Gimme Your Answers: An Interview w/ Cary Brothers

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Cary Brothers
Photo by John Schweikert

From his magnetic vocals and clever lyrics to his gentle and lush covers, Cary Brothers is one of the most talented and genuine singer-songwriters we’ve come by. Releasing his latest EP Let Me Be back in May, AMBY was pleased to catch up with Cary. Just from a simple eleven-question interview we found out a ton about this extraordinary artist, so dig in to see what’s new as we to talk about 80’s music, favourite lyrics, something inappropriate (yet funny) that he recently did, and fireworks!

AMBY: Hello Cary, cheers for speaking with AMBY! What have you been up to lately?

Cary Brothers: I just got through with releasing my new EP “Let Me Be,” did some writing in Nashville, went to see some great bands in Bonnaroo, and then went to Mexico to curate a concert series of artists from the US. Now back in LA the studio to finish a new synth pop band side project.  Busy summer.

AMBY: Which three songs are the quintessential Cary Brothers?

Cary Brothers: Hmm.  Despite the fact that “Blue Eyes” was the song that got my career started, I’d say:

“Ride” – I think it somehow captures that feeling right between optimism and sadness, so it seems to make every person feel something different depending on what they bring to the song with their own life.

“Belong” – One of the few times (I hope) I’ve been able to bottle absolute honesty. Usually, I distance songs from my own life a little more than this.  It happened, I wrote it, and luckily the music captures the emotional intention.

“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” – This shows where I got started years ago, when all I had was a voice and an acoustic guitar.  Sometimes, the “singer/songwriter” label bugs me because I try to do much more than that in my songs, but for this one, it’s pretty accurate.  Also, it’s the only straight, hopeful love song I’ve ever written.  It reminds me that they don’t all have to be sad.

AMBY: Your EP Let Me Be was released last week. What was the best moment you had while recording it?

Cary Brothers: Most of the records I have made happened over many, many months and were put together piece by piece.  The great joy of this EP was writing the songs and then going into the studio for two days with a band and discovering the songs together.  When drummer (and producer) Bill Lefler put down a new beat on “Live Without You” (a song that was originally just a piano ballad), it changed the entire thing, everyone responded immediately with new parts, and I was reminded how much experimentation and improvisation can improve a song.

AMBY: How do you feel your songwriting has evolved since your first EP All the Rage?

Cary Brothers: Back then I was trying to find a voice.  I was mostly concerned with melody above all.  I was an English major in school, so I will never skimp on lyrics, but they were the last piece of the puzzle.  As I get older, I’m trying to find new ways to tell stories.  This new EP was a new experience in the studio as basically a “live” record, but in many ways I’m revisiting my old self.  Now that this is done, I think the next few years are all about musical risk.

AMBY: Live Without You is a truly moving song. Who or what inspired the lyrics?

Cary Brothers: I don’t like to talk too much about songs because I really think that what you think it means is more important than what I think it means.  Once it’s out in the world, a song isn’t really mine anymore.  I don’t like to burst someone’s bubble if they have a story of a song in their head.  I can say that it’s one of those strange songs where I saw the change coming in a relationship long before it actually happened, and I didn’t even read my own lyrics until it was too late.

AMBY: On the topic of your lyrics, which Cary Brothers’ lyric is your favourite?

Cary Brothers: Well, they’re all like kids, and it’s hard to pick a favorite.  If I have to pick one, I’d pick “one lie short of true” from “Honestly” on my first EP.  It’s very simple, but it was the first time I felt like a real songwriter.

AMBY: You’ve done some great covers (If You Were Here being a personal favourite). Which cover-song is your favourite?

Cary Brothers: Thanks. That one started my fascination with covers and how to make an older song my own.  Probably my cover of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps” off my Covers EP is my favorite, and not just because I got the incredible, golden-voiced Priscilla Ahn to sing it with me.  The song is about being away from someone you love, and the moment I sang that cover, I might as well have written it.  That’s what it felt like at least.

AMBY: You seem to be influenced by a lot of 80’s music. If you were a character from an 80’s film, who would you be and why?

Cary Brothers: Wow, that’s the hardest question ever.  Can I heroically save a building full of people in “Die Hard” and kickbox/banter like Lloyd Dobler in “Say Anything” and be able to get away with anything like Ferris Bueller? Actually, it would probably be Lloyd.  He was kind of my anti-authoritarian hero when I was a kid.  And he got Diane Court, which is impressive.

AMBY: What’s the most inappropriate thing you’ve ever said or done?

Cary Brothers: Well, the MOST inappropriate thing will stay locked away in time for reasons of total self-preservation, but I can think of something pretty inappropriate that I did recently.  I’m a supporter of the Russian all-girl punk band Pussy Riot and have been following their civil rights situation in Russia since they were jailed last year for playing a protest show.  I even bought a “Free Pussy Riot” t-shirt.  One day, I left my studio to stop by the grocery store and completely forgot that I was wearing THAT t-shirt.  Inside, I couldn’t figure out why every mom was literally pulling their kids away from me in disgust.   Did I smell bad? What was going on?  Oh, right… “Free Pussy Riot.”  Whoops.  As I tried to cover the logo with a bottle of detergent, a scuzzy-looking guy said “I can’t wait for THAT riot.”  To which I responded, “Oh no, it’s a band. Not an event. It’s about civil rights.”  He says, “It’s about my civil right to free pussy” and tried to high-five me.  Wow.  I got out of there as quickly as possible, guilty of inappropriately wearing a great t-shirt.  I felt slightly vindicated when I saw Paul McCartney last month and he shouted “Free Pussy Riot!” during his set.

AMBY: What’s your favourite release of the year, so far?

Cary Brothers: The record that has gotten the most spins from me this year is Leagues’ “You Belong Here.”  They’re a band made of of guys who have been working hard in the music industry for years and finally found the perfect people for the perfect project. I’m not sure if they’re are many better voices out there than lead singer Thad Cockrell.  The songs are full of uplift and hooks that get stuck in your head for days.  They’re representative of the new breed of music from my hometown of Nashville.  It’s not just country music anymore.

AMBY: And lastly, what’s something about Cary Brothers that nobody knows yet?

Cary Brothers: As I child, I was a bit of a pyromaniac and (very) amateur fireworks expert.  I would blow things up whenever possible.  When I was twelve, my friends and I took all of the leftover bottle rockets after the Fourth of July and had a “bottle rocket war” on the local golf course.  We used PVC pipes and paper towel tubes as the launchers and actually shot bottle rockets at each other. Seriously. Idiots.  Looking back, it was about the stupidest thing we could do, but luckily no one got hurt or arrested that one night when the cops chased after us.  Don’t try this at home!

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Thank you Cary Brothers, for giving us your answers!

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Alicia Atout

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