The Browntones

The Browntones Interview

A new band has emerged onto the Saskatoon music scene, but its members are definitely no strangers to making musical magic.

The Browntones is the namesake that Craig Silliphant and Jody Cason gave to their brainchild. Silliphant, a well-known media aficionado and Cason, an artist with an entrepreneurial heart, have both been making music all over the city for a number of years and decided to start putting their musical prowess down on paper. Their melodic efforts evolved into their inaugural EP, entitled Grit and Glory. The compilation includes eight songs that cross genres, have fun, dig deep, and celebrate music and friendship.

The Browntones

I had the good fortune to have a chat with Craig this past week about how this labour of love has morphed into a beautiful mix of folk, country, rock and well, pretty much everything.

Ominocity: So, really, how did the Browntones come to be?

Craig Silliphant: Both Jody and I used to play in different bands when we were younger.  I was in a fairly well known rock band and Jody used to play in bands with dudes like Shakey Wilson. I turned my musical wherewithal into a writing career, but I was always envious of my friends who continued to hit the stage.

I have an extremely musical group of friends. One night we were jamming around and playing with some recording equipment and I did an impromptu version of one of Jody’s songs. We also decided that Jody and I sounded good harmonizing together. So I built a makeshift recording studio in my house and we started laying down whatever songs we had lying around.

We slowly chipped away at this EP, doing it as an excuse to get together, drink some beer, and get the music out of our system. We even had a percussion party one night to fill in a lot of the shakers and clapping. It started out as fun and morphed into something more tangible – an actual ‘band.’ We played what we could and brought in friends to play anything else we needed.

OM: If you had to describe your sound in four words, what would they be?

CS: Sloppy mountain family jams.

Though not all the songs retain that ‘sound,’ it was sort of the basis for what we were doing. It should sound like a gang of friends and family jamming around a fire, drinkin’ moonshine with hootin’ and hollerin’ in the background, lots of loose percussion and vocal harmonies. All that being said though, I think our sound jumps around, taking from different influences depending on the song.  I hope you can always tell it’s a Browntones song, no matter if it sounds like outlaw country or Rolling Stones-style honky tonk or 1950s psychedelia.

OM: Where did the inspiration for your songs on this EP come from?

CS: I think Jody’s songs set the tone originally. But I don’t think we were inspired, so much as realized what was forming halfway through.  We realized one day that no matter what ‘genre’ we were playing in, a Browntones song usually has a bright melody, but dark, ironic, often story-based lyrics underneath.

OM: Where did the title for your EP ‘Grit & Glory’ originate?

CS: Grit & Glory is meant to portray the duality that surrounds what we do. It’s the method of recording, which saw us hit both amazing highs as well as sloppy mistakes.  The lyrics can be poetic and beautiful at moments, but also dark, mean, or funny at other times. Both the songs and the characters in the songs have moments of glory and moments of grit. We are dark and serious, but we’re also ironic and silly. Grit & Glory seems to capture that and roll off the tongue at the same time.  From the music, to the recording methods, to the lyrics, the very nature of The Browntones is steeped in double meanings, Andy Kaufman-esque humour, and dualities.

OM: Your bio says: ‘it’s all for the sloppy love of music.’ How did everyone’s sloppy love for music bring you all together?

CS: I think the reoccurring theme here is music and friendship. We are all friends that became better friends, over decades, through our sick obsessions with music. Some people golf together. We sit around and listen to records. We sit around and talk about records. And now, apparently, we sit around and make records.

The other part of it is that we don’t care if we make money on this. In fact, we’ve lost a significant amount of money just getting the equipment and such to make it. Some copies are for sale, because great places like The Vinyl Diner need to pay their rent. But we’re just as happy if it’s free. Fuck the major labels. Fuck copyright. I don’t ‘own’ this music. It’s for everyone. Share it. Enjoy it. Upload it. Download it. I’m happy if you’re happy listening to it. I don’t deride a band charging for their music, because they’ve got bills to pay too. But the new model is money through gigging and licensing, not record sales. The record industry lost their stranglehold on the music, and now it’s back in the hands of the people. So that’s the other reason for this record; for the sloppy love of music.

OM: What’s next for the Browntones?

CS: We’re already started on the next batch of songs. I’ve got a drummer out East that I played with in high school. He’s one of the best drummers in Canada, as far as I’m concerned. He’s sending me drum tracks, Postal Service-style. And I met James Wood at Band Swap last year, an amazing horn player. So I want to utilize him a lot.

As for a show, we’ve talked about it. We might do one in the fall. The issue is that I can’t play everything I play on the album so I’d need to hire a band. And that’s a whole other level of commitment, what with coordinating schedules and rehearsing. We may also put a stripped down set together for a Slow Down, Molasses fundraiser in July.

OM: Saskatoon seems like an awesome place to be in a band. Would you agree, and why?

CS: I’m actually working on a book about that very subject. As a music journalist myself, I’m always thinking about the prairie and how music fits into it. I salute intrepid bands like The Deep Dark Woods, Carbon Dating Service, Zach Lucky, Shooting Guns, Slow Down, Molasses and all the countless folks who’ve toured to get their name out there. Each one puts Saskatoon on the map, musically.

I hope prairie music has the power to wipe the smug shit-eating grins off the faces of those people in larger centres that write us off because of our geographic location and hillbilly contingent. What I do know is that we enjoy a camaraderie here that they don’t get in Toronto. Only in a place like Saskatchewan could you sell out a show that featured say, a hip-hop artist playing with a folk singer and a goth metal band on the bill. We support each other – it’s less cliquey. It’s also more incestuous sometimes, but that’s a whole other conversation.

OM: Where can people purchase your music?

CS: Online at Bandcamp, or physical copies at The Vinyl Diner on Broadway.

The Browntones are:

Jody Cason – vocals, rhythm guitar, (and songwriter)
Craig Silliphant – vocals, lead and rhythm guitars, bass, keys, percussion, sampling, producer/engineer (and songwriter)

The Browntones Family is always growing and we’ve added new members already, but the players on Grit & Glory are:

Keef – lead guitars
Alison Whelan – keys, percussion
Chris Laramee – wormholes (um…guitar)
Dave Scaddan – keys, percussion
Jason Barker – percussion
Charis Bauer – percussion

— Contributed by Kathy Gallant