Brady Brock is sensitive. As we sit, cooped up in a tiny room off the Knitting Factory’s lower level performance area, his mind is in a thousand places — what his cello player is doing, how the soundcheck will be, whether the performer preceding him will be able to manage her set with a broken guitar. There’s only one chair in the room, and he lets me have it. And he’s concerned about my tape recorder, so he gets down low to be nearer to it, crouching on the grungy carpeting like a beggar. Seemingly, he’s thinking about everything in the world but himself.
To listen to his music — most recently offered on Warm American Sweater, released on Feel/In Music We Trust Records this past March — such sensitivity, in this and another way, shines through. On the one hand, the songs are pondering, heavy, and emotionally rich — tales spun of the damage wreaked by failed relationships and broken hearts. But to take the music as simple autobiography would be too easy. “The songs aren’t necessarily about my own situation,” he says, “they’re a lot about my friends and what they’re going through.” Through his music, Brady Brock wants to give back — which might help explain why, both recorded and in person, it feels as if you’ve known him for ages.
The 25-year-old, who moved from Pasadena, Texas to New York seven years ago, started his solo musical career virtually by accident. In college, “friends would give me little glimpses of their lives and, a lot of times, their problems revolved around relationships and how you deal with other people.” Inspired to put their experiences in perspective, he would pen songs and record them. “They were almost like gifts for people,” he says. “It wasn’t until we were done that we were like ‘oh, this is kind of a record.'” That record, I Will Live In You Where Your Heart Used to Be, was released in March of 2002 on Brock’s own Feel Records, the label he started at the same time. And, to his surprise, people liked it. “It was kind of shocking because it wasn’t supposed to be for public consumption,” he says. But the honest emotion, believability, and warmth drew people to the record instinctually, and it garnered favorable reviews all over the music press.
The new album, Warm American Sweater is no accident; in many ways, it is leagues more deliberate. The songs are fuller and more lush, featuring appearances by Thom Monahan from Pernice Brothers, Patrick Berkery from the Bigger Lovers, and Brian McTear (Bitter, Bitter Weeks), among others. The palette of feelings is more complicated — songs are bleak but also hopeful, melodically bright while lyrically melancholy or angry. These touches are what set Brock apart from the leagues of “guys with guitars” that are often lumped together in the category “singer/songwriter.” “I just think there’s so much more to acoustic based music than people allow,” he says. In the spirit of Brendan Benson or Elliot Smith (Brock recently finished a few live dates with the latter), his songwriting leans more toward pop than it does folk — but it aims to deliver pop honestly.
Despite these lavish arrangements on Warm, Brock’s current tour set up consists of himself and Erin Hall, the album’s cellist, playing pared down versions of the songs. Live, this befits the intimate ambiance created by his music to begin with. “Every show I’ve ever played it’s been like I’ve invited a lot of people into my living room,” he says, “almost like you’re inviting people into your house and telling them your secrets.” The night I meet him, this is certainly the case. The room he’s playing is small and boxy, mismatched seats scattered haphazardly. When Brock takes the stage, it is after 11; the small crowd has thinned somewhat to no doubt catch work night snoozes. He’s perched on not so much a stage as a platform; he’s humbly sitting, dressed modestly, cracking jokes casually. There’s hardly anything rock and roll about it, but this is as it should be. “We don’t want to be stupid and play to crowds who don’t want to see us and who are there to see a rock show, because we’re certainly not going to rock,” Brock says. “We’re really concerned with people who are actually listening to music because they really like music, and they’re not associating with what’s cool and hip, because we could care less about that.”
Brady Brock is sensitive, but he is more than this. He is trying to create something realistic and inspired, something tender and observant, something considerate and dedicated. He is trying to capture what it’s like to be young and in love, what it’s like to hurt and hurt others and see the ones you care about get hurt; what it’s like to go through something hard but wake up the next day anyway, and be stronger for it. Brady Brock is just trying to be honest. And he’s doing it for himself, and for you.