The press kit included with Cary Brothers' new album, Under Control, contains a letter from the singer-songwriter. The missive details his career arc up until now — from finding his musical home at LA's tiny Hotel Café and contributing the song "Blue Eyes" to the smash Garden State soundtrack, to the success and notoriety which followed and then his eventual road, music and life burnout.
Brothers decided to take some time off and reconnect with the things that matter to him. In the process, he extricated himself from a record deal and decided to start his own indie label, which released Control earlier this year. Fans of Brothers' first full-length, Who You Are, will find much to love about the album. Moody, Smiths-influenced pop and brittle, watery piano — as heard on lead single "Ghost Town" — envelop his smart, emotionally resonant songwriting. The affable Brothers checked in with B-Sides from the road.
B-Sides: How does it feel being back on the road again?
Cary Brothers: It's kind of amazing. It's exceptionally amazing because of the company I'm with. I'm out with Greg [Laswell], who's one of my best friends, and he's amazing in his own right. And then Harper Blynn, the band that's opening for us, is just mind-blowing. They're acting as [the house band for] Greg and I. They're doing three hours a night onstage.
I read your letter in your press kit, and it was very striking to me. Was there any one thing in particular that made you be like, "I need to take a break, get off the road and regroup my life"?
That's kind of where the record came from too, just total disconnection. There's something about sharing yourself with tons of people but yet not having any significant relationships outside of the stage. [Laughs] That's what ultimately...I had to put that on hold just to get home and see my friends and [find] a girl and have a normal life for a while. Being on the road for five years, I didn't want to write a record about being on the road or about the adjustment to success or any of that bullshit. I wanted to get home and live, so I could write about living again.
People forget how much of a bubble you're in on the road — you're going from, like, bus to Starbucks to stage.
You're waking up on a bus — I have no idea what city I'm in. Everybody has already woken up, so I'm all by myself, I'm in an alley behind a venue somewhere. [Laughs] After awhile, there was no sense of place. I needed to figure that out again.
With this in mind, what was the biggest change or relief for you when you were making the new record?
During that time I was making the record, I was fighting my way out of my old deal — battling legally and all of that kind of stuff. Which sucked to have to do that, but at the same time, it gave me the time to finally... [trails off]. Every record I had done prior to this, I would go in the studio when I was off a tour for a couple of weeks and get a few songs down, and then go back on the road. And those songs would change and improve and then I'd want to fix them, then I'd be recording new ones. It was this constantly developing thing going on. But never with a real focus. I was really proud of the songs, but it's the first time I've been able to make a record start to finish with one idea. Every time we finished a song, I'm like, "OK, that fills this part of the record," and putting it together like puzzle pieces.
Sequencing is a lost art on records.
Absolutely. Especially now, it's just tough, because so many kids just go for a song, and then they don't even give the time with the record. I very consciously put this record together to have a certain journey to it. Listen, I'm happy that anybody's buying the music, but ideally — hopefully — you want people to press play and take it all the way to the end.
That's what struck me about Control, the ebb and flow to it. You might have some songs that are a little poppier and things that are more ruminative. It definitely has peaks and valleys.
So many records I've listened to in the last few years...there's a real sameness to it. After a few songs, I go, "OK, I got it. I don't even need to listen to the rest of the record." I feel like now, this is kind of step one. I can't wait to get back in the studio and do it again, because now I feel like I already know what the next thing is going to sound like, in terms of risk taking. I finally got to make the record I always wanted to make, and now I can muck it up a little bit.
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