Tower Records, 500 Mercer Street, 283-4456, free
3:30 p.m. Sat., Aug. 17
From the outset, we'll dispense with terms like "side project," "regular band," and "day job," since they don't seem to apply to the group we're considering: How do you call a band that's been together for nearly a decade a "side project"?
More productively, we might apply ourselves to the dreaming up of a moral to this tale, a summative comment that describes Brad's protracted delivery on the promise they've shown since their first album—something like, "It's less important to win than it is to go on record." Or, as Shawn Smith sings on "Brothers and Sisters": "There is a new story that we know needs to be written."
It's a fitting thought, since with their third album, the members of Brad have just begun to write that story in the sweet idiom of soulful pop.
"I just made a phone call," says Smith demurely, on how Welcome to Discovery Park began to come together. But in truth, the process has always been a bit more complicated than that. Brad's members all log time with other groups: guitarist Stone Gossard in Pearl Jam, bassist Mike Berg and drummer Regan Hagar in Satchel, and Smith in Pigeonhed (whose "Battle Flag" received airplay through, of all venues, prominent use in The Sopranos). So arranging studio time is, and always has been, a take-the-advantage affair.
"Well, I called in 2000," Smith continues, a bit more tellingly; "but it took us about a year and a half to get together."
Since their 1993 debut release Shame, Brad's rootsy music has enjoyed a respectable if cultish success. Early on, the band was touted by specialized but passionate crowds, and bolstered by certain eggheaded critics. (Shame was recently, and somewhat unexpectedly, listed in MOJO magazine's list of the greatest albums of all time.) While the mainstream press largely ignored them and most kids were busy electing Dave Matthews the king of blue-eyed frat-boy soul, Brad's fans reveled in the discovery of an obscure joy.
They'd wait four years for a follow-up, but when the time came, Brad pleased their fans by taking it on the road. The band supported 1997's Interiors with tours in North America and Australia, opening for Ben Harper. Unsurprisingly, Harper's fans turned out to be just the sort of people who'd respond favorably to Brad, and the band found their very own silent minority coming out to meet them at those shows.
"There's no way to plan for [making a Brad album] except to let it happen as it happens," judges Smith today; and that judgment applied equally to touring and writing for the band in its early days, since Gossard was frequently out with Pearl Jam and the other members took that time to pursue their own projects. Brad, in other words, was precisely the sort of band that could have easily withered on the vine, never to be heard from again, having produced two albums its members didn't have to be ashamed of.
But now comes Welcome to Discovery Park, five years later. And, like Shawn Smith's own comments concerning the album, its deceptively simple surface hides a newly complicated interior.
"I'm a rock kid; we all are," says Smith of his penchant for Aerosmith and Stevie Wonder listening jags. "We love all that classic stuff." At its best, as on "Shinin'" and "Yes, You Are," the music on Brad's third album resonates with the multilayered harmonies and echo-laden production of the most enduring '70s rock. "Brothers and Sisters"—the opening track and possibly the most successful song on the album—plays like a Paul McCartney piano-driven rocker circa McCartney or Ram.
Recorded at Gossard's Fremont studio, the album took a scant six weeks to assemble from start to finish and was written largely on-site.
"Since it was Stone's studio, it wasn't superexpensive," Smith reports. "We'd get something written, go over it a few times, and then record it—which was the way we did the other two albums, mostly."
Smith, who contributed handfuls of songs to previous albums, ended up doing the bulk of the initial writing for Welcome to Discovery Park, though the final product was largely collaborative.
"Some of these guys I've known now for longer than anyone outside my family. We all trust each other's tastes, so if I play something and someone says, 'Well, that's kind of lame,' I'm going to listen," he chuckles. "There were a lot of moments like that when we recorded this one. I'm especially thankful there's a brief time where we can all tour now [Brad is preparing for an October-November U.S. tour], before Pearl Jam goes out again.
"For lack of a better word," Smith says simply, "it feels special. The whole thing does. Knowing everyone this well, there's a feeling you get that's different from playing in any other venue. Really, I think we're all just grateful that the band has survived for so long."