GETTING BUSY: “I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve had a lot of amazing people ask me to play with them in the last year.”
It was no surprise to find Chris Brokaw in Hawaii last week, just two Saturdays before he’s due back in Cambridge to pull a double shift upstairs at the Middle East — a solo guitar set followed by drumming behind the Kadane Brothers. Seems that every time I’ve bumped into Brokaw this past year, he’s been off to place his talents in the service of something interesting, whether it be Thurston Moore, with whom he spent last fall touring, or Dirtmusic, a collaboration with two other multi-instrumentalists, Bad Seeds guitarist Hugo Race and Chris Eckman of the Walkabouts. Dirtmusic’s homonymous debut arrived in April on Glitterhouse, after the band had already toured Europe and played a set in Mali at January’s Festival in the Desert. But last week Brokaw wasn’t away on business.
“My girlfriend’s parents live in Hawaii,” he admits a bit sheepishly when I track him down in Brooklyn. But he’s not playing down his accomplishments. “I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve had a lot of amazing people ask me to play with them, particularly in the last year.”
It has been quite a year. It began with Brokaw turning down an offer to play on Thurston Moore’s Trees Outside the Academy (Ecstatic Peace). “I was already booked to be in Europe playing guitar and organ with Eleventh Dream Day.”
After that, he reunited with Matt and Bubba Kadane (ex-Bedhead), to record a third album as the New Year. That band quietly emerged as Brokaw’s decade-long tenure alongside Thalia Zedek in Come was reaching its end in the late ’90s. In a sense, it brought him full circle: having established himself as a gritty guitarist in Come, he was back to playing drums behind the Kadanes’ stark soundscapes, much as he had in his pre-Come days with Codeine. Brokaw also continued to expand on the role he’d played in Come as a scalpel-sharp foil to Zedek’s serrated bluesy churn, performing with Steve Wynn, Evan Dando, and a trio of Chicago post-rockers (Bundy K. Brown, Doug McCombs, and Curtis Harvey) in Pullman. And he recorded four solo albums, showcasing his talents as both an experimental guitarist and, on 2005’s Incredible Love (just reissued on limited edition white vinyl by I and Ear), a singer-songwriter.
His own 2008 highlight? A short tour with Rhys Chatham, a modern composer for electric guitar from the Downtown NYC Glenn Branca school. “We did an epic piece called ‘Die Donnergötter’ [“The Thundergods”]. It’s rock and roll, but it’s also composed in that you’re working from sheet music and there are alto- and soprano-guitar sections. We toured with seven guitars, bass, and drums doing ‘Die Donnergötter’ and two other pieces every night for a week. That was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. Of course, going to Mali and spending all day long jamming in tents with kids from way way out in the desert was also pretty amazing.”
Yes, a busy year. After a bit of digging, Brokaw recalls that he and Geoff Farina have an album of pre-WW2 country-blues songs in the can, and that he played on a forthcoming Lemonheads disc. He also guested on the next album by Spanish indie chanteuse Christina Rosenvinge. Plus, there are two new solo albums he’s aiming to have out by the end of the year. The first, due in late August, is all instrumental, ranging from recognizable acoustic guitar to more-avant drones. The second, which he just started recording in Chicago with Tortoise fellows Doug McCombs and John Herndon, he characterizes as more a “rock record.”
But Brokaw seems most excited about co-producing a documentary on British album-cover artist Storm Thorgerson, who’s best known for his surreal work for Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin in the late ’60s. “He does covers today the same way he’s done them since the ’60s. He listens to an album until he comes up with an image. And then as best he can, he executes that image in real life and takes a picture of it. A friend of mine works with him, and the last time I saw him, he told me that Storm had this idea for an image of a beach with a trap door. And underneath the trap door is a stairway going down into the sand. So I said, ‘Let me guess: you had to hire a carpenter to build a staircase, and then you had to drag it to a beach, dig a hole, and stick it in the hole so Storm could take a picture of it.’ He said, ‘That’s precisely what we did.’ ”
CHRIS BROKAW + THE KADANE BROTHERS + BOTTOMLESS PIT | Middle East upstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | Saturday, July 12 | 9pm | $10 | 617.864.EAST or www.mideastclub.com