A Post Braid Break-up Interview with Bob Nanna
by Theodore Defosse
RSA: In "Do You Love Coffee?", there is the great line "We like whine/It's champaignful". How would you describe Braid's relationship with the city of Champaign and the state of Illinois? Also, do you think the Illinois music scene is still thriving, or has it grown too experimental? Is there such a thing as being "too experimental”?
Bob Nanna: Actually, that line grew out of my dislike for the first and foremost reason for being in Champaign to begin with: school... and when you are writing a song about the problem of being so far away from someone that is special to you, the words come together almost mindlessly. But then again, it is wonderful to be in a city called Champaign... so easy to free associate. I am a die-hard Illinoian, actually Chicagoan; I think it is the greatest city on Earth and it inspires me every day, which is why I can't see myself leaving any time soon. When it came to Braid, Illinois loved us and hated us, but every triumph and pitfall seemed to help Braid in the end... I DO think the music scene is still thriving, although not at the same pace that it was, say 5 years ago. It could be that I just don't go out much anymore, but I haven't seen any new original bands lately that have impressed me. But, like I said, I could just be staying in on all the wrong days. And I'm all for pushing the limits of music... so a band can't really be too instrumental. It may not be your cup of tea (or anyone's for that matter), but if it's fun to create and it means something to the creator,then it has distinct value that is commendable.
RSA: Did the band Fear (particularly their song "Let's Have a War") provide some inspiration for the band? Who were influences?
Bob Nanna: I've never heard that song. I get influenced by so many things they are hard to list... but growing up it was definitely anything on Casey Kasem's countdown.
RSA: What is the connection between the band and film? It seems to rear its head into many Braid songs ("Harrison Ford", "Movie Clock Star") and in post-Braid projects (i.e. City on Film).
Bob Nanna: I am (we are) just so amazed by the beauty of film... and the feeling you get when you leave a movie theater... that it will inevitably inspire a song or make it's way into a lyric or two. Also, with the love of film, comes the love of storylines and plots, and I unconsciously write songs as if they were mini-movies. There are distinct plot twists and turns and cathartic climaxes. There are times when I'm writing lyrics and find myself saying, "Wait a minute, I can't say THAT yet, it's too early in the song... I haven't developed the story yet." Maybe it's dumb, but that's the way I'm comfortable doing it.
RSA: What movie would Braid have liked to do the music for?
Bob Nanna: "High Fidelity". I really liked that movie and I think it had to do with the character's relation to the soundtrack (more than the actual story). It would have been nice to land a song on it.
RSA: What are some future projects that fans can expect?
Bob Nanna: Damon, Todd, and I have joined forces with a guy named Mark Farm (Compound Red/Alligator Gun) and we will playing under the name Hey Mercedes. We already have a tentative late 2000 game plan, but I'm not at liberty to discuss it (ha ha). I also will be releasing a solo album under the name The City on Film, sometime in the year 2000 on Grand Theft Autumn Records... Whenever I get around to recording the damn songs. Chris is doing a project called Firebird and he's got a lot going on there as well. All future projects will be noted on our website, which I hope to keep updated.
RSA: Do you think Braid's intensity would have been able to be sustained for long?
Bob Nanna: I think so. It would have depended upon the listeners, though, also, cause a lot of the "intensity" that you speak of was triggered by the live shows and the response from the crowd.
RSA: Movie Music demonstrates the wide range of songs Braid were capable of playing. Were some of the songs (like "I'm Glowing and You're the Reason") ever attempted as ballads or given a quieter, acoustic treatment?
Bob Nanna: The only song that was ever acoustic first was "I'm Afraid of Everything". We played about 5 strictly acoustic shows in our lives, giving a lot of the songs a stripped down approach... I always thought it was a nice, interesting change, given the inherent frankness of the songs... and it was a lot of fun. "I'm Glowing and You're the Reason" was never acoustic. I'm not even sure how that song came about. We were just trying something different.
RSA: Could you describe your feelings regarding the "emo" tag, and if the band was comfortable being grouped in that genre?
Bob Nanna: I've always hated it, but I grew to just accept it, because there was no way in hell to stop it. I've been writing songs this way... way before "emo" became a nuisance of a term. It was kind of uncomfortable being judged and labeled and thrown into a category before any notes were even played... but since we couldn't help what was coming out of us, we couldn't really help what people would say. I have a feeling that it will soon be one of those words like "alternative" or "punk", which will eventually have so many meanings that it will die out as a sole form of labeling.
RSA: Was it more fun to perform the songs before an audience, or was the act of song creation more satisfying?
Bob Nanna: For me, it was the performance. The creation process was amazing, but when we were all focused on the same point on stage, playing a song and getting a break just right... that was like heaven to me.
RSA: Your melodies have always been praised for being more difficult and complex than traditional songfare. Did these arrive before they lyrics, or were the melodies a result of the strange lyrical turns?
Bob Nanna: The lyrics always came second to the music. This means that I/we always wrote the music first, and since there was no immediate accompanying vocal line, the music always tended to be challenging, or at least interesting enough to play by itself. When the song is in the process of being written, that's when I use the emotion of the song to get ideas for a subject. Often the music will be altered to fit the words, but the groundwork is always laid first.
RSA: Were there some bands you wished to play with, but never did ?
Bob Nanna: I've always wondered how cool it would be to play drums for Steely Dan.
RSA: Uncertainty and contradiction abound throughout "New Nathan Detroits" (perhaps my favorite Braid song). When considering these lines (It's pointless to play if you don't get paid, why not? / Let's take our time and hurry), do you think it accurate to say there was difficulty foreseeing what was best for the group, and for each member of the band ? Did bands like Poster Children provide any guidance or direction?
Bob Nanna: It was always a struggle to try and foresee what was best for the group, and we had to mess up royally before ever seeming to accomplish anything... that is where songs like "New Nathan Detroits" and "Killing a Camera" come from. There's a real pressure involved and a lot of business bullshit that you have to deal with... so it's only natural that I would feel compelled to mention it in a song. I didn't grow up in Champaign listening to the Poster Children, so I can't really say that they were any influence... and when I was in Champaign, I have only positive recollections of them, but nothing earth-shattering.
RSA: Braid seemed always rather mature in their lyrics. Is there any truth behind the title for the band's live album, Lucky To Be Alive ?
Bob Nanna: Well, the album is sort of referring to the last song we wrote which, it should be noted, was not the last song we had planned to write. There is truth to the title, not necessarily literally, but we're all lucky to still be positive about music and touring and working hard.
RSA: What are fans to expect from "Killing a Camera", the upcoming film which documents Braid's final shows?
Bob Nanna: Snippets of all FIVE last shows (that includes the secret one at the Fireside, which was a literal free-for-all - can't wait to see that), along with bits of stuff in the van and behind the scenes and general junk like that. More of a last hurrah then a VH1 Behind the Music.
RSA: What type of distribution will your movie have?
Bob Nanna: The same as any record, I hope. Since it's not really near completion, we haven't really thought about it too much.
RSA: Has the Internet -- and your website, in particular -- been helpful in broadening the fan base of Braid?
Bob Nanna: Absolutely Positively, and I wish I had the time to keep it current. Braid owes a myriad of debt to the Internet.
RSA: One of the oddest songs on Movie Music was "Elephant", an early Braid song which featured the female vocalist Kate Reuss. Did it take a long while for Braid to figure out its musical direction? Once found, was it difficult to ever modify it?
Bob Nanna: It was weird at the beginning, because we all wanted to do different things (there were 2 different members then), but once the final lineup was in place, it wasn't difficult at all. we would realize any modifications as they were happening. for instance, the first song we wrote with Damon was "A Dozen Roses", and after the song was done, we stepped back and noticed that it was different, but no effort was made to make it sound more "Braid"-like. It just happened and we went with it.
RSA: Is there anything you wished from your experience in Braid that didn't happen?
Bob Nanna: I really wanted to do a video for a song, just for my own personal enjoyment. I always thought our songs had specific cinematic qualities. It's a shame we never had that chance... I also wanted to go to Australia, Spain, and Brazil... but this is why we're all in new bands!
RSA: Can you name five favorite films and five favorite books?
Bob Nanna: As for films, there's "Annie Hall", "Good Will Hunting", "Life is Beautiful", "Fargo", "Magnolia". Bookwise, there's Cat's Cradle, Lady Sings the Blues, On the Road, Dharma Bums, and Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
RSA: In "Eulalia, Eulalia" (found on both Age of Octeen and Movie Music, there comes the plea to "bring back the boy I used to be". What parts about Braid would each member of the band hope to recreate in future projects?
Bob Nanna: I (Bob) would like to maintain that 100% work ethic that Braid had always strived for. The way I see it is, if you can't be passionate about something, please look for something else to do and stop wasting everyone's time.
RSA: What are some outside interests of the band members?
Bob Nanna: Chris goes to school for photography, Damon loves to play football and generally any outdoor sports, Todd is an avid record collector with a soft spot for cats, and I like to spend my time worrying about dumb things like whether my plants have enough water.