CHRIS BROKAW

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Chris Brokaw is a multi-faceted musician working out of Cambridge, MA. He's played with a multitude artists ranging from GG Allin to The Lemonheads, was a founding member of bands such as Codeine and Come, scores films, and releases fantastic solo records, such as this year's Puritan. You may be asking yourself "What can't he do?" to which I humbly suggest that you continue reading and see what he has to say.

Hey Chris, thanks for taking the time to do this. Can you tell us a bit about what you do?

My name is Chris Brokaw. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There’s a huge blizzard outside right now. It’s very pretty. I make solo records of vocal and instrumental music. I do some film scores. I play drums in a band called The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries. I play guitar in a band called Charnel Ground. I am sometimes in The Lemonheads depending on the weather and I teach guitar, bass, and drums. That’s sort of my main job right now, during the pandemic.

Chris Brokaw

Chris Brokaw

Oh nice, how has that been going?

It’s nice, I like it. I was doing it before the pandemic started, but I’ve definitely sort of ramped it up since everything else shut down. 

So, I first became aware of you from Come and Codeine. I feel like I discovered them simultaneously. I don’t actually know if they existed simultaneously. 

For a couple years, yeah. For a couple years, I was in both bands. 

Could you give us a bit of history on the various projects you’ve been involved in?

I’ve done a lot of different things, but the first album I made was the 'Frigid Stars' LP by Codeine. The first 7” I did was for a band GG Allin and the AIDS Brigade and it was called 'Expose Yourself To Kids' on Homestead records.

Let's talk about your time in GG Allin's band.

Um, yeah sure. Not much to say, I was in Boston and I just bought a drum set and wanted to play drums with somebody. The first flier I saw the day after I bought this drum set was for GG Allin who, at that point, was not super well known. I was aware of what he was doing and I think he had just signed with Homestead at that point, and his brother Merle, the bass player, lived right around the corner from me. And that was the number I called on the flier. He said “Why don’t you come over and take a look at some of these videos and see what you think.” So I came over and checked this stuff out and it really kind of freaked me out. But me, Merle, and GG got together and auditioned guitar players and we got this guy Tom Nava. He was this heavy metal survivalist kid from Brockton. Funnily, I lost touch with him for many years and have gotten back in touch with him in the last few years. He’s a really nice guy. So we actually practiced for a couple months. There was a big club here in Boston called The Channel all of us really despised and GG really wanted to get a gig there and burn it to the ground, which was hard to imagine because it was basically a giant cinder block. We practiced for a bit and recorded this 7” for Homestead and then he had to go underground for a while because he was wanted by the police in New Hampshire for a few different things. About a year and a half later he called me--I’d played some guitar on the record-- and asked if I’d play guitar with him at a show in Boston at this club called Middle East. I said I was into playing but I was friends with the people who ran that club and I don’t want to be part of something where that club’s going to get trashed or people are going to get hurt. He said “Listen man, I just want to do a whole set of songs. I haven’t played a show in 6 &1/2 years that’s lasted more than 2 minutes.” The band would start, he would attack the audience, and then someone would knock him out. So we did this one show where he was incognito, we were all in drag and some of his people found out and came to the show. Some stuff got broken but not too crazy by his standards. This was in 1989, and I don’t think I saw him again. I still speak with his brother sometimes but it was a short tenure that people continue to ask me about 30 years later. 

You know Scott Giampino, right? I remember him telling me he played with GG for a bit as well, but they never got around to recording. One thing he mentioned pointed out was that GG was always super cool to the band and would do his best to make sure nothing would happen to them during live shows.

Huh. Um, I couldn’t speak to that, but he was certainly very cool with me. Really nice and generous in his own way. I was drinking a lot at that point and we would go out drinking and GG was always picking fights and getting his ass handed to him, like all the time. [laughter]

I’ve never seen anything like it. He was very determined about what he wanted to do. When I knew him he had a sense of humor about it but he was working through a lot of stuff. 

Can we talk about Codeine and what that experience was like?

So, the thing with Codeine is it’s so much about Steve Immerwahr’s songwriting and this thing he wanted to do. He was very specific about the kind of music he wanted Codeine to be, and basically he asked me and John Engle to participate in that. So the three of us crafted what we wanted to be, something very specific. We spent a lot of time disseminating what we thought that should be. It was very passionate music but we almost approached it in a scientific sort of way. We would spend a lot of time debating amongst ourselves what role the kick drum played in a band, what role the guitar played, stuff like that. I really learned a lot about putting rock music together from those guys and still, John and Steve are 2 of my best friends. Both the music and my bond with those 2 guys is very special to me. 

Codeine

Codeine

Are there any specific recording experiences or live experiences that jump out at you or you hold in extremely high regard? 

Well, the first album 'Frigid Stars', which was the first album I ever made, we decided to record not in a studio but in a friend Mike’s basement in Brooklyn just off of Prospect Park. Mike McMackin was a friend of ours working in a pro studio in the city but he really wanted to try recording on 8-track in his basement, so it was sort of an experiment for all of us. Steve was involved with the engineering as well, he has some experience.  We recorded side A and side B of the album about 6 months apart. And I think you can really hear the difference between the 2 sides. By the time we recorded side 2, I think we had a better sense of how to approach that music. The people who really liked that band really liked that band. To other people it was confusing or confounding music. People thought it was ridiculously slow. I remember we did this European tour in 1991, which is the first time I’d ever toured overseas. It was the first big tour I’d done at all, a 3 week tour. We played a few shows in Austria and we played in Vienna and it was such a magical show. Big audience, really cool, beautiful, strikingly well-dressed audience, and we just had a magical show. And then 2 days later we played in some mountain shit hole in Austria for a bunch of skinheads who I thought were going to kill us. [laughter] They’d come out for a punk rock show and we were not giving them what they wanted. It was a pretty frightening evening. It’s one of those circumstances you sometimes find yourself in on tour when you’re in a remote place that’s totally lawless and you have no idea what the fuck is going to happen. In a way, it’s a good primer for what touring is like. One night it's a completely glittery, cosmopolitan, and victorious vibe and 2 days later it’s like “If we get out of here without getting killed, it’ll be a miracle."  Codeine had just signed with Sub Pop. Actually, Codeine and Beat Happening had just signed with Sub Pop at the same time and Beat Happening were at least from the Pacific Northwest, but we were definitely the first non-grunge bands on that label at a time when that label had a very strong grunge identity. So, we did this tour in Europe with Bastro and it was very much hyped as this Sub Pop band Codeine. A lot of people came and didn’t know our music at all and were expecting Mudhoney or something. A lot of people were really taken aback.

So, I guess Codeine sort of blended into Come for you? 

Yeah, well I was playing with both bands simultaneously for a couple years. At the point Come was putting out our first record, I realized we were going to be on tour for 6 months or something and I didn’t think it was fair to either band to try to continue doing both. I thought “drummers are always quitting bands” so I thought I was fulfilling my own destiny as a drummer to quit a band, so I left Codeine to focus full time on Come. 

I moved into my first apartment in ‘93 and it feels like we had a hand-me-down couch, some Christmas lights, a lamp, and a bong. We were 18 year old kids, and Codeine and Come were huge parts of the soundtrack of that space/time. I remember there was a promo poster for '11:11' that was birds in the bluest blue and the the sky was the reddest red, intentionally built to fuck with your eyes. I remember staring at that poster until I couldn’t take it anymore.

[Laughter] That's exactly what it was meant to do.

Was that the first record?  

That was the first Come album, yeah. 

Let’s talk about that band for a bit, if that’s cool.

Come

Come

I met Thalia in 1988. We were introduced by mutual friends who I’d gone to high school with. They had a band with her at the time called Via which was short-lived. I think they only played live a couple times. Really cool band, but those guys invited me over one day to do some jamming with them so I came over and we all improvised music for a couple hours. I immediately had this incredible musical repartee with Thalia, unlike anything I’d ever experienced. She was just about to move to New York to pursue singing with Live Skull full time. So she was down in New York playing with them and touring a lot.  I would go down there and we’d play guitars for 2 or 3 days at a stretch and we just started to become friends. We had this immediate musical bond. We were both playing semi-experimental forms of rock music at that point, but we were both interested in doing something more traditional. A traditional romantic Rock n Roll band. We were really into The Only Ones, The Jacobites, The Bad Seeds, and The Rolling Stones. Eventually we were both back in Boston and I managed to hook up with this rhythm section with Arthur Johnson on drums and Sean O’Brien on bass. They both came from Athens, Georgia. They knew Thalia as well, and I suggested that the 4 of us get together and play, so we did. We practiced for a year or so and did our first show in early 1991 and we got asked to do one of those Sub Pop Singles Club singles a week later. Then we started playing shows with bands like Dinosaur Jr. Things accelerated quickly with that band. We’d only played a couple of shows and suddenly we were getting ready to start making records, and then we recorded our first album for Matador in ‘92. 

Anything that sticks out to you about that time?

[Laughter] There’s lots of stuff that sticks out to me. Arthur and Sean left after the first 2 records and then we did a third record with a few different people and toured with some of them. We did our last record with a bass player and drummer who lived here in Boston. I’m really proud of that music and the collaboration I had with Thalia is one of the great collaborations of my life, and I’d collaborated with a lot of different people on a lot of different projects. I think that was the most interesting, exciting, and unique. I still really love Thalia and she sings and plays guitar on a couple songs on my new album and I played some stuff on her last record. We’ve gone through a lot together as friends and as accomplices, but I think we still care for each other a lot and have each other’s backs. 

Come - Cimarron

That’s fantastic. I was going to say that hearing her voice on 'Puritan' was super cool, knowing Come and everything. After Come ended, when did you start making solo music? The next thing that I know of was The New Year. 

Right, well, it was interesting. I was friends with the Kadane brothers and Come and Bedhead did some shows together. I became very close friends with Matt, who was living here in Boston. I remember us getting together for breakfast one morning and the last Come record was about to come out and the last Bedhead record was about to come out so we gave each other our new albums. Each of us was about to go out on these super long tours and we’re getting together like “Welp, good luck” and each of us went on these tours that were totally soul crushing. By the time both those tours ended, both bands were in flames. Come basically called it quits in April of 2001.

Oh, I didn’t realize it had gone on that long.

Yeah, we took a break because we were driving each other crazy. We didn’t really know what to do with ourselves and finally we did break up. And I was starting to write an album that I didn’t want to be a Come record. I just didn’t know what it was going to be. And Thalia was writing a solo record so I was like “Maybe I’m writing a solo record?" Each of us ended up making solo records. I also made an album with this band Pullman with Bundy Brown, Doug McCombs and Curtis Harvey so I went to Chicago and recorded that with those guys, which was awesome. A really fun record to make and the record was really successful, sold really well, and people were really into it.

I was listening to instrumental music all the time. I was basically listening to jazz music throughout the 90’s so I recorded this album called 'Red Cities'. That was my first solo record, which was an instrumental record. I was acclimating myself to the idea of making instrumental records. Matt called me not long after those Bedhead tours and he was like “Bedhead is breaking up and Bubba and I want to know if you want to start a new band” so I said “Sure.” Matt and I started practicing here in Boston, just the 2 of us and eventually we made the first New Year record in Chicago. I really loved those guys a lot and that was my first time working with Steve Albini, who I was terrified of because of his reputation. He turned out to be a totally awesome guy and we’ve become friends. Through the New Year guys, I ended up becoming friends with Silkworm and a whole little galaxy of friends opened up to me. Doug McCombs and I became friends through the Pullman stuff and we’ve made so much music together over the last 20 years. A whole new chapter opened up largely centered around Chicago. 

Nice. I remember the 'Red Cities' record because Touch and Go distributed Atavistic. I had no idea that was your first solo record. I really enjoyed that record, and the first Pullman record, which I spent a lot of time with. It’s such a calming, soothing, great record. 

Thanks. It was unanimously all of our parents’ favorite record. [laughter] They were so thrilled they could have a record they could put on at dinner time and play for their friends. 

Are you still in touch with the Kadane brothers?

I have not had a lot of contact with them over the last year. I saw Bubba the last time I was in Dallas a year and a half ago... No, I saw him a year ago when I did this performance with my girlfriend in Dallas. He was good, Matt’s good. Matt’s teaching in upstate New York. I don’t know if they’re working on music right now.

I was going to ask if The New Year just kind of ended or if it was something more open-ended? 

I guess it’s open-ended? [laughter] I would say it’s open-ended. I love those guys and I love their music so if they want to do anything and they want me involved, I’d be happy to be involved.

So, you mentioned scoring some films? Do you want to talk about that a bit? 

Sure. I was asked by my friend Roddy Bogawa who is a film professor and filmmaker in New York and an old Los Angeles punk rocker. He asked me to score a movie of his called 'I was Born, But...' and I didn’t know anything about film scoring, but I did it, and it was really fun. It was largely electric guitar based, but there were some different instruments, weird drones, but pretty bare-bones. I recorded it on an 8-Track cassette and gave myself a month to do it. It was a blast. And since that time, I’ve scored 8 movies. They’re all pretty small movies but it’s really fun. I really love it. I did a movie with this couple Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund. When I first started working with them, they were in Texas, but they’re living in Boston now. I did a movie with them called 'Now Forager' and another one called Barracuda. I scored a movie for Leslie McCleave called 'Road' and one for Lana Kaplan called ‘Sospira’. I did this one short ghost story called ‘Mother’s Garden’ and another for Roddy about a British album cover artist Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis called ‘Taken By Storm’. It’s really fun. I really love it and I wish I was doing it more but I haven’t figured out the best way to hustle that work. People have come to me to ask me to do stuff, generally speaking, which is awesome. They want me to do what I do. If any filmmakers are reading this interview now, I’m down to score. 

I’m kind of fascinated with film scoring and you mentioned that it was pretty much an electric guitar and 8-Track, which made me think of ‘Dead Man’. Are you watching scenes when you’re writing music? Are you just getting the theme and thinking it through? Do you have a specific way of approaching things or are you approaching each project differently? 

It’s pretty different with each project. Generally speaking, I am brought in after the movie is finished and I think that’s fairly typical that the music is one of the last things that goes in. It’s up to the director. They tell me what they want, but people have come to me with different directives. There was one filmmaker who said “I really want a theme song with several variations through the movie”. So, I’ve done stuff like that for that film and maybe 1 or 2 others. It really runs the gamut. I’ve worked with people who said “just record a bunch of stuff and I’ll put it in” and then other people have said “Ok when the character walks around the corner and the door closes, this has to happen”, really going frame by frame. I’ve worked on films that have that stuff and everything in between. It’s cool. 

Do you appreciate the challenge of having intense direction or being able to do whatever? 

I like to have some assignments. If the assignments are fun or interesting, it’s nice to have somebody to say “I need you to do this or this.” I like it when a director has specific ideas and can express that clearly. That being said, in all circumstances, I’ve tried stuff out and thought “I have no idea if the director is going to like this or not, I’m sort of going out on a limb here but whether they love it or don’t like it at all, whatever they choose is fine.” It’s a semi-collaborative situation that I really enjoy. At the end of the day, it’s their movie. Whatever I’m doing has to just serve the scene. A lot of times that means something very minimal. And even though I have released a few scores I’ve done as records, the music isn’t necessarily intended to stand alone. It’s only purpose is to serve the film. If it’s something you want to listen to later on, that’s cool. It’s funny you mention ‘Dead Man’ because when I first saw it in the theater I thought it was amazing so I bought the soundtrack and brought it home and listened to it and was like “I don’t really like listening to this at all.” [laughter] It just wasn’t nearly as powerful as the way it was in the movie and particularly the way it was in the movie theater. That shit sounded incredible in the theater but I didn’t like listening to it at home. 

Do you have any soundtrack stuff lined up? 

Nope. 

Are there other solo records you want to touch upon besides 'Red Cities'

Let’s talk about 'Puritan'. I mean, I’ve done a lot of different things under my name to the point where sometimes people don’t always know what to expect. When I go out and play live, generally I’m playing guitar and singing songs with words. I’ll usually play some instrumental stuff, but if I’m playing solo, I will usually go out and sing. I did this show in New York like 6 years ago and this guy came up afterwards and he was like “Uh, that was a good show. The only thing I have of yours is this tape that you put out.” and the tape I put out was this instrumental thing. One side I was playing this echo-y keyboard thing for half an hour and the other side was me playing vibraphone with a thunderstorm going on in the background. It was almost an ambient thing. That’s what this guy was expecting when he came to the show. He wasn’t expecting a guy singing and playing guitar. I like doing a lot of different things and I’ve put different things out under my own name. I didn’t think I needed to come up with a special name for when I make instrumental records. Anybody who is interested in what I’m doing just has to come to terms with that.

The last record I did before 'Puritan' was this album called 'End of the Night' that came out in 2019, an instrumental record. Largely electric guitar but also with a trumpet player Greg Kelley and Lori Goldston on cello. We did this tour on the West Coast in 2019 with guitar, cello, trumpet, and 2 drummers and it was fucking awesome. I had such a good time. But then 'Puritan' is more this rock record with singing that I did with the trio I play with here in Boston. 

Nice. Was the band put together for the purpose of the record or is that the current Chris Brokaw band? 

It’s the current Chris Brokaw band. I was living out in Seattle for 6 or 7 years and I moved back here in 2017 and I knew this drummer Pete Koeplin. Right when I got back I asked him if he wanted to play some music. He and I practiced together for maybe a year and he brought in a bass player, Dave Carlson. The 3 of us just practiced a lot and I was slowly writing these songs. We played live a little bit, but mostly just practiced and then recorded the album, did most of the tracking in April of 2019. We finished mixing in February of last year and then sat on it being like “You can’t put out a record if you’re not going to be out on tour, there’s a plague going on.” But we reached a point where we were like “I don’t know when we’re going to tour again” so, we put the record out. 

The Chris Brokaw Band

Dave Carlson, Chris Brokaw, & Pete Koeplin recording 'Puritan'.

'Puritan' is fantastic. Do you just come up with a theme in your head and go with it or are you constantly writing and finding songs that work together? Is there any sort of process to it? 

Well, I think there’s different processes for different records. With this one, the process was figuring out what I was doing with Dave and Pete, which took a while. I think they’re both amazing players and both in very unique ways. I didn’t have a lot of new songs but I had a few, and I don’t write a ton. I think this is true of a lot of records I’ve made. It’s just working on songs until an album starts to come into focus almost like a mirage. Maybe you write one song that feels like the center of a record and start framing other things around it. So I do it in a blind, intuitive way, and patiently. Certainly with this record, I was not in a hurry to have the whole thing together. I’ll know it when I have a record together and when it’s time to go in and do it. There were 2 songs that I recorded while on tour in 2018. Thalia and I played in Fort Worth, Texas and the guy putting us up had a studio. We were doing The Bragging Rights and The Night Has No Eyes and we went in his studio and did it really quickly. I think it’s all first takes. 

While 'Puritan' remains in heavy rotation at my place, I've also been really enjoying the new Martha’s Vineyard Ferries record, 'Suns Out Guns Out'. Do you want to talk about them? I guess it’s not them, it’s you guys. 

The Martha's Vineyard Ferries

The Martha's Vineyard Ferries: Elisha Wiesner, Bob Weston, Chris Brokaw

I’ve known Elisha for a while. I went out to Martha’s Vineyard around 2004 to play a show and his band Kahoots was playing. He’s been in this band for 20 years or so. Amazing kind of pop band. So I went out there and we played on this bill together and I thought they were incredible and the scene out there was cool so I started going out there a lot. Almost like how I found the crew in Chicago 20 years ago. So Elisha and I became friends and I played drums on a couple Kahoots tours and I’d known Bob (Weston) forever. Bob and Elisha bonded over both being owners of recording studios and geeking out on audio stuff. For a while they had this running joke “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we had a band called the Martha’s Vineyard Ferries?” But eventually they were like “What if we actually do this and who’s gonna play drums?” and I think pretty quickly they were like “Brokaw’s gonna play drums.” So, we did the first record 'In The Pond' in Bob’s basement. Speaking personally, I love playing with those guys and I think I write differently when I write songs for that band. I can’t say exactly how or why. I think people think that because the name of the band is sort of funny, they think of us as a funny, good times band, which is not inaccurate, but I think our new album ‘Suns Out Guns Out’ is where we take things down a darker place. [laughter] I’m really happy with the record. It took us forever to finish and now that it’s done, I’m really happy with it. I hope when the pandemic is done, we can go out and do some touring because it’s a really fun band to play with and I love hanging out with those guys. 

I look forward to seeing stuff from both of these records in a live setting. 

I really want to go out with the trio, those guys have kids and 9-5 jobs. 

One thing you mentioned was that the record took a long time, and it seems really weird considering Bob's involvement in the band.

[pause] Why do you say that? 

I’m just joking, because of Shellac taking 6 or more years in between records. 

[Laughter] Yes, Shellac records take like 20 years. So no surprise there. But it was surprising because the other 2 records we did super quickly. It was the post production that took years. 

Did Bob record this one as well? 

Elisha recorded this one at his place on the Vineyard. 

Can you elaborate on what you meant when you said you write differently with these guys?

I don’t know. I honestly can’t put words to it. I feel like I write songs differently when I’m writing them for that band. Both of those guys tend to write shorter, catchy tunes, and so maybe I try to do that as well. I don’t know. I just feel like I am pleased with the character of the songs that I’ve written for that band that I don’t think I would have written otherwise. One of the things I enjoy about playing with other people is you end up doing things you wouldn’t have done otherwise. 

Definitely. Did you only write on drums or were the 3 of you collaborating on guitars? 

Generally, each person would write a song. And the songs that I wrote, I wrote on guitar and showed the guitar part to Elisha. In some instances, I play guitar on the recording as well. There’s one song on the new record called ‘After You’ where I wrote these lyrics and sent them to Elisha and 2 years later he ended up using them with a verse he added to the end. That’s the only instance where we sort of wrote a song together.  

My wife would be so mad at me if we didn't discuss The Lemonheads. How did you get involved with them?

When I moved to Boston in the 80’s, The Lemonheads had just put out their first 7” 'Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners'. So when I first came here the song 'Glad I Don’t Know' was on the radio every 10 seconds. I went and saw their very first show at The Rat. I didn’t really know them at all, but they were around all the time and at a certain point they became this giant rock band. Evan was also at the first Come show so that’s something we bonded on at one point. In 2001, a friend of mine Tom Johnston who used to manage Come for a couple years was managing Evan and he called me up and said “Evan is going to be doing some shows in England, he’s trying to put together a band which I think is going to be a train wreck, but would you be interested in playing guitar with him in a duo?”.  I’d seen Evan play solo and I thought he was especially great solo. His songs were good, I liked the quality of his voice, and he was obviously a really good guitar player. So Evan came over one day and showed me like 25 songs in one afternoon. [laughs] And we went to England the next day and played this big festival. In England, Evan was a big star but we really got along well and formed a good repartee as players. So we did these shows in England and 2 weeks later he’s like “Hey, do you want to play these 2 shows in Texas and these shows in Ireland and Australia?” So, Evan and I did these little tours where it was just the 2 of us and... he’s a handful, as many people know, but I really love Evan. I think he’s a really talented, complicated person and playing with him is a blast in part because he’s a bit of a wild card and you don’t quite know what’s going to happen next over the course of an evening. Sometimes that’s bad, but sometimes it’s really great. He’s an amazing musician, incredibly smart, and so I played with him a bunch and recorded on his first solo record called 'Baby I’m Bored'. We did a lot of touring after that for years. Around 2009, he started doing The Lemonheads as a 3 piece so I didn’t do anything with him for a couple years. But in 2013, we did the first Varshons record and went on several tours and in 2019 we did the Varshons II record and I went on sabbatical. I would say that I’m at least a charter member of The Lemonheads. 

That’s awesome. That’s an aspect of your career that I was completely unaware of. Have we missed anything?

There’s this band I’m in called Charnel Ground with Doug McCombs and a drummer called Kid Millions from New York. Kid Millions and I did one show together in New York and made a date to go to the studio and do some recording. About a week before he called me and said “what do you think about having James McNew play bass on this recording?” and I was like “Yeah, James is fucking awesome” so James went in with us and made the record and his playing is incredible. It was pretty clear afterwards that he didn’t want to tour on it or devote more time to it, so I asked Doug if he would play bass on it and he’s our new bass player. We did some recording in New York a while ago but I don’t know if we have a whole album in there or not. I can’t wait to get back out there and play with those guys when the pandemic is over. 

Charnel Ground
Charnel Ground: Kid Millions, Chris Brokaw, Doug McCombs.
So, on to the coffee questions. When you’re making coffee at home, how do you prepare it?
 

I make the best coffee in Cambridge and possibly in all of Massachusetts. It’s a really simple formula. I get Lavazza  espresso and make it in an Italian moka pot on the stove top and mix in some cinnamon with the espresso before making it. That’s it. I pour it into a cup and add about ⅗ coffee to ⅖ almond milk. That’s my jam. I have 2 cups in the morning and a third cup around 4pm. 

Have you tried oat milk yet? I feel like the consistency is so much more like milk. 

I’m so enamored with almond milk, I’m not ready to go back to real milk or any alternative. But maybe you can recommend some oat milk brands that are good. I guess when I tried oat milk, I thought it was fine but thought it was inferior to what I was drinking. 

I think we just use Oatly barista edition, but as far as espresso machines in coffee shops, oat milk acts the most like milk when you’re trying to do lattes or cappuccinos. Soy milk you cannot do that, where as oat milk you can actually get a very similar consistency. It's more like whole milk. But I’m also a fan of almond milk and the moka pot, which I don’t use often but I do love it. Are you a fan of the darker roast espresso or the medium roast? 

Darker. 

Say the world was normal and you were out running errands and you were going somewhere to grab a coffee, do you have a go-to drink you would grab? 

In Cambridge? Everyone in Cambridge will despise me for saying this but I would probably just go to Starbucks. [laughter] I haven’t found a small coffee place here that I really like. My girlfriend really likes 1369 but I don’t like their coffee at all. There’s this other place Barismo that’s close by but they seem like assholes and I thought their coffee was sour. It sounds lame but I’d go to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. I like Dunkin Donuts coffee. I really like Starbucks coffee. I get in arguments with people about that. I’ve talked with coffee snobs who say “all that stuff sucks.” As far as I’m concerned, Starbucks put good, strong coffee in parts of the country that didn’t have anything like good coffee forever. Just in terms of its ubiquity as a drug, you can get good, strong coffee there that’s going to set you right in the morning. If I had my druthers, I’d just be drinking coffee in Italy all the time because that’s the best coffee in the world. It’s a different thing. 

I don’t ever seek out Starbucks, but if I’m on a road trip... it might happen. You know you’re going to get a better than decent cup of coffee there. If I’m going to Memphis, I’m not going to pull into some small town in Arkansas looking for the local cafe. 

Yeah, yesterday I was driving across the state and I stopped at a travel plaza and had travel plaza coffee and it sucked. It was terrible. I’m grateful for Starbucks and also really like Dunkin Donuts, but that’s kind of a Massachusetts thing. 

One thing I found really interesting as I got into the esoteric world of coffee roasting, all the roasters were like “On my days off, I just go to fuckin’ Dunkin Donuts." It’s totally solid coffee. I’ll never turn down a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. Do you feel like coffee is a part of your creative process? 

I’ve probably written some stuff when I was over-caffeinated. I probably made some business proposals early in the morning when I was fucking jacked, that later on didn’t seem all that exciting. But I wouldn’t say that it’s part of the creative process.  [laughter] That said, I really do love coffee and have grown to love it. I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was in my late 20’s. As we know it’s almost 4pm and it’s almost time for 4 o’clock coffee. 

Last question I always ask everyone is if they’ve heard any jokes recently and this is the only way I hear new jokes now, so that's why I ask. 

I’m usually pretty good with this sort of thing but I have not heard a good new joke in a while. I have failed you and I apologize for that. 

That’s alright, I have about a 50% success rate. [laughter] 

Chris Brokaw

Many thanks to Chris for the fun and insightful conversation! Be sure to check out his Bandcamp page, as well as the other great projects he's involved with.

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