Having a chat with Derek Tramont (left) and Ryan Levy (right) of BRAEVES. Photo by Tim Toda.
Late Friday night at The West, my good friend Tim and I sat waiting for Ryan Levy and Derek Tramont of BRAEVES to show up for our interview. When they walked in, I realized I’d missed the leather jacket memo this time around, reminding me of the first interview I ever did with them where we all happened to be wearing them. This time, though, it was maybe less of an interview, and more like old friends catching up over drinks in the patio — enjoying the fresh air and not minding so much that our butts were getting wet from the freshly rained-on benches.
The band’s third member, drummer Tom, was supposed to be there too. “Tommy has a good reason,” said Derek. “Maybe we’ll tell you guys later.” For the record, they didn’t.
I first met the guys almost a year ago to this day at Baby’s All Right, which Derek said was only their fourth show as a band. Tim filmed our interview before the show, and since meeting them a year ago — “It was October 12th,” Ryan reminded us. “I was gonna bring a bottle of champagne!” — it’s been so much fun keeping in touch and seeing them play show after show, moving forward and growing as a band.
By the time this article goes up, they’ll be on their cross-country road trip to Los Angeles, where they’ll be moving out this month to establish themselves in the music scene there and get working on their first full-length record, their follow up to Drifting by Design.
Derek Tramont: Essentially, we have a bunch of places we’re looking at. It’s very hard when you’re in New York, looking at property in LA. My girlfriend lives in North Hollywood, and she kinda knows the areas where we can move into that are more set up for arts and music, like Silver Lake or Echo Park, stuff like that. So we found a place that’s in Sherman Oaks, like right next door, two miles from where she is. We basically spoke to the person, we’re ready to lock it in, but I’m just like, covering the bases.
Ryan Levy: I think we just need to assimilate as soon as possible, you know, like we just need to get there and get comfortable in a space. It doesn’t have to be the greatest space in the world, but, this place is actually really nice.
DT: It’s a friend who lives there now, and he’s leaving, so we have an in there.
RL: And we have other friends who live there, so if we have to crash for a few days, we can then physically find a place.
Ysabella Monton for AudioFemme: Ah, that’s really good then.
DT: Yeah, it’s funny, his friend Adam lives over there who’s into film, who’s a writer, who plays in a band also with Christopher Mintz-Plasse, it’s like his best friend. Plays bass in his band, which is great. My best friend from school, John, who’s a cinematographer, lives right in North Hollywood, my girlfriend lives in North Hollywood. We got a couple of things already that we can kinda go to and people we can talk to and network with and see where we’re at, a little quicker than being like, “What do we do, who do we talk to?”
YM: So you’re not blindly diving in. But you kind of already have a feel for what the scene is like there?
DT: Yeah, I’ve been visiting her periodically. It’s fucking awesome. I mean, I love it. We went to Satellite, I’ve heard about like, Hotel Cafe and The Viper Room, places like that. Silver Lake Lounge.
RL: All of our friends also seem to tell us that they think it’s just a good place for us to be for what we’re doing. They say it’s where we should be right now, not as a suggestion, but more as a response to us letting them know it’s where we’re going. They’re like, “Oh, okay, that actually makes a lot of sense.” Positive reinforcement, instead of being like “Oh, shit, that’s what you wanna do?”
DT: Yeah, I mean, if we were moving to North Dakota, like outside of Fargo, what’s the point?
RL: Long Johns! It’s fashionable to be freezing.
LA does seem to make a lot of sense for the band. As influences, Derek throws out Silver Lakes’s own Local Natives, or bands like Incan Abraham, who are also from California. In LA, the sort of atmospheric indie rock sound seems to flourish a bit more than it does here. Derek mentions that Austin Mendenhall of Snowmine, who the band will continue to play with, said “When Snowmine went to LA, San Diego, shows were sold out, pre-sale. More energetic, more enthusiastic, he’s like, ‘[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Snowmine] did better there. No question.'”
“It seems like that’s a place that people will take to us maybe quicker than Brooklyn, in the sea of ten thousand bands and four million venues. Hopefully it’s not as tough a transition as it was in New York.”
RL: I’m really excited because we always end up recording anything in the winter. No matter how much we plan or talk about doing stuff, we’re always in the freezing, kind of angry, claustrophobic environment, just frustrated with everything. It’s gonna be really interesting to go to a place where we don’t really feel that tension, and during those months, get to really have mental ease, and I think it’s gonna make a huge difference in how we approach the record. It will make the whole experience so much more spiritual. It makes it less like a process and more like an experience.
DT: It did feel a little like it was a procedure. Okay, we gotta go to the studio, we gotta stay, it’s snowing, it’s fucking ten degrees outside, it’s like, we bring our slippers, we stay the night. It’s tough. It’s good to be in the studio and work on stuff with each other and all that, but it’s gonna be like a breath of fresh air to be out there and take a second, realize what we’re working on conceptually. I think it’ll come out a lot better in every way. A little freeing for us to be in a different place, a different studio, with different people.
YM: Are you jumping right into the studio when you get there?
R: Basically, we’re gonna jump in and do our round of demos and everything as we go. We’ve been writing stuff a lot, the trip itself is gonna give us a lot of material, so by the time we get there, we’ll probably just have a process of just throwing up every idea that we’ve got and trying to sort it all out for a few weeks. While we do that, we’re gonna be talking to all our friends out there, whether they’re in the studio or not. We wanna make the record different this time too. We keep talking about different ways of actually recording it than just doing the whole thing in the same place. We wanna see how we can actually give ourselves more freedom, headspace, maybe do different parts in different environments and see what that gives us…
D: To give us more time to work on it together. You know, if we record drums at the studio it’ll give us the opportunity to take as many vocal takes as we want, take as many bass takes as we want. In the studio, you’re thrown into a situation where it’s like, “Put your bass down, we’re by the hour, by the day. Okay, well that’s what we’re gonna go with.” I look at it now and I’m like, specifically with “While Your Body Sleeps,” on the first EP, I’m not in love with all my parts, and I would’ve loved to have gone back there and play the parts that I’m playing now, because they’re all different. But I didn’t have the headspace or enough time, and it could give us more time and space to work it out for ourselves.
And a lot of burritos, a lot of palm trees…
RL: When we were in bands when we were like 13, 14 and stuff, we were doing the bulk of our recordings on our own. We would buy random different recording gear, we kept doing things on our own. It was that process of getting to spend however many hours on a song, completely getting lost in it, it’s like playing with play-doh again or playing with action figures like a little kid instead of it being surgical. It brings back that magical feeling of being a kid again. I really want to incorporate that in how we make the record instead of it just feeling like a job. It’s gotta be fun, it’s gotta be free, and it’s gotta sound really good. We’re not gonna compromise for it to sound like shit. And I think we like bands that have dimension in their sound. I mean, Wilco is one of our favorite bands ever, whether it’s record to record they sound different, they sound, or literally how they approach making it, there’s never one way to do something. You just find out more options or more ways to make weird sounds and records are supposed to be their own idea. You figure out the live version later. The recorded version is the one that’s gonna be that way forever, so make it the way that you really want it to be represented.
DT: If that means 20, 30,000 didgeridoos, if that means ukelele, if that means a choir, that’s what we’ll do.
RL: We’ll fly in 30,000 didgeridoos.
DT: We’ll spend all the money we have on a backing track that we won’t end up using.
RL: We’re just gonna buy a loin cloth and just stand with the speakers playing. It’ll turn into an elaborate Cirque du Soleil act without actually playing instruments.
YM: No music.
RL: For the next record, we’re just trapeze artists.
DT: That transitions us into concept and theme…
RL: It’s called Ballet and the album cover is gonna be all of us sharing one codpiece.
And while Derek mentioned that he’s playing different bass parts in some tracks now, the band has no plans to use anything off the EP on the album.
Says Ryan, “It was something that we made for all those reasons, whether it was the time, the budget, whatever. And it was part of the experience…To compare it to something not to really be compared to, it’s like Star Wars…“
“Always goes back to Star Wars,” Derek interjects.
“The idea of anybody just going back and changing something, those changes were unnecessary. They didn’t make it better or worse. Well, they definitely made it worse. They definitely didn’t contribute to anything.”
You might see a dance remix of the EP, though. “While Your Body Sleeps” becomes, according to Ryan, “While Your Bodies Drop” — “Let the bodies hit the floor,” says Derek.
If that’s where LA takes them, so be it. The biggest challenge to overcome in the transition though, is the quality of pizza on the west coast.
“If you look at pizza in LA, it’s a joke,” says Derek. “I don’t know what they’re doing.”
So I’m now obligated to ship frozen dough over to them in their “time of darkness,” in Ryan’s words.
DT: We played at awesome venues, we’ve had a great string of shows at Rough Trade or Le Poisson Rouge or Baby’s All Right, Glasslands, you know, a lot of good stuff.
RL: I thought you were gonna rattle off all of them casually.
DT: You want me to? Rockwood Stage 2, The Knitting Factory…I’m not gonna go into dates, because I’d do that.
RL: But we never really assimilated here to Brooklyn or the city. It’s been such a weird thing to have basically done everything we’ve done off of coming here and playing a show and Derek being the best e-mail person in the world, basically…
DT: That’s on the record.
Being from Long Island is horrible. We travel like an hour plus to get to a show, then we gotta truck back, you know what I mean. We’re not part of it here, we’ve never been. In a way, it feels like we’re leaving Long Island.
RL: It’s funny because I’m really really happy with everything we’ve accomplished, but I’m also amazed because we’re like writing long distance love letters to Brooklyn and the city and we’re here. It’s gonna be interesting when we’re actually living in the thick of it.