“We want to be on your comp.”
That phrase is included in the liner notes of Braid’s 1995 debut album Frankie Welfare Boy Age 5 and speaks to the legacy of hard work that Braid left behind. Braid formed in 1993 in the recently burnt-over district of Champaign-Urbana after a major label coup of many popular local bands. The newly-formed band wasted no time exhausting all efforts to build a scene from the ground up and to live out their dreams of being working musicians in a substantial band. They booked their own house shows, embarked on ludicrous tours that included playing 47 out of the 50 states, put out staggering 26 song albums, and played on just about everybody’s compilation discs. Last month Polyvinyl remastered and reissued the four earliest Braid albums, Frankie Welfare Boy Age 5, The Age of Octeen and the singles/b-side compilations Movie Music Vol. 1 & 2. These early discs, and the literal sea of bands spawned in their wake, are a testament to Braid’s relentless work ethic and D.I.Y drive to simply let people hear their music. I spoke to former Braid frontman Bob Nanna about the time period that these alums were produced.
SLUG: I wanted to talk about the beginnings of Braid. Braid started as a side project of Friction, am I correct?
Bob Nanna: Mmmm, sort of. Friction was happening when I was in high school in the western suburbs. When I decided to go to U of I in Champaign-Urbana for college, I didn’t want to bring my drums with me and I figured there would be no place for me to play them anyway because I had to stay in the dorms. My friend’s father had given me a guitar to mess around with and I started teaching myself how to play it. So that’s what I ended up bringing down and it just so happened that one of the first people I had met down there was a drummer, Roy [Ewing], who liked all the same music that I did. Once Chris [Broach] came aboard we realized that it would become something that we would want to devote all our time to. At that point I never thought of [Braid] as a side project because Friction was never that big. It was more like dating a bunch of people before you found the person you want to spend a lot of your time with.
SLUG: Was there anything that you wanted to do differently with Braid as opposed to your previous projects?
BN: Not initially, that wasn’t the impetus to start Braid. I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment but it was around when Chris joined the band when we realized that we wanted to do this all the time—any free time we had from school we were going to devote to Braid. That really freed us up to do a bunch of crazy things, like go on tours all the time and try to record as much as possible, as well try to get on as many comps as possible. On the Frankie Welfare Boy CD in the liner notes it says “we want to be on your comp.” it was a weird sort of social networking thing in 1994-95. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do differently with Friction or any other band, it was just that I had the opportunity to do it.
SLUG: It seems like Champaign-Urbana, during that time, was pretty fertile musical ground. You had a lot of really amazing bands coming out around there. Were there any bands in particular that were really influential or looked up to or wanted to model yourselves after?
BN: Somewhat. The scene in Champaign when I first got there, I don’t want to say [it was] highfalutin, but it was very unobtainable to the little guy. It was all bands that were getting smashed up by majors like Poster Children, Hum, and Menthol. It was becoming this college rock hub, and I, along with some people coming from Chicago to Champaign, were from a scene that was so inclusive. I didn’t really want to be a part of that, so we started our thing. We started playing and setting up house shows with any little bands that wanted to play Champaign. Basically, we took the formula that worked for us in the western suburbs and cut and pasted it into Champaign-Urbana. It was really awesome and it gave Champaign-Urbana a burst youth.
SLUG: Frankie Welfare Boy was put out on Divot Records and Age of Octeen was on Mud, which were pretty small, regional imprints. Do you miss anything about putting out records on these small record labels?
BN: Well, somewhat. For example, for Frankie, putting out the vinyl stuff was a hands-on experience. When I say hands on, I mean we actually hand painted some of the covers. It was fun, it was work, but it was team building. That being said, having a label like Polyvinyl who are still at a personal level with all of us but have all of these wheels in motion to handle all of those things, and not to mention their longevity and staying power as opposed to putting out stuff on your friends label. It’s cool, I don’t necessarily miss it, but I think it was important for us in growing and learning about the music business and learning how to be a band that put out records and had to work in that sort of framework. I don’t really miss it but I think it was important.
SLUG: Do you think bands who jump directly to an established label or self-release stuff over the internet are missing a vital component of what it means to be a young band learning the industry?
BN: I think if they are serious about what they are doing and are passionate about it, I think they are missing a very important step of being a well-rounded band that can handle ups and downs and still have passion for it. If they are just interested in taking one shot to get signed or whatever, sure, they can skip it, but it is going to end up being an empty experience because there are a myriad of bands doing the same thing. It ends up being a talent competition that includes looks, and photo ops, etc… I’m not saying that is a bad thing—if that is what you are about then do it, but those are the people who are going to find the whole experience soul crushing and they aren’t going to learn from it.
SLUG: I feel like they may be missing out in a sense of community as well as connections with people who really love music and are willing to run a record label as a side job.
BN: Yeah, I think what you find if you try to go the route of: take some photos, put some stuff on myspace, get signed, are a lot of people who are into fads. They are not so much into the music, and once the next fad comes, you are gone.
SLUG: A trademark of Braid is touring relentlessly, even internationally. Did you make it through Salt Lake a lot?
BN: Yeah, off the top of my head Braid played Salt Lake at least 5 or 6 times. I know we played in Roy, Utah. It was some kind of community center.
SLUG: I remember reading somewhere that you have played all 50 states.
BN: No, we have only played 47 states. But with touring we have been to all 50 states.
BN: No. we played Hawaii on our way back from Japan. On our way to Japan our first time we had a layover in Alaska. So we said that counts, I sent a post card from there to prove that we were there. We never played Alaska, N. Dakota, and West Virginia.
SLUG: What prompted the reissue of these early albums?
BN: Polyvinyl. It was all their doing. They noticed that Frankie was out of print and Age of Octeen was out of print and Movie Music was out of print on vinyl.
SLUG: Where in these do you feel like you hit your stride? Did you ever figure Braid out?
BN: I think we figured Braid out around the time we broke up, even through Age of Octeen and Frame and Canvas we didn’t really think too much about what we were doing. I don’t think we ever really figured ourselves out, but if there was a time when we sort of did it was right around the time that we broke up. Or we might have figured it out a few months after we broke up.
SLUG: What do you see Braid’s influence being on today’s music and today’s bands?
BN: I don’t really know. If there is one thing that I want people to be influenced by or know Braid by it is our work ethic. It doesn’t matter whether or not people enjoy the music. We worked really hard, and that transcends any sort of music you play, even if you don’t play music. It was all we wanted to do and what we put all of our time and effort into it. We were really passionate about it and that is what we want people to be inspired by.