Cary Brothers | Driven


Music is like crack. I need it. I have to do it. If I had a choice, I would have chosen something more stable. Its fun and it's crazy and I'm enjoying the hell out of it now, but in terms of ultimately having a family or some kind of stability, it's a very difficult thing to balance when you want to have a normal life.




Every page you turn these days, there's another article on Cary Brothers. Just like last year, every time you switched on the TV, it seemed his music was playing (hello, best friend Zach Braff, and thank you!). But this isn't a case of overkill, more like the industry finally getting it right.

Because Brothers is one of those rare creatures: an honest-to-goodness singer-songwriter who writes and performs his own material. Who writes from the heart. Who feels driven to craft his songs and play them for us. And for that, we are grateful.

Brothers is currently on his first official headlining tour; after that, he'll return to your city in support of fellow softie Matt Nathanson. In the meantime, read his words when you find them and listen to his music. Repeatedly. It's amazing how much bluer the sky looks when you do.


What makes a talented singer/songwriter like you decide to throw in a cover of a bad '80s song [The Thompson Twins' "If You Were Here"]?

When I do a cover of a song, I want to do a cover of something that could have been better. I always emotionally connected with that song as a kid, maybe because of the movie connection, but I just knew that I could improve it. I just started playing and playing it. When I play it live, I've never seen anything like it. People just kind of look up like, "Are you fucking kidding me?" I get way, way into the song. I knew there was a new way to figure that song out without all the pop elements.

I also didn't want to cover something that has too much familiarity. If people know it, they know it, but at the same time, a lot of kids look at me and they've never heard that song before. They say, "I love that ‘If You Were Here' song you wrote!'" I'm like, "Yeah…wrote."

People seem to forget that "pop" is a musical style. I found it kind of refreshing that in your bio you said, "Yeah, I write pop music. My songs are pop." So what does "pop" mean to you?

I just don't think "pop" is a bad word. For the most part, pop is just musical joy to me; it's just elation. Something that's building to a climax that makes you connect with it in a way that makes you think of horrible things that happen in your life, or amazing things that happen in your life. All the great music that I love, I think less about the song itself and more about the experience in my life I was having when I liked that song. Pop, to me, makes that connection between that period of my life and that melody that I like so much.

You grew up in Nashville amid all the crappiest country music possible. And then went to L.A. and made a spoof movie about country music.

prof_brothersThat was kind of fun, getting to make fun of the stuff I didn't like. Country is something that's a part of my life, whether I like it or not. I grew up just seeing giant bronze guitars everywhere I went. It was also a horrible era of country music. It was like "Cocaine Rhinestone" country, cheeseball. It made me hate country. It took me moving out of Nashville to really start to appreciate it; to really go back to the roots of where that came from and start to enjoy it a little bit more.

How much of an influence do you think country still has on your songwriting?

There's not a single country song that I think I'd list as one of my influences. It was something that I grew up in and respect and appreciate it now, but it never brought me happiness, personally. I always kind of reacted against country. Whatever wasn't country was what I liked when I was in Nashville.

The closest thing that I would get would be Wilco or Ryan Adams. That's as close as I get to country. I could see that as more good songwriting.

Also in the bio you had this great quote: "Some of these kid writers don't bring enough to the table; they're not fucked up enough." Which made me want to ask: how fucked up, really, are you?

[Laughs] Well, it's not fucked up; it's more just life experience, when you live long enough to have great highs and low lows. Until you've done that, I don't really believe in these little emo kids who are screaming about their adolescence. Everybody experiences adolescence – sorry, kid. I know what it's like to be an outcast and I know what it's like to be loved. That stuff's just so obvious to me. You gotta live a little life before you can write songs.

I know that I wrote songs for years and years and years that, now, I would never let anyone listen to because, obviously, I had to learn. The older you get, the more you learn how to process them and just be able to convey those things with some form of maturity or craft. I can't fault the teenage kids that listen to My Chemical Romance because if you connect, you connect, and there's nothing wrong with that. But hopefully their musical writing skills will improve as they get older. [Laughs]

Hopefully the musical hierarchy will change by the time they reach their adulthood and it won't be as driven by corporate label crap, as it is now.

I think that "corporate label crap" is creating a totalitarian state that everyone is reacting against and I love that; I like having an enemy. And that's when great stuff happens: when you have an enemy. And now I've just seen so many friends of mine – great bands, great songwriters – get dropped in the last couple of years. People who I thought were gonna – and still will, hopefully – have long and amazing careers but, because that single didn't hit within the time frame that label wanted it to hit, suddenly they're sent packing and they're back home and their spirits are broken and the label sees them as used goods.

The success I have will be based on the work I do. Obviously, there's gonna be zeitgeists involved and you have to be in the right place at the right time for certain things, but I'm gonna go out there and be working my ass off. I want to know that no one's gonna abandon me when I'm doing that.

I don't have massive amounts of money supporting this record or marketing this record, but there's enough to help get this out there. That's all I really wanted. Considering that a year ago I had nothing to do that…anything's better than nothing. [Laughs]

Do you still think that you write songs for therapy or is it just what you do now?

No, it's still therapy. Songwriting, to me…it exists for me. That's another reason why I don't know if I could do a label kind of thing, because it's something you always have to write a hit for, and sometimes those songs suck and no one even hears them. It's just important that the song is good to me. I feel like I've been writing a personal journal since I was 16 years old, and now I'm showing that journal to the whole world.

That must be scary.

It's definitely weird putting this record out. It's more of a statement than an EP release, more like, "Here I am, like it or don't like it."

The first EP I had just enough money to go into the studio for five days, and whatever happened in those first five days was the EP. With the second EP, I originally went in in an attempt to make a full-length record but then a bunch of touring opportunities came up and I kept having to leave until I ultimately had to put more music out, because I had been touring for a couple of years with just this one EP. So I took the songs that were closest enough to be done and quickly mixed them into the second EP. And that's why some of the songs on the record are stuff that's been previously released. I was finally able to go back and finish them the way I originally envisioned them and really put the time in. And really, just making the full-length record, I wanted to show the breadth of influences and what I could do and the kind of music I liked. Going from a rock sound all the way down to the most stripped-down sound, from my band influences down to my singer-songwriter stuff.

Music is like crack. I need it. I have to do it. If I had a choice, I would have chosen something more stable. Its fun and it's crazy and I'm enjoying the hell out of it now, but in terms of ultimately having a family or some kind of stability, it's a very difficult thing to balance when you want to have a normal life. I know I have to do this. And that's what I say to these little songwriter-singer kids: "Don't do it to be famous and don't do it to get chicks. Do it because you have to write songs. And if you don't have to do that, go become a lawyer or go do something else. There're too many people in the world with guitars already." | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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