Whoa.. Time moves fast… The last few months have been so incredibly busy that I sometimes need to pinch myself to take stock of just how much has happened when it comes to how far this blog has come.. What started as a very casual hobby has since become my absolute favourite thing in the world..
If you’re a regular reader of taken by sound then you’ll no doubt recall an album review that was published for New York musician David Bronson’s fantastic debut album Story which I haven’t been able to put down in the last few months since my initial review.. Good music is hard to find.. and great music comes along only once so often.. When I first listened to Story I just knew that it was going to become a huge part of my listening life for this year, and beyond..
Having already gushed about how great an album Story is, I thought that I’d reach out to David to see if he would be kind enough to answer a few questions about himself and the record. Thankfully David obliged and below are his incredibly interesting answers.. Enjoy..
For those people out there who aren’t familiar with you or your album, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your music?
Well, obviously I can’t talk with any objectivity on these things, but I was recently asked to describe my music using a single word and what I came up with was ‘honest’. Now, I know that’s vague and not very descriptive – a very generic kind of way to describe an artist’s output – but I actually mean it in a pretty literal sense.
On my site I refer to an ‘Ongoing Project’, which is really just my planned attempt to continue to describe my existence in music and words. And when I say ‘existence’, what I am really referring to is my emotional, psychological, spiritual, and occasionally, physical experience of life. So my music is highly, I would probably even say quintessentially, autobiographical. As I also say somewhere on my site, I’m aware that this isn’t really very different than what any artist does or has ever done, but that it’s how I like to think about it.
When did you first discover your love for music, and who were your favourite bands growing up?
I was always fascinated by popular music, which, when I was a kid, was basically rock. I think it had partly to do with the fact that there was no rock music at all played in my house growing up, so I saw it as kind of taboo (there was always music on, care of my mother, but it was mostly either classical or the popular music of the 40′s and 50′s). But I’d say that I really fell hard right around the age of 10 or 11. I just remember being in school one day and having an undeniable, massive urge to play guitar. I still don’t know exactly where it came from, but was like a pang, very intense, and as soon as I got home I asked my mom if I could dig out her old nylon string that was in the basement or the attic, to which I think she was surprised but definitely happy about. That’s how the playing, which naturally turned into writing, began. I also have distinct memories of being a very young child and listening for hours on end with my brothers to all sorts of records on our plastic Fisher Price player.
The guitar playing also coincided with the first few albums I got, which were mainly the popular guitar rock bands of the late 80′s – Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Sammy Hagar era Van Halen, etc. but my favorites by far were Aerosmith (Permanent Vacation and Pump) and Guns N’ Roses. INXS Kick was a big one, too, and I also distinctly remember listening with my brothers and completely loving albums like Genesis Invisible Touch, Rush Exit Stage Left, Eric Clapton Journeyman, Michael Jackson Bad. And it just went on from there, listening to a lot of things.
But the two huge ones for me were Zeppelin in early high school and the Grateful Dead toward the end of high school into college. Somewhat cliché, I know, but my dedication to this music that was so new and thrilling to me was anything but. In both cases it was like total religious fervor. Pretty much once I got hooked on Zeppelin (the first song was Travelling Riverside Blues, played for me my freshman year by a senior girl, and I thought it was literally the coolest thing I had ever heard in my life).. once I got hooked on Zep I was completely, undeniably addicted.
For at least the next two years I did something that I’ve done numerous times with different artists, which is to devour everything I can find of theirs, one album, song, or work at a time. I tend to fall in love with entire careers. And that goes for artists of any kind of media, certainly not just music. So anyway, then it was into The Dead, and then in college The Beatles and everything else from there. There was a huge David Bowie phase, Pink Floyd, The Stones, Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye, Paul Simon, Neil Young and the solo work of John Lennon and Peter Gabriel, who have been particularly heavy ones. Just about every artist’s body of work that I’ve absorbed also very much stays with me, and I return to them at different moments. And I think that’s how it is with all great art, which is a large part of what makes it great art of course. These works become like family members or close friends in terms of their impact on your internal reality; the degree to which they give to you, demonstrate certain things, and generally feed you, which is both connected to and separate from how they inform your own art-making.
Who were your main influences whilst writing and recording Story?
I’ve talked before about how Beck’s Sea Change album was a big sort of initial impetus to decide to make a cohesive, ‘concept’ album from my life. But I would have to say that Peter Gabriel is probably the single biggest music influence on the project, which might not be very apparent on the surface, I’m not sure. But there was a real, very deep connection that I felt and still feel with both his music and with his lyric-writing – something about the themes and the types of metaphors he uses, and the worlds and realities he paints, which are usually completely internal, interior – heavy explorations of the self, which, in a sense, is the only thing we can really examine with such a depth and intimacy.
I was very specifically, very heavily into his Us record and Secret World live album (from the same tour) during the first few years of the conceiving and writing of The Long Lost Story. It seems to me that there are a great deal of similarities in terms of themes and subject matter between that body of material and exactly what I was going through emotionally and psychologically at the time, so it’s not surprising to me at all why I would’ve connected so deeply with that music, which remains to this day among my most prized and adored pieces of art, and I’m sure will remain entwined in my emotional and psychological, as well as musical, DNA. (Sort of tangential, but it’s kind of a funny thing that for those of us who, for whatever reason, have music – art in general, really – as this central sort of subtext, or even context or infrastructure to our lives, it becomes very much a, or the, main system by which we learn about, experience, make sense of, and if we’re lucky and want to enough, express everything, much as I’m sure science, philosophies, ideologies, religions have and still do for certain people or groups). But back to Peter Gabriel, it was only a number of years after writing it, that I realized I gave my song Us, which in a lot of ways I consider to be the ‘heart’ or the emotional center of the album (and for a very long time was my favorite thing I’d ever written), the same name as the Peter Gabriel album that so greatly affected me.
I would also definitely add that Daniel Lanois’ production was an enormous influence on me in terms of the type of sound and feeling I was hearing and trying to materialize on The Long Lost Story. He’s another very huge one for me, and is one of those handful of producers that I absolutely adore and admire.
Story is essentially an album about a break-up. In addition to coming out of a life-altering relationship, you left your previous band in order to break out on your own.. Describe your transition from being part of a band to branching out on your own.
Ha, that’s very astute. I never thought of that parallel but it’s true, that’s part of how it happened. My brother Jeremy (who’s the only drummer I’ve ever played with) and I had always played in bands together, since high school, and in every case, there was at least one other songwriter in the band. What happened when I began writing what would become The Long Lost Story was that we were playing in a band that I had formed called Readymaker, which was a great band, and in which I shared songwriting duties with one other writer. As with most bands, and especially those with multiple songwriters, it ended up being a somewhat democratic process in terms of arranging the music, shaping the songs, both for the live shows as well as for what little recording we did.
So I was going through the end of that relationship at that time, and naturally enough all of my songwriting gravitated toward that subject. Actually, for the entire period I was working on The Long Lost Story, I never wrote a song about anything else. But anyway, at a certain point I started to realize that what I was creating was a single, very cohesive body of songs, and the writing of it became extremely intense – a true obsession, very much like an addiction, actually, but one that felt amazingly healthy (in sharp contrast to the very real negative kind of addiction, in terms of the relationship, that I was beginning the process of coming through) – and it was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had, and will never forget, to actually feel myself growing, and for the first time truly coming into my own as an artist, through the writing of these songs; attempting to describe both lyrically and musically what I had experienced and felt in my recent past, and was experiencing and feeling in the present (as well as hoping for in my future). It was a process of formulating and molding. It felt unbelievable, and I was acutely aware that it was by far and away the best and most meaningful, and fully formed thing that I had ever had a hand in shaping.
Once it was clear to me that this ‘development’ (it felt more like a revolution at the time) was happening, the only thing that mattered at all to me was finishing it, and alongside that a few things became pretty clear to me pretty quickly: 1) this would have to become an album of its own, 2) I didn’t have any interest in doing anything else musically, or even artistically, 3) being such a hyper-personal body of material, it just made sense that it should be a ‘solo’ record and, 4) I didn’t particularly want to bring these songs into a band setting, but rather produce them myself in the studio. So that’s what ended up happening.
Story is quite easily one of the best albums that I’ve listened to this year.. Describe your own musical/artistic and/or personal journey leading up to the conceptualization and recording of the album.
Well, first, thank you for such a compliment – it makes me genuinely happy that you enjoy it so much. I’ll start by saying that any kind of complete answer to this question is way too long and involved to try and attempt here, so I’ll attempt to give a very abridged version – I’ve covered some of my musical journey already, so I’ll try to give you some kind of outline on the development of the project itself (The Long Lost Story).
It’s very on the mark of you to ask about the conceptualization of the project, since I very much consider it a “concept album,” of sorts, anyway. And that kind of overarching structure has been an integral part of the whole thing since the very beginning. Even before I realized it, actually.
As you know, the whole project most directly came out of the end of a seminal relationship of mine. And as I said, during most of this relationship and certainly for a long while after it ended I only wrote songs that were related in some way to that part of my life. This wasn’t done deliberately but it just seemed that, probably not surprisingly, this was what I was thinking about and feeling most about so I guess naturally that’s what I was writing about.
It has been pointed out elsewhere though, and very correctly I think, that this is only one level of “meaning” of the records. As far as I see it, the whole project is a kind of outlining of the growth and development of A) a young adult and B) a young artist. And by growth and development, I mean emotional, psychological, ideological, and very importantly, regarding personal identity, held values, and views on existence in general. In this way it’s actually a very thorough document of the deepest and I would say most quintessential and important aspects of a self during the period of time it took to write and produce it.
I would also add that very early on in the process of writing in this extremely personal, and what I would call highly autobiographical way I realized that I had absolutely no interest in writing any other way. And I still very much feel like this. Partly because all of the art that has ever truly impacted me and stuck with me (of which there has been a very great deal) has been this very sort of highly personal “storytelling” but mostly because this is what feels most natural to me.
Something else that I’ll mention (in terms of both the ‘artistic’ and ‘musical journey’ part of your question) is that I’ve always been very deeply drawn to large works, or bodies of works, series, mythologies, whole created worlds etc. and, along related lines, have always been totally obsessed with albums, in their entirety, as cohesive, integrated pieces of creation. So this project has also been very highly informed by that line of thinking and feeling.
Apart from being just David Bronson, you also have a backing band, The Long Lost. How was the Long Lost formed, and how long have you all been playing together as a band?
That’s kind of an interesting question, with not such a straightforward answer. I call them The Long Lost because they’re literally my long lost band. (It’s also a play on the title of the upcoming record of the same name, which is the chronological first half of ‘The Long Lost Story’ – but, to me, the band name and the album / project name are meaningfully related). Basically, the people in my live band are the people I’ve been looking forward to performing with since I started the project (and actually quite a bit longer), and are the core of the musicians I produced in the studio. I’ll go through them one at a time, in order of length of time that I’ve known them:
Jeremy Bronson is my identical twin brother. He’s the only drummer I’ve ever played with and we have an enormous mutual love and respect for each other as artists, musicians, and people (He’s also an incredible visual artist and did the artwork for the record). Jordan Shapiro, who plays keyboards and guitar with me, is one of Jer’s and my oldest friends – we met in college, started playing together there, and have been involved musically, as well as remained close friends, ever since. Jer and I met Robbie Mangano (known to many simply as ‘Seahag’) through Jordan – the four of us played together for the first time as part of a ‘multimedia rock opera’ co-created, written, and produced by Jordan in the early 2000′s. As soon as Jer and I heard Robbie we knew he was the greatest guitar player we’d ever come across, while simultaneously getting to know him as an amazing guy and friend, and over the years he’s been a constant in the studio with me as well. (Robbie also introduced me to Godfrey Diamond, the producer/engineer/mixer who has become a crucial and very close part of my music-making activities, for which I’ll always be thankful). Maria Neckam, an incredibly accomplished and ridiculously gifted and skilled vocalist, composer, and bandleader in her own right, has been singing with me for about 5 or 6 years. I had been looking for a long time for the perfect singer to fill the crucial role of the female vocal presence on The Long Lost Story (which I conceived and wrote specifically with this vocal duality in mind), and one day Jeremy called me and said he had just heard the most amazing female voice and that I had to hear her and get in touch. So I did, and we hit it off pretty much immediately and she’s been singing with me ever since. All of these people, apart from being my live band and players on my records, have become very dear friends of mine, which is a layer that, while perhaps not necessary, is something I always wanted and love having. And now, most recently, Adam Minkoff has joined on bass who is an amazing player, a fantastic addition to the group and who I’m very excited will be playing with us.
Story is the second part of a double album cycle, though it has been released first, to be followed by The Long Lost (which is actually the preceding half of the project). Do these albums tie into one another, or are they separate experiences sonically and lyrically?
Great question. The two records are in every way just two halves of a single thing, so they are absolutely connected, very integrally, in every way possible. This includes musically, sonically, thematically, lyrically, conceptually, motivically, etc. The project was always conceived as a single thing, and it just kept growing (I guess because I still had a good deal more to feel and say about it after a single album’s worth of material had been written). The only reason I put one out ahead of the other is because after all the time it was taking I wanted to have something out in the world, and it seemed natural enough to me to put out a half at a time as two full length records. And the reason behind releasing the chronological second half (Story) first is simply that it was the half that was finished first, which probably had something to do with the fact that at a certain point, it was the more immediate or current material, to my life, so I decided I might as well complete that part.
If the way in which the records were made is any indication, they were essentially, for all but the mixing stage, written, produced, and recorded as one thing. In fact, at any given session I would work on a number of songs spanning both records, and very consciously, for example, use the same guitar tone, or musician, or vocal effect, on 2 or 3 different songs (again spanning both records), which was done very consciously as a way of building in a cohesion both sonically as well as thematically (for example, I’d use the same guitar sound on two songs that used the same musical, thematic, or lyrical motif).
While the “story” is very much not any sort of literal retelling of events or anything like that – I would say it’s more of a mapping or document of emotional, and possibly psychological and spiritual movement, although with definite references to things that did happen – and therefore not strictly chronological in that sense, there definitely is a progression to the ways the albums move. Basically, The Long Lost is the first half of the story, Story is the second.
What do you have planned for the near future? And I hear you’ve been working on some instrumentals for a film series, can you also tell us a little about that?
That’s a perfect segue from the last question. I have a few things I’m actively working on and the first is finishing The Long Lost. It’s in the process of being mixed and I’m planning on releasing each song digitally, one at a time, as they get completed, and then doing an official album release and physical printing once the last song is done.
Next, or I should say alongside this, I’m having remix versions produced for a number of songs off Story, and will also be releasing these digitally as they get finished, and probably ultimately as part of an ep along with some other unreleased Long Lost Story related material.
I’m also currently putting together an ep of acoustic demos of songs from my 3rd full-length album, which is fully written but as yet unrecorded, aside from these demos. I’m very anxious to have something more “current” with respect to my life out there, and after demo-ing the record with my friend Godfrey I ended up really loving a handful of the versions, and think they’re beautiful and ‘finished’ pieces in their own right, which is why I’ve decided to put them out.
And at some point, hopefully within the next year, I’ll begin recording for the next full length, in addition to ramping up the frequency of live shows and getting on the road.
And yes, I have been working for some time with Jennifer Elster, an artist that I have a very deep respect and admiration for. I’ve contributed a number of original compositions to ”In The Woods”, which is the first installment of her upcoming film series entitled “The Being Experience.”
And Finally.. You’ve just released a brilliant music video for the second single from Story entitled The Turns.. Can you explain a little about what the video and song mean? And also give us an insight into the creative process behind the video itself?
The Turns is in many ways a summation of the entire Long Lost Story project. I was trying to convey the sense of movement from the almost desperate intensity bound up in the youthful yearning of first love, into the brutal detachment that can accompany the crumbling of such a reality, right through the gaining of perspective, and finally thankfulness that can only come with the passage of time. In this way the narrative outlined in the song covers essentially the full arc of the two albums, turning the song into a sort of thematic “overture” which was one of the reasons it was chosen to be the first song on Story. And since Story is being released first, The Turns becomes in essence an introduction to the whole project.
This is also why the symbol of the river, as a metaphoric depiction not only of the passage of time, including all the bends and changes that come with it, but also as a representation of the inextricable connectedness of all the parts and times of a life (and of all things and all times, really), is such a significant visual and conceptual element in the song, as well as throughout the whole record.
The video is the result of a really enjoyable and I think very fruitful collaboration. It took shape very organically, starting with the general imagery of the river and the house, as well as a general idea I had of wanting to somehow depict “walking through time.” Also the idea of moving into, through, and out of domesticity as a kind of metaphorical setting, or ‘mindset’ was also something that I thought might work. I didn’t have much more than this when I approached Jordan Rathus, a very old friend whose video art I’ve become a huge fan of over the last few years, to direct it. She brought in Saro Varjabedian, the video’s DP, and it really started with a brainstorming session between the three of us, where we came up with the ‘bones’ of the whole thing.
Well… there you have it, taken by sound’s first ever interview.. With an incredible artist that certainly deserves each and every bit of success that’s thrown his way in the years to come.. I’d like to thank David for being a part of this website, and I’d also like to urge anyone who’s reading this to check out Story, you won’t regret it.. I also feel the need to mention that the above photos of David were provided by Ben Goldstein Photography.. And if you’re interested in photography as a medium you should definitely check out his blog here.
I’d also highly recommend that you check out David’s Official page where you can download a free copy of the first two singles from Story… I’ve also included links below for all of David’s pages for your viewing pleasure.. As always.. Thanks for reading!