When it comes to making music, Chris Brokaw is an easy lover. With a gorgeous new EP of arid, sprawling, electric guitar-based rock (Stories, Limited Appeal) and upwards of a half-dozen releases planned in 2012 across a variety of projects and styles — including a long awaited full-length solo album tentatively titled Gambler's Ecstasy, which Brokaw considers something of a sequel to his acclaimed 2005 release, Incredible Love — the ultra-mellow multi-instrumentalist is definitely happiest when he is not sitting down.
"Half the time I just stumble on things, if I'm lucky," says Brokaw — he of Codeine, Come, the New Year, etc. — by phone from Seattle, where he now lives after 20 years in Boston. "You've got to get out in the world."
This May, Numero Group will re-issue the entire Codeine catalog as deluxe CD/LPs, complete with rarity packages. This will be followed by reunion tour that will bring the band to ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror festival (curated by Mogwai), Spain's Primavera Sound fest, and an early-summer tour of Europe and the US. Brokaw brings yet another combo, the Chris Brokaw Band, to the Plough and Stars this Friday.
On the eve of this major revival of a group he left 20 years ago, Brokaw reflects back in time through scores of projects to the early '90s, when his service with seminal bands Codeine and Come was the closest he ever got to musical fidelity. "I would probably be more visibly successful if I chose one thing to do and stuck with that," he offers. "The dudes in Spoon aren't out in a million other bands. They are doing Spoon. However, I would argue that my average year is more interesting than Spoon's."
Codeine bassist Stephen Immerwahr agrees that a player like Brokaw was simply meant to wander. "I think a lot of good musicians are poly-amorous, both by inclination, and also nurture," he says. "People want to play with you when you're good."
Although Brokaw straddled both Codeine and Come for a couple of years, he eventually decided it was unfair to stay in both bands. He chose to ride it out with Come, where he was a guitarist and songwriter, as opposed to just a drummer. In both bands, though, Brokaw was able to make records, tour broadly, and become acquainted with the burgeoning slow-core/sad-core, post-rock, and alt-singer/songwriter scenes that were blowing up in places like Chicago, where labels like Thrill Jockey, Drag City, and Touch and Go ruled the day. But in meeting kindred musicians, Brokaw learned that there were other ways to live and make music than by grinding it out as a touring rock band.
In 1996, Come backed Steve Wynn on his Melting in the Dark LP. When Wynn came in and showed the band the songs in one night and wanted to record the next day, Brokaw recalls being knocked out by the idea that a band didn't have to labor over songs for months. It reminded him so much of jazz, which had become an obsession, where musicians played into their 70s, made multiple records a year, and played on each other's projects.