The Brothers Comatose craft high-energy indie bluegrass
Though the moniker, chord changes and twangy, lamenting storyline might seem similar, The Brothers Comatose have carved out a sound all their own among the brotherhood of “brothers” folk bands.
And besides, singer/guitarist Ben Morrison says that he and his band are simply following in the footsteps of a deeply rooted American tradition.
“I don’t worry about it,” says Morrison, who had just wrapped a rehearsal in Petaluma—one of the band’s two practice spots (the other is in San Francisco). “I think that’s part of the tradition of everything—the whole family band.”
Listening to the band’s second LP, From The Road, it’s clear that Morrison doesn’t really need to fret about any accusations of rubber-stamping. The Brothers Comatose distinguish themselves quite clearly from the pop-sensible, punk caterwaul of The Avett Brothers, and the downtrodden, Dylan-esque rambling of The Felice Brothers. With their blistering, old-school bluegrass guitar runs or the ubiquity of foot-stomping fiddling, as seen on tracks like “Pennies Are Money Too” and “The Van Song,” there is no question that these guys owe more to the fast-picking, hoe-down-ready jams of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band than the introspective alt-country of Gram Parsons.
Morrison is conscious of the energy his band produces. In fact, the group’s name comes from how that energy affects his actual brother, and bandmate, Alex, who rolls his eyes way back into his head when he is really felling a particular jam.
That’s why he also isn’t concerned that those unfamiliar with his band’s tunes will skip The Brothers Comatose show at Moe’s Alley this New Year’s Eve. Sure, he says, there are some that might prefer to hear a DJ spinning top 40 tunes or electronica. But for the folks out there that like “real people playing real instruments,” Moe’s is the place to be to honky-tonk into 2013.
“Santa Cruz tends to have some of the craziest, rowdiest crowds,” Morrison says, admitting he is particularly excited about the upcoming show. “When you’re playing a show and having a party, it makes it extra cool to have the audience going buck wild.”
It’s no surprise that The Brothers Comatose are all drawn to the high-energy side of the folk and bluegrass spectrum. Though the Morrisons were first introduced to music by picking out folk tunes on acoustic guitar and banjo in their family’s living room, they soon found themselves playing in punk rock bands through their adolescence. Ultimately, they ended up looping back to the sounds and structures they learned as children—and at the moment, Morrison can’t really see himself doing anything else.
His brother Alex never put down his banjo, no matter what band he might have been playing for. “I’ve always played acoustic guitar,” Morrison says. “I always wrote songs on acoustic guitar and I always thought it sounded better on acoustic guitar, even when I was in a rock band.”
Just because The Brothers Comatose has an affinity for the sounds of old Appalachia, doesn’t mean they’re stuck in the past. In fact, the group is completely plugged into what Morrison believes to be the future of indie music financing—Kickstarter.
“I love Kickstarter,” he says. “It’s amazing.” The Brothers Comatose raised $10,000 for their sophomore LP, which allowed them to take the time they needed to get Respect The Van just right, unlike their debut, Songs From The Stoop, which he says “was definitely rushed.”
But beyond funding the group’s latest album, the Kickstarter campaign was a huge confidence lift for Morrison. It showed him that there were a lot of fans out there who cared, and above all it “debunked the notion that no one wants to pay for music anymore”—no matter if that music is made on a computer or through good, old-fashioned, foot-stompin’ jam sessions.
The Brothers Comatose play at 9 p.m. Monday, Dec. 31, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15/adv, $18/door. Call 479-1854.
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