Contributor’s Note: Broken Field Runner is technical, smart, and just totally nice people. Their music feel like a refreshing breath of old school charm meets new school ideas. If anyone is into Maps, The Eagles, and Bowie this might be your new favorite band.
Fans can find Broken Field Runner at the following locations:
This album feels a little math-rock, a little Americana, and a lot of unadulterated emotion. Who are some of your biggest influences on this album?
On this record, my biggest influences personally were bands like Car Seat Headrest, Low, and Mansions. I’ve also been obsessed with singer-songwriters like David Bazan, Julien Baker, and the Saddle Creek old-school like Conor Oberst, Tim Kasher, and Jenny Lewis since I was a kid so I’m sure that bleeds into the music a little bit as well. Laura [Murphy vocals/bass] brings a lot of British Invasion, Krautrock, and experimental music to the table, whether you notice that in her finished songs or not, so a couple people have asked if we got really into the Smiths during the writing of this release as well. Though I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison. Chris [Villeneuve drums] and Nxnes [guitar/bass/vocals], as well as our producer Derek [Ted Shultz] sort of added the acid, salt, heat, and fat that our bare-bones, “here’s this riff and chorus I wrote on acoustic guitar,” approach to songwriting can sometimes lack. Derek keeps saying our record gives him a Weatherbox vibe so there’s that.
What’s the songwriting process for your band? Does one person bring the band a pretty much fully formed song or is it more of a collaborative process?
Laura and I wrote much of the bare-bones of these songs on acoustic guitars and brought them to the rest of the band. When I moved to Los Angeles from Upstate New York in October of 2016, most of our early practices involved Laura learning how to play bass to old Broken Field Runner songs I was teaching her. She played a nylon string acoustic guitar before that, and wrote a handful of songs under her own name. For months we would kind of sing and play together and teach each other our songs.
That formula translated to the full band dynamic as well. To this day, one of us will bring pieces of what we think could be a song or a stripped down version of a song and the other members will pitch rhythmic flourishes or moods for the rest of the band to chew on. Acoustic guitar was such an important part of the song-writing on this record that we consciously decided to make it the backbone of the entire record. If you listen closely, an acoustic guitar provides some form of rhythmic element on almost every single song.
For one reason or another we were also very conscious of dynamics on this batch of songs and wanted to be sure that a song never ends where it began. Chris is a hell of a drummer and has this way of being like, “can I see your guitar for a second?” and just throwing out a perfect bridge or transitional riff like he had been inside your head. Nxnes has been my long-distance writing partner for so long now that it’s easy to send him something and receive near instant, valid, and important feedback that I think is so necessary in a band dynamic. He’s also the type to add a guitar, vocal, or bass layer to a track that you didn’t know you needed until you heard it. So it’s sort of like a Subway™ approach to songwriting: Laura and I bring the bread and filling, Chris and Nxnes add the Veggies and Cheese, maybe salt and pepper, and at least on this recording, Derek hands you a bong and asks you if you want it toasted.
I really love the production on ‘put an ocean between my self-pity & me,’ what inspired you to put that crunch on the drums?
Would you believe that “put an ocean…” was intended to be a wholly acoustic track when it was first recorded? I tracked the acoustic guitar and the vocal layers initially thinking that’s all it would need, but I kept feeling like it just didn’t sound right. It needed something else. Eventually I asked Derek to remove all of the acoustic guitar parts from the beginning and make it acapella. I believe it was Derek who suggested adding bass and drums. All of the drum tracks for the record had previously been recorded during different recording sessions and Chris was on tour with his other band Drug Church. He couldn’t have him come in to record another song’s worth of drum tracks at that point, so Derek and I ended up programming the drum tracks using 808s and samples from the Garageband app on his cell phone. He just ran it into his interface and through his various plug-ins and mixed it accordingly. We felt the crunchiness was a necessary contrast to the clean vocals and guitars. I’m glad you dig it, it’s become one of my favorite songs on the record.
What was the best show you’ve ever played? What about the worst?
Recently one of the best shows we ever played had almost no attendees. It was at Lot One on Sunset Blvd in Echo Park on the eastside of Los Angeles and was with my friends Kali Kazoo and D.C.R. Pollock. The reason the show was so good, in my opinion, was because we got to play as a four piece for the first time in forever. You see, Nxnes is from New Bedford, Massachusetts and still currently lives on the east coast. That show was the first of a short run of shows and allowed for a lineup with two guitarists and three vocalists. I felt like it was the best we ever sounded, we fucking soared for what that’s worth.
The worst show I ever played off the top of my head was probably a bar show in Hollywood in April of 2017, less than a year after I moved west. I was asked to headline the show and played to like 5 people who thankfully were gracious and attentive. I was stoked on it until this party came in and attempted to talk over my entire set. Luckily, I have an extremely loud speaking and singing voice when I need it to be. I just wish people would respect musicians who put themselves out there and perform original music just a little bit more. But I guess I should be thankful. I didn’t drive far, I wasn’t asked to sell tickets, and I didn’t get body-slammed for covering “Sweet Caroline.”
Lyrically, I feel a lot of Jimmy Eat World and Broken Social Scene in your writing. Do you feel that’s accurate? Do you write the lyrics to a song first or do you write the song first?
I appreciate the comparison. I love Jimmy Eat World and Broken Social Scene almost always comes up first when I’m attempting to google my own band name. I think lyrics are the quintessential element of any great song. I could give you so many examples of songs that would be considered terrible musically that were saved by excellent lyrics. But I can give you almost no examples of slick recordings that likely cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce, teams of songwriters and musicians, who made a transcendent culture-shifting song with terrible lyrics. As expressed above, powerful storytelling is my ultimate goal and I think Laura’s would be similar. God, I think my favorite line on the record is from Laura’s song “Soft Pink Hands,” when she sings “every morning I take what I am owed and count my blessings on fingers and toes.” There is just so much there if you take the time to snoop for it. If you find thought-provoking, affecting storytelling in Jim Adkins’ lyrics or my lyrics or Laura’s then I will consider the mission accomplished. Thank you. Personally, I feel I’m only reaching toward or brushing against greatness where folks like Frances Quinlan or Leslie Feist or David Bazan are truly living in it.
What are your goals for 2019? How will this year be different from 2018?
My goal for 2019 is to F I N A L L Y release this record we’ve been working on for the last two years, to play some more shows, and to continue to write more music. There may be some more releases in the not-too-distant future so keep your ear to the ground. Hopefully. Until then, we’ll continue to stumble blindly toward our inevitable deaths cumbersome under the weight of our own anxieties, performances (of masculinity, politics, “wokeness,” outrage, etc.), and regrets. Hopefully, the collective “we” will continue to use art to blunt the effects of that journey, to find joy. Hopefully, the collective “we” that is Broken Field Runner will continue to contribute to that.
And there you have it! Stay in contact with Broken Field Runner’s Facebook page for the latest news and information in regards to the band!