Bird Streets is the musical endeavor of New York songwriter John Brodeur. In need of a creative rebirth after years on the music-industry margins, Brodeur reached out to his friend, the producer and multi-instrumentalist Jason Falkner, to suggest they record together. The album yielded by this pairing is both fresh and familiar — a dynamic collection of introspective indie-rock and power-pop that draws liberally on the music of decades past without being bluntly nostalgic, with Brodeur’s voice like an old friend you’re meeting for the first time. The Falkner-produced debut, simply titled ‘Bird Streets,’ was released worldwide August 10, 2018, by Omnivore Recordings.
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Mehnaz Ladha: Kicking it off with where you currently live, New York City, what really stands out and makes it special to you? Where would you send a first-time visitor to get a real sense of the surrounding area?
John Brodeur: I’ve lived in Brooklyn for less than a year and in Manhattan before that. I’ve been in the city for 10 years total. One of the things about Brooklyn that I’m liking a lot is that there are so many parks, whereas in Manhattan, you have to work to find a park. You have to walk a little bit, but in Brooklyn, it’s just down the street. There’s always a nice place to tuck away. I do enjoy the noise of the city, but I also enjoy getting away from it.
ML: How does the music scene of New York compare to other cities you’ve performed in?
JB: In New York, everyone is just amazing. The best of the best is here, so it’s easy to get lost in that a little bit. But, there’s also a really strong community where everyone plays with each other. It’s a very cool, inspiring thing to be a part of. Every town has that to some extent, but it’s so electric, constant and everywhere in NY. There are also so many great smaller scenes within bigger cosmos. There are a lot of cool DIY things popping up and it’s a great thing to be a part of. I can’t imagine, at this point, going anywhere else. You can almost take it for granted that there’s so much good going on here.
Besides New York City, the only place I lived was upstate in Albany where I grew up. Albany had its own little thing. There were bands and three clubs, kind of like a small-town type of thing. This is the other end of the universe from there.
ML: Did you ever feel like you were musically lost in New York? If so, how did you find yourself?
JB: When I moved down from Albany, I was, at the time, a member of five-different groups. I had my own thing going, but I was also playing the drums for a bunch of different bands. When I moved here, a lot of that stuff stopped happening, because I was 300-miles away from there and they got other people to come to the rehearsals. It took a while to find my own footing here as a solo artist. Finding any kind of universe for what I was doing myself was difficult for a while. After a while, I started jumping into different circles and met different people. It sort of blew up from there.
ML: As a former music journalist and solo artist, what was your first real exposure to music? How did you get inspired to write about it and then pursue it as a career?
JB: I remember hearing music from my childhood. My parents had all the Beatles records and I grew on those, along with whatever they had around the house. I don’t think I knew how to play the records, but I definitely knew how to scribble all over them. They were well decorated. So, I remember the Beatles and “Off the Wall” by Michael Jackson being played a lot. Then in school, I kept the interest when they started teaching music classes and instruments. So, I was definitely a musician before I was a music journalist. I’ve been playing since I was a kid, making, recording and releasing songs for close to 25 years now.
Getting into writing happened much later. I was in Albany and didn’t have a regular job. I knew people at the paper, so I freelanced a few things and sent them in. Eventually, they had a job as an editor and although I didn’t have any formal education in editing, I had a pretty good eye and feel for it, so I got into it that way. Writing about music was sort of a natural thing, because it was what I knew the most about from collecting records. It was fun for a while, especially during the early 2000’s when Pitchfork was kind of hot. There was a lot of writing about music at that time; it was still a commodity. There was a sort of snarkiness that was hip at the time that was really attractive to someone who was starting as a regular writer. I got out of it after a while, because it was weird to write about musicians and then go play a show where you meet them, then think, “Oh, what did I say about them?”
ML: I imagine that through writing, you established so many relationships with other musicians. Did that help you in some way?
JB: To some extent, there are certain people I got to know whether they were musicians or other music journalists who I stayed in contact over the years that have helped out in different ways. It was worth the time and experience. It was definitely a good gig at the time.
ML: To create music, and traveling to promote it, must be such a feeling. What’s the most impactful and meaningful part you cherish about it?
JB: I have used touring as a means to see the country. In the basic sense, it’s been a ticket to do some things and see places that I otherwise would not have gone to. In terms of impactful, that’s less the places and more the people. It’s more meeting people in different places, seeing how the music connects them and building relationships that way. That’s the number one thing. When I first started touring, I thought of it as going to all these places, but when you actually start doing it, you realize how little time you have in those places.
ML: So, your latest album, “Bird Streets,” just released August 10th featuring artists such as Luther Russel and Miranda Lee Richards. Describe what the production was like behind this musical endeavor. What makes it unique compared to some of your previously self-released records?
JB: My last self-released record called “Little Hopes” came out in 2013 and that was almost entirely done in my living room. It was a cool record, but a bunch of stuff happened right after the record came out that put a damper on travel plans.
I had been friends for a couple years with Jason Falkner who produced the record. He plays with Beck and so many great bands. I went to [Los Angeles] and crashed on a friend’s futon for the better part of the month, waiting for Jason to have a free day or two. We found a weekend and did a tune. It was off to the races as soon as we sat down. I didn’t have any finished songs, so I played him a verse and a chorus. He was throwing out ideas and we wrote the first song together in an hour, which was recorded in eight hours.
JB: Yeah, he mixed it the next day. We had the song “Direction,” the third one on the record, completed for quite a while. I’m happy to finally release it. It took a little bit to get back into the swing of things, but we would jump back and forth between here and LA when I knew he had a couple weeks here and there. Each time we were together, we had maybe six-seven days max to bang out a song. Each one of them was written and recorded quickly. Fundamentally, the difference between self-released recordings and Bird Streets is Jason. That’s a big thing that I wrote, recorded and produced with someone else, instead of doing it by myself or doing it with a band. It was me and someone I have been listening to for almost 30 years.
ML: That must heighten the excitement for the release.
JB: We’re pretty stoked that it’s finally out. We weren’t sure if we were going to put it out ourselves, but then Omnivore stepped in and offered to help us out. It’s nice that it’s getting a big splash and a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have known me will get to hear it. And, of course, Jason’s fans are allegiant, so his people will turn up.
ML: Your music has been described as a “fresh mix of power and jangle pop coupled with anthemic choruses and clever lyrics.” Listening to it as well, there’s a sense of rawness and familiarity. What has been the inspiration behind this production? Or, who are some of your musical muses that you have turned to?
JB: I’ve been listening to music since I was an infant and it’s been sort of my go-to best friend this whole time. There are just so many things that I’ve absorbed over the years. Songwriting-wise, Elvis Costello was the guy that switched me over from hard rock to smart-songwriter stuff. In the later 80s, I heard his Spike album and thought it was way different from Poison. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands. There are parts of this record where I would draw the line that they’re responsible for the way certain things sound. Elliot Smith is also one of my favorites. Neil Young is like my spirit animal. I also listen to a lot of old school hip hop too. I don’t know if you can hear that as much, but it’s all part of the mix.
ML: Switching gears, what are your top three destinations that you would want to perform in sometime in the future?
JB: I’d love to perform in Japan. I’ve never been, but I know there’s a great audience for this kind of music. That goes back to delivering the goods to the people who want to hear it. I’ve never toured outside the United States. I don’t know how serious I am about performing there, but I do want to go to Iceland. Of course, it would be fun to perform there. I had, for many years concurrent with my band in Albany, a secondary band that was a fake, Icelandic garage-rock duo. We pretended we were from Iceland, but we didn’t have any accents there. It’s kind of like a bucket-list destination. Besides those, I don’t really know, because I haven’t really traveled abroad that much. So, I could put a pin on a map and say, “Let’s go there.”
ML: One of our core objectives at SCP is to bring people together while traveling, not only to influence people to see and appreciate our beautiful world, but to also minimize cross-cultural divides. What effect does traveling, specifically surrounding music, have on humans in this regard? How has it broadened your perspective of the world?
JB: You can only learn so much from looking at a TV. Immersing yourself in someone else’s culture is the best way to get to know and understand something. It’s like Anthony Bourdain’s philosophy of “to really get to know somebody, you have to have a meal with them.” That’s how I see it. Everyone makes their judgments based on the little bits of information they get from the media.
ML: Agreed. Whether you’re traveling for the band or for leisure, what are you most excited about when visiting a new destination?
JB: I’ve been vegan for the past couple of years, so these days it’s where can I actually eat in most cities. Or, in bigger cities, it’s that there are so many cool places I can eat, because it’s expanding. So, when in a new city, I hit up the record stores and restaurants.
ML: Sounds like a good start to me. When searching for a personal getaway, are you looking for a calm beach or a more adventurous getaway? Why?
JB: There’s a balance. Living in New York City, the calm beach definitely has its appeal. Although, I’m probably a more woods person than a beach person. That’s the nice thing about New York being adjacent to so many great places where you can be in the middle of nowhere. You can be in the Catskills in an hour and a half with nobody for miles.
ML: Lastly, what do the next couple of months have in store for you?
JB: Everything is ramping up to the release in August, so we have a couple shows this summer. We’re doing a release show in New York and another one in Los Angeles. We’ll also be doing a couple of music videos for the record and getting ready to release a single. Also, we have a pledge music campaign that we’re using to try to raise some of the money for these projects. That ends on the day before the day it comes out, so it’s an everyday thing to engage people on that.