Q&A: Braid's Bob Nanna On Frame And Canvas, The Meaning Of "Emo," And Making People Appreciate Weird Time Signatures
The rock subgenre known as "emo"or at least a watered-down version of itgot kind of big in the early 2000s. But before then, a slew of bands were crafting post-hardcore with twisting time signatures, dynamic shifts in tempo and loudness, and alternatingly sung/screamed vocals. Braid was one of the best from the Midwest, and the 1998 release Frame and Canvas was the band's best (and, as it turned out, final) album; the record stepped it up in terms of production (recorded by J. Robbins at D.C.'s Inner Ear), songwriting, and quality of singing. Frame and Canvas still sounds amazing 14 years on, and old-fart fans and newbies will get to hear the whole thing live during a short tour that the band's members managed to squeeze in between job and family obligations. SOTC reached singer/guitarist Bob Nanna on the phone in advance of his band's arrival in New York.
Where are you right now?
Somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania. We're on our way to New York.
It's a real pleasure to talk to you. Frame and Canvas was a really important college album for me.
Oh, awesome. Cool, thank you.
Take us back to your general frame of mind around the time of writing and recording Frame and Canvas.
Frame and Canvas came out in '98. I was 23 at that time. I had basically just finished college. I'm from Chicago, but I went to school in Champaign-Urbana, which is about two and a half hours away. That's where Braid started. When I was in school, any sort of break that I had or Chris [Broach] had, because he was going to school there too, we would go on tour. So spring breaks... any sort of holidays or summer, we were always on tour. I graduated in '97, and immediately after I graduated... we probably had a tour booked for the week after I graduated. At that time, we just toured nonstop. That next year, '98, we toured like 200 days. It was this frantic time of, finally we're free, Bob doesn't have to go to school anymore, let's just tour as much as possible. So most of the album... was written on tour. A lot of it was just Chris and I playing our guitars before shows. I'm sure all the lyrics were written on the road too because I always brought journals and stuff. Then when we recorded the album in December of '97, I believe, at Inner Ear in D.C. We toured down there to record and we only had five days to record and mix the whole record. So basically it was fast, fast, fast-paced lifestyle.
Can you still relate to the themes and topics of the album?
Yeah, what I was describing earlier kind of translates into the album. It's sort of kids that are forced into the question of; do you keep playing or not keep playing? And if you keep playing, you go crazy and play as much as you want and really get out there and work, work, work. That alone probably fueled a lot of songs thematically. In terms of playing it now, a lot of it still resonates. To be honest, some of the things, I don't remember what state of mind I was in or we were in when we were writing it. For the purposes of now, I put it in the context of right now. You look at really good music (and I'm not saying our album is good music), but I listen to Jawbreaker and put it in the context of my life. So I'm becoming a fan of the record. I don't remember what the hell I was thinking when we wrote "Ariel," but now I've got enough experiences to back it up with something I care about now.
I grew up on the east coast, went to school on the west coast. There were all these great '90s bands coming out of the Midwest, and on the album there's all these Midwest references I was trying to figure out. Was that intentional?
Very much unintentional. It was sort of writing what you know about. I was talking yesterday about "I Keep A Diary" with somebody. That was obviously written on tour because it takes place in Wyoming. We wrote about where we were and what we knew and put situations in the context of Urbana or Chicago or Milwaukee.
When the album was released, it was such a big leap forward, musically and thematically, from the band's previous releases. Do you agree with that and did you set out to push the band forward in new directions?
Looking back on it I can agree with it, but at the time, no, it really didn't occur to us. The major thing that did happen before Frame and Canvas was Damon [Atkinson] joined the band. The first song we wrote with Damon was "A Dozen Roses." When we wrote that song, it was like, wow, this is different. But we never thought here's Damon; let's write different kinds of songs. We always just wrote how we felt at the time.