Before Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Mudhoney; even before Green River, there was Malfunkshun. Featuring the flamboyant Andrew Wood on vocals, they created a sensation around Seattle that eventually spawned the music that would grab the youth by their fake flannel and turn the music world into a dirty polluted pool of bitter honesty and rebellion. Now, thirty-odd years later, the musicians that reared a whole generation are still making music that feels good to them.
Enter Brad, the musical child of Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard and Satchel’s Shawn Smith and Regan Hagar, who also played drums for Malfunkshun during their tenure before Wood headed up Mother Love Bone with Gossard. With their new record United We Stand released last week, Brad is back with some 70’s-like grooves and a fresh-sounding energy with tunes such as “Diamond Blues”, “Needle And Thread”, “Miles Of Rope” and first single, “A Reason To Be In My Own Skin”. Regan Hagar recently called Glide to talk about the new album.
Brad has just released United We Stand. How did you get this one out faster than you did with Best Friends?, which took about five years before it was officially released. What did you do different this time around?
The last one just got shelved for some reason for a number of years and we were all kind of living our lives, I guess. Stone and Shawn both had children in that period of time so we took an extra bit of time off and now we’re kind of back in the saddle and ready to be more focused on Brad on a semi-regular basis.
Are you going to be able to tour together?
We’re hoping to. We’re going to do some dates right away, right after the release, on the west coast and hopefully get to the east coast and do some of the major cities there. If all goes well and people seem interested in having us play, we’ll do more. But it’s tough and so much harder to travel now expense-wise that there has to be some decent demand in order to just get us there.
In your opinion, what differentiates this CD from your last CD?
You know, it’s new so as far as how it’s different it’s from a different time period. It’s the same guys, same center point I guess, but that’s a tough question. It’s a whole new set of songs so every single thing that you’re hearing will be different from the last one. You can’t keep writing the same record so you’ve got to keep changing and coming up with new songs.
“Tea Bag” is one of your contributions. Do you do a lot of writing?
You know, I don’t because with the amount that Shawn and Stone write there’s really no need for it. I do like to play keyboards on their songs as far as adding things that aren’t on drums to different songs but every now and again when prodded I’ll pick up a guitar and play some songs. I wrote that one back in the Discovery Park era, so two records back, and it somehow got mixed in with some of the tapes for the new record and some people heard it and liked it. So that’s how it ended up being on the record. It’s still the only song that is an older song that is added to the bunch.
“A Reason To Be In My Own Skin” is the first single. Why did you pick this particular song to introduce everybody to the new CD?
We have a new partnership with Razor & Tie, which is a record label from New York. I’ve yet to actually meet anyone there, but they made that selection or they made it with Dangerbird Management. Brad has new partnerships in this particular outing and we’re letting these other people make some choices like that just to see how it all works out if we let these industry-type people make some of those choices. In the past we used to probably be a little more opinionated about that stuff and I think we’re just kind of easy going and ready to listen to input from these outside partners.
Shawn tends to do most of his songwriting in a studio environment. That must keep you on your toes.
It does and what happens with me is, he likes to do a lot alone so none of us are there with him, but sometimes he will text me to say, “Can you come play drums on something I’m working on?” And I live about a mile from the studio so it’s easy for me to come when he beckons. And what I seem to find is I’ll be playing with him and he’ll go, “Ok, that’s it” and I’ll go, “Ok, I just learned that. I’d like to do it again” and he’ll say, “Nope, I’ve got it, this is done and thank you” (laughs). And I’m stuck with whatever I had done in that first instinct-type way, which is all fine, but it’s interesting that sometimes I’m like, “Oh I wish I could have had another stab at doing that”. But it always works out fine. Shawn knows what he wants and he gets the most out of the rest of us as far as what he needs, which is pretty nice.
You say that Brad is an easy-going band, kind of laid back. Is that the natural vibe amongst the three of you?
It’s very go-with-the-flow. We try and make sure everybody kind of gets something of what they want. You can tell when any one of us really starts coddling a particular song and really has a passion for it. So we just go, “Great, this person is into that let’s support that” and it’s easy for us at this point after making as many records as we have together. No one is kind of fighting for that real estate, as it were. No one is like, “I have to have this song on the record”. There are many songs we just recorded that I am very excited about them being released that won’t be on this record. We had this outpouring cause we hadn’t played together in so many years. Well, I’m sorry, we hadn’t written records together in so long that it was kind of like a very fruitful expedition. So we ended up with more than we needed, which is great, and we even considered a double album but it doesn’t really make sense the way people consume music right now to do the double record. So we’re just going to pick these, let these go out and then hopefully release the others as time-willing.
How did you pick these ten particular songs?
We all kind of had a favorites list. I think for the most part, Shawn selected this record. There were management, our new partners, and we wanted their voice to be heard in the selection too. I think everyone got what they wanted as far as having a particular song included. It was a collaboration and I don’t think anyone was upset about not having something not make it because we know if it was not here it will be later.
Who picked the title?
Shawn did and it was the title track from a song of the same name. Then in the process after we had done that and I had started the album artwork and stuff, that song ended up not being on the record (laughs), which is interesting, I think. It’ll be neat to have a song out later called “United We Stand” that’s a finished piece by Brad. And that’s just from balancing out the record. It’s not that things weren’t good enough or anything, it’s just creating balance for what we want on this particular record and what didn’t fit will be on the next.
The CD has all these different kinds of nuances on it.
Yes, and I think there are the rockers for the people who like rockers and there’s the more ballad-y melodic stuff from Shawn. It just all sounds like Brad.
You have a new member playing with you now. Where did you find him?
Keith Lowe is our new bass player. He is a Seattle guy and he’s been around playing in a lot of bands in town forever. The first time I ever saw him was on Saturday Night Live playing with Fiona Apple. I recall it because someone pointed him out and said that’s a Seattle guy and I didn’t know him at that point. We later became friends and he was in another Stone project. Mike Berg, Brad’s former bass player, got some promotion at his job and he got into a position where he really didn’t have time to cut out studio time and touring time so he bowed out of the band. We decided to get Keith in and we wanted it to be more permanent, just hoping to move forward and not switch bass players too much. So we asked him to be a member of the band as opposed to just having guys come into the studio and hiring different bass players from time to time, which was a consideration when Mike left. We thought, let’s try to get a permanent guy. And that’s Keith Lowe, he’s fantastic.
Can you believe that Brad has been together almost twenty years? Does it seem that long to you?
Well, you know, it doesn’t and what I’ve discovered is as I get older, time is a different thing than what it was when I was younger. I have a couple kids myself and I can remember when they were born and now they’re teenagers. Time just flies so I don’t trip on it at all; I don’t think, wow, this is an achievement. It is an achievement, I don’t deny that, but to me we’re all friends and we haven’t had any of the pressures that other bands have had, which often makes bands break up. We’ve been able to basically break up and get back together a bunch of times. We’ve all indulged ourselves in different types of music and projects and different ways of life, starting families at different times. Luckily, none of us have moved away from Seattle so we’re here, we’re committed to each other in the sense that we’re good friends and we enjoy playing music together. I could see us going on for another twenty years easily.
When did you start playing drums?
I played snare drums through elementary school and it used to be mandatory that you picked an instrument in public schools here. Sadly, that is no longer the case. But I played snare drum so I was always drawn to the drum as most people are. Most musicians I know love playing the drums, which is interesting. But it wasn’t until I was probably fourteen and I started working at a club in town and I started to see punk rock stuff so I thought, I could do this. I joined my first band then I just never looked back. It was just a really fun experience like sports in a way where you’re in a group of people, where you count on each other. It’s just a fantastic feeling to be in a band. I would miss it if I didn’t do it yet I’m not like a musician’s musician. I’m just a self-taught drummer that plays with his friends around locally and it’s just expanded a bit to where I’ve been able to travel and release albums and stuff. It’s been really organic for me. It just happened through my love of listening to music.
Who are some of your influences?
Well, they’re all kind of standard stuff – Beatles and Elton John when I was a kid; then getting older I started listening to Zeppelin and KISS and Aerosmith. Then you’re a young adult getting into Prince and a bunch of expanding weird stuff. It’s all over the place. There’s very little that I don’t like and if you’re in a band, it’s ok with me. If you put the time in and you’re playing, I don’t care if I don’t particularly like to listen to it, I’ll still respect you. You know, people are like Justin Bieber this and Justin Bieber that, I don’t understand that stuff. I’m not sure why people get publicly bashed for what they sound like or whatever.
You were in Malfunkshun with Andy Wood. How did the band come together and why didn’t you stay together?
We came together in high school. I was working in a place called the Showbox and Andy, I’d seen him in the halls and we were both kind of weird, long-haired guys. I was basically a punk rocker when I was first introduced to him and he was sideline punk rocker, more of a rocker, I guess. But he was in line for a Devo concert and I walked by him and into the club and was helping open up shop and get ready for the Devo concert. The next day at school he was like, “What’s your deal? How come you can walk into the club?” I kind of told him a little background and how I worked there and stuff and he was like, “Can you be in my band?” And I said, “Sure”.
So he approached me and asked me to be in Malfunkshun. They had another drummer for a minute and it just took off from there. We stayed a band for eight years and then he and I both went to go play with Stone and Jeff Ament in Lords Of The Wasteland, which turned into Mother Love Bone. I was replaced just out of sheer desire for those guys to make it. They were going to take Greg Gilmore on, who I worshipped, so I know it sounds weird but I was so happy for them when Greg agreed to be in their band even though I wouldn’t be. I still had Malfunkshun and, in my mind, never broke up. I just figured it’d be a break and Mother Love Bone would do what they do and then we’ll be back playing shows.
From what I’ve seen in old videos of Andrew performing, he had this bubbly, energetic stage presence. For example, on “Winter Bites” his voice reminded me of Robert Plant if Robert Plant had a sense of humor.
Right (laughs). You know, he was very much like that. He had great energy and everyone was drawn to it. And that’s before Malfunkshun; that’s just the way he was as a person. I was lucky to be as close as I was to him. That band was the greatest experience. It was a really good time and I try to not over-romanticize the whole thing but he was very special and it was a lucky start to the music business for me.
And his music is still being played and still being heard.
Which is fantastic.
A few years ago you mentioned your children were into music. Are they still following that path?
My daughter has been in a few different bands and she’s got a band she’s currently in and performs in a semi-regular basis, which is outstanding. My son is much more shy, likes to play music but in private, doesn’t enjoy performing so it’s neat and I hope someday that I’ll be playing with them. At this point, I’m old and that’s not fun or cool but I think at some point I can imagine that happening.
Do you feel old?
I don’t and I know I’m in my middle life and that’s great but it’s just not what I imagined it would be.
Why? What is different?
I’m just so young in my mind and I’m still interested in a lot of the same things and I’m definitely grown and different and anew but there are things I miss from my age but I feel young.
What have you got planned for the rest of the year?
Well, you know, we’ve got to release this thing and go through this process that our new partners have laid in front of us. I am excited to see what that brings. Shawn and I are so desperate to go to Europe with this band and we have brought it up over and over again to everyone we talk to about the group and that’s yet to happen. But my hope for the next phase for Brad is to finally leave the United States and play outside. There’s just something different about overseas and I really love it there. I love it here too but I want to play for a different audience and see what that’s like. We just have never done it. We’ve played in Australia, which was fantastic, actually a couple of times. So we have been outside of the US, which is so rare cause it’s so hard to do. But that’s what I hope will be the next phase for Brad, obviously to play in the States cause I think that’s a given, but trying to expand a little bit and go places we’ve never been.
Do you still work with Neil Young?
You know, I am essentially on the roster but I’m in a secondary crew that if he’s out with a full-sized band, I will go. My direct boss, Eric Thompson, we stay in contact on a regular basis and Neil’s always busy but they haven’t needed me, which is bittersweet. It’s really nice to be home but I very much love the experience of traveling with him and watching him every night.
What do you think you have learned the most from Neil Young?
To be real with yourself and to be honest with your music and never do what you think the audience wants or what anyone else wants. Definitely try and stick to being expressive yourself. It’s hard to put into words but I could not believe how, and this is a simplistic way to put it, he’s so punk rock, which to me means he’s out there doing what he wants to do on any given moment. There are a lot of bands where it’s crafted, at this point in the show we do this and we go over here and do this, and he’s really out there doing it. It just caught me off guard my first couple of shows working with him and being part of the crew. I was really pleasantly surprised how real it was.
What is your philosophy towards playing music? And what do YOU want to get out of playing music?
It’s funny that you ask that because now more than ever I feel selfish in my music and the fact that I personally get so much out of it that I’m no longer worried what others think about it. And in that it’s bringing us back to where we started. We started doing this music as kids because it felt good and we loved doing it and then it became a business and we became young adults and it became a job. It got kind of derailed a little bit in my mind. The music was always fine and of good quality. Now, for me personally, I am back to the beginning where it’s just indulgent and incredibly fun. The more inner we get as a group with each other, the more inward thinking we get and the better the experience becomes. It’s like something Bruce Lee said – “Feel don’t think”. So I don’t want to think about music at all. I just want to feel it.