‘Rowdy roots music’
The Brothers Comatose release new album, hit the road
With a growing reputation for playing high-octane, bluegrass-leaning Americana music, the Bay Area-based Brothers Comatose have been steadily raising their profile, adding concert halls and festival stages to the clubs on their touring schedule. In 2013, the band played its first Chico show at the intimate Café Coda, and this Friday (April 22), the Brothers Comatose will be headlining the El Rey Theatre. Founded by brothers Ben (vocals/guitar) and Alex (vocals/banjo) Morrison, the group also features Gio Benedetti on vocals/bass, Ryan Avellone on mandolin and Philip Brezina on fiddle. Ben Morrison recently took time during a hectic tour schedule supporting the group’s excellent new album, City Painted Gold, to answer a few questions.
How do you describe your music to someone who doesn’t know who you are?
We usually tell people we play rowdy roots music. It’s kinda bluegrassy but more rocking.
How did you pick the band’s name?
The name Brothers Comatose started [being used] in 2007 with just Alex and I playing open mics and such. One day the “comatose” came to me subconsciously. Alex sometimes rolls his eyes into the back of his head when he really gets deep into his banjo playing onstage. Kind of like a musical coma.
The songs on the new album come across as very heartfelt, lyrically and musically. How do you write your music?
City Painted Gold was actually the most collaborative effort for us to date. Everyone contributed to the songwriting on this album, and it gives it a great variety of flavors. Usually, one of us will write a song and bring it—the skeleton—to the band and then the band will jam on it and we all help to arrange it to make it the best we can—putting on all the muscle and skin.
How did you come up with the look and narrative for the very striking “Black Light Moon” video?
Alex came up with the whole idea of pioneers in the desert being stalked by desert nymphs with coyote masks. He wrote the song and had a pretty clear vision for the video as well, so he just ran with it. We had a great video crew led by our friend Colin Blackshear, who made it all possible and made it look incredible.
On the band blog, bassist Gio Benedetti mentions working on metal licks for your songs—do you ever insert metal into the mix?
We’re definitely fans of rock and metal. Gio is probably the biggest aficionado. He turned a few Brothers Comatose songs into metal versions for some Kickstarter backers who contributed to our campaign. We dip our toes into the pond of rock occasionally during shows … though it’s hard to tell, since we all play acoustic instruments. Our song “Feels Like the Devil” is about as metal as we get.
After the Chico show you play the MerleFest in North Carolina. Any thoughts on the recent passing of Merle Haggard?
MerleFest is a blast, but it’s actually named after Merle Watson—Doc Watson’s son. We are big fans of Merle Haggard, though. His songs helped create outlaw country music and he was just a badass—doing jail time and living the true life of a country outlaw. We’ve done a cover of his song “Mama Tried” a couple of times. We’ll probably revive that one sometime soon and play it at a show.