Braid’s Todd Bell
With the band set to take the Turner Hall stage this Friday, TCD sits down with bassist Todd Bell to talk about their classic album, Frame & Canvas.
In the mid to late ’90s, Champaign, Ill. quartet Braid were at the forefront of the indie rock subgenre then known as emo. After relentless touring and a slew of albums and 7″s, the band released their crowning achievement in 1998, Frame & Canvas. A year later, Braid disbanded, and over the next decade, Frame & Canvas became a cult classic alongside releases from American Football and The Promise Ring. A brief reunion happened in 2004, and in 2011, Braid became active once again, releasing the Closer to Closed EP in August of that year. Currently at work on a new full-length, Braid will be performing Frame & Canvas in its entirety at Turner Hall Ballroom this Friday. Sahan Jayasuriya talked with bassist Todd Bell about the album’s history, its legacy and some of his favorite releases of 2012.
TB: No sir. We were just looking to get the songs on tape, we had no idea it would be our swan song (and it won’t stay that way for long – we are looking to record a full length next year). Braid has always been pretty prolific and matter of fact about songwriting. Get in a room and write it. Play it out. Record it. Tour on it. Keep writing more. Get it out somehow. So we were just doing those motions as most bands do.
SJ: It’s been 14 years since its release – why do you think that the album has so much staying power?
TB: I don’t know – we kind of were just hitting our stride at that point song-wise and really working well together. I always felt like what we were doing was a little forward, not that we were overtly doing anything new, but that we were not afraid to take risks and do something weird while stealing from our friends bands and wearing our influences. Listen to our earlier stuff – it’s kind of all over the place. I listen to some of that stuff and think that there is no way I’d write a part like that now, but it kind of works for where we were.
The fact that it was recorded and mixed in five days, in the middle of a tour no less, adds to the urgency of it – combined with our frustration of working so hard for so little – I think you can hear that in there. This is far from the best recording strategy but it’s kind of how we were moving at the time, very fast. Get it done, move on, it is what it is. It’s nice people still listen to it and enjoy it. It’s an important record for us as a group of friends and a good snapshot of where we were at the time.
SJ: The album was definitely the most mature thing that you guys did up until that point. What were some contributing factors to the album’s overall improvement upon the Braid sound?
We spent a lot of time in the van together and most of us lived together. Most of the F&C songs were hashed out on tour. We were finally beginning to hold on to songs for a new proper full-length and stopped giving away every song to a compilation or other promise before we actually finished writing it. It was just a good era for us writing-wise, though going on to the studio we were still arranging a few songs. We finished those on tour right before we got to Inner Ear. Our song writing hadn’t really changed much, but we were being hardened by playing shows and being on the road constantly. We were pretty tight because of it.
Getting into a real studio was a huge factor and really stepping up to impress J. [Robbins, Frame & Canvas producer] added to the quality of work. It’s pretty cohesive because the songs were all pretty much written at the same time in succession on the heels of [former drummer] Roy [Ewing] leaving the band and [current drummer] Damon [Atkinson] stepping in. Damon was a factor for sure. Having fresh blood in the band gives you energy. Damon is a great guy with a good attitude who was and is an incredible drummer who helped fuel what we were doing and added to the drive behind that record. We would’ve never recorded F&C if Damon had not entered the band. We would have broke up long before.
SJ: I know you’re definitely the historian of the group – the guy to go to when you wanna know when or where a show was or who you played with. Any cool stories from the writing or recording of the album? How long was the entire session?
Bob [Nanna, Braid singer and guitarist] is the list maker and pack rat. I’m the archiver of set lists, flyers and vinyl pressings, etc. We all have our share of nerd music tendencies and Chris and Damon both have a lot they’ve saved too. Can’t think of any crazy stories specifically. But this was a time on our lives where we were doing the band as Priority One. Not fucking around with it as something you do in addition to your job or other responsibility. Just going for it. We all had crappy jobs to pay rent but the band was number one. It’s definitely different now, but equally exciting.
As far as the record goes, it was recorded and mixed in five days. That includes loading in and out and getting sounds. There was no Auto-Tune – we were recording live to two-inch analog tape, then doing a few guitar overdubs as time allowed and vocals. No computers or Pro Tools. Few frills and little embellishments. I wish we could’ve had more time, but if we did it might not have turned out the way it did.
SJ: What are some of your favorite tracks from the album? Are there any songs that ended up getting cut?
TB: We’ve always played a good number of these in our set, so I have a soft spot for all of them. “Never Will Come for Us” is a favorite of mine – it’s fun and easy to play and I love the dynamics and heaviness of it. I also how Damon and I lock in at the verse, then the guitars that were at first floating around all come together and lock in with what we are doing. I like “Ariel” and “I Keep a Diary”, too. As for cuts, nothing got cut. We recorded everything we had. And wrote and tweaked the songs up until the day we were in the studio.
SJ: Any plans for a deluxe reissue anytime soon?
TB: Not really. We considered a remaster then decided against it. The record is what it is and we did not want to ruin that for anybody. We may do a limited edition anniversary colored vinyl re-issue at some point, but other than that, it is unlikely as it stays in print on CD and LP. For the nerds like me who need to know, the first vinyl pressing was standard black, then we did a blue press of about 600 as a second pressing in 1999 to use up the rest of the jackets we had left. The record will stay in print on black 180 gram vinyl forever hopefully for those that want it on that format.
SJ: Knowing that you’re a huge consumer of music, I gotta know: What are some of your favorite records of 2012?
Newer records by Helio Sequence, Metz, White Lung, Wild Nothing, Stagnant Pools, and The Sea and Cake are current faves. There is a lot I’ve picked up recently that I have not had much time to listen to that could be contenders though: Forgetters, Two Door Cinema Club, Divine Fits. Records from last year that are still in rotation that I love include Middle Brother, The Drums, and the last Ryan Adams LP.
Braid will be performing their album Frame & Canvas in its entirety this Friday at Turner Hall Ballroom. Tickets are still available and can be purchased here. Follow Sahan Jayasuriya on Twitter and Instagram.