- Photo Courtesy Merge Records
- The Broken West, in the sunshine
Reviews of I Cant Go On, Ill Go On, The Broken Wests 2007 debut full-length, ran rampant with references to Big Star and Teenage Fanclub. Now or Heaven, the Los Angeles groups sophomore release for Merge, is a conscious effort to expand beyond that sound: It was never explicit to the point of, Hey, dont play that guitar part, its too Byrdsy, frontman Ross Flournoy told Twin Cities music mag Reveille. We just really wanted to explore a different area.With its ringing guitars, Perfect Games would have felt at home on I Cant Go On but the bands new focus on the rhythm section puts its melody in the hands of Brian Whelans buzzy synthesizer and throbbing bass. The verses examine summers spent with alcohol and self-pity, which gives way the chorus shimmering guitars and Flournoy vain exhortation to do something about those problems. And though they might be trying to shake the guitar band tag, like the best power pop Perfect Games sounds familiar even on first listen.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: Perfect Games has this upbeat vibe but lyrically is sort of an appeal for change, like, a we-could-do-better vibe, but its not really a condemnation. Was that the aim?
ROSS FLOURNOY: I think that youre pretty close. I think its kind of about being in a state of existence of just being too lazy to do anything about whats needing to be changed. Really, in a way, I think its the most literal song on the record. My best friend Adam [Vine] actually wrote the lyrics, but its really about a summer that both he and I were going through sort of serious problems in our relationships. And so we spent a lot of time together at his house kind of drinking a lot. The line about spilling our ice cubes on the lawn is very much like what was happening. There was this little lawn that was on a hill behind his house and wed just sit up there and get hammered. It was kind of our way of coping with these problems that we were both having.
I think the song is kind of about the resignation in a way, sort of like wed rather commiserate with each other and get really drunk and wade in self-pity. Wed rather do all those things than address the problems we were facing. But that one is pretty much the most personal song on the record. Its literally almost exactly what we were doing.
I was actually going to ask you about the ice cubes on the lawn line. Do any of the other lines in the verses relate to specific events like that?
No. I think theyre all more general. Well, thats the most specific image in the song. I mean, it was like we would have these glasses that by the end of the night would be knocked over. But the rest of the lines of the verses are a little bit more abstract. Theres nothing as concrete as that particular line.
Did you write this from the angle of "We need to cut this out and do more" or "This is just something that happens."
I think it was more of the latter. I think its just kind of a statement of fact. I dont think theres supposed to be a resolution in the song. Its not a song that moralizes. Its just a song that is really just a snapshot of a particular theme. One of the things that I like about the songIve seen some people write about how its upbeat and positive and sunny, which musically it is all those thingsbut lyrically I think its pretty sad. I like that contrast. I like that musically its jaunty, but lyrically its kind of depressing.
Compared to the rest of the album, its got more of a classic sound, that classic power pop that you guys get compared to all the time, with Big Star, etc.
Yeah, I think that one and Terror for Two are both songs on the record that maybe could have been on the last record.
Youve said that you were trying to get Now or Heaven further away from that guitar-based sound of I Cant Go On, Ill Go On. This song kicks off with the drums first, and theres a pretty strong bass melody and the keys kind of go along with that. Did the guitar parts still come the easiest and did you have to go back and work on these other elements, or was it just more complete writing this time?
I think it came pretty naturally that way. At one point, when we were making the record in L.A., there were a lot of synthesizers and really not a lot of guitars. When we started to do really intense overdubbing, Dan [Iead], our guitar player, started to bring back some guitar parts. In terms of coming up with an actual part, I feel more comfortable on the keys. And Im not a keys player, but if I have to sit down and come up with a melodic section of a song, usually I figure that out on a piano.
Well, I should take that back. I think on this album, I felt more confident writing guitar parts than I did on the last one. But thats Dannys real strong suit because he can sit down with a guitar and, first attempt, he can come up with a basic part. I cant really do that. But I feel more confident than I did on the last record.
So is that you playing the key part on Perfect Games, after the intro with the drums, when the keys and bass kick in?
Thats Brian, whos the bass player. I think hes playing a synth bass on that. He played electric bass on that, too, but all the keys on that song Brian plays.
This song pulls a lot of its melody from the bass, at least more than from the guitars.
Yeah, the guitars are really just doing chords. Theres kind of that little solo section where the guitar plays a particular melody, but I think youre right, a lot of the melodic movement comes from the bass.
Youve talked previously about working with Thom [Monahan, producer of Now or Heaven] as far as rebuilding tracks and taking something youve recorded, stripping it down and recording parts again. Did that happen much with this song?
It actually didnt. That song was completely untouched as far as revisions. In terms of the structure of the song, as it is on the record is the way I wrote it. There are other songs on the record that were reconstructed quite a bit, but that one was basically unchanged from the way it was finished.
You mentioned your friend Adam writing the lyrics to Perfect Games, and he gets co-writing credits on almost the whole album. Can you talk briefly about his role in the band: Does he just do lyrics or melodies? And tell me about his role on this song in particular?
You know, hes not in the band, but I feel like he kind of is in the band. He doesnt tour with us, but he and Dan and I are very close, and I think theres a telepathy between us where one of us can kind of finish the others sentences. I think he did a very good job on this record of giving expression to things Dan and I wanted to give expression to, but hes better at that. But it was a very collaborative process of the three of us camping out at Adams house, writing a draft of lyrics, rewriting them, rewriting them again. So everyone was sort of involved. Adam is not actually a musician, but he is very intuitive and has a really good grasp of music even though he doesnt really play anything. So there were definitely occasions where hed say, Hey, maybe you should think about having the keys do some sort of melodic thing in this section. Hes able to discuss those things very fluidly and offer really good input on the music side, too.
So, on Perfect Games, did he write all the lyrics, or did you collaborate on that too?No, I think that was pretty much all him.
As far as playing these songs both on the record and live when its someone elses words, is it easy from you since youre coming from the same place. Like, as with Perfect Games, talking about that summer, or is it weird at all since theyre not your words?
No, its really not my words, but I feel like in a way they are. I know the guy so well and I know how his mind works. I think it would feel weird if it was a song I didnt get to do because were like brothers, you know. Its not that difficult at all.
The Broken West plays Local 506 Thursday, Sept. 25, with Hammer No More the Fingers. Tickets for the 9:30 p.m. show are $8, and Kate Townsend DJs.