|The Broken West: (from left) drummer Rob McCorkindale, former full-time band member Scott Claassen, lead vocalist Ross Flournoy , guitarist Dan Iead , and bassist Brian Whelan. (aaron farley)|
Love of LA powers the pop of the Broken West's debut
More than 30 years ago, Big Star singer-guitarist Alex Chilton was asked whether, during an age of rock behemoths like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, his band's brand of melody-driven power pop was anachronistic. Three decades later, in an age of Radiohead and Coldplay , Broken West singer and guitarist Ross Flournoy -- who grew up addicted to Big Star , Teenage Fanclub , and the Beatles -- is confronted with similar questions about relevance.
"I don't think there's been a single review that hasn't mentioned the phrase 'power pop' in the first sentence or two," Flournoy says over the phone from LA's Silver Lake neighborhood, as he prepares for a two-month tour in support of the Broken West's debut album, "I Can't Go On, I'll Go On," out now on Merge Records. (The band is at T.T. the Bear's Place Wednesday and returns March 29 with a show at Great Scott.) "I have such a weird reaction to it, because part of me thinks that's exactly what we do, and part of me bristles because there's this notion that power pop is the kiss of death. It's a term that's so loaded with bad implications that when it gets applied to a band it's not always the best thing. For me, power pop connotes guys in skinny ties, and we couldn't be further from that aesthetically."
Indeed, the Broken West is much closer in sound and style to Flournoy's hook-happy, harmonizing heroes than skinny-tie New Wavers like the Knack or the Shoes . (To hear for yourself, go to myspace.com/thebrokenwest .) But its classic-minded pop approach also has little to do with bands du jour and labelmates such as Spoon and the Arcade Fire . "We're resolutely untrendy," says Flournoy. As with the songs of West Coast contemporaries the Thrills or Long Winters , mellow echoes of the sun-dappled, early '70s Laurel Canyon country-rock scene reverberate through tracks such as "Down in the Valley " and "You Can Build an Island ." Much as the grit and character of New York City or London profoundly informed and influenced the punk aesthetic, the climate and geography of Los Angeles have always occupied a special place, however mythic or romanticized, in the collective pop psyche.
"For us, writing about the West Coast -- and Los Angeles specifically, in terms of our imagination -- comes down to the terrain and the open space and the weather and the mountains," says Flournoy, 27, who was born in Memphis and moved with his family to Santa Barbara , Calif., when he was 11. (He also spent time in Massachusetts's Pioneer Valley as an Amherst College student.) "Obviously, it's got tons of problems and things about it that really rankle just about everyone else in the country -- whether it's the noise and traffic and smog or what people perceive as a cultural vacuum here. But Los Angeles as the entertainment capital of the world really holds no interest for us. We don't really see that part -- it's more about the mountains and the hills."
Although the other three members of the Broken West -- guitarist Dan Iead ; bassist Brian Whelan; and drummer Rob McCorkindale -- are all transplants to LA (Iead's originally from Branford, Conn.), a mutual love of the SoCal landscape, and mutual friends, brought the band together as the Brokedown in 2004. The band faced a setback when it had to change its name last year because a Chicago band was already using a similar handle. But Flournoy looks on the bright side. It could have been worse, he says, if the band's record label had already pressed up tens of thousands of retail copies of the new CD with the discarded name on the cover. The band did release an earlier EP, "The Dutchman's Gold," under its old moniker.
"I think it was toughest emotionally for us," he allows. "Logistically, it couldn't have happened at a better time. If that issue had bubbled up a week or a month ago, it would have been a nightmarish situation. Fortunately, it happened before people really knew who we were."
BITS & PIECES. Tonight Elephantine Records holds its first birthday bash at the Middle East Upstairs with 18 Wheels of Justice , the Forlorn Hope, and more. The Vital Might is at the Paradise Lounge. The Essex Green is at T.T. the Bear's Place. The Tampoffs are at the Abbey Lounge. Tomorrow The Revolutionary Snake Ensemble is at Johnny D's with the Chandler Travis Philharmonic . Roadsaw is at Great Scott. The Stumbleweeds are at the Plough & Stars. The Swinedells are at the Abbey Lounge. Superpower, Monolith, and Disaster Strikes bring the heavy metal thunder to the Milky Way. Sunday Bark Haze (featuring Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Gown's Andrew McGregor) is at P.A.'s Lounge. Monday Lori McKenna is at the Paradise Lounge. Tuesday Gomez and Ben Kweller are at Avalon. The Red Invasion is at T.T. the Bear's. Wednesday The Beatings' Eldridge Rodriguez celebrates the release of his new CD, "This Conspiracy Against Us," at Great Scott. The Dennis Brennan Band is at the Lizard Lounge. Thursday Session Americana hosts the first of a two-night stand at the Lizard Lounge to celebrate its new CD, "Beer Town: The Tabletop Collective Vol. 3."