Bar Therapy


The circumstances in which I meet Brendan Boogie are the same circumstances that thrust the idea for his monthly Internet interview show, Rock Therapy, into his head. “It started with me having really good conversations with musicians at bars,” the singer-songwriter said. “During load-in or after the show, [I’d talk  to them for hours about music and life and all these things.” Leaning over the bar of an empty Radio (379-381 Somerville Ave.) in early July, Boogie eats a slice of pizza as I gulp beer and we play role reversal – me interviewing him. Our discussion veers into the new music he’s been writing, his new band,The Broken Gates, Louis CK,Tennessee Williams and – naturally – all these things.

Boogie has kept busy the last few years in Somerville collaborating with many musicians from the area. Since 2008 he’s been recording under his stage name and has amassed a handy chunk of music, but that’s all in the past. He’s recently been hit by a wave of writing that led him to the Gates.This new chapter comes at the end of a motivated, if not overwrought, period with his previous group,The Best Intentions. “Last year I did six EPs in six months and did a bunch of shows with [them],” he said. “Whenever you do something ambitious, you end up burning out everyone that once loved you.”The statement,if attempted poetically, came out flat and inconsequential. Sometimes it’s necessary to wipe the slate clean for the sake of a creative leap.“Instead of trying to replace irreplaceable people, I just decided to throw out all the music I made.” If you’re keeping count that’s six EPs, plus two full length records all down the drain. CDs cracked in pieces and thrown in the trash—gone (though streaming still online). “I don’t [play] any of them live anymore,” he said. “I just decided to start writing music and see what happened.”

What happened was a more refined focus and a sense of direction. “I’ve got a totally different arrangement,” Boogie said of his new group,. Helping him accomplish that sound are Kevin Mahoney (guitar, vocals), Scott Kremer (bass), Phillip Ouelette (drums, vocals), Chris Coughlin (keyboards, vocals), Scott Miller (sax) and Jess Fox (sax, violin, vocals).

Big into the grassy heartland songwriters like Tom Petty, Elvis Costello and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Boogie follows one key rule: “Ultimately, I’d like the song to be front and center,” he said. “I think there are bands that are really into sounds—and that’s cool—but, I’m more into the song.”

In the two hours after our interview Radio crawls to capacity as The Broken Gates ready for their debut show. Boogie and his cohorts fill the stage. He remains centered, neatly gruff and under the shadow of his hat’s brim. They start right in without hesitation.

The new songs are well structured and lively, outsourcing folk, pop-rock, burning blues and psychobilly to create a hot Southern grass-in-your-teeth sound all their own. “Lonely Girl,” three songs in, is a rowdy surf rock slicer that could be climax music for a Tarrantino movie. In my memory there are flames rising from the stage. The full lineup bulks up Boogie’s songs. If he’s the architect, then the Gates are the construction workers laying the pipe and setting the brick.The horn section, filled out by Miller and Fox, takes on a Springsteen-like importance and embraces the new-found emotion with every raw, sliding note. Fox frequently switched from sax to violin during songs, reshaping them. There is great spirit on the stage and great streams of sweat coming from everyone.

On display is Boogie’s full understanding of the ins and outs of songwriting. On impact each song has a classic familiarity before revealing its own originality. What really set the Gates apart live,though,was when Boogie loosened his tonsils. Out comes the ghost of Roy Orbison howling across the deserts of time. It may be something Boogie himself is not even aware of yet, but it’s there. Other times his vocals are a lowly grumble steaming with exhaustive percussion. He warbles, spits, moans and growls.

Lyrically speaking, the frontman is “all strung-out on love,” a “god-fearing man” and gets “born again.” One number he calls “an unapologetic love song.”The move to tackle stronger subject matter is Boogie using his pivot foot.This is Boogie taking a sudden left turn.This is Boogie getting real.“I’ve decided to go in a different direction lyrically and be less ironic,” he said. “I have a lot of songs with humor in them and I’ve decided I’m done with that.”

His past recordings have a kooky, if not awkward, charm to them. “Jenna Haze,” from The Cassingles, is a fist-pumping rock ode to the porn star. “I always liked humor songs as a way to express rage,” Boogie explained. “The best comedy is by real angry people: Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Louis CK now.” But as the humor drops out, all that’s left can be cold, hard reality, right? “I’m going to get real, real negative.” Might there be a twisted darkness uncoiling in the depths of one Brendan Boogie? Only time will spell that out.

Boogie and the Gates showcased, easily, an album’s worth of new songs, but plans of any type of release have not yet been conceived. For now a three-song EP from the debut is offered on the group’s Bandcamp page. Right off the bat they’ll have a chance to work these new songs into a lather with their monthly residency, the Rock & Roll Radio Revue, at Radio, where he invites other local bands to share the stage with him.

It’s those same local connections that allowed Boogie the comfort to start a program like Rock Therapy, the interview show. Often he’ll have previously collaborated with his guests making the atmosphere friendly and wide open. He keeps it loose, injecting humor where he can, but also steers his guests to the heart of their work. As he put it,“I’m going to climb inside [their] heads.”

Boogie often refers to the show as “a little mom and pop thing.” It’s a modest start, but presence is everything.The show’s audio can be streamed live on Boogie’s website and can be downloaded from iTunes when it ends.

Rock Therapy is a chance to promote the thickly connected mass of musicians doing work in Somerville, he said. “These interesting, talented people are right here in our backyard.”

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