It’s no secret that El Brandino has been hard at work for quite some time now. He built his reputation around town playing guitar and singing uptempo punk songs for multiple projects over just a few years, before really focusing on his solo artistry. The mans got some hustle, and his new record entitled “A Work in Progress” is no longer a work in progress. It will be available on February 24th, online and on CDs, and for your hearing pleasure at Founders Brewing Co. You can hear a sneak peak of the album with an early, SkipFiction exclusive, single release for “Tito and the Wookie” and a teaser for the rest of the album appropriately called “El Brandinoh’s” right here!
“So I did it, and I played everything…”
Can you tell us about the new album and backing band?
“The new album is a collection of songs I’ve been working on for years, and have done some half ass demos or recordings that never went anywhere. Then I got this crazy deal; a buddy of mine is interning at Mackinaw Harvest studios, which is crazy nice, we helped the guy that owns that place, who’s super cool and super knowledgeable, we helped him with a bunch of house work projects, and in exchange, whenever the studio was open we were able to just go up in there and use the studio. It was really nice and the record wouldn’t have had half the potential had I not recorded it there, both with the equipment he has and the instruments I was able to use.
So I did it, and I played everything – drums, bass, built it from the foundations, threw a bunch of stuff all over it, but obviously I can’t do all that by myself in a live situation, so I figured for the release show I should try to replicate the album versions as closely as possible. So my buddy Eliot produced the album and he’s gonna be playing guitar in the band. My buddy Zach Potter, he plays in a band called the Turnips, we played together in Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, super cool dude and great bassist, plays the bass in the backing band*. Conrad Shock and the Noise, they’re playing the release show with me. Conrad is their frontman and guitarist but he’s playing keys with me. Niko who was our original Three Cents Short drummer and Faultline drummer, he drums in Seraphim now, and he’s wicked good at the drums so I’m excited to play with him again. And we’re just gonna see how it goes. I’m gonna do most of the show by myself, and i’ll bring up the band for the three songs on the album that actually have full instrumentation.”
Yeah, I was wondering what the balance would be, cause your solo stuff is great too.
“Yeah I’ll start the show that way. I’ll do a few on guitar, I have one ukulele and one piano song, so it’s more instruments and stuff then I’ve ever used at a show by far. I also played in a hip hop side project called Newspeakers, I do all the looped beats and music stuff, and my buddy Rob, he goes by Scraggles, does all the rapping – he’s a brilliant writer. So I’m gonna bring him up to feature him for a couple of songs.”
Is he on the record too?
“No, I just want to promote that project. That’s kind of how we started, we had a loose project and at shows if he was there I would say ‘hey come do a few songs with me cause i’m already set up and ready to go’.”
That’s awesome. So is the album all your solo material or did you write stuff with the new band?
“Well I didn’t write stuff with this band. Four of the thirteen songs on the new album I wrote in previous bands. Two of them are Three Cents Short songs and two are Cashed Out songs, that I just reworked into very different, very slower, less punky versions, like the one I play on piano was originally a really fast punk song and now I just play it on the piano. But other than that it’s all original stuff.”
“…I got a loop station, and that just changed everything.”
Let’s backtrack and talk about these previous bands a little bit. You’ve mentioned Cashed out, Three Cents Short, The Faultline…
“Yup, those are the three bands I would say I’ve played in committedly and actually recorded and released stuff. Nothing very huge. None of those bands are active anymore. We did a Three Cents Short and The Faultline reunion show last year, and I think we’re going to do another Faultline reunion show this year. Cashed Out was a little more short lived.”
So it sounds like you’re piecing together everything you’ve done over three bands and it’s culminating into a new project…
“Yeah a little bit of that, but I always had my solo project when I was in those bands. But at that point i only had a few original “El Brandino” songs.”
How long have you been branding yourself as a solo artist?
“My first El Brandino show was probably 3 years ago, sometime in 2015. But it was way different then, I played my acoustic and did a few originals and just punk covers. About a year into that I got a loop station, and that just changed everything. Completely changed everything. Then I got a bigger one. Now I have an even bigger RC300 loop station. It’s crazy.”
So you’re slowly getting more elaborate and complicated…
“Yeah, that’s why this show is gonna be the craziest thing ever. I recently introduced a small mixer into the set up, so I can plug more things into the looper, and switch around instruments and still have them be part of the overall song that’s getting built.”
I think most of the time when I’ve seen you play solo, you play half originals and half covers.
“I do a lot of covers and mashups yeah. I try not to do too many straight forward covers. Do something to them to keep it interesting. Or if I do, they’re something obscure like ‘Take me out to the ball game’ or the Mario theme…and I just try to be as musical as possible with it. I don’t even know how to describe my style or anything. Kinda silly and really musical is usually what I tell people”
I really like “I shoulda played a cover” which is so cleverly self aware and hilarious.
“Yeah, the whole thing’s a joke anyway, but I played a show once, were I announced that i’m tentatively calling the song “i’m not really this hard on myself, but I am really hard” and I asked someone to please save me from calling the song that, and my buddy Theo was like, you should call it “I Should have played a cover”. And that was it.”
It reminds me of “Ska Sucks” by Propagandhi.
“Yeah! Like satirical and self deprecating, hilarious.”
Do you call yourself folk punk, or how would you categorize yourself?
“I would say it’s in the lines of that, but I think the more that I write the more different it gets to the point where…like ‘Should have played a cover” is kinda punk but it’s the first solo song I ever wrote when I was still playing in punk bands. Since then i’ve gotten really into a whole lot of different things and I’ve strayed pretty far from where I started. I have a concept for a punk song called “I’m not that punk anymore”. You said something about being self aware…a buddy of mine saw me for the first time and dubbed it “self-aware-core” and I actually really like that.”
Sometimes i’m introspective but very indirectly. Like I have a song called “A Tale of Emotions” and it personifies feelings and emotions into characters that interact in a story. And it’s really all introspective but it’s not presented that way.”
I feel like that helps you connect to the audience in a way too, just by telling a story that some people could relate to on some level.
“Yeah, especially when I first started playing that song I got a lot of people telling me it’s super relatable. And that’s the coolest feeling, cause I like being silly and tongue-in-cheek but also being darker and serious. I like mixing the two.”
I feel like that’s something a lot of bands are missing, not being willing to put yourself at the butt of a joke or not taking yourself seriously.
“I think of NOFX. They have some really angry and sad, serious, political stuff, and then they have a ton of silly, clever, hilarious catchy stuff.”
And they always make fun of themselves as much as they do other people.
“Right, and I just love that lightheartedness. I think i took a lot of influence to them. I regularly covered ‘Cokie the Clown’ and or ‘The Man I killed’ when I first started this project.”
Have you played Founders before?
“Yup, I played with the All American Funk Parade (Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers minus Joe Hertler). He kind of had a similar thing, and so did Conrad Shock now that I think of it. They were doing solo stuff, and put a band together either for a show or just slowly over time, and just went that direction.”
Do you think you’re gonna keep going that direction?
“Honestly, I don’t know, but I’m open to it. It’s really nice not having to factor in anyone else’s schedule, and having complete creative control over everything…but there’s something intangible about being in a group of people that are all jamming. I’ve always struggled a little bit with actually collaborative writing. I usually bring full songs to the table or bring parts and someone else would fill the gaps. And there is always that part of me that wants to do everything exactly the way I want to. Which is why this was an interesting process, because I had played these songs either on an acoustic guitar, or with a looper, where I’m pretty limited with a beat or things that have to continue. And I can’t do a lot of intricate little parts, and different chords, so it was honestly really cool going into the studio and starting from the ground up thinking, ‘how would the drums go here?’ and I’m writing parts as I’m recording them, and a lot of little things and details were born in the studio that I never would have thought of had I just been looping and playing acoustic guitar that do a lot of good stuff for these songs.
It allowed you to approach your own songs in a new way?
“Yeah. I’ve just about completed my barebones minimum half ass home recording setup because it’s just so good for writing when you can record stuff, hear it and come back to it.”
So are you going to continue to call the project “El Brandino” if you keep playing with the band?
“That’s another thing I thought about, if I form a band around the project, tentatively calling it ‘El Backing Bandino’.”
I love the puns.
“I’m getting into pun merch now, “El Brandanas” and “El Burndino” for lighters. I’m open to ideas at this point, send them my way. If I like the idea i’ll give whoever had the idea some of that item and the credit. Where was I going with this…well the band could almost be its own separate project, sometimes I’ll play as El Brandino and sometimes as “El Brandino and the *somethings*.” I have a lot of concepts I toy with, it would also be cool to have different projects with different backing bands that are all centered around the same songs, but are like a funk band, or the hip hop side project. Do you know May Erlewine? She comes to mind, she was a solo artist for a lot of years, really wonderful song writer, and she has a bunch of different versions of bands behind her project. And she has May Erlewine and the Motivations, which is still her original songs, very motowny, very differently stylistically. Which is what I’m toying with.
Whether that will happen any time soon, who’s to say. But I have a lot of ideas brewing. I just want to do things unconventionally and try and be as weird and clever and unique with my approach to things as possible.”
Do you think that’s easier on your own or with a full band?
“I think it’s easier on my own, cause I can just come up with silly ideas and no one can not like them. Another loose concept: having two versions of a song that are musically the same, but lyrically totally different. Like one is serious and the other very silly. Same melody and everything, but just something that people don’t normally do. Like Vulfpeck, they’re an influence for that kind of thing. They’ll release an instrumental on one album, and then that song with vocals on the next. Two albums later it will pop up again.”
Like Japanther, or the Magnetic Fields.
“That’s exactly the kind of stuff I want to do, just have a weird catalogue full of “what’s gonna happen next” ideas. Another idea for an album concept: I really want to sit down some day and just completely improvise ten songs in a row. Release that version of the album. And then go back and rerecord and layer and maybe do a full band and all sorts of shit, and have that be the secondary set of songs I just wrote off the top of my head.”
Another one: I come up with a lot of the best shit when i’m trying to fall asleep, like i’ll think of a lot of my best musical ideas, and sometimes i’ll forget them forever and it bums me out, and sometimes i’ll make myself get up and jot some stuff down. Sometimes I wake up and think “oh that sucks’ and sometimes I’m like “YES i’m so glad I wrote that down”. So I want to write a whole album of stuff I thought up when i’m trying to fall asleep.”
That would be a great theme.
“I got a short list of themed concept albums that maybe i’ll get to do someday. A really cool one that I wish I would have come up with first is Into it/Over It’s “52 weeks”. And I think he did another one where he toured and collaborated in a different town for every song. I get so much of inspiration from those kinds of ideas. Projects that take a lot of time are so cool to me. I also want to do one where I feature a different person in every song. “El Brandino and Friends” kind of album. But for now i’m just really focusing on this project, and it’s really coming together.”
*Zach will no longer be playing in the live band. Instead, Stefan from Melophobix will be playing bass at the event.
Hear the live album in full on February 24, at Founders @ 9pm, for just 5 bucks!