Interview: Bob Nanna of Braid
Even though they broke up 10 years ago, Chicago indie/emo band Braid is as relevant as ever, having just released a number of vinyl reissues through Polyvinyl Records in April. Myspace is littered with artists listing Braid as an influence, something guitarist-vocalist Bob Nanna attributes to his and his former band mates’ continued involvement in the music scene and their willingness to keep the dialogue open with fans.
“I owe a lot to the fact that all four of us are still out there doing shows or are on tour, putting out records and online talking to people,” Nanna explains. “I give all the credit in the world to Todd [Bell, bass], Chris [Broach, vocals/guitar] and Damon [Atkinson, drums] for doing that and not hibernating. We still like talking about it, and we like remembering all the cool things about being a band.”
Nanna believes in the power of social media and a strong web presence. It’s something he feels every band should take an active interest in.
“I think it’s absolutely important for bands have a web presence,” says Nanna. “It used to be absolutely important for bands to have a website. Then it became just as important for bands to have a Myspace page. And now I think it’s necessary for bands to have Facebook and Twitter accounts.”
But just having an account and posting show dates and MP3s isn’t enough for Nanna. You need to find a way to connect with your audience: “Bands need to think of it not just as a promotional tool,” Nanna instructs. “Some bands do it very well and are very interactive. After shows they are on Twitter checking out people’s reactions or responding to people or just thanking people for coming. It really means a lot in this day and age having a more personal interaction with a band you like or want to go see. It’s priceless. Probably in 10 years there will be another [technological] thing that bands will have to do.”
This stream of thought speaks volumes for someone who started his band in the early ‘90s when most people using the Internet were wearing lab coats and collecting government grants. When Braid first formed in 1993, the only way to book shows was by tracking down talent buyers and then picking up a telephone.
“We were doing it all ourselves and basically using Maximumrocknroll to find clubs,” Nanna recalls. “Then they put out a book called Book Your Own Fuckin’ Life and that was basically our bible. I remember around ’96 I heard that Sense Field or somebody booked their entire European tour over email. That was just madness to us. We just had no idea the power of the internet in terms of booking. But right around that time Frame and Canvas came out we got a booking agent and let them handle it.”
When Braid recorded their 1995 debut, Frankie Welfare Boy Age Five, they ran out of money after pressing the vinyl and had to get thrifty with packaging. They began buying up used LPs from the local Goodwill, painting over the album art, and individually screen printing their own. The new Polyvinyl Records reissues are completely repackaged, remastered, and stamped on 180-gram vinyl.
“I think they look amazing,” observes Nanna. “Polyvinyl did an awesome job. Todd from Braid did an awesome job making it sound good. He’s a real audiophile. It was just a great experience and it was heartwarming in that it all came together and everyone was psyched to get it out. I’m really happy with the way it came out.”
Braid first signed with the Champaign, Illinois-based Polyvinyl Records in 1998 to release their third full-length, Frame and Canvas. Nanna has nothing but kind words for the label that is also responsible for furthering the careers of artists like Japandroids, Joan of Arc, and Of Montreal.
“I have just the utmost respect for Polyvinyl,” proclaims Nanna. “I ran into Matt [Hubbard, Polyvinyl founder] the other day at an Aloha show and in this day and age when record labels are going under left and right, Polyvinyl is completely thriving and are adding staff. They just opened a branch in San Francisco. It’s because they’re doing vinyl with digital downloads. It’s just amazing.”
Their new attention to vinyl makes Nanna chuckle thinking back to his early days with the label. “The funny thing is that when Braid was on Polyvinyl we had to fight tooth and nail to get them to do vinyl,” Nanna remembers. “Matt didn’t want to do any vinyl. But it’s all about adapting. That’s why some old labels are failing. They just aren’t adapting.”
Not willing to stop growing personally, Nanna has branched out over the years. In addition to fronting some of the most respected and influential indie bands of the past 20 years, Nanna also works as promotions manager for Chicago-based t-shirt designers Threadless, and has created a photo project called Never Ending Polaroid, which involves taking a photo of someone holding the previous Polaroid, creating an endless chain of photos.
“I have 600 of them,” Nanna clarifies. “I hope to keep doing of them because Polaroid took a dive but is coming back. It is a never ending project. I did an exhibit at the Threadless store in Chicago and it was all 600 of them.”
A Chicago fixture, Nanna can currently be found every Wednesday night DJing at Bar Deville in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood of Chicago.
“It’s Chris Broach and me,” Nanna says. “We play ‘90s indie rock and emo and punk. It’s super fun because every week we just end up hearing songs we haven’t heard in forever and we’re just like ‘Oh my god, that song is awesome.’ Even if it’s mainly for our enjoyment, people come and it’s fun.”
It’s Nanna’s continued efforts to keep involved in the scene, staying in touch with friends and fans, that has helped him and his bands remain significant after all these years. In 10 years Nanna will be probably be beaming a hologram into our living rooms, playing intimate live shows from the comfort of his home. If the tech is available you can be sure that Nanna will take advantage.