John Brodeur crafts power-pop gems where 'there's not always a light at the end of the tunnel'
In February 2014, John Brodeur was craving something new. The fast pace and daily grind of New York City was taking its toll, and the foot of snow that turns from white powder to gray slush in the blink of an eye wasn't helping.
Plus, Brodeur's music career had been stuck in the doldrums since the singer and guitarist released his last solo record in the summer of 2013. The album took forever to finish, and by the time it came out, Brodeur was already over it. He played sideman roles in a few of his friends' bands, but he felt creatively stifled and restless. So he packed his bags and left for Los Angeles.
“I just went out there for about a month and crashed on friends' couches and wandered around the city — literally walked. I'm the only guy who walks in L.A.,” Brodeur said recently by phone. “I was soaking up the vibes, easing my anxious mind a little bit and trying to just live for a little while and not worry about too many things.”
He also connected with Jason Falkner, a producer, studio musician and founding member of beloved power-pop act Jellyfish. Brodeur waited for Falkner to have some studio time available, and one Friday afternoon toward the end of February they linked up. By the end of the session the pair had finished a new song, “Direction.”
The collaboration felt like a promising new beginning, but after returning to New York, Brodeur sat on “Direction” for two years. “There were mental blocks that kept me from making that second call,” he said. “Eventually I turned 40, and the week I turned 40 — actually on my birthday — I called [Falkner]. And he was immediately receptive. He was like, ‘Of course we should do more songs. Come on out.'”
To mark a clean break from Brodeur's solo work, he named his new project Bird Streets, and while the musician retained his love of power-pop on the band's self-titled debut (released in August on Omnivore Recordings), he took a different approach to songwriting.
“In some of my previous work I tried to be optimistic and say, ‘Oh, this will pass. Things will get better.' And part of living and being human is you realize that's just part of life. It's not necessarily gonna go away. It's learning how to manage that,” he said. “The songs aren't all super dark, but there's not always a light at the end of the tunnel. … It feels more honest this way. Elliott Smith is one of my favorite writers, and his stuff is unrelentingly dark, but you put that with a melody that's catchy and it draws people in.”
“Same Dream” is probably Brodeur's most personal song on Bird Streets. The smooth vocals, chiming guitars and bouncy bass radiate the warmth and light of southern California, but the lyrics depict the songwriter waking up “high under a black morning sky/A nightmare come to life … How does it end?”
“That's the product of a lot of time spent staring into a corner and trying to figure out how to get out of it, and also a lot of bong hits and Peavey amplifiers,” he said. “I guess [‘How does it end?'] is me asking it of myself and of the universe. In a way, it's one of the more optimistic songs, because it's saying, ‘Keep dreaming.' It's the reality of having been doing the same thing for 20-something years [and] not building much of anything, but still having that drive and that dream, and still feeling like I got something to say.”