Glorious Noise Interview: The Broken West
Hailing from Los Angeles has its share of benefits and drawbacks. The benefit is that you’re so close to the entertainment industry that you’ve got a plethora of support systems to utilize, whether it be a myriad of clubs to perform in, like-minded musicians and performers to befriend, or the industry itself when it comes time to hawking your shit. The downfall is pretty much the same as the benefits, but at least you’ve got a large history of bands before you that managed to rise above the make-believe and keep L.A.’s allure in tact so that people still put it on the end of their own yellow brick road.
Or to quote one such band from L.A.: “The West is the best / Get here and we’ll do the rest.”
The Broken West don’t happen to use The Doors as their musical blueprint, but they did follow their relocation advice as all of the members are transplants to the City of Angles. After an independently released EP (The Dutchman’s Gold) they signed to Merge Records and released their debut I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On.
Frontman Ross Flournoy set aside some time to talk with Glorious Noise as the band began their North American tour in support of their new album Now Or Heaven.
GLONO: Give us the lowdown on the new album…
Flournoy: Well, the title came from Danny [Iead, co-songwriter/guitar] incorrectly hearing a lyric from one of the songs. I think he was doing a harmony part, and the line was “It’s now or never”, but he heard it as “it’s now or heaven.” Adam Vine, who co-wrote most of the songs with Danny and me seized on that and said, “Hey, that’s a good title.” And I completely agreed. Hence, the title was born.
Honestly, I’m proud of everything on the record. Of course, there I things I wish I could change, mix differently, etc…there always are things you wish you could change. I would say, off the top of my head, my favorite songs are “Gwen, Now and Then,” “Perfect Games,” “House of Lies,” and “The Smartest Man Alive.”
This is a total cliché, but I truly believe that what sets this record apart from the last is that we’ve matured a lot as songwriters. I think the lyrics are much better on this one, and I think we took more chances – and ultimately, had more fun – on this one.
You chose Thom Monahan to produce this record. What was it about his resume that made you want to work with him?
Really, his work with the Pernice Brothers. He used to be a member of that band, and produced basically all of their record except the last couple. I love that band, and always thought the production on those records was incredible, so that’s why I wanted to work with him.
Some of the pictures of the recording session found you guys around a lot of different vintage equipment. Was there a particular amp or guitar that you found yourself returning to again and again during the recording process?
Definitely. We recorded the basic tracks at a studio in Sacramento called The Hangar. There’s a young guy who works there named Bryce Gonzalez – I think he’s 26 or 27. He’s a technical genius. He can wire, re-wire, take apart and rebuild just about any piece of equipment. He builds his own guitar amps, which unfortunately aren’t available on a mass level yet. And, no joke, those amps are the best amps I’ve EVER played through. Just incredible tone. So we were fortunate enough to use a lot of those during recording.
Going into the sessions, was there a consorted effort to attain a certain sound or direction?
We wanted to focus intensely on the rhythm section – paying specific attention to what the drums were doing in each song. So, I think that was sort of the guiding principle. Beyond that, I think we wanted this record to have a bit more “atmosphere” or “ambience” than the last one.
It seemed like the Broken West was constantly on the road supporting I Can’t Go On, give us your best story from that tour of Broken West’s decadence.
Oh man, that’s a tough one… I think by and large we’re pretty tame. There was one night in Oshkosk, WI with some of the guys from Fountains of Wayne that was kind of weird and crazy but totally awesome. That’s all I can say.
With that many tour dates, a band can anticipate an “off night” or two. Give us a show from the tour that stands out as particularly bad and explain what happened.
A show we played in Birmingham, AL with a band called The Comas. I think they’re were maybe four people in the audience, and two of them were my cousin and his girlfriend. It was a real shit show. Some of us may or may not have taken some psychedelics, and it was just totally free-form. I think we might have played three originals, and the rest were just rambling, incoherent covers, some of which featured Andy from the Comas singing lead vocals with me. It was a ton of fun.
What was the dumbest fight or argument while on the tour?
Jon Shaw – who used to be our touring keys player – and I got into a screaming match at a Subway in northern Washington state near the Canadian border. We had just spent about five hours in immigration purgatory/hell, only to be turned away because the stupid promoter in Vancouver had fucked up our paperwork. We almost got arrested by Canadian immigration, and suffice to say our spirits were broken and we were all on the verge of tears.
So we stop at this Subway on the way back to Seattle, and none of us has really spoken to one another for about 30 minutes. Jon and I are in line at Subway, and I asked what kind of cheese he’d gotten on his sub. He turned and snapped at me – something like “Pick your own fucking cheese!” Well, I unleashed, and hurled a bunch of expletives at him. The poor girl working behind the counter – she was probably only 17. Finally, we calmed down, and made up by splitting a tall boy of Steel Reserve in the parking lot.
So how sick of “Down In The Valley” (MP3) are you?
Pretty sick of it. Well, it comes in waves. Some times when we start that song, I feel nothing but intense joy and excitement to play it, because it’s a fun song to play live. But man, we’ve probably played that song around three or four hundred times, so it does get a bit old. I don’t think we’ve ever done a show without playing “Down in the Valley.”
As a songwriter, how difficult is it to create while on the road?
I think it’s difficult to fully flesh out a new song on the road. For me, that takes some time…trying things, revising things, demoing, etc. But the initial spark for a song – a melody, a line – can hit anywhere.
Talk about a song from the new album in which you had mixed feelings about going into the studio with but then, thanks to Monahan or another member’s efforts, you felt differently about it.
Well, I would say “Gwen, Now and Then,” which is now one of my favorite songs on the record. Originally, it was sort of a “rocker” – it had a big drum beat that went through the whole song. Then, during pre-production before we recorded it, Thom stripped it down to really just electric rhythm guitar. I had some serious doubts about that, but I think it turned out great.
Nearly every review of The Broken West conjures up images of Southern California, give us three albums that conjure up some hometown pride for you.
• The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man
• Love – Love
• Jon Brion – Meaningless
I became obsessive about the last Tegan & Sara album, The Con. What was my problem?
I don’t think you have a problem at all. It’s a really good record. The songs are great and Chris Walla’s production suits them perfectly. I think I’m a little bit more partial So Jealous, the record before, but that might be because that was my first introduction to them. Obviously, we love “Back In Your Head,” because we covered that almost every show on our tour last fall. And I love that song “Burn Your Life Down.” It’s just a very moody, affecting record.
We were lucky enough to get to meet them this summer. We played a festival with them in Calgary, and they are both so incredibly sweet and just fun to be around. And they are absolutely KILLER live. One of the best shows I’ve seen in a long, long time.
Besides Motley Crue, give a shout to another SoCal band that doing some great shit that’s worthy of our attention.
The big earthquake is coming. You get the rest of boys together safely and are forced to relocate to another city. Based upon your extensive travels, you point the van towards what city and why.
I’d say Portland or Austin. We love both of those cities, and I think they both have enough of an open, West Coast/California feel (even though Austin is in Texas) that we could be happy there.
You’re in store for yet another lengthy tour after the album is released. What’s the first thing you do when you get home from it?
See my lovely girlfriend, sleep, and walk around my neighborhood.
Stream: Now Or Heaven.
09.09.2008 Denver, CO Hi Dive
09.10.2008 Omaha, NE Slowdown Jr.
09.11.2008 Iowa City, IA The Picador
09.12.2008 Madison, WI Orpheum Side Door
09.13.2008 Minneapolis, MN 400 Bar
09.15.2008 Chicago, IL Schubas
09.16.2008 Pontiac, MI Pike Room
09.17.2008 Toronto, ON Canada Horseshoe Tavern
09.21.2008 New York, NY Mercury Lounge
09.22.2008 Cambridge, MA The Middle East
09.23.2008 New Haven, CT Cafe Nine
09.24.2008 Washington, Rock N Roll Hotel
09.25.2008 Chapel Hill, NC Local 506
09.26.2008 Mt. Pleasant, SC Village Tavern
09.27.2008 Nashville, TN The Basement
09.29.2008 Memphis, TN Hi Tone
09.30.2008 Denton, TX Dan’s Silverleaf
10.01.2008 Austin, TX Mohawk
10.04.2008 Los Angeles, CA Spaceland