Our first phone conversation got interrupted by lousy cell service as Paul Brill was waiting for a flight at JFK in New York. He had warned me that he might not be quite with it after a couple shots of whiskey, but it was the phone that gave us trouble—not the drinking.
Strangely, the phone cut out right when we were getting to one of the more controversial lines on ¡Breezy!, a line that Brill had just said was “more of throwaway line” but about people who “are full of sh*t.” The line, in the driving pop-almost-punk song “The Royal Oui” says:
Don’t speak, don’t sleep,
Keep your thoughts pure and neat, keep it simple
You know I really wish you could just give your cluttered mind a rest
And try to quiet the noise from fake Christians keep insisting they’re blessed.
Brill was explaining that he didn’t mean to offend anyone and doesn’t have anything against Christianity or other religions per se, but it does bother him when people’s actions don’t match their words or professed beliefs. “It’s not so much about Christians, but my bitter stew about people who are talking sh*t, saying they’re blessed, they’re holier than you rather than living quietly, graciously.” It’s about Christians who “do not really demonstrating what the core beliefs are.”
I was in the process of agreeing with Brill and even saying that this is what Jesus was preaching, telling the Pharisees that they were full of it. Then the line went dead. I thought for a moment we had gotten to a place where Brill didn’t want to go in the conversation and that he had hung up on me. But a quick text explained that his phone wasn’t being able to reconnect. “Could we reschedule for tomorrow?” I texted back an affirmative, hoping we could find a way to pick up where we left off talking about Brill’s breezy, pop rock album that charges out of the gate and leaves Harpooner and its previous experimental, found-sound, collage kind of approach in the dust.
The next day Brill was safely in Los Angeles to attend the International Documentary Association awards ceremony to receive recognition for Best Music for his work on Better This World. Brill was also safely in strong cell range, so we picked up our conversation where we left off. I repeated that Jesus wasn’t interested in fake Christians either and had a way of telling off the fakers, posers, and wannabes.
Brill continued saying, “It’s not so much about Christianity, but my bitter stew about people who are talking sh*t, saying they’re blessed, they’re holier than you, rather than living quietly, graciously. [It’s about people who are] not really demonstrating what the core beliefs are.”
Again, I had to agree with Brill. We had found some common ground.
Meanwhile, ¡Breezy! wrangles and waggles its way into your psyche with mesmerizing pop rock very much akin to Wes Cunningham’s 12 Ways of Winning People to Your Way of Thinking. It’s American Band Rock; it’s swaggering rock; it’s horns and hooks and riffs. I said to Brill, “Holy cow! This is a rock album. What happened to the bedroom singer-songwriter with sampled sounds and brooding introspection?”
Brill said, “I think that a lot of the more experimental stuff and collaging, that itch got scratched by my film stuff. [This album is] more textural, more driving. I wanted to make a record as a reaction to the last record. I wanted to write songs that I could enjoy playing live.”
Indeed, 2007’s Harpooner was Brill’s upbeat rock record that turned into a dark, brooding thing. Instead, with ¡Breezy!, Brill says it’s “a return to song forms, a little bit of a lighter touch, the most honest record I’ve made, real emblem of my personality and who I am.”
On the opener “Sunny Guy,” Brill sings about missing his “troubled life.” Turns out the song is about a suburban guy who has life pretty well in order but he misses the earlier days, the troubled life. Yet, even if the line’s not autobiographical, it does seem to fit with the energy and feeling of the record. Throwing off the shackles, but maintaining what Brill calls “a dark underbelly,” the song bounces along even as it conjures up the angst of leaving a complicated life behind for the routine of suburban life. Layers of horns on the second version, “Sunny Guy (II),” bring out the party element in the song.
There’s a dark introspection on “How High the Fishes” too. Brill says of the song: “A little bit less defined, more stream of consciousness, Latin groove, hammering it out on the piano, these images, fever fantasy, deserty, post-apocalyptic.” Live, the whole band played it a lot faster, but “on a whim, in the studio, slowed it down for a Tom Waits sound, creaky, smoky, grungy.” That Latin thing again fits well with Cunningham’s album as Brill grabs from different musical styles to create crunchy pop rock.
If you live near New York City, go in to see Brill’s band play live, although he says he almost prefers rehearsals because they “just get to hang out.” Brill may not be hitting the long road of touring soon, what with a wife and two boys (7 and 4) at home. The soundtrack work helps him maintain a normal existence with the family. And while his soundtrack work is stunning, I am hoping that one day I can see the whole band playing out with abandon on tunes from ¡Breezy!.