Oct 2011 Feature – Broken Tongues
CMB Interview with Broken Tongues
by The Swami
CMB: You guys formed Broken Tongues when and why?
Greensleeves and Zach are brothers who formed the band in 2007 right before they moved back toDenverfromChapel Hill,North Carolina. Their previous band was breaking up and the brothers decided to take the opportunity to move in a new creative direction. Then in 2008, Loose Change and Greensleeves, both Smoky Hill High grads, met through mutual friends who recognized the common interests of the two. Greens was an engineer at CCM Studios on Colfax and Loose Change came in to record an initial version of a song he’d just written called “Sunrises” (a current version is on “Crooked Skyline”). The two really vibed so Greens proposed having LC join the group. The three began writing and performing aroundDenver, but after a couple of rough shows in early 2009, the three of them realized that they needed to add live instruments to take it to the next level. So they took out some Craigslist ads in theDenverarea seeking bass and drums. Both, Erin and Donny responded and auditioned. The rhythm section, with Zach on guitar,Erinon bass and Donny on drums, formed a nice pocket really quickly and Greens and LC were just ripping over vamps immediately, so we knew we had something going. The five of us started jamming regularly together. Meanwhile, CC and Zach were working together downtown for a media/music/production firm. They saw common ground in their musical interests and goals, so Zach invited CC to audition. She killed it and we added her shortly thereafter. Thus, six members. We’ve now been together as a six-piece for just under two years.
CMB: Tell us who makes up the band and what instrument they play.
Loose Change: MC
Greensleeves: MC, turntables, MPD (digital sampler), percussion
Christie “CC” Chambers: vocals, percussion
Zach Warkentin: guitar
Erin Angel: bass, keys
Donny Broussard: drums
CMB: What’s behind the band name?
The name itself comes from Bob Dylan’s post-apocalyptic, protest tune, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” namely, this passage:
“Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son ?
And what did you see, my darling young one ?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.”
At the time Greensleeves and Zach formed the band, they were feeling really stifled, both emotionally and creatively, due to some experiences that ultimately led to the breakup of their previous band. The name, “Broken Tongues,” recognized that fact, like they’d been silenced. It also offered a kind of liberation in acknowledging that fact, but also by being the name of a new project, free from any restraints on their creativity. There was freedom in it, and we liked the juxtaposition in the concept of something broken and damaged but also new and revitalized; the complex nature of ending something you’ve been heavily invested in, letting go and then beginning something new and exciting and different.
CMB: You guys have a diverse collection of styles and musicians. What are some of your previous projects and what brought you guys together?
Individually we’ve been in a number of different bands, from singer-songwriter, to Hip-Hop, to Jazz ensembles, to Bourbon Street Soul and Rock ‘n’ Roll. We’re big on diversity and we still try to maintain side projects even as the band is doing really well. Greens andErinhave formed their own beat production group, called “PRESTOdigitist” (or “PRESTO-D”), CC does vocal work with a number of well-known groups around town, and Loose Change is currently working on a solo mixtape. We pride ourselves on being jacks-of-all-trades, and we think BT’s music reflects that.
CMB: With such diversity, what is at the core of your musical interpretation?
We try to find a balance between pushing the limits, exploring new ground, and being relatable at the same time. Zach and Erin write most of the music and they maintain strong influences from Jazz and Progressive Rock, which add some complexity to our progressions. But we want our music to relate to people as well. Within Hip-Hop in particular, a good understanding of simplicity and space is key to building that connection with listeners. It’s fun to try to be clever, but if people can’t identify or relate to the tune, cleverness only gets you so far. Music has to touch people; that’s a central purpose of it – to connect to a listener; to convey an emotion that the listener can relate to. So sometimes simplicity is best, and we’re constantly trying to maintain a balance between clever progressions, simplicity, space and strong melody, because they of course are not mutually exclusive qualities.
CMB: What would you classify as a musical profile to those who haven’t seen or heard you before?
Simply, Alternative Hip-Hop. But the term ‘Hip-Hop’ often conjures the likes of Lil’ John or TI to the lay listener, and isn’t really compatible with what we do. We use a combination of live and digital instrumentation and incorporate elements of Jazz, Prog-Rock and Livetronica over a Hip-Hop foundation. Truthfully, we’ve struggled with finding a simple name to explain what we do. Any ideas on that? We’d certainly be open to any suggestions from fans or the media! Hit us up with ‘em on Facebook!
CMB: Do you guys have big dreams?
Absolutely. We started this band really just to get on stage, and to have an artistic outlet for our ideas. But things have kind of taken off and we’d be lying if we said we weren’t ambitious. So now the goal is to get to a place where we can do what we love for a living. Every band dreams of hitting it big. But we really work hard and that’s often the separator from the good bands that make it and those who don’t. That and a bit of luck.
CMB: What are some cool things that are happening for Broken Tongues in and out of Colorado?
The Fall of 2011 is shaping up as a huge season for us. We release our first studio album, Crooked Skyline, recorded at Denver’s CCM studios, on October 1, 2011. We’re launching a new website on that same date, and the album will be available as a digital download of each individual song as well as an Mp3 and hi-res version of the full album at the site (BrokenTonges.com). Then, on November 4th, we’re releasing the hard copy of our CD at the Crooked Skyline CD release party at Cervantes’ Other Side. We’re very excited to have One Be Lo (Binary Star) and DJ Abilities from Rhymesayers Entertainment opening the show. And Chali 2na is playing next door at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, so it should be a really sick event. We also have some other big shows in the works for the following months, so we’ll see how the album does and just ride the wave as it comes.
CMB: Do you write songs to be a hit and hopefully get radio play? With all the talent in the band, are there specific members that write or does everybody write together?
We don’t write songs for radio play, although we want our songs to be relatable to listeners. We just write what we like, and often, that seems to appeal to people. From a practical standpoint, the rhythm section (Zach, Erin, and Donny) write the foundation of most tunes, and the vocalists write all of the lyrics and vocal melodies. Loose Change has written a few tunes as well, though.
Our writing process is very organic. Typically, someone comes to the band with a new riff or lyrical idea and we just start playing. Before you know it, ideas for beats, sounds, lyrics, and melodies are flying. We recognize that the combined talents and varied influences of our members are extremely important to our uniqueness, so we take time to give them room to grow. We don’t rush. We let a song or thematic idea develop over time. And it’s a constant tweaking process. One idea or perspective can only take you so far, so we rely on each other a lot to push the sound in new directions, which in turn can catalyze other new ideas. It’s an incredibly fun and exciting process to write tunes in this band.
CMB: You seem to bend a lot of genres together in your music. For the layman reader, define your style.
See ‘music profile’ question above.
CMB: You guys have had some pretty killer opening slots. Tell us about them.
Yeah. We’ve been really fortunate to open for some incredible artists, idols even. Nothing like chilling with Chali 2na backstage! The man’s as nice a person as he is an amazing MC, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to say, ‘What’s up’ to him again on November 4th at our CD release party at Cervantes Other Side. Opening for Digable Planets was a dream come true, too. And backstage at that show,CampLo(who made a surprising appearance) hung out and literally freestyled for like two hours straight. People out here might not be super familiar with them, but on the East Coast they’re up there with Rakim and Erik B. So it was amazing to be part of all that. We opened for Kid Cudi, InnerPartySystem and Empire of the Sun at Global Dance Festival at Red Rocks Amphitheater. The size of that event was incredible and the scene was outrageous. Lots of great music, bright colors, and hot girls in spandex. ‘Nuff said. Andy Rok’s a buddy, so we’ve worked with Bop Skizzum, as well. Opening for Wailing Souls was cool, too, because we love the opportunity to do shows with non-Hip-Hop bands. It was awesome to see first-hand their approach to Reggae, which of course is an art that can take decades to really master. Opening for Nappy Roots was tight, too, because the stage was set up like a living room, with sofas, lamps and all – very comfortable.
CMB: A couple crazy stories from those shows?
Hah! Don’t want to reveal too many specifics, but we’ll just say that we’ve had some crazy times: partyin’ with other bands, gotten jumped, lost cars, left instruments, almost collapsed a stage at UMS. One venue tried to pay us in a 1/2-gallon jar of some kind of Bud. Loose Change’s buddies like to keep him honest on stage, too. His buddies, Travis, Jimmy, and Tate, once handed him a glass of ‘water’ and LC took a big gulp in between verses, only to find out it was actually a pint glass of vodka! Nasty.
CMB: The new album is titled Crooked Skyline. Tell us a bit more about the concept behind the disc.
At its core, it’s an homage to the city we love, live in, and that brought us together –Denver. It’s also about a theme we like to revisit often in our music – taking something familiar and adding a new perspective to it. But we left it open to interpretation on purpose because an important element of perspective is that it’s relative to each individual. We want people to take this album and form their own ideas and notions as to what it means.
CMB: What are your goals with the new album release?
First and foremost, to get our music into the most hands we can. We love playing and writing and the more people we can get appreciating what we do, the longer we can do that. As for the Nov. 4th CD release party, we want to make it the biggest party possible. An event that’ll make the community and the industry take notice.
CMB: Working in a studio setting together has its challenges. Tell us how the recording process went and some crazy ass shit that went down during the sessions.
The recording process for Crooked Skyline has been a long one, and Greensleeves (who mixed and engineered the album) is probably pretty tired of these tunes by now (jokingly). It’s been a two-year labor of love. There have been some conflicts, but nothing major. Like any band, we sometimes get at each other’s throats, but we’ve been able to work through it. For the most part, we trust Greens as a seventh member of the band in his engineering capacity. We all had input at various times, but the album is largely his interpretation of our sound. He’s worked really hard on this album and put in some really long hours. We were lucky to work in a great recording studio, and Darren at CCM Studios has been super generous in hooking us up in our sound. The hard work involved in a project like this sometimes gets lost in the romanticizing of the recording process, but at its base, it’s awesome to get to work on music in a studio environment on a daily basis.
There was one crazy night where LC and Greens were recording vocals. A client of Greens had left an earlier session to get a pack of smokes or something and we he came back like two hours later he looked beaten had been stabbed in the hand. He had a big gash in his hand, and his clothing was ripped. He was breathing really hard, too. His only response to what happened was, ‘Oh, you know how it is.’ Then he refused to go to the ER, even though the gash was pretty gnarly, saying he would just close it up with some of his mom’s super glue. Crazy.
CMB: If you were to ask yourselves a question, what would it be?
We are constantly asking ourselves how we can take our music and the band to the next level. It’s important to remain vigilant against getting too comfortable or even lazy. Got to keep the creative fire burnin’.
CMB: Who are some of your favorite local artists not only now, but from the past as well?
We’ve been fortunate to play some big shows with amazing local acts like Bop Skizzum, The Lightleaks, EVS, and The Congress. We also have a number of friends who are very successful artists, like Fox Street All-Stars, Swift, Dielectric Sound, Take to the Oars and Dyrty Byrds. We’re big fans of Pretty Lights, too. It really is amazing to be part of such a vibrant local music scene. It’s exciting to see ourselves and all of our friends doing so well and we owe most of that to the fans and music lovers inDenver. Others?
CMB: Shout outs!
Darren and the staff of CCM Studios; all of our friends and families; Community Service Apparel; Our people behind the scenes like Ida Chorney, Tate Woodrow, and Scott Neel; Roots 2 Rap Radio; Good Wood; DTA; and Akomplice.