The Broken West’s “Perfect Games” | Song of the Week | Indy Week
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The Broken West’s “Perfect Games” 

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click to enlarge The Broken West, in the sunshine - PHOTO COURTESY MERGE RECORDS

Reviews of I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On, The Broken West’s 2007 debut full-length, ran rampant with references to Big Star and Teenage Fanclub. Now or Heaven, the Los Angeles group’s sophomore release for Merge, is a conscious effort to expand beyond that sound: “It was never explicit to the point of, ‘Hey, don’t play that guitar part, it’s too Byrdsy,’” frontman Ross Flournoy told Twin Cities music mag Reveille. “We just really wanted to explore a different area.”

With its ringing guitars, “Perfect Games” would have felt at home on I Can’t Go On but the band’s new focus on the rhythm section puts its melody in the hands of Brian Whelan’s buzzy synthesizer and throbbing bass. The verses examine summers spent with alcohol and self-pity, which gives way the chorus’ shimmering guitars and Flournoy vain exhortation to do something about those problems. And though they might be trying to shake the guitar band tag, like the best power pop “Perfect Games” sounds familiar even on first listen.

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: “Perfect Games” has this upbeat vibe but lyrically is sort of an appeal for change, like, a we-could-do-better vibe, but it’s not really a condemnation. Was that the aim?

ROSS FLOURNOY: I think that you’re pretty close. I think it’s kind of about being in a state of existence of just being too lazy to do anything about what’s needing to be changed. Really, in a way, I think it’s the most literal song on the record. My best friend Adam [Vine] actually wrote the lyrics, but it’s really about a summer that both he and I were going through sort of serious problems in our relationships. And so we spent a lot of time together at his house kind of drinking a lot. The line about spilling our ice cubes on the lawn is very much like what was happening. There was this little lawn that was on a hill behind his house and we’d just sit up there and get hammered. It was kind of our way of coping with these problems that we were both having.

I think the song is kind of about the resignation in a way, sort of like we’d rather commiserate with each other and get really drunk and wade in self-pity. We’d rather do all those things than address the problems we were facing. But that one is pretty much the most personal song on the record. It’s literally almost exactly what we were doing.

I was actually going to ask you about the “ice cubes on the lawn” line. Do any of the other lines in the verses relate to specific events like that?

No. I think they’re all more general. Well, that’s the most specific image in the song. I mean, it was like we would have these glasses that by the end of the night would be knocked over. But the rest of the lines of the verses are a little bit more abstract. There’s nothing as concrete as that particular line.

Did you write this from the angle of "We need to cut this out and do more" or "This is just something that happens."

I think it was more of the latter. I think it’s just kind of a statement of fact. I don’t think there’s supposed to be a resolution in the song. It’s not a song that moralizes. It’s just a song that is really just a snapshot of a particular theme. One of the things that I like about the song—I’ve seen some people write about how it’s upbeat and positive and sunny, which musically it is all those things—but lyrically I think it’s pretty sad. I like that contrast. I like that musically it’s jaunty, but lyrically it’s kind of depressing.

Compared to the rest of the album, it’s got more of a classic sound, that classic power pop that you guys get compared to all the time, with Big Star, etc.

Yeah, I think that one and “Terror for Two” are both songs on the record that maybe could have been on the last record.

You’ve said that you were trying to get Now or Heaven further away from that guitar-based sound of I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On. This song kicks off with the drums first, and there’s a pretty strong bass melody and the keys kind of go along with that. Did the guitar parts still come the easiest and did you have to go back and work on these other elements, or was it just more complete writing this time?

I think it came pretty naturally that way. At one point, when we were making the record in L.A., there were a lot of synthesizers and really not a lot of guitars. When we started to do really intense overdubbing, Dan [Iead], our guitar player, started to bring back some guitar parts. In terms of coming up with an actual “part,” I feel more comfortable on the keys. And I’m not a keys player, but if I have to sit down and come up with a melodic section of a song, usually I figure that out on a piano.

Well, I should take that back. I think on this album, I felt more confident writing guitar parts than I did on the last one. But that’s Danny’s real strong suit because he can sit down with a guitar and, first attempt, he can come up with a basic part. I can’t really do that. But I feel more confident than I did on the last record.

So is that you playing the key part on “Perfect Games,” after the intro with the drums, when the keys and bass kick in?

That’s Brian, who’s the bass player. I think he’s playing a synth bass on that. He played electric bass on that, too, but all the keys on that song Brian plays.

This song pulls a lot of its melody from the bass, at least more than from the guitars.

Yeah, the guitars are really just doing chords. There’s kind of that little solo section where the guitar plays a particular melody, but I think you’re right, a lot of the melodic movement comes from the bass.

You’ve talked previously about working with Thom [Monahan, producer of Now or Heaven] as far as rebuilding tracks and taking something you’ve recorded, stripping it down and recording parts again. Did that happen much with this song?

It actually didn’t. That song was completely untouched as far as revisions. In terms of the structure of the song, as it is on the record is the way I wrote it. There are other songs on the record that were reconstructed quite a bit, but that one was basically unchanged from the way it was finished.

You mentioned your friend Adam writing the lyrics to “Perfect Games,” and he gets co-writing credits on almost the whole album. Can you talk briefly about his role in the band: Does he just do lyrics or melodies? And tell me about his role on this song in particular?

You know, he’s not in the band, but I feel like he kind of is in the band. He doesn’t tour with us, but he and Dan and I are very close, and I think there’s a telepathy between us where one of us can kind of finish the other’s sentences. I think he did a very good job on this record of giving expression to things Dan and I wanted to give expression to, but he’s better at that. But it was a very collaborative process of the three of us camping out at Adam’s house, writing a draft of lyrics, rewriting them, rewriting them again. So everyone was sort of involved. Adam is not actually a musician, but he is very intuitive and has a really good grasp of music even though he doesn’t really play anything. So there were definitely occasions where he’d say, “Hey, maybe you should think about having the keys do some sort of melodic thing in this section.” He’s able to discuss those things very fluidly and offer really good input on the music side, too.

So, on “Perfect Games,” did he write all the lyrics, or did you collaborate on that too?

No, I think that was pretty much all him.

As far as playing these songs both on the record and live when it’s someone else’s words, is it easy from you since you’re coming from the same place. Like, as with “Perfect Games,” talking about that summer, or is it weird at all since they’re not your words?

No, it’s really not my words, but I feel like in a way they are. I know the guy so well and I know how his mind works. I think it would feel weird if it was a song I didn’t get to do because we’re like brothers, you know. It’s not that difficult at all.

The Broken West plays Local 506 Thursday, Sept. 25, with Hammer No More the Fingers. Tickets for the 9:30 p.m. show are $8, and Kate Townsend DJs.

  • Ross Flournoy on drinking, juxtaposition and singing someone else’s words

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