Many local concertgoers know Andy Brawner as the original bassist of chamber-pop heroes Pale Young Gentlemen. Many don't know that a couple of years ago, Brawner traded his bass for a guitar and launched his own project, Time Since Western, which blends Midwestern alt-country with West Coast indie rock and daydreams about cross-country car chases, Pacific Ocean-bound railroad tracks and other westward-ho themes.
In fact, Time Since Western's latest song, "Dizzy" - a slow burner reminiscent of both a Foo Fighters ballad and Beck's "Lonesome Tears" - resulted from trips to the Northwest. "Dizzy" is one of several tracks recorded over the summer at the Portland, Ore., studio of Chris Walla (guitarist for Death Cab for Cutie and producer of choice for the Decemberists, the Thermals and Tegan and Sara), then mixed at Madison's Smart Studios. It is also a pit stop on the way to a new album slated for a 2010 release - if all goes according to plan.
This plan involves corralling Brawner's dreams about places like Mount Rainier and the O.K. Corral. "My imagination totally lives in the West," he says. "I'm like Doc Holliday: sickly and somewhere between dead and alive, yet very handy with a pistol, always profound, and always up for a strong drink."
The plan also involves corralling local musicians to give the album a floating-across-the-landscape feel rather than a drinking-Schlitz-in-the-basement vibe. To round out Time Since Western's sound, Brawner teams with folks like drummer/designer Mike Krol and Sleeping in the Aviary's Elliott Kozel and Michael Sienkowski. Then there's the behind-the-scenes work of Smart's Beau Sorenson, who orchestrated the Portland recordings, literally and figuratively. Brawner curates the whole experience, from the lyrics to the liner notes to the band's persona on MySpace.
In other words, though Time Since Western is technically a one-man band, it's more like a workshop or a wiki, with the lineup evolving as the conversation progresses.
"We all bounce ideas off each other or just call each other and try to talk through whatever weird concerns we're having," Brawner explains. "That forms the bond as much as actually physically playing music together."
Then there are all of the folks who contribute to this conversation without even knowing it, from Frank Sinatra (whose vocal techniques Brawner's been studying) to Mark Hollis of Talk Talk (whose solo work he's been ogling). Brawner says the ways others respond to nature with music fuel his creative process.
Grizzly Bear's online Roadtrip Mix is a good example, he says: "It has this song 'The North Wind Blew South,' which I just love. They're a great band not just because they all play and sing and write really well but because they have better taste in music than everyone else." And giving fans a glimpse of it on the web adds fuel to the fire that makes them attend shows and buy albums.
Brawner's taken note and added a twist to the audience-participation aspect of his project's MySpace account. While the profile page includes what you might expect - "Dizzy" and selections from the band's last full-length album (A Sun Goes Down) - it gets much wackier when you do some exploring. One of Time Since Western's top friends, a profile named Time Since Whatever, introduces you to an alter ego who lives in Pulaski and sings about Texas.
"Those songs are ones that I like but that may or may not fit into the TSW architecture," Brawner says. "I wanted to share them with some friends, so I put them up under the guise of this bizarro TSW, like Bizarro Superman."
But that's not all: Bizarro Time Since Western sets the stage for even more collaboration, this time with fans. If Brawner decides to add a quirky twist to the new album, you can tell him what you think, even if you're as far away as Portland.
Like much online social networking - and like Bizarro Superman himself - the bizarro profile is "almost right, but so, so very wrong," he says.