Brzowski – A Diverse Musical Craftsman
Brzowski has been making noise on the underground circuit for several years. After extensive touring all around the globe he has now returned with “A Fitful Sleep”, his first solo album in 5 years. The man that does his thing, and certainly not by the book, has released an album that is showing us how wide his musical scale is. He narrows it down both lyrically and musically, but with a variety that makes every song feel unique. This Portland emcee has what it takes to blind us against all genre classification. DEAD Magazine contributor Michael Öhrnberg tracked down the bearded man himself and talked to him about the album, influences and professional wrestling.
DEAD: Can you give us a picture of Brzowski? Who is behind the man, the myth, the legend?
BRZOWSKI: Well, simply put, I’m a busy man who lives and works in Portland, Maine USA. I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and moved to Portland in 2001 to finish my BFA in Painting. I have been playing in bands and releasing music/performing since 1994. Regardless of the many hats I swap on a regular basis, I consider myself an Artist first and foremost. I’m parts romantic, history buff, fringe-alarmist, control freak, nihilist, and armchair philosopher. I like cats, whiskey, and conspiracy theory documentaries.
DEAD: Nowadays it seems like on every record that is out there, you get at least 4-5 guests artists. But when listening to “A Fitful Sleep” I noticed that you only had one, was that a conscious choice?
My lyrics are highly personal and reflecting of where I am at, mentally and emotionally…
BRZOWSKI: Definitely. I do a good amount of features for other peoples’ releases and enjoy collaborating with people whose music I appreciate, but I thought after not having released a solo album in 5 years, that it would not be appropriate to have guests all over the place. This idea dovetails with the same reason I have never had a hype-man: My lyrics are highly personal and reflecting of where I am at, mentally and emotionally, and to have other people grafted on to the songs seems disingenuous to the lyrical intent. The song with Awol was a perfect fit, because it felt and sounded so natural. Two other songs in the running for the album that had features were included on each respective cd version. Hangar 18 on one, Awol/Emoh/Gel Roc/One P/Mascaria posse cut on the other. They were definitely good songs, but did not quite fit the album proper due to sound/content, and I wanted to make them available.
DEAD: What are you aims with your music?
I think teenagers and older folks who are into music have the right idea…they could give a shit about a genre or a “tradition” if the music moves them.
BRZOWSKI: For years I have been endeavoring to create the kind of music I want to listen to, and bring it to as many people as possible. I think this is indicative of everyone involved with Milled Pavement, which is one of the things that sets us apart. I enjoy rapping, and traditional hiphop music, but really despise the purism and regurgitation of tried-and-true sounds and ideas involved. If I want to listen to 90′s hiphop, I’m going to throw on a record from the 90′s, not some 23 year old kid ape-ing that sound. I am a firm believer that maybe everything has been done, but not everything has been combined and hybridized. I’m feeling the absolute freedom in making songs that if they don’t fit with “hiphop” or “metal” or “country” or “dubstep” or whatever, it does not matter in the least at the end of the day. Original things are never easily filed and boxed anyway. Does it make your work harder to sell on a conceptual and commercial sense to the layperson? Sure, but that comes with uncharted territory….
I think teenagers and older folks who are into music have the right idea…they could give a shit about a genre or a “tradition” if the music moves them. The new secret batch of demos I have cooking presently have me rapping and chewing much more slowly over bit-crushed naturally occurring sounds…who knows where it will end up.
DEAD: What kind of response have you got about the record so far?
BRZOWSKI: The response to the record has been overwhelmingly positive, which I am indeed pleased with. It feels good to have press, blogs and fellow artists really listen intently and “get it”, especially since it is not the most easily digestible record. The lyrics are packed with turns of phrase, double and triple layered meanings, inside jokes, and the like, and the jury of my peers seems to have been enjoying dissecting the album. Will the indie-rap public dig it the same way? I have no idea, as I don’t get the digital sales report for another 2 months, but the physical sales of the cd versions are steady, and that is encouraging.
DEAD: How important is the subject matter when you write, and can you tell us something about your writing process?
BRZOWSKI: Subject matter is everything. I have two modes of writing solo material.
I’m not a verbal Abstract Expressionist, my abstractions flow from the nexus of a subject. When a song sounds like I have written it in a stream-of-consciousness style, it is in fact because the original meaning has been so subverted in the extrapolation and exploration, the initial intent itself becomes almost secondary to where it ended up. I’m showing you the map, and not the terrain. These are the songs that begin as lyrics before a piece of music is presented.
The second less cerebral way of writing is when a piece of production grabs me, and the hook writes itself immediately. When there are powerful melodic elements present, I feel like choruses (if not the words at least the SOUNDS) just present themselves. If the production in of itself gives a strong feeling, the chorus comes with the skeletal idea, and then the flesh of the verses, bridges, etc. just grow around it until finished. Both modes of writing can be laborious. I tell producers not to get itchy, because I dislike forcing lyrics.
DEAD: What are your influences. Both while making the record, but also in general?
BRZOWSKI: Initially while writing and producing my bits for the album, I was really conscious of NOT listening to any rappers. I did not want anyone’s style or subject matter to creep in unbeknown in that capacity. I was hoping to synthesize in a bit of a vacuum when going through a period of specifically working on this project. Obviously I love a ton of fringe hiphop, but I edited it out for a bit. I was listening to a lot of obscure Classic Rock, Stoner Rock, Doom, 90′s NYC melodic hardcore, and pre-1980 Outlaw Country. The cd stack on my desk goes like this right now: Goes Cube, Son Of Kick, Monsieur Sai, The Body, Waylon Jennings, Riddlore?, William Cooper, Noah 23, Murmurbreeze, Virtue and Emoh, The Hidden Hand, Awol and Nathaniel Motte, Dynamo-P and Micodin, Cough, Skyrider, Toolshed, and 32 French.
DEAD: Is there a hidden meaning behind the title A Fitful Sleep?
A Fitful Sleep: It refers to the way I used to deal with depression and severe emotional turmoil…
BRZOWSKI: “A Fitful Sleep” is a name I’ve had since the first songs for this album started taking shape in demo form around 2007. It was initially the name of a song, (which became the “Sleep Standing” bonus track on the digipak) and then began to embody the album the longer it took to gestate. “A Fitful Sleep” refers to the length of time it takes me between releases….you may not hear from me, but I am still roiling in my world output or no. It refers to the many hours of intermittent naps I’ve had in the past 6 years in cars, planes, trains, and buses chasing this artist-hobo dream. It refers to the way I used to deal with depression and severe emotional turmoil…..I would escape the world through staying hermit-style in my apartment, only leaving bed occasionally to eat, smoke cigarettes, and use the latrine. That would be the personal hidden meaning. I would not actually sleep. I would toss, turn, and be unable to turn my head off…for days or weeks.
DEAD: More and more albums today seems to be made for easy consumption. Yours on the other hand feels more like a full meal. Was that something that you strived for, to create a complete album?
BRZOWSKI: Absolutely. Because it took me so long to make, it was very important that I created something I could stand behind as a complete statement. As pompous as it sounds, if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I wanted to feel like I made a major work of some maturity and depth. I work glacially slow, and so can’t say when my next solo album may arrive….I wanted to provide something to chew on and mull over for a bit. I was thinking like a mid-career megalomaniacal painter.
DEAD: What strikes me is that you use a lot of guitars and heavier sounds in your songs, any special reason behind that?
…distorted electric guitar always has sounded like liquid magic to me.
BRZOWSKI: I have been slowly incorporating these sounds straight along in a limited capacity, because I started singing and playing guitar and bass in punk and metal bands in the 90′s, and didn’t start rapping until ’99….distorted electric guitar always has sounded like liquid magic to me. I did not want people to misconstrue what I was doing as “rap-rock” or “homie-hardcore”, so I had to wait a until those unfortunate blips receded from memory, and people could hear guitars on a “hiphop” record in a new way. I don’t come from that school, I come from a true-doom and thrash-punk pedigree when it comes to guitar-driven music. There is going to be much more live guitar and bass on the next “Brzowski+Moshe” record too, I’m sure.
DEAD: Final question. I’ve always been curious about the name. Brzowski, where does it come from?
BRZOWSKI: Legend has it that my maternal grandmother was a professional wrestler back in the 1930s, with the name “Bobo Brzozowski”, as a nod to my grandfather Stanley. It is a bit of a tribute to her, whom I miss very much, and that is about all I’d like to say in print about that! Big thanks to mr. hauer and DEAD Magazine for the support– I hope to see you cats in Germany in the coming year–http://www.milledpavement.com/brzowski.html
Text: Michael Öhrnberg
Foto(s): Pictures by David Zwickerhill (Teaser) and JBL (Article)
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