Brazos stands for a number of things – the word ‘arms’ in Spanish, as well as the name of a river in Texas. However for frontman, Martin Crane, it’s an idea that came to him in a dream. And despite the fact that they are not a household name just yet, the Austin-based trio got together in college and released their first album, Phosphorescent Blues in 2009.
Now, three years later, Crane has moved up north to New York City where he not only regrouped but also found two new members – Ian Chang and Spencer Zahn – to record Brazos’ latest effort, Saltwater. Best Fit had the chance to chat with Crane to talk about his reincarnated project, his musical roots, the songwriting process and what he does when he’s not playing music.
How did you get started in music?
I grew up in a small town in South Carolina and played piano when I was younger. Then I started playing guitar, and then got a set of drums, electric guitar and bass. So I started making my own records and multi-tracking them. I never put anything out because there was no real music scene where I grew up. There were no bands or anything, and it was kind of before the Internet was just starting. So I kind of just did it for the hell of it.
How did Brazos start then?
I went to college in Austin, and I kept doing the same thing. I’d make an album probably every nine months throughout college, and I would [hardly] play out except for a couple of friends or do a couple of open mics. There were three or four of my close friends who were really into music, and we just kind of had a bunch of friends hanging out. We played in each other’s bands, but people just started telling us to play it out.
Saltwater is your new album, but you released your debut LP, Phosphorescent Blues in 2009. How did you approach Saltwater compared to the first album?
For Phosphorescent Blues, I wrote that really quickly. The recording took a while. But since I write new music every nine months or something, I waited longer on this one, and I took three albums I already wrote and took the best songs from them. It was about a month of work and tends to come out all at the same time for me. But with this one, I wanted to sit back and make the songs that I knew would stick around.
When you write a song there’s that initial thrill of it, you know, where you’re like “Oh man, I just did this.” But then six months later, it doesn’t resonate with me the same way. So most of these songs are ones that do stick around for me and last a couple of years.
Aside from you, Brazos is working with a whole new lineup. Can you talk a bit about what it’s like working with the new musicians? Did that give a different vibe to Saltwater?
Yes, it definitely did. When I moved from Austin two years, I found new people – Spencer [Zahn] and Ian [Chang] — and they’re both really amazing. They just have different ways of approaching things. The songwriting voice is the same, but the musical voice is different. Everybody has their own personalities when they play, and I know the differences in personality. But it’s hard to put a finger on how everyone plays differently. It’s hard to describe in words. We had about 10 practices before the record, and things just kind of naturally happened.
You mentioned how the songs on Saltwater were your best work over a particular course of time. Essentially, how do you approach the songwriting process?
The melody is the most important thing, and there is a certain way that the melodies feel true. And when you have a melody that feels true, it’s really easy to write words to it because there’s a logic to it – there’s an emotional logic to it that’s already there. So it always starts with the melody. When I find a good melody, it’s kind of like when you sit in a room that’s totally dark and never been in before. You have a flashlight and take things one step at a time. Writing a song for me is like working through a thought that just comes to your head; like when you first start thinking about something and you free-associate and twist and turn and then you end up somewhere different… There are characters and ideas, but my ideal song is one that perfectly writes down perfectly what it feels like to be in a daydream, but you don’t even realise what you think about.