Californian pop-punk veterans, Bracket, recently released their first album in nearly a decade, “Hold Your Applause.” I was lucky enough to catch up with members Marty Gregori and Angelo Celli to discuss the making of it, what took so long, and what’s in store next for the band. Spoiler Alert: They’re already working on a new album!
You check out the interview below.
There is an eight year gap between “Requiem” and “Hold Your Applause.” What would you attribute this gap to?
Marty: The eight year gap happened because of a few reasons. A big reason was, we lost our studio. It was built without permits and the county shut us down. So without a place to record, we didn’t think we could record music anymore. We put the equipment in storage with the hopes that we would someday use it again. In 2010, we decided that enough was enough and I piled the equipment into my living room and we started again. Another reason for the gap in activity was because two of us started families and the other two got married. We took time to live life like normal people for a while. We had already been a band for so long. We may have needed the break to get inspired to make music again.
Angelo: Having families, Ray living far away (California—->Colorado), having to tear down our “Trailer Park Studios” and eventually set up equipment in our houses to record. We had started the process of writing most of these new songs not too long after Requiem, but all that stuff slowed us down. Plus, once we started recording, we were only allowing ourselves one night a week, after work (so, from about 730 or 8pm until 1 or 2 am most Tuesday nights, from 2010 until the mixing stage, which we finished in May or June of 2014.
What was the recording process like for this album?
Marty: Long and slow. After “Requiem” we got together and rehearsed a lot of the songs for “Hold Your Applause” but then the studio was shut down and the songs were just hanging in limbo. When Angelo bought his house, the first thing we thought of was recording the drums in his garage. We moved the equipment to his house and tracked the drums there and then spent the next couple of years recording the rest at my house. We got together only one night a week. It was tough. We would record sometimes until 2:00AM and have to go to work early the next day. Angelo had it the roughest. He did this while raising three children. If we combined all of the time we spent actually recording and mixing into one chunk, it would amount to just a few weeks of recording time but since we did it only a few hours a week, it took three years.
Angelo: Well, obviously, slow. We knew we were taking our time, so we consciously did everything we wanted to without worrying too much about how long it was taking. We started tracking vocal parts for some songs in Marty’s living room before even recording drums. Then Ray flew to CA and we recorded Ray’s drums in my garage, with Marty and I sitting in my kitchen. The kitchen table was where the computer and all recording equipment sat. It was funny and actually a lot of fun. We ate a lot and drank a bunch of coffee.
Over the course of Bracket’s career, your sound has changed drastically. It seems like the last two albums are more abstract. You have more advanced harmonies and incorporate instruments that aren’t typically used in punk songs like ukuleles and mandolins. What inspired this approach?
Marty: We have always been interested in bringing in different instruments. When we recorded “Lazy”on “4 Wheel Vibe” we brought in strings. We were hooked after that. We brought in a ton of different instruments for Like You Know. We sorta got away from doing that with “Novelty Forever” and “When All Else Fails”. In 2000, we got into The Beach Boys in a huge way. It made us want to step up our game when it came to writing harmony parts. We were really inspired by Pet Sounds and Smile and albums that came later in their career. We wanted to explore the layering of harmonies on punk songs. I don’t think there are enough bands doing that. I thought The Teen Idols were doing it pretty well and Masked Intruder has great harmonies. As for our albums being more abstract, I would blame The Beach Boy’s “Smile” album for that. I love the quirkiness of that album.
Angelo: We just weren’t interested in making the same music over and over again. It’s boring. We’re happy people liked our older stuff, but it feels pointless (and disingenuous) to keep writing the same kinds of songs. We make music because we love to do it, and to challenge ourselves (and our listeners a little bit too) is exciting. Why make music that you’re not excited about? Things like complex vocal harmonies and trying to play new instruments is a challenge, and I think it makes our music different from our previous stuff and also from other pop punk bands.
Over the years you’ve worked with different labels such as Fat Wreck, Caroline Records and Takeover records. Now that you record and release your albums by yourself, do you feel like you have more artistic freedom? Did you feel pressured to fit a mold?
Marty: We feel more free now. We definitely felt like we needed to sound a certain way when we were on Caroline and Fat Wreck Chords. Not that anyone was forcing us to write music in any certain style but, both labels lost interest in our band when we started to experiment. Takeover and Head2wall were great because they let us do whatever we want. We just handed them the finished product and they just released it, no questions asked. I think we are just too stubborn to be on a label. We just want to do whatever we want without any outside input. I feel like we know what we want to do at this point. We don’t care about making the correct moves to becoming a popular band. We just want to make music we are proud of. We are super grateful to Caroline Records and Fat Mike and Erin. Without them, a lot of people would have never heard of us. I still have so much respect for Fat Mike. He is one of my favorite songwriters.
Angelo: Yes we felt pressured to fit a mold, up until we didn’t fit the mold and Requiem got us “dropped” from Fat. Don’t get me wrong, we never tried to (nor are we trying now) disown or disrespect the people that liked our band and helped us (fans, Fat Mike, etc.) But we found ourselves confined a bit to what was expected. When we were recording When All Else Fails, which was my first album, their were things that happened in the studio to try to keep our harmonies and weirdness in check. We definitely felt that a certain Bracket sound was expected by the label. So when we got the OK to record Requiem ourselves, we decided it was time to do what we wanted to do, and hope people could accept it. Fat Wreck Chords didn’t – whether it was the lack of many straight forward pop-punk songs, too many harmonies, or the fact that it didn’t sound as “slick” as something recorded with Ryan Greene, Mike called me and told me they voted and were not going to put it out. Takeover released it for us, but after that we decided we’d rather do the whole thing alone. If Requiem was 90% letting go of trying to fit the mold, Hold Your Applause was 99%. Gotta leave a little room for whatever we decide we have to do next. Hold Your Applause was about the most we could push the envelope and still call ourselves Bracket, although I’m sure we’ll try to push it again.
On your earlier releases like “E Is For Everything” and “4-Wheel Vibe” you had light-hearted songs about food. In your later releases there aren’t any songs about food. Has Bracket lost its appetite?
Marty: No, we are still hungry. We are just closet eaters now. I think the earlier songs were more light hearted because I was younger and maybe still a little shy and maybe too embarrassed to write songs that were a little more personal or introspective. We all grew up together and we would kinda tease each other when one of us came across as pretentious or artsy. I guess as I matured, I stopped worrying about what others think.
Angelo: Never. We should be way fatter than we are…although we are not tiny. We ate treats most nights we recorded or mixed. Our waist sizes have expanded as our fan base has diminished, yet FAT dropped us. Maybe the next album will have all food songs? I need to talk to Marty about that!”
When Bracket was winding down, Marty, Angelo and Zack participated in a band called The Good Life Crisis. Some of the songs you guys recorded were released on MySpace. Do you have any plans to rework those songs for an official release someday?
Marty: The Good Life Crisis was a fun project. It was really an excuse for us to get together to hangout and play music. We picked up instruments that we were not very comfortable with and learned to play them. We wrote a lot of songs but, only a few of them were finished. The Myspace recording was just us huddled around a microphone playing live. It was refreshing to record that way after recording Requiem. We have talked about doing an official recording and release of those songs but I don’t know when that will be. It will happen at some point. We have also talked about doing some solo projects too. We will see what happens.
Angelo: Mandy Lynn and Not a Pear were GLC songs. The next thing we’re working on has a thing or two from our GLC “set list.” As for the other songs, I would like to record them as The Good Life Crisis at some point. I think it would be fun, and I like the songs we did. There are many that no one ever heard.
What song are you most proud of on “Hold Your Applause” and why?
Marty: I am probably most proud of “She’s My Eraser”. It’s a love song for my wife. I like the harmonies a lot. I also like Angelo’s song Mandy Lynn a lot. My Phantom Limb came out nice too. Zack wrote the lyrics for that one. Hold your Applause is probably the most collaborative album we have recorded since “924 Forestville St.” I like the diversity of it. We wanted to make an album that challenged the listeners. Catchy and easily accessible songs are always great at first but, they get stale after a while. At least they do for me.
Angelo: Ooooh that’s a hard one. Can I have a few answers, each with it’s own reason? Of course I can, this is an e-mail. You can’t stop me! A Striking Disappearance, because I just remember how much time we put into those verse harmonies – they were tricky! And all the Smile-like instrumentation was fun. I love the way that song turned out, and I love that it’s 5 minutes long. It’s pissing some people off though. Also, Marty didn’t think it was one of the strongest melodies, but I always loved it. Wrong (What am I Doing?), because it cracks me up almost every time I hear it. It’s so out of place and noisy, but I love it. Those are actual 4 part harmonies “Wrong what am doing wrong!”. And The Light, because it’s one of the songs that I wrote, and I really like the bridge and the way the whole song turned out. I can hear every song and remember all the hours spent making it, drinking coffee and getting loopy at 1am, knowing we should stop and I should go home and go to bed. I really am proud of the whole thing, can you tell?
What’s next for the band?
Marty: Since touring is out of the picture for us, we have started recording another album. We vowed to not let another eight years pass before we finish an album. Most of the music is recorded and now we are about to start vocals. There is something different about this album. We have sworn each other to secrecy though. We want to keep the details about it a surprise. It is an ambitious album and will probably be a career killer. But we have been killing our career since day one, so that is nothing new.
Angelo: We started another album during the making of this one, somehow. And it’s even longer than HYA! We’re pretty much done with bass, guitars, and drums. Just a lot of vocals and other things, so it’ll be a while. But not 8 years! And after that…who knows? As long as Marty’s wife lets us keep the equipment in the living room, we’ll make music somehow. I have a little setup in my bedroom, so I’ll be working on new ideas too. Plus now we have a food themed album to write for Lauren Mills now 🙂