The two-year-old band has played almost 200 gigs together as The Broken Numbers band and in 2010 released a 5-song EP titled Strange Street. They popped on to my radar just this year when Julie Richmond (my Grand Ole Echo curating partner) introduced me to their music. (Full disclosure, the band has played for The Grand Ole Echo and recently played the Roots Roadhouse festival that we curated). Their music is an upbeat mix of folk, rock n’ roll and elements of both bluegrass and old-time music without being considered traditional.
Recently I invited Julie Richmond to tag along as I sat down with Corey, Tyler and Mike to learn a little bit more about The Broken Numbers Band.
KG: First off, you’ve only been The Broken Numbers Band for a short time. Tell me how you all got together.
Mike: Tyler and I met Corey at the SAE Institute. Tyler and I, we’ve known each other about 27 years. (laughs)
Corey: We met Jacob there, also, when he was recording for a friend.
KG: What is the SAE institute?
Mike: It’s a school for audio education. We’re all audio engineers.
KG: Wow, a band of audio engineers! You must drive sound guys crazy.
Corey: We have our own sound guy that we travel with, Eric Brown; we call him the 6th member of the band.
KG: Are you all from Los Angeles?
Mike: Corey’s from Colorado (Fort Collins), Jacob’s from Texas and Chris is from Massachussets. Tyler and I are from Southern, Illinois—a small town called, Freeburg. No one knows of it, but you may have heard of Belleville, which is nearby.
KG: Belleville, yes, home of Jeff Tweedy. I’m familiar, as I’m from Springfield, IL.
Does anyone in your band have musicians in the family?
Tyler: Our Dad was a sculptor and a bass player. Actually, the bass that Chris uses was our Dad’s.
Mike: Yeah, I re-worked it a little bit, but it was our Dad’s.
Corey: It's a Fender Bass and it originally had a black finish, Mike stripped the paint and modified it to look like another one of his Dad's old basses. He also did some small modifications to achieve a slightly different tone, flat wound strings, some dampening, etc. Oddly not too much was done outside of the aesthetic stuff but everyone who plays that bass comments on how much they love it.
KG: Some of the people reading this aren’t yet familiar with your music. How would you describe it to them? My own ears hear an interesting mix of Old Crow Medicine Show with a little bit of rock ala Kings of Leon.
Corey: Kings of Leon?..Yeah, they’ve been going through some stuff lately, but that doesn’t make them a bad band.
Tyler: Their first two albums were great.
Corey: We love Old Crow Medicine Show. We really respect what they do.
KG: The Broken Numbers Band seem to have that same combination of folk, rock and bluegrass, but you guys definitely have your own sound. Who would you say are your influences?
Corey: Well, we’ve all been playing music for 14 or 15 years even though this band is new. We’ve all played in punk and metal bands. Right now I’m listening to country, to grunge, even Buddy Holly. I’m really into Deer Tick’s new album; they’ve got several genres of music on their record—rock n’ roll, folk—real melodic stuff. They seem to do what they want. I listen to the Grateful Dead—the non-jam stuff, Dylan, The Band, all the old standards. I’ve been playing a lot of Neil Young “Live at Massey Hall”. And Tom Petty. I’m really a big fan of Tom Petty.
Mike: I’m really excited that I’m going to see Patti Griffith and Emmylou Harris Live. I’m also traveling out to the desert to see Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
KG: Tell me about recording your EP.
Mike: Well, we recorded at the school and East/West Studios. We’re a band full of audio engineers so we get really picky about sound, so it’s a really long process. I’m probably the worst about that.
KG: Mike and Corey, do you two write the songs together?
Corey: Yes, I usually start with a framework and bring it to Mike and he’ll add to it or he’ll bring something to me and I’ll see where something I’ve written fits. Everyone in the band arranges the music…everyone has input, this is definitely a collaborative effort. At this point, we’ve got the process down pat.
KG: What is it about The Broken Numbers Band that sets you apart from others?
Corey: I think the fact that we’ve all played a more aggressive form of music before playing roots music comes through with our sound. And I think that translates into the performance and work ethic. If we’re showing up, we’re going to do something and we’re going to have fun doing it.
Tyler: Jacob, our fiddle player plays so well. I think the fact that he plays so well on so many different instruments broadens the range of the band.
Mike: Jacob makes us gel as a band, even more.
Corey: And Mike’s playing the guitar and banjo is very melodic. We’re a 3-part harmony based band and work hard on the vocals. Mike makes his instruments a part of those harmonies. You may walk away from one of our shows humming the vocals or humming the guitar line that Mike wrote. They’re inter-twined.
Tyler: It was kind of a fluke that we landed Chris, our bass player.
Corey: Yeah, we lucked out with Chris. We had booked a tour and the original bass player bailed on us. Tyler made the call to Chris and Chris learned our songs in 30 minutes. He played a show with us and was great and then he came on the tour with us, where his playing was even stronger.
Tyler: A great songwriter really understands music. Everyone in this band understands music. We can all go out and do it on our own, and we have. But with this group, we’ve found a BAND. If I didn’t have this band (pauses then comically makes a throat-slitting gesture).
Mike: If I didn’t have this band, I would kill you. (laughs)
Corey: Another interesting fact is that Mike learned to play the banjo for this band.
KG: You didn’t play the banjo before The Broken Numbers Band?
Mike: No, I went out and bought a banjo and learned to play. I play clawstyle. (note: Clawhammer picking is primarily a down-picking style, highly rhythmic and a component of old-time music).
KG: Tell me about playing 200 shows. That’s a lot of shows, was it mostly through touring?
Tyler: No, a lot of it was in and around Los Angeles. Once we did what I like to call “The Orange County Tour”—Long Beach, Fullerton, Laguna. Except, after every gig, we’d drive back home because we all had to work in the morning. Once we played 5 shows in one week. We also did a mini-tour last Spring. We hit Joshua Tree, Vegas and Denver.
Corey: We’re pretty busy. We all work full-time, play 3 nights a week and then there are rehearsals, recording and keeping up with the website (still being built). We have a new EP coming out and we plan on touring for it in the spring.
Mike: We have a strong work ethic. We play so many shows, but we love doing it.
(Julie interjects): This band is SO hard working. As a booker, I can count on them always to show up and play when I need them and that’s huge. Plus, they always promote their shows.
KG: So, an EP? You’re not planning on a full-length release?
Mike: Well, as I said before, we’re picky about sound, so it’s a time thing. I have a feeling a full-length would take us about seven years to make as opposed to the one year that an EP takes us to make (everyone laughs).
KG: So, what’s your goal with the band? What are you trying to accomplish?
Tyler: I like the idea of taking roots music to another audience and making it a little more hip and less traditional.
Julie Richmond: As a promoter of Roots music, I say yes! It’s nice to see younger people passing the torch.
KG: I agree. I think a younger audience needs to see a hipper side of roots music and to realize all country music is not the stuff that spews out of Nashville. I think your band does a great job of conveying that message.
Corey: Everyone in this band has earned their stripes on their own, but now we’re united as a band. I’d like to see us open for more National touring acts that have a built-in audience that we can convert. I’d like to play more shows like The Roots Roadhouse Festival where we’re playing to a larger audience and building our fan base. We know there are connections to be made and we’re willing to play the shows and do the work. This many shows later, we’ve come so far as a band.
Tyler: And we’ve done it without stomping all over each other’s egos too much. It’s a good collaboration.
Originally written for http://www.southlandserenade.com by Kim Grant