IF BROOKLYN-BASED electro-pop trio BRAHMS is anything, it’s confident. Perhaps it’s because the three members of the band have already cultivated the sound, the look and the connections that, combined, could put a name not heard in the context of new music since the 19th century back into popular circulation.
Though BRAHMS emerged only last October, the musical project was born seemingly fully formed. At that time, Cale Parks, a prolific multi-instrumentalist who’s contributed his abundant percussive talents to the dreamy experimental pop band Aloha, among others, was focused on his solo project, which had him manning a mind-boggling array of instruments and relying heavily on backing tracks to create immensely textured electronic pop live.
“It was pretty Dick Van Dyke,” Parks says, referring to Van Dyke’s one-man band in Mary Poppins, as he sits in his Greenpoint rehearsal space/recording studio with his BRAHMS cohorts Eric Lodwick and Drew Robinson. “I still do a lot of things like that in BRAHMS, but it’s less of a spectacle.When I was performing like that, I guess I felt like people would come away from that show thinking ‘Oh, it was crazy, this guy did all this stuff.’ But they really wouldn’t grab onto the songs… It’s hard to connect with a song when you see just one person doing a ton of stuff on the stage running around like a crazy man.”
So he decided to pull together a backing band for his performances at CMJ 2009 and enlisted his like-minded friend Lodwick (half of the duo Vulture Realty), who’d long been a fan, to join him.
“I think I went to the majority of [Cale’s] solo shows in the New York area,” Lodwick says. “And I remember watching it progress but also thinking, ‘Man, it would be so cool if someday I could play with [Cale] and take away some of those backing tracks.’ He would literally be doing synth and full standing drum kit and other rhythmic stuff… An awesome aspect of the show was just watching him go from one thing to the other and singing.”
Once Lodwick was on board to play bass, he suggested the addition of Robinson, a guitarist from Lodwick’s hometown of Baltimore who’d recently moved to Brooklyn.
Robinson entered the fold through an audition—really, more of a fortuitous jam during which the trio bonded and Lodwick and Robinson wrote a song inside of 10 minutes. Because of their intense musical chemistry, the guys decided collectively to launch BRAHMS after CMJ, instead of continuing to play Parks’ solo work together.
“I don’t think it’s fair to have people playing your songs and make them do it exactly how you hear it and exactly like you want it to be when it’s obvious that they’re great musicians themselves and that you should be writing something bigger,” Parks explains.
So the group chose the name BRAHMS, though the monumental romantic composer serves as more of a far-removed muse than any direct influence on its synth-centered dance music, which harkens back to the 1980s more than the 1880s.
“I studied music classically, growing up and in college, but musically it doesn’t have anything to do with Brahms,” Parks says. “It’s a bold name. He’s one of the three B’s that people don’t think of in classical music as much.They think Beethoven and Bach. His themes are poppy… It’s not too weird, it’s not baroque. It’s really lush. “ The momentum for the newly formed project built quickly, and when the band was offered a slot opening for Passion Pit (with which Parks toured last summer) at Terminal 5 in early January, the guys challenged themselves to whip up a set’s worth of music in the span of only a few months.The resulting songs, some of which have been recorded and posted on BRAHMS’ website (including the instantly memorable “Another Time,” with its driving beats and pulsing wave of guitar distortion), reveal that all the energy and optimism the trio felt originally has translated effortlessly into its collaboration. And while BRAHMS still has Parks singing and wielding numerous instruments (a drum machine/sampler, a drum pad sampler, a synthesizer, a snare, a cymbal, a tom, a tambourine and a plastic wood block), the softer pop nuances of his solo work have given way to darker vocals, angularity and elastic dance beats, which makes perfect sense coming from someone whose most recent obsession is ’80s British synth pop, from New Order to Depeche Mode.
“That was before my time,” Park says. “But I’ve gone back and studied it. It’s weird. If it was a class or something, the amount of time that I’ve invested in researching and watching obscure Top of the PopsYouTube clips from ’83, I don’t know, I’d be,” he pauses, and then laughs, “a freakin’ professor.”
March 29, Mercury Lounge, 217 E. Houston St. (betw. Essex & Ludlow Sts.), 212-260-4700; 7, $12.