Chris Brokaw was born in New York City and raised in the outlying suburbs. He attended Oberlin College, where he took exactly two music-related classes: Multi-track Recording and Steel Drumming. In 1986 he moved to Boston, Massachusetts; and in 2011 relocated to Seattle, Washington.
Chris is perhaps best known for his work as the drummer in CODEINE and the guitarist in COME, who made several albums in the 1990’s for the labels Sub Pop and Matador that are considered landmarks in American independent rock music.
Since 2001, Chris has focused primarily on his work as a solo artist, making numerous albums of vocal and instrumental music. This has ranged from full on rock (“Red Cities”, “Incredible Love”) to explorations of the 6-string and 12-string acoustic guitars (“Canaris”, “VDSQ Solo Acoustic Volume 3”) to the experimental and abstract (“Tundra”, “Gracias, Ghost of the Future”). Throughout, Chris has maintained an active solo touring schedule in the US, UK, Europe, Canada, Australia and Russia.
He has composed original music for the following films: “I Was Born, But” (Roddy Bogawa, 2004), “Road” (Leslie McCleave, 2005, which received the award for Best Original Score at the Brooklyn International Film Festival); “Sospira” (Lana Z. Caplan, 2011); “Taken By Storm” (Roddy Bogawa, 2011); and “Now, Forager” (Julia Halperin/Jason Cortlund, 2012). The latter two films screened in 2012 at MOMA in New York City.
Chris has also performed and recorded as an accompanist to Thurston Moore, Evan Dando, Christina Rosenvinge, Jennifer O’Connor, Rhys Chatham, Steve Wynn, Alan Licht, GG Allin, and Johnny Depp.
He has composed music for the Dagdha Dance Company (Limerick, Ireland) and Kino Dance (Boston); collaborated with playwright Rinde Eckert and director Robert Woodruff on the new opera “Highway Ulysses” (2002, American Repertory Theater, Cambridge, Mass.); performed as one of 77 drummers in the Boredoms’ “77 Boadrum” in New York; and performed as one of 200 guitarists in Rhys Chatham’s “A Crimson Grail” at Lincoln Center, New York. His band Dirtmusic (with Chris Eckman and Hugo Race) performed at the Festival In The Desert, in Essakane, Mali, and collaborated with the Touareg band Tamikrest on an album recorded in Bamako, Mali.
Currently, Chris plays in the bands Wrekmeister Harmonies, The New Year, and The Empty House Cooperative, all of whom have new albums in the works for 2012 and 2013. He also plays in a duo with Geoff Farina (ex-Karate), netting two albums (“The Angel’s Message To Me” and “The Boarder’s Door”), and in a new duo with Stephen O’Malley (Sunn O))) ) called The Catamites.
2012 will see the release of “Gambler’s Ecstasy”, a rock solo album five years in the making. Chris will do an extensive US tour in September and October, performing solo, opening for the Japanese band Mono; and will tour further in 2012 and 2013 with a bassist and drummer.
“gambler’s ecstasy” is my first full-length album of vocal music since 2005’s “incredible love”. in a sense, it is the followup to “incredible love”, except with electric guitar as the center rather than acoustic guitar.
with “incredible love”, i wanted to demonstrate that the acoustic guitar can be used to push forward something besides folk-related sounds and ideas. upon completion, i realized that, somewhat unwittingly, i had created probably as close to a ‘pop record’ as i am likely to make. with “gambler’s ecstasy”, i have more deliberately and specifically endeavored to make a rock album. i still believe that, in the right hands, rock music can be a powerful, complex and informative medium.
i began the record in chicago, in 2008, and finished it in seattle in 2012. along the way, i recorded several other solo records (“canaris”, “gracias, ghost of the future”, “tundra”, “stories”, “tidal mud”, “vdsq solo acoustic volume three”). i worked on “gambler’s ecstasy” fitfully, thinking longer and longer about what i wanted it to be; what i wanted it to do.
probably the biggest hurdle, or challenge, was the song “the appetites.” i recorded it with doug mccombs on bass and john herndon on drums, and was thrilled with the take we got on tape (take 2, for those counting). i had a vague idea of what i wanted the lyric to be about: appetites – what people feel they need and want. i knew it was a wide and enormous topic and i didn’t know the best way to address it.
lyrics have become really important to me, both as a writer and a listener. i really want the lyrics to be good. i really don’t want to settle for anything less.
i finally finished the lyric in 2011, after driving across the US, moving from boston to seattle. the trip informed the lyric, and also the title of the album. i’ve lived on the east coast all my life, and moving to the west felt like a giant, scary but exhilarating thrill. i still don’t know that i got everything i wanted from the lyric, but i feel that i got close to several things. i don’t consider it the centerpiece of the album, but it’s basically the opus. initially i thought it would be the 2nd to last song on the record (with “anacordia” last); then i thought of having it be the first song on the record; finally i decided to have it be the last song on side one, which i think traditionally can be a good place for an ‘epic’ (i’m thinking most specifically of the song ‘toiler on the sea’ from the stranglers’ album ‘black and white’).
once “the appetites” was finished, it became much easier to complete the whole album.
i think it’s a complex, somewhat messy record. it’s all me; it’s all things i wanted to put across.
“criminals” is written as an acrostic, which can be seen in the lyric sheet. (i think in general it is crucial for the listener to read the lyric sheet while listening to this album). the vocal is where it needs to be.
“crooked” was written by the great cincinnati band WUSSY. i saw them play several years ago, bought their debut cd, and almost immediately starting covering this song. it felt imperative; it feels like it’s part of me. dave curry brings his great, terrible magic to the proceedings on the viola.
“danny borracho” was tricky to mix, but i like where we ended up. and yes, i want stadiums of people shouting “hapsburg! empire!”
“into the woods” is partly a metaphor, partly not. i live near the woods now and my time there tends to be revelatory.
“exemption” features such great playing from doug and john. they really make it swing and sing. an instrumental version of this song appeared on “canaris”.
“california” is the only song i’ve written that is played entirely on two strings: the B and the G. limitations can be very useful.
“how to listen” was finished in a fever on a sofa in denton, texas at high noon. i recorded the vocal half an hour later.
“anacordia” is a ballad for an imaginary place; an idyll.
“richard and vanessa in the box” was written originally for the dagdha dance company, for a piece in which the principal dancers, richard and vanessa, worked their way in and out of an imaginary box. i wanted to send the listener out on a wave; perhaps with the chance to reconsider all they experienced through the album, and perhaps with the opportunity to begin again.
“Danny Borracho” (mp3) from ‘Gambler’s Ecstascy’, (12XU 041-1,2), out October 2, 2012
“Move” (mp3) from ‘Incredible Love’ (12XU 026-2), out October 25, 2005