“(Brothers is) one of the emerging acoustic talents in Los Angeles... If he'd been old enough in the late 60's, he probably would’ve grabbed a few rounds with a young David Crosby or shared a smoke with Joni Mitchell after an appearance together at a local coffeehouse...” - BillboardCary Brothers
almost became an overnight sensation in 2004. “Blue Eyes,” a song he’d written years earlier, was selected by writer/producer Zach Braff (Scrubs, The Last Kiss) for the soundtrack of his film Garden State. The soundtrack album won a Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album and propelled “Blue Eyes” to the top of the iTunes Folk Chart. Major labels started lining up offers, but Brothers wasn’t interested.
“I’ve seen too many people go through the major label process – the rapid rise and fall that leaves artists burned out and used up,” Brothers says. “That’s why I like working with bluhammock. They didn’t ask me to write ten songs that sound like ‘Blue Eyes.’ They let me make the music I wanted to make.” Who You Are
, Brothers’ debut album, was produced by Chad Fisher, who was also behind the boards for the two EPs Brothers put out on his own Procrastination label - All the Rage (2004) and Waiting for Your Letter (2005). Who You Are took a year and a half to make and, while it retains Brothers’ trademark blend of acoustic strumming and spacey, delayed electric guitars, the arrangements here are deeper and richer, even more rock’n’roll than the tracks on Waiting for Your Letter. “The songs are pop, but not built-for-radio pop songs,” Brothers explains. “I like melodies that grow, songs that have more than one meaning. Radio songs have the big hook at the beginning, then they hammer that into your head for the next three minutes, instead of letting the song grow slowly, organically.” The record also features the talents of producer/mixer Greg Collins (2006 Grammy award winner for U2’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb) and producer Stephen Hague (New Order, Peter Gabriel, Blur, Pet Shop Boys).
The songs on Who You Are include epic piano ballads, new wave rave-ups and rockers, as well as reinventions of tunes from Brothers’ EPs. “Honestly,” from All The Rage, gets a slowed down treatment with Matt Hales from Aqualung adding some gorgeous, classical piano to compliment Brothers smooth, almost whispered vocal. “Matt added a texture to the song that I didn’t know was missing,” Brothers says. “The song gets a great response when we do it live.” The title track is a mid tempo rocker driven by chiming guitars, a syncopated rhythm track and Brothers’ impassioned vocals. As promised, it unfolds leisurely and builds to a fervent climax. “It’s about falling in love despite the obstacles and fighting to overcome them,” Brothers asserts. “It may be the most upbeat song on the record.” The new version of “Ride” is even more dramatic than the original, building to an emotionally explosive ending with some of Brothers’ most affective singing. “Loneliest Girl in the World” is the original recording from Waiting for Your Letter, complimented by an exquisite string arrangement composed and played by Oli Kraus, “the Hendrix of the cello.” Kraus has played with Tom McCrae, Sia and Mark Almond. “The Last One” is a homage to the 80s with a sound that echoes bands like the Psychedelic Furs, The Smiths and The Cure. A bouncy synthesizer dance beat and multiple melodic guitar lines swirl through the mix, while Brothers delivers an energetic Bernard Sumner-like vocal. Who You Are is a treat from start to finish, marked by Brothers’ intimate, heartfelt vocals, stirring melodies and astute lyrics. With his high-energy performances, down home charisma and practical business sense, Brothers is plainly ready to take his career to the next level.
Cary Brothers was born in Nashville and always disliked the country music that surrounded him. “I have a love/hate relationship with the south,” Brothers says. “I was born in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement. Knowing what happened in the town I lived in disgusted me. There’s so much beauty in the South, but a lot of secrets too, and I wanted to talk about them. Nobody else I knew wanted to. I needed an escape. That’s why I liked English bands like New Order and The Smiths when I was growing up. The British bands had a mystery and darkness I related to. I was listening to Morrissey while everybody else was into stuff like Toby Keith.”
Brothers bought his first electric guitar, the one he still plays on stage, when he was 13. “When I was a kid, I was always writing, painting and building things; the guitar focused my energy. I started writing songs almost immediately and recording them on whatever I had around – a cassette player, then a four-track, and then an eight-track machine. Then in high school, a close friend died in a car accident. It was momentous - the first realization of mortality. I started writing as therapy and never stopped.
“The songs were kind of a musical diary; first stupid little pop songs, then as life threw more curves, I had more to write about. Some of these kid writers don’t bring much to the table. They’re not fucked up enough. I think I’ve had just the requisite amount of being fucked up.”
Brothers went to Northwestern University and majored in English, although he was more interested in film. He met Zach Braff there, hung with the film school kids and had a cover band that played tunes by the Allman Brothers and The Velvet Underground. “We were all over the map, with no professional aspirations.”
Despite his English degree, Brothers was drawn to film and moved to LA. “I was writing songs at night, but had so many friends into film that [movies] seemed like an easier creative path.” Brothers worked briefly as an intern, then set up a production company that made a couple of award winning indie films: an offbeat comedy called Sparkler and Dill Scallion, a country music spoof tagged by some as the country music Spinal Tap. “Eventually, I realized I was working to help other people make their dreams come true, then going home and writing songs nobody was hearing.” Brothers quit the production company he’d founded and started playing open mikes, working odd jobs to support himself. “I went from not having much money to having no money, but I was doing what I wanted to do.”
Brothers discovered the Hotel Café in Hollywood, a singer/songwriter scene that was just taking off. Brothers played there regularly and started building a following. Then he ran into Zach Braff again. “[Zach] was working on the script that became Garden State and waiting tables,” Brothers recalls. “That was before Scrubs. He used the power of Scrubs to make the film happen. I’d just written and recorded ‘Blue Eyes’ at home and he asked if he could use my bedroom demo for the film. I said ‘Yes’ and went back to playing the Hotel.”
Brothers forgot about Garden State and started working on All the Rage, which included the more polished version of “Blue Eyes” that landed on the Grammy winning soundtrack. When Garden State sold over a million copies and nabbed a Grammy in 2004, the majors came circling. “But I’d already created my own label, so I decided to stay indie and take things at my own pace.” On the road, Brothers was opening shows for Liz Phair, The Fray, Aqualung and KT Tunstall and eventually chalked up more than 50,000 downloads of “Blue Eyes” on iTunes. The song made the iTunes Folk Top 10 in 2005, and both EPs debuted at #1 on the iTunes Folk chart. The resulting attention led to songs on hit TV shows “Grey’s Anatomy,” “ER,” “Smallville,” and “Scrubs.”
Waiting for Your Letter, his second EP, was more energetic - a modern rock record that showed substantial growth and a sharp production style. Like All the Rage, it was recorded quickly between dates on his seemingly endless tour. Billboard magazine tagged him as an artist to watch as Brothers set off for his first tour of the UK with a rotating cast of singer/songwriters from the Hotel Café.
Brothers and his producer, Chad Fisher, took a more measured approach to Who You Are, laboring over the tracks for a year and a half to produce a shimmering pop gem. The disc spotlights Brothers’ talent as a songwriter, while expanding his sonic palette in exciting new directions. Brothers is currently putting together a band and will support the album with extensive touring for the rest of 2007.