Musician Interview with
Name: Chris Brokaw
Bands: Lemonheads, New Year, Martha’s Vineyard Ferries, Wrekmeister Harmonies
QRD – What’s a myth about touring you wish people knew wasn’t true?
Chris – That it’s this big fancy rock star world. For most people I know it’s very different from that.
QRD – How many shows do you do a year & how many would you like to?
Chris – I average about 100 shows a year & that feels right to me.
QRD – How many shows does it take before you are in a real groove?
Chris – Sometimes I’m in the groove from the first show onwards. I think most bands sound better as they tour; by the end they might be really tired, but they sound amazing & the interplay is great, usually unconsciously so.
QRD – What’s your preferred length of tour?
Chris – 2-3 weeks.
QRD – Do you use a booking agent or book things yourself & what are the advantages of each?
Chris – I use agents, & vastly prefer this. Sometimes I book tours myself & it can be okay, but I much prefer having an expert do it.
QRD – With so many venues no longer having an in house promoter & promotions relying so much more on the band themselves how do you get the word out to cities you’ve never been to before or rarely go to?
Chris – Again, I like to think that other people are better at that than me. I’m terrible with social media.
QRD – How do you think the festival circuit has effected touring & do you enjoy playing festivals?
Chris – I like playing festivals & wish I did it more. I don’t like attending them, but I enjoy playing/participating in them.
QRD – How do your songs change for your live show?
Chris – In all kinds of ways. Some remain pretty consistent. In general they don’t change a lot from night to night.
QRD – Do you keep notes on how to play your songs?
Chris – No.
QRD – How often do you have line-up changes & how do they effect the band?
Chris – Three of the bands I’m in have lineups that change a bit. It’s both challenging & interesting. People showing up knowing the songs 100% goes a long way with me.
QRD – How do band practices differ from live shows?
Chris – Entirely.
QRD – When you hear your live recordings are you generally critical or satisfied?
Chris – I hate listening to my solo shows. I like listening to live band recordings.
QRD – Do you think of recorded versions or live versions of your songs as definitive?
Chris – They’re equally definitive & often inform one another, i.e. the complete picture is formed by the two.
QRD – Is there a song in your catalog you wish you never had to play again &/or one you wouldn’t mind playing every night?
Chris – No.
QRD – What do you do to stay interested in your set each night?
Chris – Try to stay in the song. Try to make each show a little different somehow. Try to pay attention to where I am & what’s happening.
QRD – Do you do the same set every night on a tour?
Chris – Some tours. Some tours I deliberately mix it up every night, but in the last few years I’ve done tours where I did the same set every night. Like on each tour I had a specific agenda.
QRD – How does the audience effect what or how you play on a given night?
Chris – A lot. Sometimes I’ll tailor a set to what I think the audience is or what the acoustics of the room are like.
QRD – Do you take new songs on the road or stick with released material?
Chris – Both.
QRD – Do you throw in cover songs & how do you select them?
Chris – I do & it’s totally intuitive, whatever I’m compelled to play. Some covers only last one night, some I do for years.
QRD – How do you deal with bad stage sound & bad sound guys?
Chris – Ii try not to care. I usually don’t care much at this point. It’s useless to get angry about it. I try to be friendly with jerks. It often works.
QRD – What do you do when equipment malfunctions on stage?
Chris – Whatever I have to do to continue. If everything breaks & I have to do an a cappella set, so be it.
QRD – What have you learned to do to get better sound regardless of the venue?
Chris – Play quietly.
QRD – What’s something you hate seeing other bands do?
Chris – Give up when something breaks.
QRD – What’s the best compliment/worst insult you’ve gotten after a show?
Chris – “Your music really helped me.”
QRD – Do you prefer playing with another touring band or just locals?
Chris – Both, if the local booker has good taste.
QRD – Do you try to listen to the local opening bands on tour?
Chris – As much as possible.
QRD – What makes you like a particular city?
Chris – Everything! Good shows, good venue, good hotel, good food, cool places to hang out & shop, etc. etc….
QRD – What makes you like a particular venue?
Chris – Good sound, good vibe, good shows, nice people.
QRD – What do you have for merch?
Chris – Records, CDs, tapes. Sometimes t-shirts.
QRD – Do you try to have any specialized merch for live shows?
Chris – Sometimes I’ll make something specifically for a tour (but usually end up selling it online too, etc.).
QRD – What’s a merch item you think about selling but haven’t yet?
Chris – Hoodies.
QRD – Besides band members, how many people do you bring on tour & what are their duties?
Chris – Nobody. Maybe a driver? Who drives?
QRD – When you’re on tour, does someone take a father figure role of responsibility?
Chris – I guess me!
QRD – What do you do to keep your instruments & personal belongings from being stolen?
Chris – Keep them with me at all times.
QRD – Do you rent a vehicle or take out your own?
Chris – Both.
QRD – What’s the worst car breakdown you’ve had on tour?
Chris – Come’s van breaking down in 1994 & missing our Paris show with Throwing Muses. Huge bummer.
QRD – What’s your ideal touring vehicle?
Chris – Tour bus. I love tour bus touring!
QRD – What plays on the radio as you drive?
Chris – Whatever the driver wants. I like Grace Jones first thing in the morning, especially if it’s raining.
QRD – How do you occupy time in the van?
Chris – Sleep/talk/call people on the phone.
QRD – What’s your main activity to occupy your downtime when not in the van?
Chris – Keep in touch with my wife. Walk around. Do business online.
QRD – How do you try to find places to eat on the road?
Chris – Ask around for suggestions.
QRD – What’s your in a pinch fast food meal?
Chris – In/Out Burger.
QRD – Do you try to make any meals for yourself on the road?
Chris – As much as possible. It’s really great to stay with friends & cook.
QRD – How many days does it take before your body is in sync with the touring lifestyle?
Chris – 2 days.
QRD – Do you prefer to stay at people’s houses or hotels & what are the advantages & disadvantages to each?
Chris – I love staying with friends. I also like staying in nice hotels. Staying alone in grim hotels... can be very grim.
QRD – Do you have separate clothes for onstage than daywear?
Chris – Sometimes! I usually change my shoes. Sort of a ritual for me.
QRD – How many changes of clothes do you take on tour?
Chris – Too many, usually.
QRD – How often do you do laundry on tour?
Chris – Not enough
QRD – How often do you try to bathe & how do you schedule in everyone getting bathed?
Chris – I try for every day.
QRD – What do you do when a band member has totally different ideas about hygiene?
Chris – Tell them they STINK.
QRD – How often do you try to schedule a day off?
Chris – Not enough.
QRD – Any tips for not getting sick on the road?
Chris –Emergen-C & lots of Odwalla drinks
QRD – Do you have a set drinking policy (none before performing or a nightly total)?
Chris – I don’t drink.
QRD – What’s a lesson from touring you keep forgetting & re-learning?
Chris – Schedule more days off.
QRD – What do you do the week before tour to get ready?
Chris – Practice!
QRD – How long does it take to convert back to day-to-day life?
Chris – Weeks. Years.
QRD – How do you test for personality conflicts between band members before touring?
Chris – You can’t. Everyone is different out there.
QRD – How has touring effected how you feel about playing in your hometown?
Chris – It’s made it less important.
QRD – How do you feel about fans putting live cell phone videos up on YouTube?
Chris – Fine with me.
QRD – Do you see touring as mainly a promotional tool for your new albums?
Chris – It’s that, but it’s mostly the act of playing, in a room, for people. That whole thing is important unto itself. Crucial, essential.
QRD – Do you try to practice as a band while on the road or just stick to the performances?
Chris – Sometimes we’ll work on new tunes at soundcheck.
QRD – Do you have time to practice your instrument while on the road?
Chris – Yes, & that’s often when/where I get new song ideas.
QRD – Does your time with your instrument go up or down on the road compared to normal?
Chris – Probably up.
QRD – Do you try to hit museums or any touristy things while you travel?
Chris – Yes, as much as possible.
QRD – Do you try to get any rudimentary grasp of a language before touring in a foreign country?
Chris – Some of them. Sometimes it’s just too many countries.
QRD – Do you have any pre-stage rituals before each set?
Chris – Play guitar for at least ten minutes. The Lemonheads clasp fingers & scream.
QRD – Does “what happens on tour, stays on tour” apply for you?
Chris – No.
QRD – Have you ever or would you like to do a bus/train/mass transit tour?
Chris – I do it all the time!
QRD – What are your favorite & least favorite seasons to tour?
Chris – I don’t like to miss holidays.
QRD – If money were no object, how many months a year would you spend on the road?
Chris – About the same. I really like going there & playing, seeing friends, etc.
QRD – What would make you start touring more or start touring less?
Chris – If the money from touring suddenly became gigantic I’d do it more.
QRD – What’s something that would cause you to cut a tour short?
Chris – Death in the family.
QRD – What could happen to make you stop touring?
Chris – If my family really needed me at home I’d figure something else out.
QRD – What’s something about life in general that you’ve learned from touring?
Chris – It’s an amazing, crazy, fascinating world out there. Really exciting & interesting.
QRD – Anything else?
Chris – I still really love doing this. It’s not for everyone, but it suits me. I think it becomes addictive, too.