Photo by Rebecca Reed
Interview with guitarist and vocalist Bob Nanna | By Dustin Verburg
Hailing from Urbana, Illinois, Braid’s punk intensity, frenetic musicianship, and smart, poetically approachable lyrics came to define the Midwestern emo sound of the ‘90s. They influenced many of today’s most popular emo, pop punk, and post-hardcore bands, and are back in the saddle for their first full-length record in 15 years.
How are you, Bob?
Not so bad. We were just finishing up a podcast, but we’re all done.
How did it go?
It went well! Lots of stuff to talk about. This website I started with my friend Mark Rose, called Downwrite, we try to do at least one every two weeks. It’s called the GetDownwrite Podcast and we talk about stuff on the site. But we’re launching something fun for the summer, so we wanted to do a podcast about that. We’re launching this thing called Downwrite Summer where every Monday of summer, we stream a different original song from one of the artists. The songs are about summer. We’re going to post a new Matt Pryor song first and we’ll do 12 more artists after that. Every Monday a new song to listen to, share, enjoy. I think it should be fun. We’re just thinking of fun ways to get content out, but we want people to hear some of the more obscure artists on the site.
So, let’s talk about Braid. You released an EP a few years back. What was the catalyst for No Coast?
Yeah, we did the EP and then [guitarist and vocalist] Chris [Broach] and I decided to keep writing music together. We had a lot of fun getting together and writing the EP with [bassist] Todd [Bell] and [drummer] Damon [Atkinson]. It just reenergized us and felt like old times. It felt great, so when we decided to write the new album, we sort of put the word out, and Topshelf Records was really excited about working with us. It was just this perfect storm of us wanting to do the album because the EP was so fun to make, and getting into a hot practice space and grinding out songs. We wanted to do it again. The fact that we had the support, the drive, and the excitement going made us want to do it.
You’ve had some of these lyrics written for years now. Do you still relate to them now that you’re in a different place?
Yeah, I do. The lyrical content that came from the batch that happened years ago, I didn’t take full songs, I just took bits and pieces. I made sure to use the parts that make sense to me now and are relevant to the song now. A lot of the lyrical content wasn’t specific lines; it was more sort of general ideas of what I wanted to sing about and what we wanted to talk about. It’s sort of been this list of to-dos that I’ve been keeping for a long time, and it got amplified once we decided we were going to do this Braid record. I went into it with the thought, “This is the last Braid record,” even though we don’t want it to be and I don’t think it will be. I wanted to get everything out on the table and purge myself of all of these ideas I’ve been housing for so long.
Does this mental spring-cleaning mean you’ve eliminated the backlog of ideas and you’re starting fresh again?
All that said, there’s still a lot to get to. I’ve been writing things down since at least ’91. I’ve got a big bin full of notebooks from tours, and I’m starting to write stuff digitally, too. I’ve got Google Drive folders just full of writing. I’ll write stuff on tour, and scan it so I don’t have to keep the paper around.
There’s not going to be a time where there is a clean slate because there’s just so much. In the meantime, the record is coming out and I already have a bunch of new songs. There have been a lot of changes in all of our lives. I switched jobs, started Downwrite, toured solo, and Chris just had a daughter. The flood of ideas never really stops.
I remember getting Braid songs on actual mixtapes, and it was hard to find your records in the small town I grew up in. But now, NPR is talking about you and Entertainment Weekly is streaming your songs. That’s a pretty drastic change.
Yeah, it’s great. I suppose it’s part of the whole “emo revival” thing that keeps popping up. I think it’s because the folks who were big fans of Braid in the ‘90s, when we were first a band, have now grown into positions in the media and elsewhere where they can post about a new project by a band they really love. The Entertainment Weekly piece was from Kyle Ryan, who we’ve known for a long time.
Regardless, it’s amazing. You bring up a good point with not being able to find records all the time. Now, every single day, there are new songs streaming online and you can buy all of these records digitally and mail-order them easier than ever. I don’t know, it just feels good to be a part of the new wave, so to speak. That’s why I’m hesitant to use the term “emo revival.” I don’t want to be part of a revival of something old, I just want to be part of a new wave. We just want to make new music, and make the music that we make, so to speak. If the time is right for people to want to talk about it, then great. If not, then who gives a shit? I’m glad people are talking about it, but we’re just making new music. That’s our intention.
It seems like every band I talk to that’s consistently happy is on Topshelf. How has it been so far?
It’s great. It’s funny you said all the bands are happy, that’s because the label is happy. There’s really no pretension, it’s all coming from such a great, genuine place. When I was in college, I tried to run a record label and it sucked. It’s not easy. You lose money and you get disappointed a lot of times.
But they’re doing this in such a great way – they not only have the passion, but they’re super smart. I think because Seth [Decoteau] has worked for another label, seen them come and go, they’ve got their finger on the pulse of what this generation wants. They know how people want to see the bands, how people want to hear the bands, and what sort of merch they want. It’s really cool to be involved with the label and with folks like that, because God knows, as much as we like to stay in touch with everything, we can’t just because we’re a little older and we have other things to worry about. So having a label like Topshelf put out the record, and work it, is just amazing. We’re as happy as everybody else on the label.
Tell me about recording No Coast and working with Will Yip.
It was fun. We purposely didn’t want to spend a ton of time on it. We didn’t want to spend a month recording the record, so we actually recorded it in probably 10 days, maybe 12. Total. We wanted it to have that urgency. Frame and Canvas  was recorded and mixed in six days, so we just wanted to recapture some of that. Will was amazing. He understood the band and what we wanted. He understood that we didn’t want to make an “older sounding” record. He never wanted to change the way we work or the way we sound. He just wanted to make sure that everything sounded good. And thusly, he really kicked our asses. Especially Chris and I doing vocals, because he just wanted to make sure that the takes were perfect. On key, and with the right energy and emotion. There are lines where we did 50 takes to get it right, and to be honest, I wanted to kill him [laughs]. I was pissed! Both Chris and I – and this happens in all recordings – had these “oh my God” moments, because it’s so emotionally draining. But we’re way better off for it. He just knew the right way to get the best sound out of all of us.
You co-host a music trivia night…
Yeah! We just started that. We actually talked about that on the podcast we just did. We’re going to do it every month at a bar here in Chicago near The Metro, which is a big venue here. Mark Rose and I did it for the first time last Wednesday. We had [Mike] Felumlee play, so it was half-show, half-trivia night. It went really, really well. I’m sort of a trivia nerd. I go to trivia tournaments here in Chicago, and Mark does as well, so it’s natural that we’d want to do our own trivia night. It went really well, so we’re going to do it next month as well.
And you’re also fascinated with the Billboard charts?
Yeah, it’s weird. I was crazy about music and countdowns and charts ever since I can remember. I remember waking up on Sunday mornings in the early ‘80s, listening to the Top 40 and writing the songs down. The next week I’d see where everything moved around. Around that time, I started making my own charts, like what my favorite songs of the week were. It’s been there for a long, long time. I never really thought of my place in the charts, but every Thursday, I check the charts and I love seeing friends of mine that chart pretty high. Say Anything charted pretty high last week and Tigers Jaw charted pretty high the other week. Modern Baseball charted high – I don’t know, I just enjoy seeing records I know and love, or people I know, charting high. It’s like things I thought were unattainable [in] my childhood merging with [people] in my current life who are attaining it now. It’s just one of those things in my life that’s always been there.
Braid is definitely a part time band now. How does that affect your motivation and the way you approach things?
I think the motivation is the same whether it’s part time or full time. The fact that it has to be part time now makes it a little frustrating, because the motivation is still there. We can all augment it with other creative projects. We’re all getting ready for this short tour and getting ready for the record to come out. We’re making sure all of the new songs sound good live and making sure we’re practiced up. The motivation’s always there. Once that’s done, come the beginning of August, we’ll start writing new songs. Todd, our bass player, is a teacher. So when school starts for him, we can do weekend shows, but we can’t really tour. Then it just becomes us working on new songs for a while.
Get your hands on Braid’s No Coast here: www.topshelfrecords.com/artists/braid/products