By Alison Richter
An interesting and unique blend of rock, punk and a hint of Brit pop, Seattle band Branden Daniel & The Chics is singer/guitarist/songwriter Branden Daniel, baritone guitarist Aaron Schroeder and drummer Matt Winter.
Keep Em Flying, their new album and first as a group, was released May 8. Its lead track, “All Things Chic,” was featured on Season 3 of MTV’s Jersey Shore, Beavis & Butthead and VH1’s reality series X-Life. The song “Mor Yay” was highlighted on EA Sports' Need For Speed game this year on an episode of the CW show Hart of Dixie. (The video also features Daniel’s 5-year-old son, Hayes, stealing the show on drums.)
The band just played West Seattle's Summerfest, and the song "Missionary" was featured on Little Steven's Underground Garage as his "Cool Track of the Week" on Sirius XM radio.
Daniel’s last release was his 2008 EP, Everybody Gets Laid, which was named after his band at the time. Four years later, he has taken a different road with different musicians, and the efforts are clearly paying off. Branden Daniel & The Chics are working the road and working it hard, with more tour dates this fall. During some rare down time, he talked about the new album, the new lineup and how this project came together.
GUITAR WORLD: This is your first full album after a successful EP in 2008. You built the band name and then changed the name. Does it matter when it’s your name up front or is there a rebuild?
There was some retooling and changing direction. I’ve been doing Branden Daniel since I was about 19. Going through all these different bands from a young age, and watching other bands, I realized that if you need to leave, or your band members need to leave, the problem you run into is having to change the name. That’s the reason I started to do Branden Daniel — so I could keep playing the stuff I had from the past that I really enjoyed. My EP was much harder rock, much bluesier, much grungier, it was just a different sound, so when I wanted to evolve this way, adding Aaron on baritone guitar, we decided, “Let’s change the name” and embrace the change in sound.
Tell us about your new band members.
Matt joined me in 2008 around the release of the Everybody Gets Laid record. My band had kind of dissolved. It was a three-piece that I recorded the EP with, and when Matt came along, I just wanted to do a two-piece. Matt and I went on a semi-national tour and we were pretty well-bonded by the end of that. When we got done, our friend Aaron, who was a recording engineer, said, “Come into the studio and let me record some demos pro bono.” We loved doing that and hanging out with him. He started playing bass and he was really good, really quick, and picked things up as soon as he heard them.
The next thing, he was, “Come on, let me be in the band.” I had my reservations because he’s such a fun guy to party with, and that can be dangerous — and it still is — but we said, “Of course we have to give this a shot.” I don’t regret it. They’re the best band I’ve ever worked with, by far. Aaron records all of our material in demos, but it��s almost completely studio quality. We have a studio downtown that he works out of, and it couldn’t be easier. Not only is he a great bass player, backup vocalist and musical mind, but he also has the skills to record us well, so it’s a big treat. Matt is a great drummer and he tries his hardest, by our manager’s direction, to think not just as a drummer but also as a musician, which is important for drummers because they tend to think about what would be fun for them to play and not what needs to be done. He thinks about what the song needs, so it’s a treat.
Why the name change from Branden Daniel & Everybody Gets Laid to Branden Daniel & The Chics? To reflect the new personnel? Because not everybody gets laid?
A little bit of both. Everybody Gets Laid is such a fun idea, but it gets misinterpreted pretty heavily. When we did that tour, we learned that really quick — “My god, the only people who like this name are assholes! We need to get away from it when we get home!” So that was the first reason. The second reason was the change in sound, a new record and wanting to have a fresh start with our debut album. The people who reacted to it weren’t even going to come in to see the show. They’re the people you meet on the street — “Oh man, that’s rad!” OK … . It’s like, our latest campaign was “Chic Shit,” and of course I heard “chick shit.” I heard “chickenshit” once and I thought, Chickenshit? Where did they get … OK, I guess. It’s a lot more than I ever expected out of that.
Had the groove already begun in the studio with Matt and Aaron, or did you have to rebuild that again too?
You put it really well. It was rebuilding, but it was so natural at the same time, I think because we were so bonded as friends. And there’s chemistry. I play better with these guys than I ever have with anyone. When Matt walked in the door to audition, I saw him and I was like, "That’s my guy. That’s my next drummer." He had a really good tryout, I narrowed it down to two, he came back for a second tryout and I expected it be even better, but he totally bombed. I was like, Damn, that sucked. I wanted to get it over with so quick, so I had the painful call to make the next week to tell him, “Thanks anyway.”
He was gracious about it and he called me back a day later and left me a message. I didn’t answer because I didn’t want to talk to this guy I just turned down. I didn’t want to have a second conversation about it. But he left a very convincing message, well thought out, saying, “Give me a shot.” We were back in the studio rehearsing for his third tryout and I knew it was a very natural fit. He’s grown a lot as a player since then.
Aaron was so blink-of–an-eye quick that it was a completely natural situation. These things just don’t happen every day between musicians. I’m sort of introverted as a musician. I’m a gregarious person, but I “don’t play well with others,” and it’s not because of lack of trying. It’s just that I’m not very interested anymore. When I find a good band member, it’s special and unique, like a best friend. We all had that family chemistry and just played together so well from the get-go that it all seemed right, and recording this album I learned that it was right.
There was a build to it, but like every band I’ve ever had under the Branden Daniel so-called project, I always get them out there and perform live a lot before the studio. We went on a West Coast tour to Los Angeles just to prove to our producer, Bruce Duff, that we were good live, so we were really well rehearsed by the time we got to recording. We laid it all down in three days. We had a pretty intense schedule. The rest of the days we were down there were overdubs on vocals and stuff. When we got around to recording the two ballads [“Feel Real” and “Not Like Anything”], which we did with Tom Biller, who remixed and mastered the record, that’s when I really saw the artistry in Aaron and Matt come out, because they participated in the music firsthand and that’s something you don’t see all the time. When you write all the songs, you don’t see that level of interest and participation, but they really give it and it shows.
— Alison Richter
Alison Richter interviews artists, producers, engineers and other music industry professionals for print and online publications. Read more of her interviews right here.