Text & Interview: Alec Coiro
Images Courtesy of Braun
You may know the brainchild behind B•R•A•U•N — Ben Braun — from the power duo Mackintosh Braun. He also forms a father and son duo with Michael Braun of Hall & Oates, who has collaborated with Ben on drums from time to time.
If you don’t know him from either of these duos, that’s perfectly fine because there couldn’t be a better time to discover him than this very moment. The new album is a pure trifecta of musicianship, listenability, and synth bangery. His natural connection to what a lot of respectable people would call the very best music of the ‘80s makes his synth sound more real and less of a pastiche than other practitioners. And that authenticity comes across in a way that’s intangible and makes you want to put it in your ear in a special way. B•R•A•U•N’s roots and style also work nicely against the Portland backdrop both pushing against the “Portlandness” of Portland and also lending B•R•A•U•N a pure focus on the music that might be lost if a sound like this was coming out of somewhere like L.A.
One important thing that I’d like to call attention to in case it gets lost in the coverage of B•R•A•U•N is that it blasts off on the first track (featured here) with some solid, solid sax work, by none other than Charlie DeChant of Hall & Oats. In the ‘50s, when you were putting your rock band together, the first question was: who’s playing sax. Then the sax passed out of rock, but lived on in pop music all the way through the 80s. But now the poor wheezy things is a relic, revived only as a kitsch object to be mocked. It’s fucked up. Do the world a favor a listen to the all-around amazing track, “Washed Away,” and see if you don’t start to crave a little more sax in your life.
But don’t just focus on the one song; the whole album stands up. In fact, if there’s one thing that characterizes the album more than anything else, it’s the way it throws back to that one CD that you’d just leave in the CD player for weeks because it was such a solid listen. So put that shuffle button down and check out the interview with the man himself below.
What sort of gear did you use to make the album; it’s got a ’80s tinge to it; is it also made with instruments from that period?
Yes and no. I wrote a few of these songs originally in Reason 8 (Propellerhead) using digital synths, drums, etc. Then I would dump my idea into Logic Pro and lay down more layers of analog synths like my Juno 106, DS Prophet 08, and DX7. I also loved using a favorite synth of mine called an OP-1 all over the record. It isn’t an analog instrument, but has some amazing character and definitely helped drive my creativity in different directions. I also love running my synths through guitar pedals. The Cluster Flux by Moog, The Avalanche Run by Earthquaker Devices and The Wash by Hungry Robot were a few of my favs on this record.
Speaking of that decade, you worked with Charlie DeChant on the “Washed Away.” How did that collaboration come to pass?
My Dad, (Michael Braun) played drums in Hall & Oates for over 20 years, so I grew up around Charlie and the other guys in the band/crew as a kid. I’d visit my dad on tour and get to spend a few days riding around on the bus and tagging along with him at shows. It was awesome.
Fast forward to 2016 I had a song I wrote for the record called “Washed Away”, I really wanted a lead part for the end section and thought a sax would fit the vibe. I emailed Charlie and asked him, he tracked it a few weeks later. He’s one of the nicest guys and a great musician.
How did you strike such a balance between a retro feel and a more cutting edge sound?
I guess instinctively I write music that leans more towards nostalgic synth-pop, but for me, there’s usually never a plan, I just write what I like in the moment.
It’s funny because I really didn’t set out with a direction for the album at first. I was just writing music that hit me and took me somewhere. Then when I was a few songs in and I felt where it was moving, I just went with it and let it happen. The end result is something I’m proud of because it was a natural progression and that’s always a good feeling as a writer.
For B•R•A•U•N, I just hope I can make a few people say to their friend, "damn, you hear that new shit." That's a solid first goal I think.
How do you see your creative goals with BRAUN as distinct from with Mackintosh Braun?
I think I have very similar goals really. Mackintosh Braun ended up doing more for Ian and I than we ever expected. We just wanted to write music together and try new stuff out in the studio. For B•R•A•U•N, I just hope I can make a few people say to their friend, “damn, you hear that new shit.” That’s a solid first goal I think.
The album is out October 6th. Do you have plans for a tour, and if so can you tell us a little about your live show?
I love playing live but honestly, I haven’t played a solo show yet. I’ve waited purposefully as I try to figure out how I want to represent the music in a live environment. I want to do something a little different with the music live, and that takes preparation and practice. I’m always brainstorming though and hope to get some shows on the books in the near future. I think this stuff would be rad to play out a bit.