A band of sidemen
Dave Brockman’s new trio, the Miles, exemplifies the best the Sac-pop sound has to offer
Sacramento has a long history of pop songwriting. Marshaled, in many ways, around Kevin Seconds’ Poprockit label; a series of SacPop compilation albums (the latest being SacPop 3); and bands and musicians such as Anton Barbeau, California Oranges, Popgun and the Kimberly Trip, the Sac-pop scene has become one of our most recognizable musical exports. As a result, the pop-songwriting bar is set pretty high in this town. When competing with the caliber of pop songwriting Sacramento has to offer, the average songsmith must be pretty darned good just to keep up with the locals.
David Brockman is pretty darned good. In fact, he’s better than that; he’s the kind of songwriter that other songwriters speak of with a kind of reverence. What’s surprising, though, is not how good Brockman’s songs are, but rather that he has been known around town for years—not as a songwriter but as one of the most in-demand sidemen in town. It is as a sideman that Brockman came to form one of the area’s most exciting new pop bands, the Miles.
The Miles is, at heart, a trio of sidemen. Bassist Shawn Hale is a veteran of various Anton Barbeau-fronted bands. Drummer Garin Casaleggio also has worked with Barbeau, and Brockman was a member of the band Ian Faith in the late 1980s. And, for five years, Brockman worked with Rusty Miller and Eric Bianchi in Jackpot. But it took local legend David Houston to bring the three of them together.
“I met Garin when I was playing with Jackpot,” Brockman recalled, “and saw him a few times playing with David Houston. Later, I sat in with David, and that’s where I met Shawn.” The trio worked so well together that when Brockman decided to work on some of his own material, it was natural to ask them to join in—first as a backing band for his project and later as full-fledged band members.
“I like the band thing, and that’s where I wanted it to go,” Brockman admitted. “When I asked Garin and Shawn if they wanted to do a band thing, they said, ‘Yeah, Dave, let’s do a band thing.’” By January of this year, the project that had begun as Brockman’s solo project became known as the Miles. “I still write the songs and bring them in,” Brockman said. “Then we dive in and talk about the arrangement and the feel. Shawn wrote some songs for a previous project he was in, but he hasn’t yet offered to write anything.” Laughing, he added, “I’m afraid of what Garin might write!”
Now, the Miles are completing their first recording, a six-track CD project titled The Golden Weasel E.P., featuring what has become the band’s characteristic sound. Brockman’s lilting, pop-tinged songwriting is coupled with a singing style that, at times, is almost languid in delivery. The result is a laid-back but emotional quality that holds the songs together well. Perhaps more importantly, though, are the changes in the performance styles of both Hale and Casaleggio. Hale’s bass playing in the Miles is more melodic than in his previous work with Barbeau, where his playing was specific and fundamental, and his backup vocals mesh well with Brockman’s leads. Casaleggio’s drum sound has changed, also. His characteristic soft-touch drumming—a style that worked perfectly with David Houston’s sound—has been amped up a notch here, so the drumming is louder and heavier.
The sum is a set of beautiful pop songs that reside somewhere between Men at Work’s classic 1982 album, Business as Usual, and Coldplay’s 2000 release, Parachutes. The Golden Weasel E.P. will be available in a few months, but the curious can consult the band’s Web site (www.themilesmusic.com) for samples, including “Down the Drain,” a song that is perfectly representative of the band’s sound. Or, better yet, check the band out on November 29 at the Blue Lamp, where the Miles shares a bill with Red Star Memorial and the Regards.