Rob Bravery is so chilled out – which is surprising considering he’s just about to release his first EP on a major label – You Take Half EP is due out this Friday (October 7th) via Sony Music. And, after his recent chat to Vulture Hound, he’s also become our elected ‘voice of the disillusioned thirty year old’ – partly because we thought it sounded good but also thanks to his atmospheric, bleak and totally relatable lyrical themes.
The first cut from his latest EP – the title track ‘You Take Half’ – channels Portishead and Massive Attack in its pulsing and damn right spine tingling arrangements. Chuck in Bravery’s ethereal and soulful vocal performance and you’ve got one of 2016’s best hidden gems – although we do hope it doesn’t stay hidden for too much longer.
So your recent video for the track ‘You Take Half’ looks absolutely exhausting, was that your idea?
It was actually yeah! We had this idea – me and Jackson Ducasse (director) – we had this idea that we wanted to recreate something in the Orwell, 1984 style torture environment. But I’m not sure when people watch it that actually comes out entirely tortuous or not.
We’ll you look like you’re struggling in parts of it! So is that your idea of Room 101 – being stuck on a treadmill?
(Laughs) Yeah I think so. We liked the ideas of having these eyes watching you as you’re put under these extreme conditions – which is quite a nice depiction of some of the atrocities you see in the modern world.
I was pleasantly surprised by the opening shots of your footsteps walking in time with the music – because this track has been my ‘walk to work’ song for a while now!
Yeah, as soon as we came up with the idea for a treadmill we thought it would go nicely with the pace of the track, the rolling bass line and kicks and snares.
So for those who missed out on your debut album that came out last year, Esque, can you describe your sound?
It’s tricky really. I’ve shifted on a little bit since doing Esque. That’s album was a collection of songs that I wrote over the course of 3 years, and it was eventually labelled my ‘debut release’, even though there had been something before that (Elusive Crux), so it makes it all a bit tricky to explain!
So you have all these albums out yet none of them are your debut album?
Yeah, it’s like whoever you sign with they go – ‘hey! We’ll re-brand and relaunch this dude!’ (laughs), which is probably a sign of my age I think – it’s starting to get to that point! But some of the tracks on Esque, perhaps 4 or 5 of them, started to suggest a move towards darker, bleak moments. I started moving away from just playing guitars and acoustic instruments, and started adding these dark layers, influenced from what I used to listen to as a kid – Bjork and trip-hop.
But if I had to describe the sound – I don’t know! It’s weird for me to describe it because I perceive music in an almost reductive way, like when I listen to any song I deconstruct it quite swiftly, so it’s not often the sonic elements that I perceive first it’s the actual structure. I guess I just love clever songwriting, people like Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman people like that – people who know how to put a track together. So regardless of what’s happening with sound it’s the actual ‘song’ that I would hear, and that’s what I try to put across as best as possible.
So how do you think your songwriting process has changed between Esque and You Take Half EP?
Well I think the process has changed a little bit, although it’s hard to get out of old habits. I used to not even approach the recording process until I was thoroughly satisfied the song was completely structured and finished. And that’s kind of changed a little bit – it’s taken a lot to get out of those routines – so I’m attempting to do different things every time I go into the process. I guess I just don’t want to keep repeating myself and you do fall into those old routines if you don’t try new things. So now I might start with some atmospheric textures before even committing the idea as a finished article. But I do still try and write at the piano, and I think that still comes across. But it’s fun to try and create a real vibe in the songs, and I think that’s the real difference now. You listen to something I did in 2011, and even though it’s the most complex, weird, classical piece of work ever it just doesn’t really have any atmosphere to it, because we were focusing on these crazy showy structures that the listener doesn’t really feel as engaged with it.
Well I came across Elusive Crux, and because there was little to no reference to it anywhere, at first I wasn’t sure if it was actually you or someone else called Rob Bravery. Mainly because the sound was so different, but as soon as your voice hit I realised yes, that’s you!
Yeah, I am secretly proud of that record, and I would love to remix it one day and re-release it but it’s never going to cut the mustard in the modern day environment because people have grown much more fickle in terms of how they consume music, and people wouldn’t have time to process that amount of information. Now, it has to be a very smooth sounding, clear idea, that’s just vocal and one instrument, very simplistic – not to criticise that kind of music, because I guess I’m going down that road a little bit myself, but there definitely isn’t room for an album like the Elusive Crux – it would just be ignored.
So how hard is it not to fall back into those old habits and focus?
Well I think that’s just come about naturally. I actually like I’ve just reach the end of another little pocket of time and I’m extremely focused. I don’t feel like I need to flip around between genres, demonstrating to the world that I can do all these different things. Now it’s more like there’s been a ‘feeling’ and every time I get into the studio there’s only one type of music that’s coming out of me, and it’s very much like the stuff on the new EP – it’s quite a dark production but it’s extremely cathartic. And it’s come at that time of my life where I’ve just hit my 30’s and I think everyone who hits their 30s suddenly has to take stock of ‘what the hell happened during my 20’s?!’ and go ‘alright, where am I at, what do I have to do?’, and I think that the writing of these tracks has been quite helpful. There must have been about 15 that I’ve written of this particular ilk, and I wish the world could hear them all! But the nature of my record deal with Sony is that you put an EP out and they take a risk with it. What they don’t do is say ‘yeah, we’ll release all your songs, Rob!’, although that’s what I would like (laughs).
Well maybe that’s what’s drawn me to it so much – having experienced (and still experiencing) a turning 30 crisis! The darkness in ‘You Take Half’ just seemed to tick all the right boxes.
Maybe you could be the first to label me as the voice of the disillusioned 30 year old. These discontented, upset guys that are just turning 30!
Rob Bravery – The voice and face of the disillusioned 30 year old.
So after your ‘debut’ album you signed to Sony. How’s the move to a major label been for you? Because the consensus always tends to be that when an indie artist moves to a major label the shackles go on and the independent, creative control is taken away (and obviously be careful what you say!)
(Laughs) yeah, obviously. Well it’s early days but there’s been no problems whatsoever, and that’s not a lie (laughs)! It’s been fine, but it’s the early part of the process where we just work together as a team and built the way we want to present it all. Even though it’s a major label they’ve been fairly lenient with everything really and they’ve just wanted me to be able to put myself across as me. Although I’m sure if I was sat on some huge hits they would be a bit more involved, but as it is I think they’re just taking a punt on me really. In fact the A&R guy I worked with on Esque moved to Sony and he really wanted to take this project to the next level, so that’s how it came about.
So what can we expect from the remaining tracks on the new EP? Will it fulfil that label as the voice of the disillusioned 30 year old?
Yeah, I’m really looking forward to sharing the other songs, and in terms of the music it’s coming from the same place as ‘You Take Half’. The next single in fact is again describing that mind set I’ve had over the past few years and yeah, sonically it’s kind of the same and…I don’t know…that’s a lame answer!
Describing a sound is a hard thing to do!
It is! Also it’s just not something I’m used to doing. I’ve been writing music for so long that I think it’s very much like a cycle I go into and the last thing I ever think about is – why am I doing it? Maybe when you were younger and you write something and you go “oh that was cool, I just did a track!”
Yeah, like – “I just did a thing!”
(Laughs) Yeah a bit of this, I just recorded a bit of that! But these days it’s a weird psychological cycle that you get into and you don’t know why you do it, but it makes you feel something when you do it and yeah…that’s all I can say about it really.
Who would you say were the biggest influences on your music direction when you were growing up?
I would have to say, initially in terms of the melodic approach to it all and the technical side of it, really clever songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman, but also maybe people like Rufus Wainwright came in at a crucial point and something he did stuck with me, on a musical level. And then as I moved on in terms of sonic stuff, not structure or melodic, then it was the dark and cold textures of Radiohead and Portishead. But then the only person I seem to be listening to at this point – which is insane, and there’s a lot of talk about him at the moment because of his new album – is Cass McCombs – I just think he’s a fucking genius. His music gets a bit missed sometimes, and can sound a bit middle of the road, but when you unlock the kind of person he is, his intelligence and the weight behind his music it becomes something I constantly want to hear.
This ‘atmosphere’, although not exclusively owned by Radiohead, does always seem to evoke a Radiohead feeling, and there were moments on Esque, and even on ‘You Take Half’, that taps into that Thom Yorke/Radiohead vibe as well.
Yeah, and that’s a good thing I guess. But it’s tricky because vocally – maybe cause I just grew up listening to certain people and I think Radiohead was just there constantly – there’s no way I can sing without someway emulating that kind of style. It just feels good to sing and visit that place that Radiohead go to. But I do try where possible to put my own individual stamp – and that comes from the life that I’ve led.
So a couple of quick fires Rob, and I think I know what you’re going to say to this first one – favourite album of the year so far?
Yeah, you know that one! Manger Love by Cas McCombs, and I’ve actually recently discovered Chris Cohen – his album.
As If Apart?
Yeah As If Apart! I’m enjoying that a lot. And there are a few other ones but I’ll just leave it at those two!
And what’s your favourite dinosaur?
I don’t know! I can only name about three – Diplodocus, Stegosaurus, T Rex… if there’s any way to translate my ambivalence towards the whole thing in my answer than feel free to write it!
I will do, I’ll make something up.
I’ll come up with the most obscure dinosaur and people everywhere will believe you’re some kind of Dinosaur obsessive.
I will entrust you with my social media presence!
You Take Half EP is out Friday October 7th via Insanity/Sony Music.