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Interview with Todd Tobias from Brother Earth

Posted on the 22 September 2014 by Tomatrax @TomatraxAU

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Brother Earth is the collaboration of The Library is On Fire front man Steve Five and Circus Devils’ Todd Tobias. Brother Earth began recording in 2008 and this their debut album featured a collection of their tracks over the past 5 years. Tomatrax caught up with Todd to discuss the bands debut release!

How did the band form?
Steve brought his band The Library Is On Fire to record an album with me as producer in 2007 – this was before Steve relocated to Brooklyn. We’re both from Ohio, where I still live. Steve was a fan of my band Circus Devils (with Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices). At that time Steve was starting to make music videos for his band and offered to collaborate with me on some Circus Devils videos. That’s how our friendship started. From there we decided to collaborate on some music of our own. The first stuff we did was recorded in 2008.

Where did the name Brother Earth come from?
Steve came up with that name. It’s meant to evoke the atmosphere of forests and elemental landscapes. We’re not Wiccan or anything. But it’s fun to be mysterious.

The album covers songs over 5 years, was it intentional to put together an album that spanned a long period?
We had been putting our songs up on bandcamp and a few other places, but it stayed under the radar. I think something like 5 people downloaded our songs during all that time. Maybe less. I auditioned this collection of songs (‘Positive Haywires’) to the Australian label Hidden Shoal, where I’m putting out my instrumental albums. Cam Merton at Hidden Shoal liked it and signed us to the label. So no, it was not intentional to wait 5 years to release an album. It just happened that way. And we were both busy in the meantime with our other bands.

What’s it like to have the album finished?
It’s a big relief to finally have a proper release for Brother Earth. It makes the band seem less like a secret.

There is a wide variety of styles covered in the album, did you have any ideas on where the album was going when you started?
No. The way we write is, first I come up with a music bed, and then Steve writes his melodies and lyrics. Steve gets to choose from a batch of music that I audition to him, so he picks what jumps out at him. It’s a fun way to write because neither of us knows exactly what the songs will be like when we start. It makes every song an experiment. There’s no real thought given to musical styles. That’s probably why it’s all over the place.

Half of the songs are under 2 minutes long. Were you aiming at keeping your songs short?
That’s my fault. I always assume people will get tired of a song at around the 2 minute mark. Maybe I should get over that.

What was the inspiration behind the video for Planet Wednesday?
Steve wanted the video to look like a painting from the artist Caspar David Friedrich, with a purple twilight atmosphere and old ruins and trees. I wasn’t familiar with that artist so I had to google some picture files and then search for public domain video clips that had a similar ambience. Then I superimposed Steve’s face over the montage of imagery.

You’re about to put out a solo album, how does making a solo album compare to working in a band?
My album (‘Impossible Cities’) comes out on October 28th. The writing process is not much different because I’m still focused squarely on music and not on lyrics or melodies. But I’m much less confident about my own music without the help of a vocalist who can bring it to life. I’m trying to capture a mood or evoke an atmosphere, but I’m never sure if it will translate to the listener.

You’ve also produced a number of albums, how does producing an album compare to writing one?
I got to perform on a lot of the albums I produced, so I feel a part of the music. But doing my own projects is a deeper process naturally because I’m trying to achieve something of my own. There’s always more second-guessing going on when it’s all on me to come up with something interesting. If I’m working with someone who is confident about their material, then I don’t have to think about the inherent worthiness of the songs. I get to focus squarely on the music and try to give the songs what they want instead of worrying about what it means to me personally.

Do you ever listen to your own music?
Only during the process of assembling an album. After it’s all done I’m ready to move on to the next thing. I don’t listen to older albums I’ve done. But I’m curious to know what people think of them.

What music do you listen to?
I’m stuck in the past I guess. With rock it’s mostly stuff from the 70s or earlier. Around the house I listen to classical and soundtracks, and early ambient stuff from the 70s and 80s from people like Brian Eno, Harold Budd and Jon Hassell.

What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I’ll be working on a Robert Pollard solo album, and then start on my next instrumental album, and hopefully some music for a new Brother Earth album.

Check out Brother Earth’s Facebook page or their website to find out more!


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