Chris Braide – Downes Braide Association

DBA vinyl.inddChris Braide is a prominent singer songwriter and producer who has written and produced songs for such popular artists as Beyonce, Lana del Rey, Paloma Faith, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, David Guetta, Sia, Afrojack and Marc Almond. In his accomplished career, he also been awarded Ivor Novello, ASCAP and Billboard Awards. Most impressive though, is the music that Chris writes and records as a performer. From his excellent work in 2012 on ‘The Producers – Made in Basing Street’ with Trevor Horn to his entertaining solo albums, Chris Braide is a man of many musical talents.

In recent years, Chris has become a welcome addition to the Progressive Rock scene. 2015 saw the release of two Chris Braide projects, This Oceanic Feeling’s, ‘Universal Mind’ and ‘Suburban Ghosts’, the second DBA album with Geoff Downes. Both of these albums display Braide’s gift for writing a memorable melody, but they also embrace a progressive depth and lyrical intelligence that is thought provoking and engaging. Chris is a breath of fresh air in the modern prog world and he is making music that demands (and deserves) to be heard. In this interview, he provides great feedback about his longtime love of progressive rock, working with his musical heroes and the possibility of DBA live shows amongst other topics. Thanks again to Chris for the interview. He was friendly, gracious and answered each question with such enthusiasm that as an interviewer, I wanted to ask him a hundred more. Hope that you enjoy the interview and go out and pick up a copy of DBA’s, ‘Suburban Ghosts’ and This Oceanic Feeling’s, ‘Universal Mind’. They are both well worth it.

Chris Braide Interview conducted by Patrick McAfee on November 6th, 2015.

DPRP: Thank you for taking to time to talk with me today. It’s really a pleasure to speak to you.

Chris: Absolutely.

DPRP: Please allow me to start things off by saying that you have released two of my favorite albums of the year. I had the privilege of reviewing the ‘This Oceanic
Feeling’ release for the website a few months ago and that album was fantastic and then to follow it up a few months later with the new Downes Braide Association album
is pretty incredible, so thank you for that.

Chris: Wow! Well, thank you very much, that’s really very lovely to hear. Yeah, its been a really productive time actually.

DPRP: Yes, its obviously been a very busy year and for those two albums to come out one after another is really impressive. The ‘Universal Mind’ album was great and obviously, I was familiar with the first DBA album, but when I heard ‘Suburban Ghosts’, I was really pretty blown away by it.  It is really fantastic.

Chris: Wow, that’s fantastic. Thank you very much.

DPRP: You’re welcome. Well, I’ll jump into a few questions. You are a successful musician, songwriter and producer who often professes your love for music and how important it was for you growing up. With that in mind, when did you first discover the work of Geoff Downes?

Chris: I first discovered Geoff with the first ‘Buggles’ album, because obviously I was a kid when ‘Video killed the Radio Star’ was a hit. I remember seeing it on TV and also ‘Living in the Plastic Age’, which I really loved.  Even more so than ‘Video killed the Radio Star’ actually. My older brother and I walked by the record shop one day and it was there, the album, and we were just obsessed with it.  I remember even then at that age thinking, these two, they got something about them. Everyone at the time was saying that they were a one hit wonder and that kind of thing or throw away pop and I remember thinking, No, there’s more about them than this.

DPRP: Absolutely. I know that you have worked with a lot of notable artists, but do you ever pinch yourself per say when working with a musician who played an influential part in your musical upbringing?

Chris: People like Geoff, you mean?

DPRP: Yes, people like Geoff.

Chris: Yeah, but, you know, music its sort of like its own language in a way.  I suppose initially you think, “well, great, I’m meeting this guy” because I’ve always wanted to meet people that I admire, but once you start making music together, that all goes out the window in a way. Not in a bad way. I mean it’s wonderful, but you start speaking the same language, if you know what I mean, if it doesn’t sound too high falutin. The same with working with Trevor Horn. At first, it was like “this is great, I’m going to be working with Trevor Horn” but then a few months in, it’s just ‘Trev’, you know what I mean? At that point, you’re talking in the same language, because its music and music is that universal thread that we all have.

DPRP: That’s interesting, because when listening to both DBA albums as well as the EP that you and Geoff have recorded together, there seems to be a very significant chemistry there. Especially on the new album. There is a very instinctual feel to it and whereas ‘Pictures of You’ at times had more of an effective demo like quality to it, ‘Suburban Ghosts’  seems to be more polished. It just sounds like there is a growth there and a natural chemistry going on that is really fantastic.

Chris: Yes, thanks and I think you’re definitely right that it feels a bit more like a real album. I think with the first one, we weren’t sure really. We met at some show in London and then I moved to the States very soon after that and Geoff was out touring. So we got together on these sort of, as I think everyone knows now, moonlighting sessions. When he wasn’t working on ‘Fly from Here’ and I wasn’t working on whatever I was doing then, we would put a bit of time in and write together but we really didn’t know how it was going to go. We didn’t think at that point that we would be talking to people like yourself who love the records and that there would be an album two situation, so….

DPRP: Well, I have to say that I have been a fan of Geoff Downes’ music for many years and I put the DBA albums at the top of his discography. There is just something about them that really works.  It helps that I am a fan of your work as well so it’s a best of both worlds sort of thing. I discovered your work with ‘The Producers’ and then dug into your solo work such as ‘Something Always Happens’, ‘Hello Leo’, etc.  It’s great that you’re working with people like Geoff. It seems like a natural combination and there is some really great stuff coming out of your work together.

Chris: Yeah, that so nice of you to say. It does mean a lot to me that those records are out there and people are digging them, it’s great. It was really special with Geoff. I’m sure you know, when you start looking at discography names, that there are a lot of people that I’ve worked with, but there is something special about when I write with Geoff. It is that unspoken thing and I think it’s because I know his records so well from my youth.

DPRP: It shows. His input into the music feels perfect. That Geoff Downes sound, per say, is there and it just meshes really well with your style and your writing. With that in mind, as I work for a progressive rock website, to me, the ‘Oceanic Feeling’ album and the new Downes Braide Association album play really well together. Lyrically, conceptually, there are some similarities there and they feel very conceptual. Do you enjoy writing with a theme in mind and are there favorite conceptual albums in your past that have influenced you?

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Chris: Oh, undoubtedly, I absolutely do love writing like that because it gives you a reason to do it. Being a very long time ‘Pink Floyd’ fan as well, I always loved that stuff when Roger Waters had an idea that he had to get out. I mean, ‘The Wall’ obviously. It sounds a bit hackneyed to cite that as an influence, but it was just fantastic and ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ of course. I do love writing like that because it’s like working on a movie. I have written albums that are a collection of songs that you sort of string together and you can kind of make them flow with running order, as you know. There is something really fun though about having a concept that you work towards, chip away at it and then bring back a lyrical or a musical theme. I love albums with intros and outros and interludes and things, I do really enjoy that. I’m a huge ‘Yes’ fan as well, but I think in terms of lyrical influence, Pink Floyd, when Roger was involved…I don’t mean _The Division Bell_ and stuff like that, but I loved when Roger was involved. You know, put that _Dark side of the Moon_ album on the 5.1 and leave me alone for an hour with a glass of wine…Ok, I’m in heaven.  Because I am on the journey with them and I want people to be on the journey when they hear this album (Suburban Ghosts) and also ‘This Oceanic Feeling’. They are very real and they’re from the heart.  They’re about things, if you know what I mean.

DPRP: Absolutely. Lyrically, both albums are very relatable and thought provoking to a listener. Soul searching and even a bit somber, yet ultimately, very optimistic. I feel that both albums leave you feeling upbeat, and definitely take you on a musical journey. ‘Vanity’, from the new album, as an example is just absolutely brilliant lyrically.  Being from the UK and now living in Los Angeles, did that influence the lyrics and theme of ‘Suburban Ghosts’?

Chris: Oh yes, absolutely. I mean, even if you don’t realize it at the time, you listen back and go, oh ok, that is somebody who is dealing with where their place is in the world. I’ve said this before to people actually, and without sounding too somber as I’m normally a very upbeat person, but it’s funny when somebody says to me, “Where are you from?”, I sort of throw my hands up and say, “I don’t really know”.  I am from the Northwest of England, but I lived in London longer than that so does that mean I should say London? That’s not really where I am from though. Now, I am in Los Angeles and have been here for five years. I don’t know where I am from, but in a way, I think that keeps life exciting. I’m definitely not one of those people that has my slippers on and am settled down and you know, maybe I ought to be at this point (laughs).

DPRP: I understand because I grew up in a small town on the east coast of the United States but I have been in LA for quite a bit longer now. As for LA, it is home for me at this point, but I don’t know if you ever get fully used to it and you also never really run out of things that surprise you about the place.

Chris: Yes, I agree with you.

DPRP: Though I think ‘Suburban Ghosts’ fits into many different musical categories, the album is definitely quite progressive. There is accessibility to each song, yet there is also a musical depth and variety that is really exciting. With some of the work that you have been doing in the last few years, your name now gets mentioned in the progressive rock spectrum quite a bit. Does that surprise you or did you set forth to write and record in a more adventurous style?

Chris: Yeah, without a doubt. It doesn’t surprise me at all and I have always loved progressive rock, ever since I was a kid. Even if you think about that first Buggles album, it was really….I mean, they were big YES fans so…. OK, it was a pop album with eight tracks on it, but really, the illusions of progressive grandeur were there. All my favorite writers actually, even the pop guys….people like Paddy McAloon from Prefab Sprout who I adore, I think he is incredible, he could write a concept album next week. In fact, in one of the interviews that I read with him when that last album came out, he said that he had written a whole album called ‘The History of the World so far’ or something like that and I thought, there ya go, we’re all the same.  Yes, some of us might sort of get dressed up in a more pop style,  but really my heart has always been in progressive music, so it doesn’t surprise me at all. I could talk to you all day about progressive rock.  I mean, sometimes I  think progressive rock gets a bad rap, because everyone thinks it’s, you know, eight guitar solos a minute and that kind of stuff. I find that quite sad in a way because I am always flying the flag for progressive rock or progressive music if you like. Kate Bush being one of my biggest musical influences is one of the greatest artists in that genre, but no one would really think so. People would say, “Really? She’s progressive?” and think her more of a pop rock artist, but of course she is progressive. ’50 Words for Snow’, ‘Ariel’ and all her other albums that I’ve been hugely influenced by.

DPRP: I think one of the secrets of great prog, in my opinion and where you really excel is…I don’t think you ever lose touch with the value of a wonderful chorus or a melody that works, but there is also an adventurousness there that takes things to a different level which is really great.

Chris: Yeah, exactly, the chorus…you don’t need to sabotage the chorus in the name of progressive rock.  I mean, Yes did pretty well with ‘Going for the One’, ‘Wonderous Stories’ and ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’…talk about choruses!

DPRP: Now, with two albums and an EP to pull from, is there any chance of live dates from DBA? It would be wonderful to hear this music in a live setting.

Chris: It would be fantastic and I get asked this question quite a lot now. Especially about the stuff I’ve done with Geoff, because obviously in terms of being a well oiled machine on the road, Geoff is definitely up there. The idea of doing something live together would be really great, but its how you do it, you know, and where you do it. If it was a case of, “An Evening with…”, that is how I think it could be quite entertaining and we throw in some “hits” from our careers as well. I think that could be nice.

DPRP: That would be fun. In a way, you actually have two very significant careers. There is the work that you do writing and producing for people like Sia, Beyonce, Marc Almond, and many others, which is exciting and then you have this great singer/songwriter/performer side of your career.  In terms of these two factions, do you prefer the song writing and hearing other people perform your work or do you really like sitting down and crafting your own music and seeing that finished product?

Chris: I suppose there are two ways of looking at that really. Writing songs for bigger artists that hopefully, fingers crossed, sell records. It’s a good living, you know, so that obviously is important. It’s always great hearing any music you’ve been involved with out there being received well and successful, so I do get a thrill out of that. Also, it keeps me fresh because I don’t, sort of, get bored…I mean, I get bored…I do music every day and have been for thirty odd years, but as you say, I might be working on a Sia record one day and the next day there is someone else and we’re getting our heads wrapped around that. That really is quite fresh for me. I don’t get jaded with it, but writing my own stuff, making the ‘Suburban Ghosts’ album was just utter joy, and there’s no pressure in the same way. I mean, if I’m writing or producing for other artists then I’ve got labels and managers and the artists themselves. They want the best and they’re not playing around. They need success and they need something to be, hopefully, a hit. So, it’s a different kind of pressure. The only pressure I put on myself with ‘Suburban Ghosts’ is that it’s got to be great.  Because I want to talk to people like you guys (at DPRP) and get the feedback that I just got, because that makes it all worthwhile.

DPRP: I’m kind of an old school guy from a music perspective. I grew up in the 80’s and I would run to the record store and excitedly buy albums on the day that they came out. When I hear an album like ‘Suburban Ghosts’, it is really is exciting, but I also look at the music scene nowadays and think, this is an album that millions of people should hear. I know that it’s tougher these days, but working for DPRP, I try to do my part to get the word out to people because albums like this are very exciting. The songwriting, the performances, the production are all outstanding. I think it’s a special album for people to hear.

Chris: I really appreciate that and yeah, it would be nice if a lot of people heard it, because I think of the care and attention that went into it. Also, great music is about heart and soul isn’t it? My favorite music, you can always hear the heart and soul in it and I think there’s a lot of heart and soul in what I’ve done this time with Geoff. The other time as well (Pictures of You), but I think you’re right, it did sound perhaps like a collection of, intensities (laughs)…demos that had been polished.  I think there’s a lot of heart and soul in this album and it would be great if people could hear it.

DPRP: No doubt about it. I mentioned the song ‘Vanity’ earlier and I will tell you that when I first heard that song, it is one of those goose pimple songs that just kind of takes things to another level. The keyboard interludes and everything about the song lyrically and musically just jells. It’s really a special piece of music.

Chris: Oh, fantastic, that is so nice. Yeah, it’s a good one that.  Just kind of came out of that chord progression really. It was one of those that really begged to be left as it is. It could have been fleshed out and more produced with drums, bass, blah, blah, blah, but it just sounded right like that. It’s funny how sometimes the song dictates how it wants to be dressed.

DPRP: It does. It works so well with the lyrical element of the song though, the sparseness of it, for lack of a better word. With the strength of ‘Suburban Ghosts’ in mind, do you see Downes Braide Association being a continuing project? Do you think you and Geoff will continue to do these albums every few years?

Chris: At this point, I don’t see why not. After the ‘Pictures of You’ album was received really well, that was a bit of the incentive then to do another one. Whereas if that had been ignored or…not that we promoted it particularly heavily because it was really just a kind of a getting to know each other project..but because that was received so well, it gave us the incentive to do another one. The feedback I am getting for the new album is heartwarming. I’ve not had any negativity, you know and that’s quite nice.

DPRP: There’s nothing to be negative about. Speaking of ‘Pictures of You’, I mentioned earlier that you write lyrics that are very relatable. The first time that the song ‘Pictures of You’ is listened to, it comes across a bit like a traditional love song, but then you realize that it is really about love of music. Again, to my point about a song that so many people could relate to. The way that you crafted that, for anyone that music is vitally important to, that song is like an anthem.  It’s very special and really quite moving.

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Chris: Thanks. It’s interesting that you say that because I played that song to a family member and they got quite emotional at the end. They thought I had written it about my wife and I didn’t want to burst their bubble, so I just left it and didn’t say anything. Then after a bit of time they said, “That song is about music isn’t it?” and I said “Yes” (laughs). It’s fairly obvious really, but then it’s like the John Miles track, ‘Music was my first love’, as you said, it’s like a love song, but why would it not be?  We are all totally obsessed with music. Our first love affair…I mean, I’m not speaking for you, but I’m speaking for me and my brother and such…Your first love affair is music. I mean the first posters on your wall and that first 7 inch vinyl that spins on your turntable. That’s LOVE! So, it is a love song.

DPRP: It is a love affair, particularly back in the day. Nowadays, you can download a song in three seconds, but back when we were younger, there was a chase there. You had to search out the albums. I loved to go into record stores just to browse and I would buy albums just because the cover intrigued me.

Chris: Oh, Yes. Definitely.

DPRP: That’s lost a bit these days, but music is a love affair and ‘Pictures of You’ captured that feeling better than any song that I’ve heard concerning that subject.  One last question.  I know that 2105 has been a busy year for you and I don’t know if you want to let the cat out of the bag, per say, but anything coming up from you in the near future that fans can get excited about?

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Chris: In terms of my own stuff or…

DPRP: Either or. Speaking for myself, I would be excited to hear about anything that you are working on, solo or otherwise.

Chris: Right now, no major plans in my head at the moment. Although, I don’t know how premature this is, but I do have a complete ‘This Oceanic Feeling’ album in demo form. Geoff’s manager actually said to me, “Bloody hell, when do you actually take a minute off”. Its true (laughs), but when you are on that roll, you know how important it is as a creative person yourself, that when you are feeling inspired, you really do have to…to use a corny phrase, strike while the iron is hot. So I did demo a complete album. It’s drum machines, not the band on it, but it’s a complete album. So, I don’t know if that’s next on the agenda, but I just had to write those songs and there’s some corkers on there. It does sound good, I’ve got to say. Maybe, if we meet, I’ll play it for you.

DPRP: I definitely look forward to hearing that. As I mentioned previously, I had the pleasure of reviewing the first _This Oceanic Feeling_ album for the website and even being a fan of your previous work, I was taken aback by the album and I think it is easily one of the best of the year.

Chris: I did see that. It was amazing.

DPRP: And that was before I heard ‘Suburban Ghosts’, so now you’re competing with yourself on my top of the year list (laughs), but again, I am looking forward to any future music from you. More than anything else, I just wanted to say that I truly appreciate your time today, all of your great answers and most importantly, thank you for all of the wonderful music that you are putting out there. It really is exceptional and special.

Chris: Well, thanks so much. It really does mean a lot that. It’s fantastic. I think that ‘This Oceanic Feeling’ and ‘Suburban Ghosts’ are the proudest moments at this point, in terms of my own statement if you like. I like that though I am sort of in admission of the fact that I have been around for quite a while now, I feel that things are getting better. I’ve seen artists over the years that I loved and watched the trajectory go the other way as they got into the middle of their careers. I don’t feel like that and I’m just universally grateful.

DPRP: I agree with you. To release two albums of the high quality of ‘Universal Mind’ and ‘Suburban Ghosts’ in the same year is really impressive and my hats off to you. They are quite different in many ways, but as I mentioned earlier, they also work very well together. For my taste, they are your shining moments so far and that’s against some tough competition.

Chris: Well, excellent, fantastic

DPRP:  Chris, thanks again for your time. It’s sincerely appreciated.

Chris: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure. Cheers.