TT with HD: Brandon Wiard
[Links to purchase: Ypsisongs Collection
featuring 16 different bands, other Cerberus Records recordings;
and Painting a Burning Building (complete with the bonus
comment mentioned below from Brandon's grandmother about that album.)
Links for more info: on the label Cerberus Records, or Brandon Wiard and the Saviors, or The Ups.]
BW: [Ed. note: picture taking concludes without a flash] ... my wife always insists on the flash.
HD: Because ... why?
BW: I think just so that she gets all the colors that she wants. But I'd rather get in front of an open window and make more of a production of it.
HD: So you like to set up the lighting in a natural kind of way?
BW: Yeah, just more natural light, because every time you hit something with a flash, it just completely blows it out.
HD: Plus, you're wearing glasses and I think I would have had to address that issue with Photoshop post processing to get ...
BW: ... the glare out ...
HD: ... yeah, the glare or the reflection out, so I'm glad we didn't use the flash. Well, I wanted to get right to this Ypsisongs compilation. How many of these things are left? You only made 500, is that right?
BW: Yeah, there's still three-hundred and, probably three-hundred and sixty left.
HD: So plenty left. You'd think they'd make an ideal Christmas gift, for anybody from Ypsilanti to give to somebody who doesn't live there.
BW: It was interesting how many people bought lots of them. And then they'd buy it through PayPal, so they'd send a little note in the message section. Like somebody said, This is for a birthday present, they have to be here by Thursday. But they ordered four, so I was like, I'll send them Priority Mail, even though it's just over the border.
HD: Just over the border? Into what, Ohio?
BW: No, no, no, into Ypsi. Ann Arbor post office is funky. I've mailed stuff in town a matter of like a block and a half, and it took a week and a half to get there.
HD: So why wouldn't you just take it over there and hand it to them, if it's only a block and half?
BW: Well, if it was a PO Box or something like that.
HD: Oh, okay, got it. So there's plenty left. Is that a function, do you think, of the strategy that Cerberus Records has used to market and distribute it? Which is quite different from the way you marketed your album Painting a Burning House--was that the title?
BW: Painting a Burning Building. I think I was less aggressive marketing it, only because I figured it was such a niche thing. And that's another reason we only did a limited number of copies. One idea with the limited number was that it was going to be something cool, small, a short run. There's no digital distribution. If people have it, then they have it. If they don't, they don't. Obviously people are burning it for their friends and stuff like that. But I didn't really think to send it off, because I figured, if you send it to Amplifier or Under the Radar or someplace like that, they're going to get it and go, What the hell is Ypsilanti and why do I care?
HD: What is Amplifier?
BW: Amplifier is a pop music magazine.
HD: So Painting a Burning Building is available, for example, through Amazon-dot-com, CDBaby, CDUniverse, all these online portals, but Ypsisongs is not.
BW: Yeah, the label initially was just for my own releases, and now I'm in a position of putting stuff out by other people, the compilation being the first thing. I'm kind of taking a different approach. You can run so hard, you know, and then get to where you're at and then stop and look back and realize how much energy you exhausted that you didn't need to exhaust.
HD: Or maybe you ran in completely the wrong direction.
BW: Yeah, and energy and finances being coupled in the term 'energy', I'd say. So it's kind of working smarter and not harder, to get things out there.
HD: Well, let me ask you about the 500 physical Ypsisongs CD's, which quite clearly, human hands have touched.
HD: So there's the corrugated cardboard component. You had some kind of a template you used with a razor blade, or what?
BW: I started doing them with a template and a razor blade and knew I was going to get carpal tunnel, but was going to do it anyway. And then my mom's boyfriend actually works at the U., and he said, You've already made the template, you've already made five of these, it's going to take you forever to get it done, I can throw these into a machine and cut them.
HD: So this was a tool and die cutting deal or something?
BW: Yeah, it was off of the original prototype that I made. I actually found the first one that I made just the other day, stuffed in the back of my car when I was trying to figure out how I was putting it together.
HD: So did any of the 500 actually use one of the ones that you cut by hand?
BW: Yeah, yeah.
HD: And do you know which Numbers they were?
BW: No, not off hand.
HD: Aw, man, that would be crucial to know!
BW: In keeping with that, the number 3, for whatever reason, is my favorite number, and for some reason I saved Number 1. And then my wife said, You didn't save Number 3?! And I went, Shit, I didn't! So, same thing, I don't know who has Number 3.
HD: Maybe that would make a nice Christmas present ...
BW: ... for me ...
HD: ... right, for you. If someone reads this who's got Number 3, maybe they'll say, Oh, I should send this one back to Brandon and swap.
BW: I think it was a friend, though. I think most of the early ones, my friends ended up with anyway, because it was before the release party. But I didn't want to go around to everybody and say, Hey, can I have your copy back?
HD: Yeah, that would feel wrong.
BW: You know, Can you trade Number 3 for Number 155?
HD: [laugh] A different strategy then, for your own record versus other people's music. I wanted to ask you, anytime that you start to put together a collection of anything, like the Ypsisongs collection--or thinking it about it from my point of view, you can think of this continually growing collection of people who have ridden the teeter totter with me--it can become as much about including a bunch of people as it is about excluding people. So anytime you put together a collection, you can look at ...
BW: ... you certainly have to have a focus ...
HD: ... right. And it can be all about what's included by the focus but also excluded by that focus. And I was just wondering if there were any bruised egos or hurt feelings on the part of any people who maybe didn't get invited to contribute?
BW: I think there were some people, who after the fact, said, Hey, we had a song! Or, Hey, we'd like to contribute a song! when it was already at a point where I just had to cut it off, because there were too many bands. Because at one point there were 21, ...
HD: ... wow, and it ended up with 16 ...
BW: ... yeah, it ended up with 16. But at the point when we had 21, people were going, Hey, I've got a song! And I was going, Hopefully, we'll do a Volume Two if this one breaks even. But case in point, 'even' is still off in the distance. It was kind of weird working on it. I know Sam Vail--actually, he's the one who told me to come teeter, which is really good exercise for my thighs right now ...
HD: ... what, you didn't train up to come ride the teeter totter?
BW: That's why I'm drinking coffee right now, just to keep up my level of energy.
HD: Well, you're keeping up your end of the conversation quite nicely. Now it's not like I took the time to go and review your entire oeuvre, but I did just sort of follow my nose. And where that led me to was the album Painting a Burning Building, and there's a track on there called Miss Michigan. And what struck me about both the album title and the lyric of Miss Michigan is that you seem to have an affinity or an appreciation for ambiguity, even structural ambiguity, not just at the level of individual words, you know, where 'duck' can mean a bird or to lower your head suddenly. So Painting a Burning Building has this exquisite ambiguity between 'painting a picture of a burning building' and 'painting a building while it's actually burning'. And then the Miss Michigan lyric, 'Miss Michigan, I surely do', that's at least three ways ambiguous. So is that something you consciously relish in songwriting, is that something you look for, or just when it happens you say, I've gotta preserve that because I like that kind of thing.
BW: I think I used to do it a lot less. Miss Michigan was pretty specific with personal detail stuff. But I think more so, I'm trying to do things that are ambiguous and thematic. You're writing about something personally, but you're not writing about yourself so much as other people can tell, as they're listening to the song. Maybe they can infer what they think, but if you're not presenting hard and cold facts straight out of your life, then they're not able to totally dissect what you're presenting them. I'm not really looking at a hard fast conscious shift towards not writing about myself anymore, but I think some of it could be resentment from the reviews, where people were kind of writing-off portions of that album as 'puppy love singer-songwriter with lots of production.' And I didn't want it to be that, so I said, My songs now, aren't love songs anymore. Which is why I started up the new project, because I went, Well, I still write those songs [laugh].
HD: The new project?
BW: That's the Ups. Which was the name of a track on the CD. The band was an idea, Dave Lawson called it a theoretical, hypothetical band, until we had our first project and practice. And so we're still figuring out the exact sound. It's going to be more like a Golden-Smog-Jayhawks-Lucinda-Williams sort of thing. And that's myself, Dave Lawson, Annie Palmer, Adrian [Robles] who's my guitarist, and Kaylan Mitchell, who played on Dave's track on that compilation ...
HD: ... that's the cellist ...
BW: ... the cellist, yeah. And she plays trombone, violin, piano ...
HD: ... she plays the trombone? Huh.
BW: She plays the trombone. I'm not sure how well yet. She said she played, so I picked one up at Recycle Ann Arbor and lent it to her, so I don't know how it's coming.
HD: You bought a trombone at Recycle Ann Arbor?? I think I've seen that kind of thing there, but when I do, I always wonder, Gosh, who buys that kind of stuff from here?
BW: Ever since they changed the layout--do you remember when the bookshelves, when you walked in, everything was on shelves to the left and it was a little more cluttered?
HD: Yeah, well, the most significant revision I remember is they created that special room that has the really nice furniture ...
BW: ... yeah, yeah, yeah. When you first walk in dead ahead? Yeah. They used to have shelves when you walked in and that's where most of the electronic stuff was. And the great thing was, stuff would just get buried. So I could walk in there pretty much once a week and find something really cool. I bought probably at least ten keyboards there. My old Wurlitzer I have, I was checking out--I think with a picture or a record or something--and I heard this guy's voice behind me--they wheel the stuff in through the front door sometimes--he yells to the cashier, Guy said this was an amplifier! And I turned around and there's a Wurlitzer. So I said, How much do you want? And she goes, Seventy-five bucks. I said, Sold!
HD: Okay, wow. So do you still make a regular pilgrimage to Recycle Ann Arbor?
BW: Um hmm. Just about every Saturday. It was a lot easier when I worked at Tios, because I would get off earlier in the afternoon, so I could get there before the late, after-work rush. Well, it's not really a late after-work rush, because they close at 5 now, I think.
HD: So when it comes to selecting artists that you want to work with the Cerberus label, is it crucial to you that you actually like the music aesthetically or ...
BW: ... yes ...
HD: ... or would you be willing to work with someone where you recognize that it has tremendous commercial appeal and you could make a ton of dough for the label and the artist even though you hate it.
BW: [erp] Excuse me. I don't know how coffee makes you burp. Probably a part of the food that came before it. I have to have some sort of gut reaction to it. Because there's stuff that I have heard--people who've sent me demos and I've listened to it--and I've said exactly that, where this is really 'popular' or this would probably sell a thousand copies potentially, but since it's not my full bread-and-butter situation right now, it's not by any means my bread-and-butter situation, ...
HD: ... yeah, well, right now you're dressed for your day job.
BW: Right. But yeah, I just found this guy in Texas and when people Add Me on MySpace at the record label account, I won't usually go and listen to all the bands, because five million people add you a day, and you just kind of go, Okay, approved! But I liked this guy's picture, which was just him playing piano, singing into a microphone, and I clicked on the link and it started playing. I got excited. It was about 8:30 in the morning and I was going, This is really really good, I really really like this a lot! And I sent him a message, If you get a demo together, send it to me! And this was just from the first track. I got to track three out of four, and I immediately sent him a message again and I said, I want to put this out whatever it is, just send it to me when it's done.
HD: So who is this guy?
BW: His name's Roger Sellers.
HD: So is that the project you're working on right now, which you described in your email, the band in the studio in the final push to get the record out?
BW: Oh, no, that's a band I'm recording in my studio, the MoodieVeto. They played the Ear Fair. We're supposed to be done next week. We have to take it get mastered. But the Roger Sellers stuff, I don't know if that's going to happen. The Rants is the next record coming out, and that's going to be a hundred copies. So that's super, super limited.
HD: So how do you get just a hundred copies manufactured? These are with glass mastering?
BW: These are CD-R's. But the packaging! Actually the album title and the cover art, Ian [Saylor] has changed probably fifteen times. And he sent me what's the final cover with the final name and it's so cool, because it's a funky decoupage patchwork design and it's really colorful. So I said, it'd be cool if we could print that on fabric. So a couple of the women I work with are huge into quilting, so I started picking their brains for things that I could do. I went to Joanne Fabrics and you can just buy a roll of desk-jet-ready fabric, so we're going to be printing out all of the covers and then cutting them out. I don't know if the actual case is going to be cloth, or if it's going to be cloth sewn onto cardboard or felt or something like that. That one is going to be really labor intensive, but we're only doing a hundred, so ...
HD: ... so number-wise it'll be one-fifth the effort of the Ypsisongs collection.
BW: But I think we're going to stamp the spine of the case whatever that is. Because the Ypsisongs, every single copy is hand numbered and each is signed with ballpoint pen: 'Ypsisongs 00003'.
HD: Did you literally do all of that by hand?
BW: Everything except the cutting of the cardboard. That was the only thing that went through any sort of process. But everything else, was just, I looked at it and went, Okay how does this packaging work, what am I going to do?
HD: So you just said that the record label is not your economic bread-and-butter at this point in time. What's needed then to make it that? There's a comment that your grandmother posted, I assume it really was your grandmother, that what you need is ...
BW: ... there's no way to delete those! [laugh]
HD: [laugh] Would you like to delete it? Well, her take on it was that what needs to happen is that some really big name needs to record one of Brandon's songs, and that's the key to future success. I take it that's not your view?
BW: No, and God bless her for putting that comment on there. But when I read it I thought, That's not what I want to happen! That's not what I need!
HD: So what do you need?
BW: I think my scope has changed a lot since Painting a Burning Building came out. Right as that came out, I had just gotten married, so that came out, then we did college radio, and there was a video campaign with the Miss Michigan video, and all this stuff was just starting, and my wife got pregnant. And she was going to be the one who was working 40 hours a week and I was going to be on tour. So everything just kind of doubled back on itself and not in a bad way. Everything was for the best in the long run, but after spending thousands and thousands of dollars promoting it and not having thousands and thousands of dollars come back in--probably more so because I wasn't on tour--everything, scope- and perspective-wise, has changed. I don't want to be on a major label, I mean, obviously it would be nice. But at the same time, I'm content with where I'm at. And obviously I want things to get progressively better for the label, but as far as where I'm at musically, I'm really happy. I'm doing everything in my own studio now, I'm recording other bands, enjoying that.
HD: Well, let me ask you about one other artist on the Cerberus Records label. What is it about Charlie Slick's stuff that appeals to you specifically? Because his stuff, I mean it's not like I know very much of it, but from what I've heard, it's not very much like what you yourself create musically.
BW: Musically my tastes are all over the board. And I love tons of crappy radio stuff for the same reason you go to White Castles or Arby's: it's not that it's good for you, it's just enjoyable.
BW: You know what I mean, though?
BW: My drummer Fido [Kennington], is way into Meatloaf. Somebody told me to buy Bat out of Hell a long time ago, and I bought it and put it in, and I thought it was the worst piece of crap ever. And I went back and listened to it, and all of a sudden I just went, This is great! It's really over-the-top, but if I take it as just really over-the-top, it's great. So the Charlie Slick stuff--sorry it's so easy for me to get off on a tangent--how are we doing time-wise, too?
HD: We're right at one o'clock, we probably need to wrap this up for you right?
BW: Well, I could probably get back to work in five-minutes, I could park in the flat lot maybe. So Charlie Slick, I heard his CD, because my friend worked with him at Tios and I had worked at Tios before, but we were never there at the same time. He said, You should check this guy out, he's really into David Bowie and synth pop. Then I got his CD and I thought it was pretty cool, but it didn't really sink its teeth into me. Then my wife got pregnant, and we moved out to Brighton. You know, no money, temp job, and it was a weird between-state that I was in. I finally started hearing about all these different bands that were playing and different things that were happening, so I went to a house party when one of my friends was about to leave town. And Charlie Slick just showed up with a van, loaded all his gear into the middle of this room, and just started playing. And it was amazing. I was like, This is the coolest thing I've ever seen.
HD: So when he started playing at the Ear Fair, I mean, to me, if you look at him, if you don't know what's coming, it's a bit of a surprise--I guess the neon-green microphone cord might give a hint of something extra to come--but once he started, it was, Hang onto the table for dear life.
BW: And have you seen him outside of that show?
HD: That's the one and only time I've seen him.
BW: Because this guy, Andy [Gabrysiak], who did the Ypsisongs cover, ...
HD: ... the art?
BW: Yeah. And he does Charlie's artwork too, but Chuck has all these hand-made lights, so Andy sits there during the whole show, running the light display, and the fog machine, and the bubbles. So that [Ear Fair] was like a 20-percent full-on Charlie Slick experience. But what sold me, was the live show. People probably won't get it just from hearing the disk, but this is such a cool live thing.
HD: Anything else on your mind, besides you've gotta get back to work.
BW: I don't want to go back to work, I'm actually nice and relaxed now. I can't think of anything actually offhand.
HD: Well, listen I want to thank you for coming to ride the teeter totter.