen-passenger van. It’s not enormous but...
Rob: …It’s not a Honda Civic.
Craig: We do get to stretch out sometimes, but it depends on how many people there are. I love the van.
Rob: I think in this day and age the invention of the Kindle and the iPhone help bands stay together on long trips because we can all tune each other out.
Kristen: My parents just got iPads and I don’t think they talk to each other anymore [kidding, Mom and Dad]. What would you say is your favorite thing about home? When you’re back from a tour, what do you most look forward to?
Matt: Spending time with family for me. When I’m back from touring, I don’t like to do much else other than hang around the house, practice and kind of just relax.
Craig: I’ve got a lot of hobbies. I like to garden and do some homebrewing.
Chris: And start libraries.
Craig: Yeah, and I started a little library.
Craig: Yeah, I have a mini fake library in my front yard. People can come by and grab a book and put one in.
Kristen: What’s been your favorite book in the collection?
Craig: There have been a lot. People have really been using it. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff [by Richard Carlson] is one of my favorite books and that was in there for a little bit. Someone took it and hopefully they’re reading it right now.
Kristen: I love that.
Patrick: I think it’s nice to be home and not have a schedule, per say. To piggyback off what Matt said it’s nice to go home and just chill out and not have to be in the lobby at a certain time or be out of the venue at a certain time. It’s nice to call my own shots.
Rob: Yeah, we have a pretty strict schedule when we’re touring…to go home and not really have that is really nice. It’s a good balance of both. Right when we start to feel like we might be getting lazy at home, we get back out on the road.
Bob: I like to keep the whole routine going. I like freelance engineering and getting my nerd side out. It keeps me going at home. It’s a different side of things that clears my head.
Chris: It’s definitely nice to have a mix. When we’re out on the road, we’re working, it’s fast-paced and it’s really fun. We obviously enjoy it because we keep doing it. By the end of the run, you’re like I can’t wait to get home. And then you get home, the pace slows down, you see the significant others, you see your family, and by the end of that time, you’re ready to go back out. It’s a constant looking forward to something.
Craig: It’s funny because we hang out, too, when we’re off the road. We’ll call each other up and say, “Hey, let’s go down to The Spigot.”
Rob: And we’ll just sit in the van for a while. We’ll just get a hotel room together downtown.
Kristen: Do you have a favorite venue so far?
Patrick: This venue [Evanston SPACE] is creeping up on the list…
Bob: We just played Bowery Ballroom in New York and that was a really, really special time. Great people, great crowd, great sound system.
Kristen: Can’t go wrong.
Patrick: World Café Live in Philadelphia is another one for me personally.
Chris: We did a really fun show last night at Summerfest in Milwaukee. I feel like it’s the largest festival that nobody’s heard of. I think there were 100,000 people there last night—not exaggerating. It was chaotic and fun, but just crazy overwhelming.
Kristen: We recently reviewed your new album Up, On & Over on the site. Let’s talk about the progression of your previous two albums to this album. Do you feel like you’ve moved forward or returned back to your roots?
Chris: This is our third full-length record, and I think the more you do something hopefully the better or more refined you get at doing it. This album certainly shows progression for the band, but I don’t think it’s a completely new spin on the music or a diversion from our roots. Instead, it’s a further development that includes some more textures and some slightly different song forms. But it’s nothing you would listen to and think, Wow, this band went in a completely different direction. It’s been a pretty gradual, steady progression, which comes naturally from us recording and playing as musicians together more and more.
Kristen: What’s your creative process like when you go to record?
Chris: Generally I’ll start with forms and lyrics to get a rough starting point. I’ll spend time in Connecticut and time in Maine—where I grew up—kind of working between the two places to get stuff together. Then we’ll all go to the studio and hash stuff out together. We work with a producer out of Oklahoma by the name of Chad Copelin and he’s a great guidance to the band…A lot of that [the creative process] happens in the studio for us. Some bands will go out and road-test songs ahead of time, but we use the studio as the initial creative part of it, and when we’re done recording, we’ll take that body of work and start applying it in a live setting, as opposed to playing it for a while and then recording it. It’s certainly a democracy in the band and we all have a say in what works and what doesn’t work. We work as a team.
Kristen: Do you ever disagree? Does that get iffy sometimes?
Chris: Shockingly, the stuff in the studio almost never gets iffy. It’s like the t-shirt designs, the random stuff, where it’s like, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Kristen: Well, it’s good that the music is the thing you agree on.
Chris: Yeah, we’re very much all on the same page. That’s the other thing that I think works well for our group. We come from similar backgrounds, but pretty diverse backgrounds at the same time. We’ve got some rock guys. We’ve got some blues, folk and jazz guys…
Kristen: Who would you say are some musical inspirations? Either as a group or individually.
Matt: Stevie Ray Vaughan was a big one for me growing up. As a blues player, it was unavoidable and I think his style is great. He’s influenced a lot of players.
Rob: The Band I think is a big one for us.
Patrick: Creedence Clearwater Revival was another foundation for me.
Bob: Chris was talking about diverse backgrounds…I like some of the heavier stuff. The Stone Temple Pilots.
Bob: Hey, easy, the recorder is on.
Chris: As a band, there was a phase where we listened to a lot of Ryan Adams together.
Rob: Ryan Adams, not Bryan Adams.
Chris: We did an interview once, and we were big Bryan Adams fans. With a big “B” in front of it.
Rob: Not that we don’t like the Bryan Adams, on occasion.
Patrick: He really nailed the Robin Hood soundtrack. He pretty much held it together. The Three Musketeers, too.
Chris: We all also really like a band called Delta Spirit. We really enjoy their sound.
Kristen: I like them, too. Just heard about them a few weeks ago. Who have you guys played with previously?
Patrick: We did a pretty solid run with The Wheeler Brothers, a band out of Austin, Texas. The Dunwells, which is a British band, are good friends of ours. Those were both co-headlining tours.
Rob: We just played a show with Dawes. We did a few things with Good Old War, a band from Philadelphia.
Bob: We’ve also done one-offs with John Mayer, Grace Potter, Buddy Guy, Blues Traveler…Some pretty fun artists.
Kristen: Do you ever get sick of doing this? Is there ever a point where you wonder if you’re doing the right thing?
Craig: I think like any job, it has its challenges, but when you think about the fact that you’re on-stage doing what you absolutely love, you couldn’t ask for anything better than that. I could be sitting behind a desk all day, but that’s not the case. I get to see a lot of the country, and I get to do it with some of my closest friends. What more could I ask for?
Chris: I always come back to the word “adventure.” As long as every day feels exciting…even going back to rooms we’ve been to before, hopefully we’re going back to a larger crowd or a different crowd. So, as long as the adventure and the excitement holds up, then I feel like we could do this forever.
Patrick: I think a big part, too, is all the different cities and particularly now, at this point in our careers. The crowds are all so different. We’re playing the same music but the interactions are all different. So, to play the same songs each night but have a different experience…we really feed off of that.
Kristen: You recorded this most recent album on a farm, correct? Why a farm?
Chris: Like with the other two albums, we decided that we wanted to leave our comfort zones—home, friends, family—and go somewhere different where we would solely work on the record for a month to six weeks. We wanted to do it all at one time with as few distractions as possible. We found out about this studio through friends of friends and they said it was a cool spot. Our producer thought it looked cool, so we went out there to maintain this kind of “going away” thing. We worked on it for about five or six weeks and we were just out on this farm with literally nothing to do but record, play ping-pong and drink whiskey.
Rob: Don’t forget Wal-Mart.
Kristen: There’s always a Wal-Mart…How did you find out about this place?
Chris: Through a friend of Packy’s…
Patrick: It worked out perfectly. He was actually going to be out of town and we just happened to grab it at the right spot. It’s called White Star Sound in Louisa, Virginia.
Rob: We crammed ten dudes into like a three-bedroom apartment for five weeks.
Chris: We were in a barn essentially with a recording studio downstairs.
Rob: One bathroom.
Kristen: It’s a good thing you aren’t all chicks.
Patrick: We got off the highway and we were all amped to get in the studio. First we got off the highway, then we went to a smaller rural highway, then we went to a dirt road and then we were on a secondary third road and then the trees were hitting the van…
Kristen: You’re like, “Oh, shit…” as your cell phone service gets worse and worse...
Rob: We lost power a few times. But it’s a really awesome studio. The point is that it’s remote.
Kristen: I think it’d be the coolest thing ever to just own a farm. Do any of you have animals at home?
Matt: I have a dog named Lola. Love my dog. Love that dog. Everybody in the band knows about Lola. I talk about her all the time.
Chris: Craig has three adorable snakes.
Craig: The cutest little critters. When I get home they just give me a big hug around the neck.
Craig: I’ll tell you what though, for a touring musician, I highly recommend a snake. They go to the bathroom like once every two weeks. You really can’t go wrong. I got my snake when I was in college and I got this book that said they live for ten years…and then ten years came and went and I did some research online, and then it said thirty years.
Kristen: Oh shit.
Patrick: Did you notice that there was a revision of that book?
Kristen: They could outlive you.
Craig: Yeah, I think they’re plotting against me, so you could very well be right.
Kristen: I don’t know how you sleep at night. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Rob: I think Ricky Bobby once said, “If you’re not first, you’re last.” That one always kind of stuck with me.
Kristen: Classic movie.
Bob: I think early on people emphasized the importance of networking and just being as nice as possible to everyone. You never know who you’re going to meet down the road, who is going to know who… In this business, making friends and networking is really important.
Chris: For me, I learned early on the strength of a positive attitude, which kind of sounds cliché, but it makes a difference…Not being pessimistic or not being easily bummed out goes a long way, especially when you’re a younger band and you show up to clubs where only three people come out or your van breaks down. Those are the fun stories that you’ll remember later. Having that positive attitude through it all is really important.
Rob: And the persistence. You look at bands that are really making it these days and none of them happened overnight. They’re all bands that have been together five or ten years before they really caught a break. So, it’s really about pounding the pavement. I think that’s what separates good bands from great bands.
Kristen: What’s the most un-rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Bob: We got some luck with some licensing stuff and we went into an Irish Pub in St. Louis where they had a hockey game on T.V. It was the Blues and I think it was the playoffs, and we said, “Excuse me, could you turn on American Idol and turn the sound up?” It was cool, because we were able to hear our song on T.V., but it was pretty un-rock to have them switch from a sporting event to American Idol in an Irish Pub.
Rob: I’ve worn gym shorts in public. That’s pretty un-rock.
Kristen: That’s much better than sweatpants tapered at the ankle.
Chris: Those are making a hipster comeback, though.
Craig: I already mentioned the library…that’s pretty un-rock-‘n’-roll. A kid drew a penis in one of my books, so…
Patrick: We did a tour for this company called Sixthman and it was our first time on a tour bus. We stopped somewhere, and I didn’t really look out but I remember thinking, I’m gonna pop off this thing and there’s gonna be a ton of people. I got off the bus and it was me and tumbleweeds in the parking lot. The restaurants were all boarded up and everything. I thought we would maybe circle the block and get out at the cool places. But we didn’t.
Matt: One thing I’ve gotten into recently is landscaping your own home. This is something I never pictured myself getting into whatsoever. My wife and I went to a farmers market and bought a cherry tree and all these plants and stuff. I remember sitting there and being so satisfied with the whole thing when it was done. Like… I love the cherry tree.
Matt: You put the thing in the ground and the mulch over it and it just means so much more to you…I don’t know how to put it.
Kristen: Cherry trees rock. So, that’s kind of rock.
Patrick: Another thing I’m thinking about now that’s kind of un-rock-‘n’-roll, as a general consensus, is like…after you play a burning show…you have a great show and everyone’s really great and you have this energy. And then you walk off stage for two seconds and you have to move all of your equipment. Through everyone. And not only that but you’re basically wearing a wetsuit at that point—soaked—and people are hitting you, and you’re turning around and their hands are on your back. And they’re looking down at their hands like they want to cut them off.
Kristen: A lot of sweat going on.
Patrick: That puts everything back in perspective real quick.
Kristen: What’s next for you guys?
Chris: For the time being, the general idea will be just promoting this album. It’s only been out about two weeks. So, that’s the mindset now—to just get out there and push the record as far as we can push it. We have a great radio team working with us and a great publicist. That’s where we’re at right now—not thinking too much about the future in terms of recording, although I think we’re already looking forward to the next one…It’s hard not to. Right now we just want to get this album in as many hands as we can.
Check out the band online, follow them on Twitter, “Like” them on Facebook and pick up a copy of their new album via iTunes. The group also recorded a session for Daytrotter the day after our interview, so stay-tuned to the Daytrotter site to hear more kickass music from Bronze Radio Return.