Interview with Tom McKee from BROTHERS PAST; Playing NYE in Philly! @brotherspast @blpfam

Philadelphia 4-piece Brothers Past has been active in the music scene for quite some time. Forming at the turn of the millennium, the group has garnered a passionate and devoted following in the electro-rock circuit, one that will certainly grow given the explosion of the genre into the mainstream music industry. Acoustic instrumentation coupled with electronic influence is all the rage these days, and it’s time to give credit where credit is due, because these guys have been at it for a while, and that quite well.

Currently on the road supporting their latest release, Everything Must Go 0111, the group is more than ready to bring in 2013 with a hometown throw down at The Trocadero in Philadelphia, Pa., also featuring The Heavy Pets. Talk about a raging good time to bring in the New Year! Though most of us are still in planning phase for NYE festivities, this one is certain to be a great time and worthy trip for anyone hoping to start off 2013 with a bang!

I spoke with keyboardist Tom McKee to talk about the band’s long history, their take on the electro-rock, their upcoming tour, and their blowout NYE celebration!


G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! If you could please, introduce everyone in the group for our readers… Who is everyone and what do they play?

T- The band consists of Tom Hamilton on guitar, myself on keys, Clay Parnell on bass, and Rick Lowenberg on drums. With the exception of a brief window while Rick was in school, that has been the lineup since we formed in late 2000.

G- Brothers Past officially formed in 2000, but how long has Brothers Past been a full-time band? Where did you guys meet and when did you first get started? Do you remember the moment that you really felt the group “click?”

T- I have been playing with Tom Hamilton since 1998. We were living in a house together trying to put the band together and find the right guys for what we were trying to create at the time. I feel like Clay moved into the house around Fourth of July in 2000. We had auditioned him earlier in the year and it was the just the right fit from the moment we met him. We were living in West Chester at the time and as I recall he got into town pretty late at night, so that first impression was really more of a hang than a musical connection. But I remember it being pretty obvious to me that, if he knew how to tune his bass, he was going to be the guy. We played a few shows that fall with some temporary drummers including a few with Mike Greenfield, who now plays with Lotus. Tommy and I both kind of knew Rick as a guitar player, but he called us one day and said he wanted to audition with us as a drummer. So, we gave him a shot and it was different than anything we had done with other drummers. He was listening to a lot of Squarepusher and Lake Trout and was heavily into drum and bass, which kind of suited some of the songs we were working on. He finished up his last semester at University of Delaware and then he moved into the house, and it was pretty much all Brothers Past all the time. We started doing a residency at a bar called Rex’s in West Chester, which gave us a place to just kind of learn how to be a band. We got to try things out musically and take some chances and we kind of built a little scene up around that. A lot of those people have moved out of the area, but they still come out and see us when we are in their town and that is really cool.

G- So, you guys come from the “City of Brotherly Love,” and I’d like to get a bit of info from you on the electro-rock scene out in Philly. Tell me a bit about where you are from… How’s the scene, how are the responses at your shows, and where is your favorite place to get a cheese steak?

T- Philly is a very different city now then it was when we first started out. The electro-jam-rock scene has really evolved. When we first started, it wasn’t anything like this. The Disco Biscuits were blazing their own trail and starting to blow up nationally, but there wasn’t a whole lot else happening.

Now, the city has a pretty thriving community of musicians. There are bands DJs and electronic acts popping up all over the place and there are several clubs that have embraced the whole scene and helped it flourish. There are also independent promoters who have grown with the scene and that is great because it provides more opportunities for younger bands and more options for established acts.

As far as cheese steaks go, if I am in the city I would usually go to John’s Roast Pork or Jim’s on South Street.

G- Nice! Jim’s rules! Glad to see the music scene is thriving, as well.

Now, you recently released Everything Must Go 0111… Can you tell us a bit about the record? Where did you record it, who was behind the boards this time around, and what was the inspiration behind writing these jams?

T- This album is really Tom Hamilton’s baby. He produced it and handled all of the engineering, and really spent a lot of time on it. He has really become a tremendous producer in the past ten years. He has always been the guy in the band most into the recording process and he is incredibly creative.

The album is a double record and includes material written over the course of our 10 year career, which is where the 0111 comes from. We wrote some brand new songs too, so the album is definitely meant to look forward and to look back simultaneously. It was great to record a lot of the older material because we had all liked it when it was written, but never got the chance to record it properly. So, it was nice to take some material that was written in 2002 or 2006 and record it with the experience we had in 2009 or 2010. It’s probably a little more fragmented that our earlier releases because we weren’t writing with particular ideas in mind the way we were when we recorded A Wonderful Day or This Feeling’s Called Goodbye, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing per se. It’s a pretty varied album and it’s a lot of material to digest but I’m as proud of it as anything else we’ve done.

G- What kind of band are you when you are on the road? Do you consider yourself a party band, or generally pretty mellow? How do you spend your time when traveling or otherwise in between gigs?

T- We keep things pretty mellow these days. We’re not really on the road for long enough stretches to get too crazy, but we have our moments. To be honest, it’s kind of like been-there-done-that, for me at least. I’m there to play music and connect with my friends. Everything after that is secondary to me.

G- Can you describe for us a bit about what is your writing process like, and who in the band typically comes up new music? Do you have a primary songwriter, or do you write music more organically through jamming during rehearsals?

T- Tom Hamilton and myself both do the writing. We’ve both contributed a pretty healthy number of songs to our repertoire over the years. As far as the new songs, they are mostly things that I begin demoing out as song fragments. I think I am very good at coming up with the basic parts of a song’s structure: verses, choruses etc. Tommy does all that stuff really well too, but he is also amazing with the little flourishes and wrinkles that make a song truly great, like a minor tweak in the structure leading into the second chorus or something. Anything the band has debuted in the past five years is likely something that I started and he finished.

G- Can you give us a few examples of any bands or artists in particular that influence your style? Who do you typically like to listen to, and are there any acts you think we should know about? 

T- I think subconsciously Radiohead will always be a band whose influence is present in our music. I like the Flaming Lips and Doctor Dog on the War on Drugs and really any artist that put a little dose of weird into their music. Lately, I have been listening to Snarky Puppy, which is an amazing collective of musicians that play this incredible fusion of jazz and rock and electronica and world music. We obviously all listen to a lot of music and try to share the good things we find with each other.

G- What should your newer fans expect of the performances when you guys hit the road? I’m not trying to spoil any surprises, but do you often feature special appearances or vast set list changeups on the road? What should some of the first time listeners expect to see when you take the stage?

T- Every Brothers Past show is completely different from the one before it. We have a repertoire of about 40 songs and we usually play 10 or 11 in a three-hour concert. There is a lot of mixing and matching, so you could come see the band three or four nights in a row sometimes and still not hear the one song you really wanted. We do that for the fans, but we also do it for us. It keeps things fresh. We are a rock band living in a DJ world so we try to take a little bit from both worlds and create something new.

G- Brothers Past has already completed lots of tours and performed at many awesome festivals like Bonnaroo, Langerado, Wakarusa, and SXSW, but are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future? If you could pick a feasible Dream Bill of 3 bands and yourselves, who would you pick and why?

T- Believe it or not, I have already gotten to play with a lot of musical heroes thanks to some of those festivals you listed. When we played at Bonnaroo we were on the same bill with Radiohead, Tom Petty, and Beck, who are all among my favorite artists ever. We’ve played with the Flaming Lips. We’ve played with Doctor Dog. We’ve played with Amon Tobin and the biggest names in the electronic music world like Skrillex and Bassnectar. But, there are still a lot of artists I would love to share the stage with. Let’s go with Arcade Fire, Flying Lotus, and Miike Snow.

G- Nice! All very good choices… I’d check that lineup out! Could you tell us a bit about the craziest or most memorable show that Brothers Past has played to date? Where was it and what was it like?

T- Hmmm. The craziest thing that has ever happened to us on the road was waking up in Lexington, KY to find out that there was a dead body in the hotel room next to ours. As the only rock band in the hotel, we were immediately detained and questioned. Obviously we had nothing to do with it and they let us go, but still pretty crazy.

G- Yikes! Yea that’s a bit scary… Certainly not one to be easily forgotten, that’s for sure!

Lastly, as a group that has been around for quite a while, you have a lot of knowledge and experience that many young bands out there need to know about. What advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere that want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?

T- Develop your non-musical skills as well as your musical ones. Learn graphic design to make posters and fliers. Learn how to use Logic or Pro Tools. Learn how to use social media to connect with your fans and market yourself better.

If your band gets popular enough, someone will eventually do that stuff for you, but no one’s going to do it until you can pay them, and that may take a while. The music has to be the priority obviously, cause if that isn’t good nothing else will matter. But the extra stuff can be the difference in whether you’re successful or not.

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