The Briggs: 'Any Good Band Is Able To Explore Different Musical Genres'

artist: briggs date: 11/25/2008 category: interviews
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The Briggs: 'Any Good Band Is Able To Explore Different Musical Genres'
Jason LaRocca, lead guitar and lead singer for the Briggs, is a thinking man's punk. The music is hyper and full throttle and his playing is frenzied when it's called for but also fragile when necessary. Their new album titled Come All You Madmen contains all the necessary bedlam normally associated with a punk outfit but there are several acoustic-oriented tracks that embody more musical elements and indeed, point to directions still untapped. Even Jason cites "Molly," the album's acoustic closer, as the best song on the record and admits, "I think people hear it and think it's not the Briggs." So Jason, along with brother Joey on second guitar, bassist Ryan D. Roberts and drummer Chris X. Arredondo, are not afraid of stepping outside of the box. As a participant in the biggest punk tour of the past ten years, he knows of what he speaks and well understands the limitations and expanding boundaries of the genre. UG: The Briggs have been part of the Warped Tour now for four years starting back in 2002, 2004, 2007 and this year. That gives you a bird's eye view as both a participant and an observer of the changing landscape of punk and metal. Can you outline what you've seen in terms of the direction and the types of bands that have emerged these past six or so years? Jason LaRocca: Yeah, well, for that matter all the scenes. That's the thing about Warped tours, they usually have about three or four distinct musical styles they choose from. And all of them have changed. But definitely with the punk thing, it's changed too. In 2002, you had a lot of these sort of quote/unquote street punk bands like the Casualties and Unseen and a gazillion other bands that were like them, you know? That sort of died out and then you sort of had this new wave of uh, you know, you had your Dropkick Murphys and these other bands and stuff. So it's definitely had like these waves of like the wanna-be bands or whatever that do like the thing at the time, you know what I mean? But there's also the stalwarts like Reel Big Fish and Dropkick Murphys and those bands themselves that have done it for ten years, you know what I mean? So, definitely on like the sort of mid-level you see a lot of styles change. And a lot of the bands come and go which is weird (amused laugh). What you're saying then is that as you're watching a band perform in the context of a Warped tour, you have an innate sense of whether they're impostors or posers? Or that they legitimately have something legitimate to say and are genuine? Mmm, yeah, I think so; I think it's really easy to tell because I think it's just sort of something you sense. It's really kind of hard to describe. You're there and you're watching the band and you can just sort of tell that they didn't just dream this up and decide to do it. And it sort of has this contrived feeling to it. You know, certainly from our perspective, we're always so overly-conscious of that kind of a thing. Maybe certain people view that but we make a conscious effort to just sort of do whatever. And then there's definitely bands like the Unseen who, they do their own thing, and they've changed so much over the years. You could tell a band like that just loves what they're doing. Sometimes it's hard to tell until you give the band a year or two to see whether or not they really are there because of the music. This was either attributed to you or your brother, Joey, but one of you called Bob Dylan a punk. If someone walked up to Dylan and told him he was a punk singer, it's highly unlikely that he'd agree with that statement. But the comment arose from the attitude of challenging your audience and stepping outside of your comfort zone, musically speaking. Coming at it from the other side, does that mean punk is as much an attitude as a sound? Does that mean, for instance, if Emerson, Lake & Palmer did an album of country songs, that would make them punk? Yeah, I think so! Because you can even stretch it and say that, in a way, to me musically, Zappa was punk rock. Do you know what I mean? Somebody who literally, even to his own cult following, was sometimes hated because he would come out and be completely different. And just completely one-eighty on his own following sometimes. It's its own category, you know, of like, what you're gonna do with your music may be intentionally different or whatever just to strike people a certain way. Dylan certainly did that; people like Zappa certainly did that; and the Clash did that. They all just kind of went, You know what? This is what's inspiring us right now and it's completely different and we're gonna master it and do our own version of it. Like the Clash found hip-hop and they found it very intriguing and they did their own version of it and had their biggest hit song - Should I Stay Or Should I Go. So, I think that's the musical mix-up and I think any good band is able to sort of explore different musical genres and not feel like they have to continue doing what they're doing. You cite the Clash who were a pretty major influence on the Briggs. Madmen, the title track from the new album and the song that opens the record, bows deeply to them. Cool.
"I think we consider ourselves songwriters first and foremost."
Would that be accurate? That would be great, yeah; definitely. When it strikes people as Clash-like rather than something more modern-like, I get very happy with that. We harken back to the older music more than we do stuff that is more recent punk-wise. Umm, so, yeah, definitely, I would agree with that; I love that comment (proud laughter). Did you actually go so far as to listen to what Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were doing guitar-wise? And try and interpret that between you and Joey? Not so much as just what's been laid down on their records. Overall as a whole, I think that they had a natural chemistry that just was that chemistry and Joey and I are brothers so it's kind of the same thing. There's no need to mimic really anything there for us 'cause there is already something sort of there that's natural. When you're working on a track, and let's stay with Madmen, you know what parts you'll play and you know what Joey is going to play? You don't have to sit down and really analyze who's doing what. Yeah, I mean a lot of it is. He's obviously the rhythm guy that holds down that side of things and I've always had the lead side though there's a natural relationship to that that doesn't require that much explaining. What does require a little bit of explaining is the Bloody Minds track that features the Mighty Mighty Bosstones horns. Maybe it's listening to the CD through lousy little plastic computer speakers, but those horns are mixed pretty far back in the track. In fact, if you didn't know you were listening to horns, you wouldn't know you were listening to horns! Heh heh heh! It was more sort of the attitude of like Rocket From the Crypt where the horns are there almost as like another thickness to the guitars. You know what I mean? Like with Rocket From the Crypt, you almost never hear the horns but there's a huge horn section in that band. And that was kind of the inspiration for that which was to just sort of have this like slightly different tone than you would normally have with layered guitars; you'd have this horn section behind it. That was the inspiration there. And (Joe) Gittleman (producer and bass player for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones) made a point to not have the horns stick out too much and become, Oh, great, this is a Bosstones production. You've had a relationship with Joe Gittleman and the Bosstones for many years now. What is it about Joe that allows him to so completely understand how the Briggs operate? We did our first EP with him and we did it in Boston and we sort of lived with him, we actually stayed at his house while we did the EP and got to become pretty good friends with him. And then he moved out to LA and he's always been writing songs for different bands; he's always considered himself a songwriter first and foremost. And I think we consider ourselves songwriters first and foremost. We really wanted somebody that didn't give a shit really that much about gear and technical things. As much as he did about first making good it sounded good on acoustic guitar. He's very militant in that regard. Back in the day, and by that I mean the LA scene with bands like the Germs and Black Flag and clubs like the Masque and Madame Wongs, that motivated those groups was more a sense of shock than song. And we talked about this earlier, the notion that punk can be an attitude as much as it is a sound. And yet here you've said that it all begins with the song. Can you explain? Yeah, definitely. I think in LA with bands like Black Flag and all those guys were doing that, I think they were even sort of like Fuck the Clash, do you know what I mean? I think a lot of that was just what is the next extreme we can do? Because the Clash had done what they did and the Ramones did what they did and those were extreme and then became somewhat un-extreme within two years or however long it took these guys to then start up and say, Well, this is the next extreme; that's just the tip of the iceberg. So, I think these guys, they didn't literally know how to play any of their instruments. It was just such anger and passion, it forced them to have to learn at least enough to be loud and obnoxious. It came from a different purpose and a different drive than the Clash. Because those guys all had their reggae backgrounds and their rockabilly backgrounds and their 50s backgrounds. So they took from all of that experience and put that into the Clash, whereas all these other guys were just sort of washed up OC (Orange County) and LA street kids; it was just a different world. Skaters. And talking about the LA scene, there is a track on the new record dedicated to Los Angeles: This is LA. The late/hate relationship you have with the city. It is an easy place to hate. We had been getting a lot of interviews that were just instantly sort of saying, Well, so you guys are from Boston. And we were like, What are you talking about? We were consistently getting these sort of somehow made up in thin air (stories) everyone assumed we were from Boston. We have this east coast sort of sound and not many bands in LA do the sort of Cocksparrer Irish sort of folk thing. So we just sort of wrote this song and it was long overdue really to have a song written that sort of made it clear and made it sort of fun and tongue-in-cheek or whatever. But, it's an LA song and it's our song and there you go, The Briggs are from LA! There's no confusion anymore. You talk about an east coast thing the band has - can you expand on that? Well, certainly, Joey 'cause we both write songs and we both write songs separately and so he comes from his world and I come from mine and then it becomes a sort of joined thing in the songwriting process. He has grown up on a lot of English music, a lot of British bands, and he definitely takes from the other side of the pond a lot. There's a lot of influence coming from the other side, coming from England and that kind of thing; Cocksparrers and Costellos and that sort of thing. So, people get confused with where we're from because there's bands like Dropkick Murphys, they're from Boston, and they pull a lot from the Irish and English sounds. So, there aren't a lot of bands on the west coast that sort of do that. We're going to go on a bit of a tangent here: On the cover of Back to Higher Ground, there was a sticker on the CD cover. It said: The Briggs deliver huge punk rock anthems and singalong choruses (nervous laughter) That wasn't our fault! OK, fair enough. Then it continues: For fans of Dropkick Murphys, Bouncing Souls, and Anti-Flag. You've mentioned Dropkick Murphys several times and that's fine, but to have a label on your CD cover comparing you to another band seems pretty strange. It bothered me; we had no idea the label was put on it actually until we went to go pick up the record for our first tour for Back To Higher Ground and we saw the labels on there. And it was like no turning back now. Great, here's this fuckin' label. We love these guys (other bands) all as people but we wouldn't necessarily consider ourselves a band that sounds like Anti-Flag by any means. Yeah, that was I think, poor marketing, I think, on the part of the label. I certainly couldn't blame ourselves because we didn't have anything to do with it. And everytime someone purchases a CD and I'm near the merch booth and I see them pick up on Back to Higher Ground and it's got that label on it, I always make a joke about it. Or they will make a joke about it before I can; they're like, What the hell is this? So, yeah, that's awesome; love that one.
"I think we're at the point where we put enough ideas on this record to kind of tell people where we're going."
We'll chalk that one up to rampant label commercialism. Moving on to another track on the new album, Charge Into the Sun is a really strong song. Your guitar buddy Brian Baker is on this one, and singer Dicky Barrett is on this. This was the track contained on the 2008 Warped Tour compilation CD. In your mind, is this song the most representative of all the tracks on Come All You Madmen? In a way, I don't think it is very representative of the record but I think we all felt it was one of the strongest songs on the record. And one that had been around the longest of the new material because we had actually written sort of around the time when we were coming off tour with Bad Religion and going on tour with Dropkick Murphys. And we had played it a bit live on tour. So it had a little bit of tour experience and that sort of thing which a lot of songs on the record were not tried in front of an audience. And so I think it was just the consensus of the band and the label that we all thought was kind of the strongest. And maybe not as representative of the entire record but maybe a direction we'd like to try and explore more. Do you know what I mean? A little bit more of sort of a hardcore feel to it which is not as much of a common string through all of our material. Charge Into the Sun did have a unique feel to it. There's that little muted guitar part that only comes up a couple times and how do you explain that? Is it that you had the lick and you developed some chords around it or was this little riff inserted once the song had been written? That thing I think just sort of came up in the rehearsal process because I had it more sort of written out as a chordal song and just the backdrop of the chords is what was written first. So, I don't really remember at what point that came in but it was a little bit later on when we were more riffing and plugged in and loud. And just sort of developed this looping kind of minor thing; it definitely had its blossoming, I think, in the rehearsal stages. Brian Baker is listed as playing the second solo in the song; is that the solo on the fade? Yeah; he gave us so much material for that that it was really hard to decide what to do. At first, we had chosen the more kind of insanely just 32nd note stuff and it just started to take away from the song, I think, a little bit too much. We just comped something together that was a little bit more musical and I guess simple for lack of a better term. It was really interesting because we had all these solos that we comped together that were amazing and we kinda had to, at the end of the day, just tame it all down because he was just a little bit too good. Your solo was very cool. When you were doing that track, were you sort of, of the moment and just going for it? Or had you mapped out what you were going to play? It was half and half; there's a definite basic structure to it and idea for where it starts and where it ends. There are little things here and there that I wouldn't do the same when I would do takes. It was sort of like, OK, I know I'm starting here and I'm starting with the little arpeggio thing and I'm ending here at the end with the big high note. And in between, was the passion moment. Brian Baker has devised the Ten Commandments of Punk Guitar: Use all downstrokes; only use Gibson guitars; and stuff like that. Obviously he's a pretty gifted player and he's just having a whack at the whole punk guitar ethos, right? Yeah; the guy is a shredder and somehow he came from not really knowing his instrument and playing bass for Minor Threat to playing in hair metal bands and being this master shredding lead guitar player. So, somewhere in that interim he was in his bedroom, I'm sure, learning licks. Because I don't know how you come from that and go to that. He's got a very learned metal background somehow and I think some of it's his deep dark past and he doesn't like to talk about it. But I think some of it makes him who he is as an amazing punk player. Well, right out of the box both you and Joey break his commandment by playing Sparrow guitars. And you both play the same instrument which is different. We were both actually playing Les Pauls first and I still do play mine. I think on the record, it always ended up being a bit of a combination between the Les Pauls and the Sparrows. We kind of went into the Sparrow thing and the Telly thing came up and just sort of became maybe this way of stepping out a little bit from the standard Les Paul/Marshall sound and trying to do something a little bit different. I just thought Tellys had a very cool sound; but we put hot-rodded pickups in them to sort of give them almost a Les Paul feel and sustain. So, it was trying to get the best of both worlds and trying to have something a little bit different. So that hopefully, maybe in the end, it would come across as a slightly different tone than what you're used to hearing. It's Sparrow guitars through Rivera amps which is another sort of left turn. It's not Marshall, and it's not Gibson, so thank God! Had you checked out other modified amps before ending up with Rivera? I played through a lot of different stuff and I think that the Rivera stuff was something that happened because Rivera was in LA and they actually came out to a show of our's and really kind of fell in love with us and asked us to try stuff out. The first things I tried out I just really loved so it was just like, Well, cool, this is just great stuff. And didn't really realize they had the capabilities of providing something that could work in the punk world. Because they're usually more considered a metal or a blues thing. But I think their stuff works great for punk rock and if you get the right amp from them it's just a great sound. Are effects part of the guitar attack? Totally, yeah. Electro-Harmonix are my favorite company in the world. I love doing weird shit but I don't bring it that much into the band. But it's a major hobby of mine. At some point, would you like to explore that more on record? Yeah, sure; I think I should. I think I should take from the punk ethos that I've observed of Zappa and Dylan and just go ahead and do it. Though the band is known for all the electric tracks we just spoke about, the acoustic side of the band is really fascinating. What happens sometimes is that with the electric tracks, the faster songs, it's more difficult to hear the true qualities of a singer's voice. Oblivion doesn't even sound like you. Joey sings that one so you're correct on that; it does have a different singer! Well, that was pretty stupid. I apologize for that. Final Words is your vocal? Yes, I sing that; it has sort of a Foo Fighters thing.
"Being on the road sometimes feels like being in a war."
Vocally, there are places where you're accenting the wrong syllable of a word. Are you doing this consciously or accidentally? You have this piece of music and these lyrics and you're trying to make the words fit the phrase. Is it the first thing that falls under your tongue or I think it must have been because I don't remember making much of a conscious effort to do that. But I think it's usually because of the rhythm of the song and the riff; I think it just called for it, I guess. Most occasions. It's whatever is coming natural because I don't like to do things that aren't very natural. At the end of Final Words, there is that huge gang vocals section. Was that your idea? Joe's idea? Umm, I think it was both our ideas; we just sort of thought it needed to have culmination to the song. And I think the idea was it starts out very singular and then the lyrics change at the end, Will this be our final word and it made sense to have that then become a group of people saying it. Starting out as something very singular and then ending as something sort of common amongst people. What is the substance of that lyric? It's the age old thing of anybody who goes along and takes everything for granted and in one extreme event, can realize how little time there is to do all the things you want to do. There's no better time to start doing what it is that you should have done than now rather than having regretted it after something extreme. You know, death, or maybe something not as extreme as death, but in the extreme. That you sat there and gone, Well, there you go; I didn't do anything that I wanted to do and then someone then took my life from me suddenly or I took my own life. It's a little bit ambiguous as to whether or not it's something suicidal but it could be that way. It's something that I thought about and decided to write a lyric about it. Because in a way, being on the road sometimes feels like being in a war which I know it's nothing like really. But you're away from your family and your friends and there is the occasional horror story that you hear (of) bands flying off the road or whatever. It's one of those things, a dark idea that I put to music. In general, are there a lot of things out in the world to be angry about? I don't know if I'm angry about it, I just question it. I think that things should always be questioned. I thought in Not Alone, you had one of the best lines on the record: But somewhere in the feedback/Must be the message. That was a beautiful line. Oh, thank you. Again, were you in the moment and that line just flew into your head? No, that's a very specific line. I actually just in passing said that to somebody on tour; I said that to our tour manager. I actually said that line as a joke, Somewhere in the feedback must be a message and he said, Well, that sounds like a lyric and I said, Maybe it is and I wrote it down. And that ended up being favorite line too of the song. Molly closes the album on a very sublime note. Do people hear that track and wonder if that is a Briggs song? We were actually going to maybe have that as the first song on the record and knew that that would just be so insane to do. But I think we're at the point where we put enough ideas on this record to kind of tell people where we're going. In that we can do this on this next record and be a little bit more extreme about ideas. They are seeds of bigger ideas and I think, Molly, to us, ended up being our favorite song on the record because it was so big. Lyrically and emotionally, it's such a big song and again, that's one that Joey sings. I think the naked vocal and at the end it's this somber, Johnny Cash thing and so, yeah; it's a great vibe. Are you playing the acoustics on Molly? Gittleman plays the rhythm acoustic guitar and I do the strings on that; I play the cello and the double bass and the EBow guitars, the sort of Edge thing. And Chris (Arredondo), the drummer, is playing piano on that. Yeah, there was a lot of stepping out into other instruments on that song. Are you a studied cello player? No, I just sort of picked it up because I know guitar so well. When I'm able to cut it up in Pro Tools and make it sound good, I can get by. But I'm not the world's greatest string player. You also engineer your records. Where did you get those chops and are you able to sit back and be neutral about a performance? Isn't it difficult wearing all those hats? Yeah, definitely, but I think Gittleman is always behind the band and overseeing it take-wise and vibe-wise. He's great at that because he's, Don't over-think it, you're done, you're good. We come back and we change things but it's like you don't get too stale and you keep going. I'm able to concentrate on what it is I need to concentrate on which is just making sure I feel like I'm doing my best and obviously making sure it sounds the best. I couldn't really do it without somebody else because I think that would become a little bit too overwhelming. So I just concentrate on making sure it sounds really good and making sure my fingers don't split in half. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2008
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