Nashville singer-songwriter Cary Brothers has been turning out thoughtful, moving indie rock records for some years now.
His provocative, chart-friendly ballads are the sort that you’d expect to be playing in moments when the awkward, romantic hero of the piece makes an impassioned speech, or realises something that’ll change the rest of the story. They’re full of old world romance, brooding and just the right amount of theatre, making him the perfect choice for a soundtrack.
If you’ve watched an indie rom com or a TV drama in the last few years, chances are you’ll have been moved by a Cary Brothers tune. His are songs for the best sort of romantics – the hopeless ones, who live their lives truly believing in the love that movies tell us about.
Currently in the studio working on his next full length album, Cary kindly took some time out to answer some of The Vandals’ questions for The Songwriter Series.
At what point did you know that you wanted to be a songwriter professionally? Was there something that made you realise it was the best thing for you?
“I’ve been writing songs since I was about 13 years old. It was more of a therapeutic thing then, and it never really crossed my mind that I could do it professionally. When I came to Los Angeles, I worked in film production and development. I was spending my days helping writers and directors realize their dreams, and around 2001 it suddenly occurred to me that I should be doing that for myself.
At least, I wanted to give music a shot. If I failed, then at least I could have the peace of mind knowing that I tried. I would still come home and write songs no matter what. It’s a part of who I am whether or not someone’s paying me to do it.”
Is there a song on your setlist that you look forward to playing a little bit more than the others?
“I think ‘Ride’ is my favorite song to play. I enjoy all of the songs as if they’re my kids, but that one has a momentum to it that always lifts up a show. After hundreds and hundeds of gigs, I get sick of playing some of the songs, but never that one.”
Can you think of a gig, or a moment during a performance, when you realised you were doing something bigger than you had been before?
“A few years ago, I played a show at the El Rey in Los Angeles. I had about 10 musician friends get up to sing the last song with me, and I felt overjoyed by both the energy of a sold out hometown crowd and the community of friends that I have who make music. Sharing this stuff with friends makes it all better because it can be a lonely job on the road.
Singing at the O2 Arena in London with Tiesto was crazy, too, mostly because of the sheer massiveness of the dance music energy, and the place itself. I understood for an ever-too-brief moment what Bono must feel like every night.”
Is there a song that you wish you’d written?
“Oh, there are a lot of those. I think Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes The Flood” is probably at the top of the list. Whenever it plays, everything stops for me. Is it a song about devastation? Or is it about a cleansing? Either way, there is human connection at the center of it when he sings the line “The actors gone, there’s only you and me.” I’ve used it to bolster love in my life as well as mourn heartbreak.
I’m pretty sure Gabriel wrote it as a science fiction tale of all minds in the world connecting at once, but I think every person can and should hear something different in it.”
Please describe what it is that you experience when you’re on stage.
“I always get a little nervous. Nerves are a good thing, in that they keep you aware. That usually passes by the end of the first song, and then it’s about giving every bit of energy I have to the crowd. Whether there are 50 or 1000 people, I know that every night someone went out of their way, many times long distances, to come see me play, and I give everything I have despite lack of sleep or sore throat or any of the things that I could use as an excuse.
People have a lot of choices, and if someone chooses me, I want to do everything I can to give them their money’s worth. Instinct takes over, and I just go with it. Sometimes at the end of a set, I have no idea what I said between songs or how I finished a tune in a new way – it just happens. I try to come prepared enough that I can throw preparation out the window and just be in the moment.”
Your music has been featured so widely in film and television. What has been your favourite scene that features a Cary Brothers song, and why?
“As a movie lover, I was particularly happy when my cover of The Thompson Twins’ ‘If You Were Here’ was used in the movie ‘Easy A’. It was a montage featuring scenes of all the 80’s teen movies I loved as a kid – ‘The Breakfast Club,’ ‘Say Anything’, ‘Sixteen Candles’ – and it was cool to be connected to those films that were so important to me in adolescence. I got a little giddy in the movie theater for that one.”
Is there a songwriter who you love, that you wish more people had heard of?
“Not sure if it bodes well for my own success, but I realised recently that most of my musical heroes aren’t famous, or at least are not that commonly known.
Although she had a bit of radio play in the early 2000’s, I don’t think Butterfly Boucher has yet gotten the acclaim that she deserves. She’s a singer/songwriter in the literal sense but her music is a little more rock ‘n roll, a little more adventurous than just acoustic guitars and pianos. Her voice is so distinct and perfect and just plain cool to me, and she’s a multi-instrumentalist as well.
When she’s onstage, it’s impossible not to look at her. In my world, her songs ‘I Can’t Make Me’ and ‘Another White Dash’ are pop perfection.”
What do you hope people take from a Cary Brothers record?
“When I put a record out into the world, it’s not mine anymore. Whatever meaning or intention the songs have to me is irrelevant. I hope that people take the music into their own lives and create their own meanings to the lyrics and how the melodies make them feel.
The greatest gift I get back is when people tell me that certain songs are attached to moments or periods of time in their lives – a first kiss, a drive at night in the summer with friends, or when a song helps someone get through difficulty.
Life comes first, and songs come second.”
Check back this Friday, as Cary makes us a playlist of the Top 5 best love songs ever written.
Cary Brothers’ songs are available on iTunes. His next album will be out next year.
Last week on The Songwriter Series: Madi Diaz