Brothers Past sounds off

Philly band known for improvisation at its shows

July 28, 2005|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,SUN STAFF

During their show, members of the band Brothers Past will set down their instruments for a bit and start fingering laptop keyboards instead. They don't use pre-recorded computer loops - they improvise, creating new sound bites on the fly and mixing them into the rest of their sound.

"It's an ensemble idea," said singer and guitarist Tom Hamilton. The Philadelphia-based electro-rock outfit plays the Funk Box on Saturday.

"No one is more important than the other. The laptop is never taking the spotlight away from anybody nor is it taking the spotlight. It's just adding to what's going on. A lot of the times when you come to the show, you won't have a clue what the laptop's doing. That's part of the fun. Nobody knows what sound is coming from who. That's why our fans think it's cool. That's why they've embraced it instead of turned their nose up at it."

It's a stove pot of sounds boiled down to a thick musical soup. Hamilton said no instrument - not even vocals - is all-important enough to tower above the rest. On the group's newest album, This Feeling's Called Goodbye, most of the vocal track levels are kept low. Hamilton's voice is part of the rest of the mix because it's as much of an instrument as the kick drum, he said.

"In a lot of pop records, the vocal is `the thing' and everything else is secondary," he said. "As grave an idea as that is, everything we feel is equal. ... We like to keep it cohesive - keep it together."

Live, the band peppers the set with improvisational jams, both on instruments and computers. With their 2002 album Wonderful Day, Hamilton said they could play the whole thing live before they hit the studio. During recording, they plowed through it and then went back for tweaking, he said.

On This Feeling's Called Goodbye, they took a different approach: laying down the drum and bass tracks and slowly piecing the rest together.

"The cool thing is, [when] you go in and just lay down the skeleton, you could want to have this 6-foot-7 German guy and you end up with a 5-foot-2 Italian dude," Hamilton said. "You have no idea."

Hamilton said they grappled with the album's electronic aspects. He said he wanted to keep the music honest and find ways to lend a more human quality to the cold electronic sounds.

"When we were making the record, I told my producer, `The goal here is to make a computer cry,'" he said.

The name Brothers Past is an homage to every band that influenced Hamilton and the rest of the group. Hamilton said he hopes This Feeling's Called Goodbye will prove innovative for groups to come the same way the bands he admires were innovative for him.

"This album I'm very happy with," he said. "I think it's a great record. I'm very proud of it. I think that people are going to start taking notice of this. I think we've finally contributed to the art."

Brothers Past plays the Funk Box at 9 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10. The Funk Box is at 10 E. Cross St. Call 410- 625-2000 or visit www.thefunk

For more club events, see Page 27.

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