Our latest New Groove of the Month is The Brew. The Massachusetts-based quartet has performed upwards of 100 gigs this past year, including appearances at such festivals as snoe.down, Strange Creek, and Lew-Au II. In 2006 The Brew was named a Relix Jam-Off winner and also was voted Best Opening Act by Bruce Hornsby fan site Bruuuce.com. The group, which consists of Chris Plante (keyboards/vocals), Joe Plante (bass/vocals), Dave Drouin (guitars/vocals) and Kelly Kane (drums), will wrap the year with a three night run that will carry them from Waterville, Maine (You Known Who's Pub, Dec. 27) to Boston (Paradise Lounge, Dec. 28) to New York City for a late night gig at Lion's Den on December 29. Here the Brothers Plante talk about the quartet's development and future plans.
Can you talk a bit about the development of the group? How did the four of you meet (okay, we know how two of you met but how did it all come together)?
We all went to the same high school, Amesbury High in Massachusetts. We were all in different grades, and at one point I (keyboards/vocals) was a freshman, Joe (Bass/vocals) sophomore, Dave (guitar/vocals) Junior, and Kelly (Drums/vocals) Senior. Dave and Kelly have been playing music with each other in some form or another for the last 10 years plus, they were in
a band called Milwaukee's Worst at one point. They played with various line ups playing everything from punk to reggae. In 2001 Dave and Kelly were in a band called Blue Fungus Brew and they needed a bass player, Joe filled in the spot. Probably about a year into that band I was asked to join in on keyboards. They had to ask another guitar player to leave because there literally was not enough room in the jam space we practiced in. From the first rehearsal this combination sounded really good to us, so we set up two or three rehearsal days a week and played our first gig in May of 2002.
But the course the next couple of years became more of an exploration and a construction of who we are. Its not like 2002 came and we said, "Here we are!" That was the point in time where we decided that we felt we had a musical unit worth developing. So we played as often as we could, and tried to develop the subtleties and dynamics of our sound, and through that time we, as a band, emerged. I'd say 2004-2005 was a turning point for us. We had a group of tunes that were representative of the direction we wanted to work towards and almost ready to record, and we finally grew into The Brew, as we see it today. But we never truly "are"...but rather we are constantly "becoming," if you know what I mean. Its a journey that we still feel we have just begun.
What’s it like have two brothers in the band? Is there that Chris & Rich Robinson dynamic?
We don't even really think about the fact that we are brothers. I mean after being together for almost 6 years we all consider ourselves brothers at this point. There is probably some aspect of the Chris and Rich Robinson dynamic between us but I'd like to think we are more forgiving than they were. If Joe has an idea I definitely consider instead of saying that it 'instantly sucks' or vice versa. It seems to work out just fine, maybe our parents did a good job or something.
How about your name, is there a story behind that?
Well as I stated earlier Dave, Kelly, and Joe were all in the band Blue Fungus Brew when I joined. We all loved the name, thought it was fun to say, and quite hilarious but eventually got sick of the drug connotation. So we shortened it to The Brew which was much broader and meant more to us. Because we really do feel as though we are a brew of a lot of different styles of music that we all listen to. We try to not limit ourselves to a specific style of writing or genre, sometimes to a fault. Some of our fans still cherish the Blue Fungus Brew days, one girl even has a Blue Fungus Brew tattoo. It was a slow transition but I think it was my and Joe's mom, Nancy, that first suggested just "The Brew" and eventually we did it.
How often do the four of you rehearse? What do you focus on when you get together for rehearsal?
We used to have a rehearsal schedule which was awesome because we always knew from this time to this time we would be jamming. And that got a lot done for us. But ever since we signed with a management company and booking agency the shows have been taking over those practice days and now we have to fit in rehearsal when ever we can. Lately with recording this new album it has seemed like we have less time than ever and have to get creative with our rehearsals. For example, our Halloween show in Massachusetts this year was the day after we returned from our first stint in the studio in Virginia. The theme was a 80's High School dance and we wanted to learn a whole bunch of 80's tunes. So after doing 12 hours in the studio, we would go up into the cabin and learn all these tunes for this show and practice transitions. We just get it done when we can. We also try to make good use of van rides and practice vocals and harmonies during the trips.
Our plan is to create a little better schedule, similar to when we started, but it's certainly a challenge to balance touring and rehearsing.
Who writes the songs how does this process work?
The way our songs come about is just someone comes to the rehearsal with an idea, maybe it's a chord progression or melody or some lyrics. And everyone in the band gets to throw in their ideas about what they hear. Most times the song gets brought to a place the originator never thought it could go. I remember one time with a song called "Radio Swiss" we were playing as a jangly rag time sort of feel, then Kelly (drummer) started playing this crazy double time beat that worked perfectly on it, so that became the song. It's a hugely collaborative effort. We have this rule that we have to try everybody's idea before we decide which one to actually use. The creative process is intense, you have all these ideas and so does everyone else, its got to be some what of a democracy, that's how we seem to get the best results. By the end we usually all agree on which direction to go.
How does The Brew approach its original songs in the live setting?
We approach our songs in the live setting by embracing and excepting that anything can happen at anytime. At a gig the other night we started up a tune and noticed that we all heard this funky half time version of it happening and played the whole tune that style, and it was a hell of a time. Sometimes we play songs straight ahead, and sometimes we designate a song to have a jam at a certain section. It all depends on the gig, and what we feel in the moment. Certain songs seem to want us to open up and others just want to stay the concise songs that they are. What I mean is that the song itself can "speak" to us as its being created and sort of coax us along as we go. Sometimes that means extending certain sections and other times that means shortening sections or not playing them at all. Its a very symbiotic relationship.
What about covers, can you talk about what songs you toss in from time to time? Who selects them?
We actually have each of our grandmothers put names of their favorite songs in a top hat and we mix them up and we throw the hat against a fly trap and see what sticks. Some that have worked out in the past have been "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie, "F.M." by Steely Dan, and "Mr. Roboto" by Styx. We like to have fun with the covers we do.
In terms of cover tunes can you talk about any spectacular successes and failures?
When we were headlining this festival in Starks, Maine we had a lot of time to play, about 5 hours over the course of 2 nights. We don't like to repeat songs so we learned a bunch of TV theme songs 80's and 90's and this turned out to be one of the best received group of covers. We did Full House, Family Matters, Doogie Houser, Punky Brewster, Night Rider, The Price is Right, and a couple more. It was really fun for us and we were glad people got it. Our grandmothers had really good taste in TV shows.
Can you talk about some of your performance highlights thus far. Is there a gig or gigs that stand out? Why?
One that stands out immediately is snoe.down, moe.'s winter festival, this past March. We had the late night spot on the first night, which was a blast! I believe our set was three hours long, maybe the longest of 2007. It was great being included on a lineup with some of our favorite artists. Of course, moe., but also Little Feat, having been on a 6 month long "Feats Don't Fail Me Now" kick when we got the news they would be playing. Getting to relax and go skiing with our friends was the icing on the cake.
Another gig, possibly the band's collective favorite show, opening for Bruce Hornsby and The Noise Makers in August of 2006. There were so many reasons why this show was special to us. Growing up listening to Bruce and having gone through multiple copies of each CD over time, getting the opportunity to share the stage at their show was almost too good to be true. Highlights
included watching their amazing set from backstage and hanging out and talking with Bruce and J.V. Collier on the tour bus. I also learned that the people you look up to the most can turn out to be some of the nicest and supportive people you've ever met. Also, this show was when we started talking with Bobby Read about producing our next record, which is currently in the works.
There are plenty of other highlights, but these are the ones sticking out at the moment.
What about a studio or live release, where do things stand there?
The Brew has been hard at work down in Virginia with Bobby Read cutting our latest studio album "Back To The Woods." Getting to work with Bobby has been awesome, this was our first opportunity to co-produce a record with such an accomplished musician. It will be about two years since our last record The Key was released when Back To The Woods drops. As far as a live album goes, that is a project we hope to get into into down the line. For now we allow all our shows to be taped and put up live shows on archive.org as much as possible. Also we'll be launching a new website soon and plan to have a section for free live downloads that we'll be constantly updating with new stuff from the road.
At this point in your career The Brew both opens for more established acts and delivers headlining performances. How do you approach the opening slots and how do these differ (if at all) from your headlining gigs, other than you perform for a shorter period of time?
Our approach is definitely a lot different from opener to headliner. As a headliner we obviously have more time to stretch out songs, "tap in" so to speak, and play songs that may have been on the shelf for a while. The thing I like most about headlining is the way you can build momentum over the course of the show, while exploring a wide range of dynamics. I also feel we have more time to make "it" happen between the band and the audience.
As an opener, it depends on who we are opening for, and what the audience is like. We have about five albums worth of original material, and the styles vary a good amount, so it really comes down to what we are feeling at the time. Do we want to give them more vocally driven songs? Should we give them a greatest hits set? Should we give them something of everything? Or should we abandon a setlist and just go with it? There is more middle ground then that but you get the idea. Sometimes we'll throw in a cover to give the audience an idea of what our influences are.
Any final thoughts to folks across the country who may be hearing about The Brew for the first time from this piece?
You are more than welcome in the Brew community so please check us out and we hope you like it! There is plenty of love to go around. Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!