Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Conversation With Brian Warren of Weatherbox

Weatherbox Live at the Tipsy Teapot in Greenville, NC
Photo by Terry McElhennon

Last week, I ventured to Greenville, NC to see a show I'd been excited about for quite some time; San Diegan (is that a real adjective?) hard rockers Weatherbox would be gracing the stage at one of my favorite Greenville spots, the Tipsy Teapot. Hot on the heels of the release of their newest EP Follow the Rattle of the Afghan Guitar (check out Grant's review if you haven't already), the band have been touring relentlessly, bringing Long Island's Sainthood Reps along for the ride. Both bands brought plenty of energy to spare and their heavy, high-octane performance blew plenty of minds that night (and probably a few eardrums as well). Weatherbox played through an excellent blend of old and new material that kept every head in the room banging right until they closed with "Trippin' The Life Fantastic", one of my personal favorites. After the incredible performance, I had the esteemed pleasure of sitting down with frontman Brian Warren to talk about his music, touring, conflict in the Middle East, and R. Kelly.
My first question was going to be one that had been on my mind since I became a Weatherbox fan: just how does Brian Warren write songs? The intricacy of both the musical composition and lyrics in all of the group's output is absolutely staggering, and I was curious to find out which usually came about first since both mesh together so perfectly on the finished product. I asked Brian about his songwriting process:  "It definitely changes over time. The songs kind of come in part-by-part and I work on getting it all together. I don't really focus on whether I want to write music or lyrics, it's about getting something to fit. I've been doing more thematic writing recently with my lyrics; not really a concrete story, but there are definitely these kind of overarching themes and moods. Like, I don't want to call it a concept album because that sounds dumb.....but yeah man, it's totally a concept album! [laughs]"

 I decided to inquire more about the non-concept album in question, their newest EP Follow the Rattle of the Afghan Guitar. I asked about the themes of which he spoke and for an explanation of the release's cryptic title:
"Well, the Afghan Guitar is actually an's like these kids, that live over in the Middle East, for all we know they could be potentially amazing songwriters or artists. But they're never really given a chance to explore any of that since they're surrounded by so much violence; they just end up going down that path. They're more worried about surviving day to day than playing instruments or making art. So, thematically, it's about assessing your own station in life and realizing the opportunities you've got. And it's about me personally, not seeing my songwriting as a 'talent' or a 'gift' but as a result of me having these chances that they don't have, because I don't have to worry about the things they do. So it's pretty heavy."

Brian Warren, guitarist and lead singer of Weatherbox
Photo by Terry McElhennon
As you may or may not be able to tell from the grainy, blurry photos I took of their set, Weatherbox hit the stage in Greenville wearing what appeared to be matching uniforms: a plain grey dress shirt with a strange, flared collar and some black jeans. I was curious why they chose such simple stage attire and if it related consciously to the music itself:
"The uniforms are a way of depersonalizing Weatherbox, creating a sense of group solidarity. It makes the band more of a collective rather than different individuals. It seems to bring everything together a little more. And whether you realize it or not, you're always subconsciously judging a band by how they look or what they're wearing, even if they're like your favorite band, so we're trying to draw some attention away from that as well. Also, it helps us separate reality onstage from reality offstage. When we're onstage, we're not just some dudes in a band. We're working." I asked Brian what he meant by working, since I generally don't associate work (or at least MY job) with rocking out in front of a room full of fans. "I don't mean work in any negative sense, like playing music is a chore or anything. It's more like we're trying to line up having fun and making music with work so we can focus on that. I want to figure out how to do that, then I'll be set."

Part of making music and work coexist is appealing to new audiences. I asked Brian what it was like to be a West Coast act touring the eastern seaboard. His answer was surprising and made me a little sad, being from California myself:
"It's great, I love touring on the east coast. Out west, the music scene has kind of gone downhill. Especially in southern California where we're from; thing are definitely going more in the direction of bar-rock, catering to the 21+ crowd. The all ages scene is dying. Our favorite place in San Diego, pretty much the only place we play there any more, is this DIY venue called the Che Cafe. It's an awesome place on the UCSD campus; they support local music and make vegan food,but they're constantly under threat of closing down because that's how things have gotten. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to speak ill of the west coast, but it's pretty discouraging." Of course, since we were on the subject of West vs. East, I had to ask the big question: Tupac or Biggie? "Biggie. Definitely Biggie." 

Outside of the Tipsy Teapot in Greenville, NC
Photo by Terry McElhennon

Though it may seem kind of cliche nowadays, I was dying to know what artists had been an influence to Mr. Warren and helped him craft Weatherbox's truly unique sound:
"I have different answers to this question every time I get asked, it all depends on the place I'm in with my songwriting. I'm always in a different place creatively and I'm influenced by different artists all the time. I've been listening to a lot of Michael Nyman, he's a composer that does very accessible, enjoyable classical music. It's almost like 50s pop arranged for classical strings, and I think that's had an effect on my music. I've always drawn inspiration from Black Flag and Fugazi, definitely. And then there's The Locust [also from San Diego]; they're this incredible, weird, math-y group that I saw play around when I was younger but couldn't really get in to at the time. I didn't appreciate them until pretty recently." When I asked Brian what the band had been listening to on long drives in the van for this tour, his mentioned a few of the artists noted above, but there were a few answer I was definitely not expecting. "I've been enojying a lot of Sam Amidon, he's a singer-songwriter that does this sort of old-timey folk, which I love. He did a cover of an R. Kelly song that I like a lot. And that, too: I listen to a lot of fucking R. Kelly." I must have looked visibly confused, because Brian elaborated, "I do, I fucking love R. Kelly. He makes some of the funkiest, most soulful stuff around. Seriously, man, you should go back and check out more of R. Kelly."

As the conversation was winding down, I asked another obvious question: what's next for Weatherbox? I was made privy to some very exciting news:
"Well......there's a lot of new songs we've been working on. We've got a whole full-length worth of new material that's pretty much ready to be recorded. We're hoping to get that out in 2012." With that in mind, I thanked Brian for taking the time to talk to me and gathered my belongings to make the treacherous voyage back home. "Awesome, you're done," said Weatherbox guitarist George Pritzker, a very nice fellow that I had briefly spoken to earlier in the evening. He looked over at Brian. "Does that mean I can start talking shit about you off the record?"

And so, the vicious shit-talking ensued.
No, not really.

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