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Published: 2012/08/24
by Jim Murray

The Brew Abides

It’s perhaps a blessing that amongst the many obstacles that a young band has to overcome in its developmental phase—the financial struggle, the grind of the road, abusive promoters, busted vans, stolen equipment and limitless other issues—the songwriting hardly suffers. It’s the heartblood of the endeavor, after all, and it is within that medium that some of the greatest musicians have been able to find not only their escape, but a way to continue cultivating their vision against the odds.

Just ask Boston’s The Brew, who this year have had no shortage of material to lay down, even in the face of great change at a very inopportune moment.

Let’s start with the good: the recording and release of an ambitious triple album, a music video and AAA radio recognition from its first single, and their most far reaching tour yet into the Southwest and the Rockies, along with slots on some of the biggest summer festivals around, including their second go-round at Mountain Jam.

The attention is well-deserved, and a testament to one of the band’s biggest strengths: an innate, cohesive sound and style founded by high school friends a decade ago and who have cultivated, largely in obscurity, a defined concept of attack. Born out of a shared affinity for music by guitarist Dave Drouin, brothers Joe and Chris Plante on bass and keys respectively, along with drummer Kelly Kane, the young foursome spent a decade perfecting their playing, gigging throughout Massachusetts and soon, all of New England. They garnered some critical recognition with 2006’s The Key, then won a Relix ‘Jam-Off’ poll to open up for Bruce Hornsby and the Range, impressing Hornsby saxophonist Bobby Reed to the point he volunteered to produce their 2008 follow up, Back to the Woods.

By last year they had a wealth of material on tap to record again, and it was time to make a bold move. “We had a good backlog at the time, and there was no way to filter this into one album. It was thirty-eight songs based on all of our different influences,” says guitarist Dave Drouin, before a show in Rhode Island this spring. “We thought, let’s just split them up thematically: this is the more singer-songwriter, this is the more improvisational, this is more arena rock anthem stuff, and let it find its place.”

The result is Triptych, a triple album divided into components that serve as a total examination of what the Brew is made up of: steady songcraft built on deft melody, mixing multipart harmonics and punchy hooks—running the gamut from classical to jazz and funk and at times even a heavier, progressive element. The results come in a collection of absolute razor sharp tunes that bestow a band ethos of discipline in detail, and a sound that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

“We’ve got a very democratic songwriting process,” Drouin explains. “Someone writes a tune, brings it to the band, we run it through the whole filter, everyone has a million ideas on which way to push it. Then we tweak it up, deal with lyric changes, chord changes, new parts, everything. With everyone’s input, of course. Anyone can bring a song to the table and everyone does.”

But with the record nearly done, a music video in the making and a national tour on tap, drummer Kelly Kane made the sudden, difficult decision to leave the group, citing commitments at home. “The decision for him to buy a house and have a mortgage while we’re traveling, and spreading ourselves very thin across this continent,” pauses Drouin, “well, he built too strong a life at home to part with that full time, and we were ready to take the next step. We’re still friends; we always will be. He chose the home life over being on the road, which is understandable. It’s a huge sacrifice to do what we do.”

And just like that, the Brew’s biggest strength became their biggest weakness. And worse yet, they hardly had the luxury of contemplation.

First there was the shooting of the music video for the first single from Triptych, ‘When Darkness Comes’. “It was crazy, five days of insanity,” recalls keyboardist Chris Plante. “It was ten degrees, and we were out there for about nineteen hours a day, shooting. Five days of the video; for each five-second clip it took us two hours to set up.” Adds Drouin: “Just an amazing undertaking.”

Plante and Drouin stayed up at the lake house for an extra day while bassist Joe Plante drew the unlucky straw of driving the rented gear back to Boston. “We were up at this lake mansion we had stayed at, chugging mimosas, exhausted, and just completely dazed by the fact we had to head home to continue auditioning drummers,” offers Plante. “We were almost asking ourselves, maybe the drummers from the bands that open for us can sit in? It was all shit ideas, but it’s all we had.”

Most of the guys that had been auditioned on-the-fly were good, even great drummers, but weren’t fitting with the band, who were trying to bend towards the approach of each applicant. “We were thinking here and there, you know, it could work, but it would really change the style of the band,” rationalizes Drouin. “Things were looking pretty bleak.”

But on the last audition of the very last day, fate smiled on The Brew in fascinating fashion.

Six or seven years earlier during a setbreak at a small club outside of Boston, whose toilets were inconveniently clogged, original drummer Kelly Kane had stepped outside to relieve himself and in a very misfortunate turn of events, was arrested for indecent exposure. Without an option on the drums for the second set, the Brew polled the crowd for assistance. With a bunch of fingers pointed his way, a burgeoning fourteen year-old drummer with some familiarity of The Brew’s catalog jumped onstage and helped them get through it, before parting ways after the show.

“We hadn’t even talked to him over all that time, a period of five or six years,” says Chris Plante.

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