Sensory Overload

Interview: Sam Brown of Divine Fits

Posted by Chris DeVille | August 01, 2012 12:49 PM


Divine Fits: Sam Brown, Britt Daniel and Dan Boeckner (left to right)

This Monday, Ace of Cups will host one of the first performances by Divine Fits, a new indie supergroup featuring Spoon's Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner and Columbus music scene mainstay Sam Brown. The band's first official gig is tonight at Beerland in Austin, but they jumped the gun with a secret show at Austin's Continental Club under the name The Hot Skulls. Video of new tune "Flaggin' a Ride" and a Tom Petty cover is viewable below.

I stopped by Brown's Clintonville coffee shop Yeah, Me Too last week to chat about how he hooked up with such prominent bandmates, the band's internal dynamics and what the future holds for Divine Fits and Brown's other projects. Press play on this video and get to reading.

Alive: How did you get hooked up with Britt and Dan? Was it when you went to Austin to record that Sun album?

Sam Brown: I met Britt through [longtime Spoon producer] Mike McCarthy because he recorded the last Sun record. I just stayed in contact with Mike over the years. And last summer Mike called — it was probably like spring of 2011 — Mike just mentioned that Britt was looking for some different drummers to play around with because he was working on some stuff, and Mike told him he should call me. And a few months later, Mike called me again and asked if Britt had called me. And I said no. So Britt called me, and we just arranged to go down to Austin to hang out at Mike’s place and make some music. You know, make some recordings and see what happened. Just kind of like a pickup game of basketball and see what happens.

Alive: That’s cool.

Brown: Yeah, it was fun. So we hung out for a weekend and recorded a couple songs that he had and worked on this cover of a song by The Boys Next Door which is called “Shivers.” That’s on our record.

Alive: That’s not the cover that’s the B-side of the 7-inch, though, right?

Brown: No, that’s a Camper Van Beethoven song. That was kind of a last-minute pick. We needed a B-side for the single, so we just kind of threw some stuff out. I’d never really heard that song, but when I heard it, it seemed like a good fit. I think everybody instantly knew it was the one to do. But we learned a couple others down there. We’re going to be playing some of the other ones we learned in our set when we go out and play.

Alive: It sounds like Mike was almost campaigning to Britt that he should call you up.

Brown: Yeah, he was, because Mike and I got along really well when we worked together. And Mike was trying to get me down there to play on some recordings that he was working on, but there’s so many drummers in Austin, there’s really no need to fly me down there. He had what he needed in that town. There’s plenty of good players. I think the drummer from White Denim ended up playing on some stuff, and it just didn’t work out because Mike had little budgets for startups, helping singer-songwriters flesh stuff out in the studio. He had what he needed down there. So yeah, I think Britt just kind of told him what he was looking for, and Mike told him he should call me.

So we just got together and played together. It was fun. At the time he played me this demo that he and Dan had made over the internet together, like passing some stuff back and forth. That was cool. And then he was talking about how he wanted to start a band as opposed to doing a solo record, he wanted to get a band going, different people writing, bouncing ideas off each other and stuff.

So I went down to Los Angeles in October then, and he and Dan and I got together for the first time and jammed around, played together for like five days or so. We split and got back together in January, and in the meantime we sent stuff back and forth. Britt would send me a recording, and I’d put some drums on it in my garage or in my house and send it back to him. And Dan did the same. Dan was writing songs and sending them to Britt; Britt would put stuff on it, and I’d add some drums, and Britt would, you know, chop the drums up or treat them or whatever. You know, just throwing stuff around.

So we did that until March, and then we got together at the beginning of March and played for a week and did pre-production for the record. And then recorded the record in March, and then finished it up into April, and then mixed it over the next couple months. We finished it at the end of May.

We’ve never played a show, which is pretty strange. I’ve never been in a band that’s done it like this. But it’s been cool. We’ve definitely spent enough time playing music together. We play well together, and everybody’s really excited about the band. So it is strange that we haven’t played a show, but it doesn’t feel as strange as it sounds. I think once we start playing out it will be cool.

Alive: When Britt was describing what kind of drummer he was looking for, do you know how he described it?

Brown: Sexy. He wanted a drummer from Ohio.

Alive: So basically, sexy Ohioan.

Brown: No, I don’t know. I told him to send me some music kind of like what he had in mind because I wanted something to build off of. And he sent me some songs just to kind of give me an idea of it. I don’t know if you can even do that. Sometimes you just have to play with somebody to find out how they play.

Alive: It sounds like it must have clicked.

Brown: Yeah, it was pretty quick. The time we played together at Mike’s was fun, and it seemed like, well, we might as well play together some more. As strange as it all has played out, as far as like natural timeline of band activities, the whole thing’s felt pretty organic considering how far away from the band’s home base I live. Those guys, they’re real easy to play with, and good guys. It’s an easy band to be in, really. I mean, the record wasn’t easy. That’s probably, I think, the most difficult part of being in a band is making a record. You know, like fussing over it? There’s so much to comb over and so many details to pay attention to, especially if you have another person, a producer that, in this case, none of us knew Nick [Launay]. So at this point we were all getting to know him.

Alive: How did you choose Nick to produce the album if none of you knew him?

Brown: He had mixed the last Arcade Fire record and recorded “Neon Bible.” And Dan is friends with Arcade Fire, so I think that’s how it started. I think Dan threw his name in the hat and sent some stuff to him, and Nick liked the stuff and said he was into it. So we just found a time that worked for him. And he’s a great guy. Really good guy. Easy to work with. But you know, just the whole process. Everything that you do if you’re in a band, and you’ve got the three people you’re working with and a producer on top of that, you know, you kind of have to throw everything up to committee. It’s either quicker because there’s other people involved, or it takes longer. Some things happen quicker because you’ve got everybody working together, and some things take a little longer because everybody’s ideas — because you want to nurture everyone’s ideas. So everybody comes to the table with what they have, and some things work, and some things don’t. It’s probably no lengthier than if there’s one person who keeps trying things, and trying things, and trying things.

Alive: You mention the band’s home base. Do both of the other guys live in L.A. now?

Brown: Yeah. Dan lives in L.A. now. So I’m the outsider.

Alive: Is there any chance that you’ll move to L.A.?

Brown: No.

Alive: The first single, “My Love Is Real,” was pretty reined in. Is it a minimal sort of record? Or is it all over the place?

Brown: It’s all over the place. Some of the songs are really kind of dark new wave songs with heavy keyboards, and then other songs are more rocking. I’m not going to describe the record (laughs). You know, you can’t. Not like you can’t describe our record, but I mean, what are you going to say? There is a lot of space between things, and there is an economy to it. It does make a record more difficult to mix when you have fewer things to place. So there’s a lot of hard pan stuff, like trying to treat each movement in a song as an event that stands out on its own. I think that there’s so much maximalism in music right now that, I don’t know, people are either going to read it as something fresh to hear something that isn’t completely cluttered with whistles and bells, or it could go the other way, you know? I mean, you don’t know. I think there’s people that want to hear what Britt’s up to and what Dan’s up to.

Alive: You’ve played with a lot of relatively well-known bands. In the band bio, you are being credited as Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks. Of all your various projects, was that just deemed the most prominent one?

Brown: I figured that’s the one that people will have heard of. People know who the New Bomb Turks are more than just about any band that I’ve been involved in. But on top of that, we’re still a band. We still play shows, and we’re still active. So I have done a lot of things, but I mean, what, am I going to list everything I’ve done over the past 10 years? We still do shows and we’re still very much a band, we just don’t tour anymore, you know? I figured if I have to mention something that I did, it should probably be the Turks. It may pull some Turks fans in expecting something more punk rock than we are. I don’t know. People are going to look at all the elements and try to think of what the band’s going to sound like. I mean, maybe I should have said RJD2.

Alive: You guys are starting out playing tiny venues in all your hometowns. I imagine you guys will be playing bigger rooms than Ace of Cups for most of your touring.

Brown: We’ll probably play the LC next time we’re in town. We’re doing a residency in Los Angeles. We’re going to play every Tuesday in August and up through September. And we’re playing various one-off shows and stuff. And then we’ll be doing a tour in October. Then we have some festival stuff we’re doing. We’re playing the Treasure Island Festival, which we announced already. But yeah, like October when we go out, we’ll play some bigger rooms than the ones we’re playing on these first shows. We just wanted to play some fun little shows, you know? We haven’t played in front of people. It will be nice to just play for our friends and just have fun with it.

Alive: Do you think increased notoriety from this band could lead to you finally putting out a You’re So Bossy record at some point?

Brown: (Laughs) I don’t know. I have no idea, because I haven’t written a song yet this year. I’ve been so busy with this band, or just taking care of things I have to take care of when I’m at home that we just haven’t played together. I mean, yeah, I would like to. I feel like, having spent so much time away from it, it will be fun to get back to it, maybe this winter when we have a little bit of downtime. Yeah, I still want to. Just, I think that we were getting some momentum, and then I decided to do this. And so, I’m glad I did. I’m having a great time. I couldn’t be playing with better people. They’re good guys, they write great songs, and everybody plays well together. So it’s worth it. I have the rest of my life to make You’re So Bossy records. It’s not like somebody’s waiting for it.

Alive: Somebody’s waiting for it. Me and Tom Butler, maybe.

Brown: I am excited to do it. Maybe, I don’t know. I mean, I have no idea what’s going to happen with this band.

Alive: I just figured more people will probably be familiar with the name Sam Brown from this band.

Brown: Yeah, I guess that happens when you end up playing in bands that get some sort of notoriety. It was fun to make music with new people. This is the first time I’ve been involved with a project with people that I had no former relationship with. Everyone that I’ve ever played with has pretty much been from Columbus. All the bands that I’ve played with have pretty much been from local bands. I mean, even RJ, even though he lives in Philly, he’s from here and everyone who was in that band is from here. And that was the first time I had just took a gig as like a hired touring musician. And so, at first it was like, it wasn;t strange, it was just, I’m really glad to have the opportunity to do something different and get outside my comfort zone. And I’ve found that these guys are, you know, it’s all worth my time. It’s a really fun band to be in, and everybody’s really hard-working. It’s just kind of a different thing, you know?

Alive: Maybe this isn’t your business, but is Spoon on hiatus?

Brown: I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Some closing thoughts from Brown: Really, there’s not a lot to be told so far because we haven’t been a band for even a year yet. We had a really good time making the record. We made it in Los Angeles, so it was really comfortable to be there. You get a little stir crazy after a while sitting in the control room listening to the same song over and over and over again. Britt definitely spent the most time with the album because he was there for all the mixing, so he’s heard the songs more than any of us have. But I felt very comfortable leaving that responsibility to him because I think he has a good ear, and I like the records that he’s made. So I didn’t feel like I needed to be there the whole time, but I was glad to be there when I was there. I came home for a couple weeks and just kind of got mixes sent through the internet. That seemed alright, but when I finally got back out there for the tail end of it, I was really glad that I went back out because there is a difference between being in the room and listening with your bandmates and being sent files every day. I think it’s important to be together through the whole process as much as you can be.

It’s just been difficult for me because I have this business, and I have a lot of life to manage here. So that’s definitely been a difficult thing, just balancing my time. And I have the full love and support of my family and friends, and I couldn’t feel more supported. But still, I miss my kid. I miss my community. It’s never been easy to leave home. But I feel like these guys and this band are definitely worth my time. It feels good to work hard on something with people who are definitely working just as hard as you are, and like where everybody’s just really giving 100 percent. It’s cool.

It’s not a side project. It’s not just like a Britt Daniel solo record that we’re going out and supporting for one run. We’ve all decided to start a band together, and it really does feel like a band. Everyone’s opinion is valued. There’s a nice balance in the band. Britt’s a great leader. Everybody is able to take care of the things they need to take care of. Everybody has a firm opinion, but nobody’s stepping on anybody to get it across. Everybody’s listening to everybody else. There’s good communication in the band. That really helps. And I think the record reflects that because there’s different elements to the record. Because I think that everybody’s personality is able to stick out.

There’s songs on the record that sound like a Dan Boeckner song. And there’s songs that sound like a Britt Daniel song. But then there’s songs that kind of meet in the middle. We have a track that Britt wrote the music to and demoed out the music and sent it to Dan, and then Dan sang over it. And it sounds the most like a combination of both of their music because it’s got this rhythm that a lot of Britt’s music has, but with Dan’s vocal over it. It was the first song I heard that they wrote together was called “What Gets You Alone.” Then there’s songs that Dan wrote on his own, and it’s just a Dan song recorded by our band. That’s cool too, because like, nobody plays bass like Britt. Britt played a lot of bass on the record. He’s a great bass player. He has really good rhythms, as you can tell from the Spoon records. So it’s really fun to play drums to him when he plays bass. And there’s a lot of switching around that’s going to be happening at the shows.

Setlist from Divine Fits' debut performance (via Stereogum):

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