"We've Always Believed In Songs": The Brummies' Jacob Bryant Introduces 'Automatic World'
The Brummies have been rolling out singles from their 2020 album, Automatic World, which dropped in its entirety last Friday, November 13th, with vinyl arriving soon on December 18th. The singles pick up on a couple of ideas that are pretty universal but feel particularly relevant right now, the disorientation of de ja vu, feeling like we might have had these experiences already or before, and the need to break through isolation with some form communication and connection.
The album was recorded before Covid, but the band picks up on our times in a canny way since these issues are as broadly modern as they are of the moment. The sounds of Automatic World will break new ground for followers of The Brummies' first album Eternal Reach, because this time we get much more layered strings and synths, but the new album still builds on analog sounds that bring that trademark warmth to all the Brummies' music so far.
The Brummies' Jacob Bryant spoke with Tower's PULSE! from his home in Tennessee to dive into the new album, explore the band's goals when writing songs, explain why they'd love for you to listen to Automatic World in order and in full, and why songs are far more important to them than genre terms.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I had been following your singles that have been coming out, but it was only when the album was released last Friday that I realized that the packaging was set up like a menu at a restaurant. That’s so cool! It’s so fun. Does that have anything to do with the songs themselves or the way they are arranged?
Jacob Bryant: Before any of the songs were even written, we were touring over in England and we had an off night. We were looking for somewhere to eat and we all love Indian food so much. We found this little Indian spot and we were the only ones in there. I was wearing a yellow turtle neck and was fooling with the napkin, and Trevor Davis actually took that photo on an iPhone. He made everyone look at it, and we decided right there that it was going to be the next album cover. As far as the songs, we wrote the songs and figured out the flow, then paired it together. It was just a fun idea.
HMS: So there is some correspondence between the songs and the stages of a meal?
JB: Kind of, but it wasn’t a big intention. It just worked that way.
HMS: Most albums have stages that the audience will go through anyway, and the design made me think, “Oh yeah, a well-organized album probably is like a really good meal.”
JB: I totally agree with that.
HMS: What about this phrase “Automatic World”? How did that loom on your horizon for this album title?
JB: We wrote that song on the album, “Automatic World”, and that title comes from the lyric “buried in this automatic world”. It always stood out to us. To me, everything in this world is automatic. If you want food, you order it. There are all these dating apps and everything is at the touch of your fingertips, which takes the charm out of things. We are living in this automatic world and, to me, we all just need to slow down a little bit and take the beauty all in, whether that’s love, or friendships, or music. That’s what it means to me.
HMS: I think most people who are over age 20 right now has been able to see a lot of change in their lifetime with more and more automation. Did you all grow up watching those changes, too?
JB: I remember being in school and playing Oregon Trail. [Laughs] School was the only place that had a computer. I remember the internet rolling out and having Kmart internet, which was free. As far as music, I remember having MySpace and doing that kind of stuff. We’ve completely seen everything change, especially being the generation that went from no internet to having it.
HMS: There’s an interesting juxtaposition here, with the title of the album, and the fact that this is your most electronic album yet and the most technology went into making it. Is that true?
JB: Right! It’s funny that you say that. We tracked it and approached it, at the start, the same way that we tracked our first album, Eternal Reach. We went into Battle Tapes with Jeremy Ferguson and recorded it all to tape, then did some overdubs. That’s how we approached the first record, and with this one, we did the same thing and went over to Battle Tapes. But the day that we got there, Jeremy had just gotten this new synthesizer, called a Moog One. We just had so much fun playing with that. That really inspired us to layer up and have more synthesizers and modern sounds on top of what we already do.
HMS: I feel like synthesizers are being discovered right now in a big way. People are trying to get a hold of the older ones, the first generation ones, but even newer ones. It’s like a renaissance.
JB: Yes! For sure, there is rediscovering. You go through these phases. There’s going back to original synthesizers and analog sounds that are richer. It’s so much more satisfying playing things yourself than having to use a computer to program it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s very satisfying to do it analog.
HMS: I feel like a few years ago, the feeling was, “Oh, that sounds so late 70s, early 80s.” (in a negative tone), but now it’s, “Wow! That sounds so late 70s, early 80s!” (in an excited tone). It’s all about that attitude shift toward appreciating the pioneering work that people did back then.
JB: [Laughs] For sure! Totally. It’s funny, in music, and I guess all art, things go in these big circles and come back around in new ways.
HMS: I’ve heard that I should look at this album in terms of this concept of “de ja vu”. Is that something you knew early on was part of the album, or was it something that was more apparent after fitting it together?
JB: It’s kind of when you see it together that there are common themes. A lot of the songs reference de ja vu in different ways. It’s a powerful, weird thing anyway, wondering, “Was this a dream? Were we here before? Was this a simulation?” We don’t know. It all kind of ties into that, though not necessarily every song.
HMS: Does this idea of de ja vu connect specifically with music for you, or just with the bigger human experience?
JB: I think it connects to all things. It’s a human experience. We all have our path. But it can happen musically, too. Sometimes when you create a song, it’s the best feeling in the entire world when something sparks creativity, and you literally pull it out of thin air. You can’t touch it. Where did that even come from? When you have that finished song, you wonder, “How did this not exist before?” It feels like it had to exist forever. It’s weird, but I kind of feel like songs do. You have to be ready and willing to tap into something and pull it out.
HMS: That’s a great description. I’ve heard people say that this is when they know a song is real or finished, when it feels like something outside of themselves that has always existed.
JB: Yes. It’s crazy. That’s the best feeling.
HMS: How do you feel about different formats for music? Are you a vinyl person?
JB: I love, love, love listening on vinyl. That’s when I’m at the house or the studio, and that’s all of us in the band. But we travel so much. This year we haven’t been able to, but on the road, it’s always digital. We have mixes and songs that we’re working on in a dropbox or google drive. Any audiophile is going to go with vinyl, but you can’t do that all the time. I would say the majority of the time I’m listening digitally, but when I’m at home, listening for pleasure, it’s vinyl.
HMS: I’m almost exactly the same on that. I usually travel a fair amount and I would never survive on all those airplanes without digital music.
Do you think of this album as one that would benefit from listening to it all the way through?
JB: Of course. With our first record, we intentionally made it that way. With this one, with the sequence of the songs, it’s meant to be listened to from start to finish. I would love for someone to do that.
HMS: I assumed so because of the menu set-up on the packaging.
JB: That’s exactly right. It’s set up so there are the courses, and go through it, and digest it. Then talk about which ones were your favorites and resonate with you. Then go back and listen to those again.
HMS: Regarding the sounds that you all work with, I feel like the band does resist being put into one box or pigeon-holed in order to cross-pollinate from different styles. Have you had to consciously resist that? How would you advise other artists who are struggling with that?
JB: First off, when we write songs, a majority of the time, we write them as acoustic, or with piano. Then we work it up as a band and see where it’s going. Then we go to the study and dabble in sounds. We’ve never been ones to be beholden to one thing. We look at it as, “Yes, we are making an album. But we are trying to give the song the justice that it deserves.” If that means that it doesn’t sound like the rest of them, that means it doesn’t sound like the rest of them.
I don’t know if that’s always been the most helpful thing for us, but we’ve just always believed in songs. Growing up when we did, if you asked someone, “What kind of music do you listen to?” They’d say, “I listen to Rock.” Or, “I love Country.” But that’s not the case anymore. The way that we can stream music and consume it, including myself and the band, means that we are fans of all genres.
As a music lover, it is so silly to even say that you don’t like a certain genre. I think people who say that are not being really open-minded. I guarantee that, if there’s someone who says they don’t like a certain genre, there’s someone who can show them a song within that genre that they will love. Then it might open their mind to explore other sounds.
HMS: Absolutely. It sounds like if you wrote a song that sounded very different, you might not leave it off the album based on that reason.
JB: No, but there are more songs than what we recorded, and we even recorded more, but we felt like this was the most cohesive collection of songs that we could release at this moment.
HMS: It’s always good to have more.
JB: During this quarantine, without touring, we’ve been writing so much. It’s good to release this album, but we’ve already written and are ready to track album three. That might be next year. We’ll see.
HMS: It makes a lot of sense to forge ahead if you can during this time. Are you all in the same area so that you are able to see each other, or have you been working more at a distance?
JB: We’re all in the same area. Trevor and I live in Antioch, Tennessee, in a house, and that’s where our studio is. Then John Davidson lives about five minutes right up the road. We’ve all been in close proximity, but a lot of the time we’ve used technology so we can Zoom or Facetime from our own studios. We send files back and forth and write like that. It’s been a good creative test.
We’ve gotten into a groove with it out of necessity because we have to create. A lot of time, John will be messing with an idea by himself, or Trevor will record something on a voice memo, or I’m working on something and we bring that to the table with a Zoom. We write it that way and it’s been working really great. Is it as great as being in the same room? No. Is it working for us? Yes.
HMS: That’s really great to hear.
Though we can’t do much live music right now, I was wondering if the band tends to play your songs live in the same way that you do on the studio albums, or differently? What do you bring into a live performance, usually?
JB: If you come to a Brummies live show, you’re going to hear the songs on the album. You may not hear every instrument or part, since we can’t travel around with a big string section. But when we record albums, strings are one of our favorite things to record. That and the Pedal Steel are my favorite things in the studio.
There are usually five of us and we will throw a cover in there occasionally. We played this New Year’s Eve show in Birmingham, Alabama, last year, and we played Abba. We had Madi Diaz playing the show with us, so we did “Dancing Queen”. Sometimes we’ll do Talking Heads. If we do a cover, it’s going to be fun and our take on it while doing the original justice.
When I go to shows, I want them to be unique, but I also really want to hear the songs that I love, for them to come alive in front of me. You might even notice something different about the song that makes you love it all that much more.
HMS: To get to be kind of inside the song you care about at a concert, a song you’ve only encountered at a distance before, is a big deal, I agree.
Do you think that any of the ideas on Automatic World specifically speak to our times?
JB: We wrote this song, “Call Me” as one of the first ones for Automatic World, with Madi Diaz. That song is just about missing somebody or a family member. That was in early 2019. I didn’t even really realize it until the album came out last Friday, that from the response we’ve been getting, people connect with that one. Because people can’t see each other right now. But they can talk on the phone. We can Facetime. It’s funny how that works out.
HMS: Some of that I can also feel in some of these other songs, though I may be reading that in and finding my own experiences right now in the music. Like “Who Should I Be?” sounds like a phone call, or someone at a distance.
JB: Totally. John wrote that one by himself and brought that to the table, but I totally agree. It’s so conversational, and beautiful, and well said.
HMS: That’s a great one. Also, I feel like we’re all going through our memories of each other right now, and associating certain memories with certain people, and the song “That Night” has that kind of feeling, too. Like there’s a specific moment in time, and there’s also a distance in that song, too. There’s a kind of lonely feeling, in a relatable way, in several of the songs.
JB: Yes. There are different kinds of songs on the album, but when you put those lonely songs together, there’s also that theme. “Who Should I Be?”, “Call Me”, and also the last song, “Island”, has that kind of theme.
HMS: Our Tower Records motto is, “No Music, No Life”, also written “Know Music, Know Life”. Which do you prefer and how do you feel it applies to your life?
JB: When you said it, I thought of it as spelled, “No Music, No Music”, and I totally agree. Music is a necessity for everyone, even if they don’t know it. But I think I like “Know Music, Know Life”. That’s when you listen to music and hear peoples’ stories and you can relate. I agree with both, though.
HMS: “Know Music, Know Life” is more of the “cosmic question”, like, “Do we experience life through music in some way?” I think so.
JB: I think so. There are certain people on Earth who can take that experience and word in such a way as to share it, and the cycle keeps going.
Truly wonderful interview, thank you! Talk about PULSE!… your finger is on it. I’m thrilled to witness the triumphant return of Tower Records and immensely pleased to see an interview with a band like The Brummies. I used to ride my bike to Tower Records every Monday night to score the new releases as soon as they went on sale at midnight, and it’s a joy to have Tower Records back again in this musical journey that I call my life. Congratulations, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead for the brand.
Another group of awesome songs !!!
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