Braid Interview – History, Reunion, Re-Issues

Braid was a highly influential emo/post-hardcore band from Illinois that helped define the genre in the mid to late 90s.  The band played four final shows in 1999 before disbanding.  They reunited for a reunion tour in 2004 playing US, Canada, and Japan dates.  After much demand, in April 2010 Polyvinyl re-issued their first two full lengths as well the Movie Music volumes.  I got a chance to discuss with the band their history, DVD release, influences, vinyl collections, those re-issues and so much more.

BN: Bob Nanna
CB: Chris Broach
TB: Todd Bell

First things first, LPs of your older albums including Frankie Welfare Boy Age Five, The Age Of Octeen, Movie Music Vol I+II, and I’m Afraid of Everything 7” were just released because of public demand after years of being out of print.  What is the story of getting these releases back in print to begin with?

BN: It was all Polyvinyl’s doing. Being the shrewd label folk that they are, they saw the value in having the vinyl available again, as it’s having a nice revival, what with mp3 backlash and things like Record Store Day, etc. This is not to dismiss the folks that just straight up love vinyl. Like Todd. : )

TB: It has been on my mind for years to get all of this redone and Matt and I talked about it now and then and we finally made it happen. The point to note here is that it took a long time. We wanted to do it right and have a handful of limited copies on different colors while staying true to the original art. We were able to make it all happen and they look and sound great. A lot of people are to thank for making this happen including all of the people who originally did the artwork and of course the Polyvinyl crew in it’s entirety all contributed – they understood our vision and how it needed to be. Bob and I did a majority of the grunt work – test pressings, proofing, etc. but we all are close and everyone saw everything before it was done. We all had a voice, even Roy. Thank God for email! Even if we cringe at our past occasionally, it’s nice to have those albums all available on the vinyl format again.

What are some of your favorite 7” and split releases you released?

BN: My personal favorite of the 7″ records is “Niagara.” It’s like none of the others. Weird covers, lyrics printed on the actual label, two fun songs.

CB: My fave 7” was probably “I’m Afraid of Everything” – I liked the artwork (we even made a shirt out of the cover art for a while) and I think our music at that point was becoming more interesting.

TB: The “Afraid” 7″ holds a special place in my heart. It’s Grand Theft Autumn number 001 and Polyvinyl number 008. We laid out the artwork for that one and Bob and I pressed it. The handwriting on the labels, liner notes and on the back “logos” are mine. Bob hand wrote the lyrics. It reminds me of a simpler time sitting at our house stuffing records before tour. I touched every single copy of “Niagara”. GTA ended up pressing 3000 copies of that over several years. All numbered and hand assembled. First press is clear, second is black and third is clear blue. 1000 each color.

Your twitter account @braidcentral is loaded with trivia and fun facts about past shows you played on the same day years later.  Who updates this and where does all this info come from?

BN: We all have access to it. As for the historical info, we’ve kept pretty good track of all of the shows we’ve played and for most of them I have notes scribbled down. I was an obsessive note taker back then. Who knew that such a thing as Twitter would help more folks see those useless notes.

CB:  Bob updates it mostly w/ trivia.  He always wrote extensively on tour and kept track of details that otherwise would have been lost.  Unfortunately, everything I wrote and collected from those days was lost when someone broke into my car and stole a bag filled with all of my notebooks and journals.

TB: Bobs’ memory is invaluable to our legacy – I’ll occasionally add to our twitter but Bob is online most of the day and keeps it alive. I’ll add old stuff (interviews, show memories) now and then but it’s Bob’s note taking that saves us. I think Broach and I were partying and Bob was writing alone in the van most of the time. Maybe that explains my lack of memories? The grand Braid showography is online and helps me remember certain dates – every show we ever played has dates, bands and venues online. I’m glad we documented that. I still have flyers from our first shows and early stuff – much of that was one spring cleaning away from being tossed in a dumpster at some point. Glad I’m a pack rat.

What was life like in Champaign as well as Chicago and Milwaukee?

BN: Champaign was, for the most part, like a typical college town. Pretty good music scene, a lot of house shows, and a lot of impressionable students. Thankfully Broach and I were both impressionable students or else we would have gone on to do something worthwhile with our lives! Haha, that’s a joke.

CB: Champaign when we lived there was a hot spot for bands to stop on tour.  I think it was headed that way before we got down there, but we started bringing all of our friends’ bands down – introducing people to the music we were into, and so I think we had a big part in nurturing a scene that was receptive to what we were doing there at the time.  Touring constantly kept us up to date on what other bands were doing elsewhere, and they knew that we would help them get a show in our hometown.  We were out putting up fliers for our shows all over the city all the time… we even spent a lot of time putting up fliers for friends’ bands to make sure that we would get people out.  There was a community of people there that would book shows at many different venues and there were so many places for bands to play… so many shows going on every week that it was easy to stay in the loop and make sure you didn’t miss anything.

We were really a Champaign band, even though Bob and I grew up in the Chicago suburbs.  Chicago was really great back then, though.  The Fireside Bowl was just starting up and it was the most fun place to play.  All ages, big crowds, big scene, and people standing almost on top of you when the shows were full.  It was like coming home when we played Chicago.  Eventually, Bob and I moved back up here toward the end of the band.

TB: Champaign was rad. Plenty of basements to play, cheap places to live easily with big practice basements, all complete with good neighbors who put up with the noise. It was a friendly scene and everyone was neighborly, especially the bands. Poster Children added us to a show once and we barely knew them. They were just being nice. It was like that. We spent weekends staggering to parties and hanging out with like minded people and talked about music and where we could throw the next house show. It was a great time and we “networked” though we didn’t call it that at the time, we were just nice approachable people. We made zines and had pen pals. We did record distros. I worked at the record store on campus and spread the word about music I liked and our bands and friends bands. We made and put up flyers for shows that we were not even playing. We wanted people to come to those shows and not miss out. I put out the first Wolfie 7″ because I thought they were awesome. I think they were maybe 18. We did our best to be the next generation of bands in the town and carry the flag. Ward, the main promoter still to this day in that town is to thankful for a lot of it. He was open to the new bands, let us make up the bills (add our own bands to shows), and was fair. Without him that town would have never seen out of town bands like Seaweed, Jawbox, Kinghorse, Brainiac, Rodan, June of 44 – not to mention a thriving local seen with EXTREMELY TALENTED original bands. Shows were like a reunion and everyone would be there to support. I saw some crazy stuff back then. I saw Hum many times in an ear-splitting basement. I saw the floor collapse at a show Menthol played because of how many people were packed in. I saw Honcho Overload play in full Halloween gear with Matt from Hum playing bass on stilts dressed as a mummy. Good times. Champaign was also in the middle of St Louis, Chicago and Indy so bands kinda had to come through. We were lucky as far as location. That helped.

What were some of your favorite Chicago and Midwest bands growing up in the 90s?   I know that besides Midwestern bands another huge influence was the great DC scene of the 80s and California punk.  Who are some of your greatest influences?

BN: My favorite local band was Gauge. Any time they played, they packed the place and the energy was incredible. Super inspiring. Nationwide, for me, it was equal parts Jawbreaker and Fugazi.

CB: Biggest influences (or bands that had the greatest impact on me) from the 80s and 90s whether I tried to imitate them or not and in no particular order: Minor Threat, Fugazi, Bad Religion, Minutemen, Big Boys, Hoover, Cap’n Jazz, Pixies, Jawbreaker, Archers of Loaf, Brainiac, Ida, The Van Pelt, Dead Kennedys, Naked Raygun, Pegboy, 8 Bark.  The DC scene had a lot of interesting things happening so the whole thing affected me.

TB: We listened to everything and we all lived together at different points and swapped music. If I needed Guided By Voices and Palace I knew Bob had it. If I needed Big Boys, Chris had it. Roy had the hip-hop and DC stuff. Growing up, I listened to Dinosaur Jr, Descendents, Bad Brains as well as top 40. Skate rock stuff and the CU scene mixed with Chicago bands and the DC scene. We BOUGHT records new and old. We took chances and were open minded. I brought home STACKS of cds from work and they would just be in the kitchen next to the boombox. I think this was a bigger influence on us than we actually think about. We were a band playing what we thought was interesting and not thinking too much about it while taking notes on what we liked from all different kinds of stuff; this kept us fairly original.

Any new bands in particular you guys are digging and would recommend to people?

BN: My favorite bands right now are Aloha and The Velvet Teen. As for NEW bands, I like Maps & Atlases & Japandroids.

CB: Some new and some not so new bands I’ve been spending time with are Surfer Blood, The Drums, Passion Pit, Archers of Loaf, Beauty Pill, Teddybears.

TB: Too many to mention. More concerned with boxing up and moving my music collection right now. I’m half way through and have 17 boxes of LPs. This has got to stop.

What went into the process of releasing Movie Music Vol I+II in 2000? I know you had a lot of work in terms of gathering photos, coming up with linear notes and compiling all those scattered comp, 7”, split, and cover tracks.

BN: Haha, it wasn’t that much work! As i said, we were really good about archiving things!

CB: I think Bob had the idea.  All I said was, “good idea,” and everyone got to work on it.  I think I may have contributed a photo or two I had.  I know we had to track down a few DAT tapes here or there that we thought could have been lost, but in the end, they turned up…

TB: Bob is lying or in denial. It was a pain but a fun one. At times we thought it would be incomplete and then someone would find that elusive DAT tape in a milk crate in the closet or something. I’m so glad we did it at the time – it’s nice to have all of that in one place and on cd.

How was it working with J.Robbins on Frames and Canvas?  Any notable stories or happenings during the recording process for the album?

BN: Working with J was a dream come true. My favorite memory of recording Frame and Canvas was catching him air-drumming to one of the songs.

CB: I found out I was apparently singing the “wrong” note on a song.  I thought it was right, but was out-voted and sang the “new” note – I was singing a note that only I was playing on my guitar, which worked on the guitar, but not vocally.  It was crazy working with a guy whose music I had grown up listening to.  The following things were cool – when we were listening back and I saw J. air drumming to one of our songs – I think we all talked about how cool it was; when he laid down some (drums?) on one of the songs; when we later got to do a European tour with Burning Airlines.

TB: J is the cats meow. Recording with him was awesome. Touring (w/ Burning Airlines) and getting to know him was equally special. He is a sweet dude. Love some J. I have several quotes I still use from those tours not to mention our fake backstage band tagging. It makes me laugh out loud.

How did your relationship come about with Polyvinyl?  What are some of your favorite releases on the label?

BN: Matt from Polyvinyl set up the very first Braid show! We’ve been friends since the very beginning so once his label got rolling, it was the natural choice. Aloha “Here Comes Everyone” is a damn near perfect record.

CB: Matt (owner) was a kid from Danville, Illinois who used to book shows for us there.  He was starting a label and wanted to put out some of our stuff… so we did a seven inch (I’m Afraid of Everything) with him and a comp or two and then later – when we were looking for someone to do our third album, he came along and offered.  He had been good to us, and we liked him and trusted him.

TB: Roy and I used to skate with Matt. We trusted him and it grew from there..

What do you think about the resurgence of vinyl?  What type of collections do you guys have and what are some of your most treasured LPs, 10”s, and 7”s?

BN: I love vinyl and it deserves a comeback. There’s always something special about the tactile process of putting on records, making sure not to jar the needle, flipping it, caring for it, etc. It makes the music that much more worthwhile and less throwaway. I recently got rid of many of the records i’d been lugging around but i still have a decent collection. Todd is the guy to speak to about this.

CB: I think it’s great to have vinyl come back… I have a ton of vinyl that I got from garage sales, church sales… old sound effects records, wartime records, ‘learn french’ records… My great aunt moved a few years back and gave me all her old swing and jazz records then.  I don’t know why I keep this stuff, but I do.

TB: I’ve been buying and trading for a long time. There is something very relaxing about the process of putting on a record and flipping it over every 20 minutes. You are there to listen to it. Not do other things. The art is nicer, the format is fragile and sexy – it’s not expendable – you have to be careful with it. I could probably tell you when and where I bought most every single record. My collection gets big and then dwindles and then grows again. I have about 2,000 records right now. It’s a good size. It is tight though – no filler. I will never be done – there is always something I’m looking for. It’s a fun hobby to go on a mission to find a promo copy of a record they made few of or limited the pressing. I come across copies of records I own for cheap and I buy them again and give them to friends. I buy “better” copies and upgrade too. I’m kinda crazy. I bet I have 5 or 6 doubles right now of titles like Led Zeppelin, Joe Jackson, Seam. It never hurts to have doubles of a good record to donate to a friend.

I try to stick to LPs and 12″s so rarer tiles are a promo only copy of Failure: Comfort. A russian pressing of Stooges: Fun House with all russian lettering. Shudder to Think: Your Choice Live german live LP. Material Issue: International Pop Overthrow. A test press of Dinosaur Jr: Just Like Heaven 12″. I just found the first Blake Babies LP, that was a nice score. All kinds of stuff.

Killing A Camera is one of the best band documentaries I have ever seen.  How long did this take to put together and what was the process of gathering all the footage from the last four shows you played? Also, in 2004 you re-released the documentary and added a whole new version with additional commentary and updates on the band.  What more were you looking to add to it?

BN: Filming and documenting those last shows was the brainchild of Bifocal Media so they did all of the grunt work. As for the DVD, we just thought it would be hilarious to get together and do a commentary, so we did! I wonder if folks even listened to it.

CB: That has everything to do with the BiFocal guys – Charles and Brad.  Charles wanted to update the documentary for BiFocal with new interviews and some commentary, as well – which seemed fun.  Charles flew in to do the interviews separately, and we had literally just talked about doing the reunion a short time before this… so we all got together for the first time in years and did the commentary.  For me, it seemed like it was a dry run to see if we all could get along and have fun together again before we really agreed to do the tour.

TB: It’s no secret we all love film and movies and we couldn’t pass up the chance to re-do our VHS video with extra stuff and commentary. Bifocal dudes were into it and loved the band. It was super fun and we did it mostly at my old house over a weekend.

Any notable tour moments or funny stories that you would like to share?

BN: We will share them with the world on our twitter acct @braidcentral. Just recently we celebrated the 12 year anniversary of our tour manager getting in a fight with a high school hockey team.

CB: Yes, there are stories… we were in Louisiana and we all decided (some of us in Braid and some guys and gals from other bands we were playing with) to take what we thought would be a short trip to a river and the woods to hang out after a show.  We ended up driving a couple hours to a backwoods trek that led us to a river.  I almost stepped into a giant web of some huge spider that was in directly eye level with me.  I don’t know if it was poisonous, but it certainly looked like it could kill.  It was hot, so we all decided to go swimming in this river.  I really didn’t think about it at the time, but we were probably surrounded by alligators.  We spent a good amount of time in that river that night.  It was totally clear and the stars were in full view.  It was beautiful, but probably not the smartest thing in the world to do…

TB: Too many to mention and most not appropriate for interviews. Ask us in person or catch some hints on the braid twitter!

How did your reunion in 2004 come about?

BN:  Since the DVD was coming out and Hey Mercedes was taking a break, it seemed like the perfect time to do it! And we were all game!

CB: I don’t really know.  One day I got an email from Bob asking if I wanted to do a Braid reunion tour.  I wasn’t playing with them (Bob, Todd and Damon were doing Hey Mercedes and I was doing The Firebird Band) – so I don’t know how it was discussed w/ them – but I was down, and we did it.

TB: Why not get together and play music you love with your friends? If everyone is into it and it’s fairly easy. It seemed right, we had the connections to book the tour and the DVD was coming out so it worked perfectly.

How were the shows in 2004?  What were some of your favorite places to play and how did it differ from some of your last shows before that?

BN: The whole experience was amazing but in retrospect, too long! Favorite places on that tour: Chicago, Boston, Champaign, North Carolina…

CB: One of my favorite nights was playing in St. Louis w/ Minus the Bear & Murder By Death.  For some reason, it became one of the craziest nights on the tour.  We (Braid) decided it would be funny to bring Minus the Bear a shot after every song they played.  By the end of their set, they were refusing drinks and sloppy.  Unfortunately, we didn’t think about how that would turn out for us.  They tried to do the same thing for us, but instead ended up bum rushing the stage a few times and it was mayhem.  The rest of the night was followed by more insanity…

FL was cool, too – but again, we started swimming in the ocean at night during shark time.  I didn’t know why the Floridians we were with wouldn’t come out and swim with us until the next day when someone told me about shark city times (the newspaper).

TB: It was all a blur. Ask Bob if he took notes. I blame Minus The Bear. Back on top!

Any chance of any Braid reunion shows in the future?  I know it has been discussed to promote your new re-issues, but there might be some difficulties with all of your guys schedules…

BN: Yeah, we’re all super swamped but I’ve learned to never say never.

CB:  We’ve talked about one offs here or there b/c we’ve been asked, but schedules and jobs/life are happening, too.  Maybe we will, but I don’t have any idea when or how.  I’m sure you’ll hear of it if we ever do…

TB: Incredibly busy like everyone else, but if the planets align you never know. I’ll say it again, why not get together and play music you love with your friends?

Chris and Bob, I know you have started to DJ together at Bar Deville.  Bob, you also DJ at Logan Bar.  How did you get into doing this and how do you go about the tough job of picking out your playlists for each night?

BN: It just fell upon me! Logan Bar is near my house and my friend was a server there. I noticed they played good music and she suggested I DJ there on one weekend, so i did! I’ve been doing that for probably almost 9 months. Bar DeVille just started 2 months ago. An old friend who bartends there asked if i wanted to do an all 90′s indie night so i couldn’t refuse! The Logan gig is more contemporary stuff. It’s not tough picking songs. I just play to what i think the crowd will like (and what i like. i’ll never play something i hate!) So if i see someone walk in with a Rocket From The Crypt hoodie, I’ll play RFTC or Hot Snakes over the next few songs. Easy!

CB: Bob was doing this, and I came out to see him DJ at Bar Deville a couple of times.  He asked if I wanted to guest DJ with him at Bar Deville one week and then it just became a weekly thing for us.  The job of picking a playlist for me isn’t difficult at all.  I do it all on the fly based on what I feel like hearing next or what I feel fits next.  If I get some “new” old music that I haven’t heard in forever, you can bet it’ll be on the list.  I usually tweet some of my playlists.

TB: If I was living in Chicago I’d be in on it whether the guys liked it or not. Believe it.

Besides DJing, what are all of you up to now?  New bands, projects, bands, or jobs?

BN: I work at now doing promotions, social media, and marketing. It’s the perfect job! I love the people and a good portion of my day is spent on Facebook and Twitter giving away free stuff. I still play solo shows now and again and hope to put out at least one more record!

CB:  I’ve been working with kids at an after school enrichment program for Chicago Public Schools.  I tutor the kids in math and reading, play sports, do art and music, and tons of other things with them.  Musically, I’ve released a few things under my own name solo and still plan on doing more with that.  The Firebird Band released a new 7” record in March, and I’m working with John Isberg sporadically on various projects.  I also started working on compositions for film, TV, and live theater w/ an old friend (Todd Finkel) that’s mostly orchestral in nature.

TB: I’m in grad school and teaching in Milwaukee. Played bass yesterday on a friends project and filled in with Roy’s band a year or so ago. Nothing serious. I love to play and rarely get to – so if the chance does arise I try to make it happen. If Broach, Bob or Damon called and needed something, I’d be there on the spot.


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