By Alex Tebeleff
DC’s Br’er is a project originally started in Philly by Ben Schurr. The band has gone through multiple sounds and incarnations, arriving at a heavy and aggressive form back to recording, performing, and touring full time. Br’er ended up in DC after Ben and bandmate Gabi hit a deer on the way to a playing a show at The Paperhaus a couple years back. They ended up crashing on my couch, but Ben never left. He moved down the street and helped start a label and music production house, The Blighthouse.
I wanted to interview Br’er because I think they make immediate and present music that is vibrantly creative. Ben isn’t just a musician either. He runs Blight records, and I think we all have a lot to learn from his years of making music and touring.
Why do you play music?
The reason I feel that I have a right to go up on a stage and play for people is that I want to communicate. Music is one of the best ways to communicate without bias if you are doing it right. In the words of Br’er’s bassist/all around synth twaddler Erik Sleight, music is a compulsion and I don’t have a choice in the matter. I prefer it to conversation and other musicians who’ve inspired me have been communicating with me since I was young, and I feel like it’s my duty now to respond.
I think every artist and musician has a responsibility to be accountable with what they say, whether it’s musically or lyrically. You want to be aware of your place in the world, and what you can communicate to people. I’ve seen in the past in myself, having been involved with more inconsiderate music, music that’s indifferent and inconsiderate of its audience. Even if you are trying to be jarring and abrasive and fucked up, it should be coming from a positive place that communicates ideas, thoughts, and intent, even if you’re ignorant to what the intent is.
I want Br’er to be a weapon against oppression. Whether it’s social, interpersonal, societal, I want to get inside of perspectives that I don’t understand and question. I want to understand. It’s a weapon against ignorance. It’s starting from a certain idea of why and exploring it. It’s all moral ambiguity; I want a discussion; bottom line of communication. It’s a project of empathy and a weapon against oppression.
Do you think music should be something unconscious?
Yes, but there needs to be a good balance between the unconscious and reality. It’s both a subconscious feeling and a visceral sensation when a person plays music. The body is acting as a vehicle to expel the unconscious through an instrument. You definitely can lose a sense of time and the self if you are playing the right things with the right people and it has taken me levels of ecstasy and made me feel sensations that no drug, sex or food ever has.
What music inspires you to create?
I’ve always had an affinity for sound in general. I’m really inspired by literal industrial sounds. I work in loading docks a lot, and you hear the machines make rhythms with one another. I get inspiration from hearing these loud mechanical grooves. They trigger really visceral, straight to the gut survival feelings. I’ve always loved the feeling of being in a very grey, large, industrial space, and hearing someone drop something across the room. It scares the shit out of me and makes me feel alert and aware.
Swans are my favorite band, especially because he’s been through some shit and kept going against all odds, and grew and evolved as an artist. A lot of composers I’m inspired by have more of a long-term plan. Their entire life is their work; they utilize time as an instrument, they allow for things to happen. Instead of playing by industry/band standards, they play by artist standards.
Being involved with other musicians locally, knowing good musicians, playing with good musicians, and being involved in a good community is also very inspiring.
You’ve recorded quite a bit through your career, and toured an incredible amount by any musician’s standard. How do you feel about the processes of writing, recording, and touring?
I enjoy them and fear them all equally. I feel that no specific part of the process has any more or any less value than the other. I approach recording like a painter; I see a project in Cubase as sort of like a blank canvas where I have the luxury to use sound to and paint a song into something that’s completely unique as opposed to a performance.
I’m synesthetic, and I see different instruments as different colors. The song is the sketch. I like recording because I can make the sounds more 3D and textural, add perspective and atmosphere. It’s like a 2D line drawing compared to a thick oil painting. For me, writing and recording is one process. I usually start off on harmonium or guitar, sometimes a beat or an electronic soundscape. It comes out in bursts. I like to surround myself with various instruments, and basically jam with the computer. Then usually I or someone else in Br’er edits the songs into something palatable.
What’s so appealing about touring is the ability to communicate the music with other people. With the band and the audience. It’s very physical and visceral. You are communicating with people you don’t know personally. It’s people sharing an experience together. Music only exists through time passing, and you are spending time with people in a very interesting sonic way.
It’s so necessary and vital to tour. I’ve gained so much perspective and understanding of people and myself because of it. I’m literally here in DC because I toured, it never would have happened otherwise. It’s the best and most honest way to meet people.
You started out in Philly, but have recently relocated to DC to pursue music. What do you think about the music scene in DC compared to Philly and in general?
I prefer it to Philly and the only reason I live in DC is to play music. I ended up here by accident, an act of fate and chance. Staying at The Paperhaus kept me here, and as a result I’ve been able to connect with some really amazing musicians. Whereas I can’t say I’ve ever felt at home anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I don’t feel wandering anymore; I feel comfortable but not complacent in DC.
What I really like about the music scene in DC specifically is the variety and quality of it. Everyone here really believes in what they are doing, and that’s what you really need to make a band good. Passion, ambition, and drive are what makes a project successful. I feel like the majority of bands I see here have so much enthusiasm and excitement that I haven’t seen in other places. You see a lot of bands grow and evolve in a very short amount of time. That’s what makes a band good. There’s no shortage of that in DC.
Bands in DC listen to each other and get inspired by one another. There’s a lot of communication between bands. I felt that in Philly I became very introverted and the only people I really worked/talked to were other people in Br’er. We felt like we had to do everything ourselves as opposed to with other bands. We tried to start a collective with other musicians there, but Philly is a city that tends to breed self interest over community. Whereas in DC, people really want to help each other out, play shows with one another, be fans with one another, listen to each other’s new records. I never got that feeling in Philadelphia.
There’s so much room for growth and evolution and possibilities among the community in DC. I don’t want to say that this is the best music city in the world, but there’s a future because of the people here and the way we all work together. That took me a while to understand, but now I’m very excited about it.
You can catch Br’er in DC on their return from tour show June 27th @ The Beehive
A joint show from Tenley Empire & Deep Space Arts at Union Arts. For those who don’t know Tenley Empire, they were the group doing shows at the punk venue Casa Fiesta before it got shut down earlier this year, and now they are putting on shows at spaces like Union Arts and Ft. Loko. DC’s Alarms and Controls and Harrisonburg’s Malatese make mathy post-punk with a pretty strong influence from early 2000’s DC punk. Arlington’s Tulsa strongly contrasts with the other two bands on the bill with its more psychedelic focused sound.
An alternative rock show with three bands showing a strong influence from emo at Arlington’s CD Cellar.
Orlando’s Sales has been getting a lot of notice for their infectious and atmospheric alternative pop. I find the layer of sound on top of the strong grooves with electronic inflections to be a great mix. I sense bigger things coming for this band. DC’s Go Cozy is a perfect fit stylistically for this bill. Every time I see them they keep getting better and better as performers and songwriters, I’d highly recommend checking them out as the opening act.
It doesn’t get much better than this for fans of pop punk, emo, and ska at this show at The Dugout.
Really great all ages bill at Black Cat with local band Cigarette opening.
Shows like this are a huge reason why Union Arts has become one of the most important places for live music in DC. Native Iranians Kimia and Kaymar play a beautiful variation of traditional sufi music. Jason Ajemain makes a very interesting blend of songcraft and Jazz. Jaimie Branch and Anthony Pirog will surely be an opener you won’t want to miss!
House venue hosters Ezra Mae & the Gypsy Moon headline this show at The Pinch, with Alexandria’s The Butterface Effect and Manassas’ very interesting electronic folk band Real Clothes opening.
This is a very musical show at Artisphere in Arlington. Austin’s Mother Falcon make a very unique blend of music with a powerful live show executed by seriously talented musicians. San Francisco’s The Family Crest make catchy orchestral indie rock that serves as a solid opener before Mother Falcon. There hasn’t been a band that’s grown on me harder in 2014 than The Sea Life. Their music is very infectious. Make sure to catch them opening the show!
Saturday is a totally crazy night full of great shows. I’m very happy to be able to help put this one on. This is the third Union Kitchen showcase at The Lot @ Atlantic Plumbing for the summer, and the second one at the new location right at 9th and V in NW. As usual, they’ll be live music and food trucks, and the event is free, outdoors, and all ages. As someone who grew up on funk, soul, and old school R&B, I’m very happy to have a band like ACME in town. You can tell these guys really know what they are doing, and are educated on the best of the past in their genre. Fans of Prince, Shuggie Otis, and Parliament take note! ACME is one of the most fun live bands to emerge in DC in a while, they really take care to craft their own brand of contemporary psychedelic R&B. Electro Pop duo Pleasure Curses consistently gets better and better, they are the best in their genre right now in DC. Petworth rapper Ras Nebyu has been one of my favorite rappers ever since I saw him in my neighborhood in his video for “Washinton Slizzards” (track produced by Pete Rock!), definitely get there to see him open the show.
The debut of a really cool new event in Petworth. This block party takes place right between Georgia Ave. and New Hampshire Ave. on Shepherd Street NW, and features food, games, screen printing, and of course live music. Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists and The North Country headline a great bill of music including rapper Parabellum, Indie R&B group Lowercase Letters, and rock band The Nighttime Advernture Society.
Great punk show at The Dugout. Headliner Big Ups from New York sound great on record, and would fit right at home with a wide variety of early 90’s alternative bands. I hear influences from more jangly absurdist alternative bands like Pavement, and from more aggressive and direct bands like Rollins band. Maryland noise pop punk band Teen Suicide, and DC punk bands Two Inch Astronaut and Atlas at Last, are also all worth checking out.
Sweden’s Lust for Youth headlines this bill with a dark electronic synth pop sound that is complimented really well by DC’s Nitemoves. Both make an immediate and rhythmic form of electronic music that translates really well live. NY’s Appetite opens the bill.
Loud Boyz and Black Clouds are two of DC’s best heavy acts.
Another DIY comedy show, hope this trend continues! Reggie Melbrough is definitely worth checking out, he’s one of my favorite comedians in DC.
This one is a little far out there in Annandale, but if you dig heavy music you should really make the trip for this one. Make sure to catch drone metal duo Holly Hunt from Florida.
Hardcore at The Rocketship.