Eric Brown, despite the responsibilities needed to move over a holiday weekend, was kind enough to supply some answers to questions about his new(ish) comedy album, Patterns.
A comedy album. Is this an idea you wake up with one day? Or is it a slower-developing notion, which develops as you put together an hour’s set?
For me it was a slowly-developing notion. The reason I decided to record it was because my life was changing a lot and I was writing a lot of new material that reflected my current life. I was feeling guilty because I had worked so hard on all the material that was slowly becoming irrelevant and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I had pretty much quit doing all of those jokes and assumed they would just die a quiet death. Then one day I was in the shower and it occurred to me that I could record them and commit them to a project and that would be like a viking’s death for them. Kill them rather than letting them fade away. So I went for it.
And, to get this out of the way, you’ve probably heard “why do physical CD” a thousand times by now? So… why do a physical CD?
The physical copy is a bit dated in terms of stores and normal consumerism but on the road it is a chance for people who enjoyed your live set to help you out. If you’re in their town, sleeping on a couch or in your car and they know they can help you by kicking you $5 or $10 for a CD then they will. I sell buttons and they’re “pay what you want” and I’ve made as much as $10 off of one button before. Physical CDs are a less awkward way to let people tip me for the (hopefully) funny live show they just saw.
How much are you on the road these days? What towns are working for you? How has your touring shifted or changed in the past year, or so?
I go on the road about a week every 4-6 weeks. I currently have a full time job and it’s flexible, luckily, but I still have to be in town to make sure things are going smoothly. That said, I’m pretty much traveling anywhere that I can make a profit from when I get back home. This year so far I’ve been in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio. In late June I’m book in Cleveland, New York (state) and Pittsburgh; and late July I’m doing a tour through the south with my buddy Garrett Smalley.
As far as how it has changed, I am more picky with what I will drive to now because my time is more valuable than it was a few years ago when I would go anywhere for anything. I’m currently building the new hour and going on the road for a week is basically comedy boot camp so I’m trying to stay as busy as possible at the moment while balancing all of life.
You have a real DIY approach to touring, if reading your social media correctly, to the point to staying in some pretty dodgy couch-surfing situations. Any anecdotes stand out, in particular?
I am very DIY because I’m too broke not to be! The strangest experience I’ve had was I found a place to crash through a website called Couchsurfing (which everyone should use to travel cheaply). Patrick Trowbridge and I were in Tulsa, OK and we stayed at a house that was mid-remodel. That doesn’t sound too bad except it was in the exact middle stage of a remodel. There was no carpet, holes in the walls, holes in the floor, dust everywhere. It was really awful actually. The owner of the house warned me that it was pretty rough but I assumed he was exaggerating. He wasn’t. I couldn’t breathe for two days after due to drywall dust floating everywhere.
It felt like a murder scene to be. I’ve quit drinking alcohol in the last few months but was still drinking at the time and I suggested to Pat that we get “very drunk to make this work.”
Let’s get to the album, specifically:
How’d you build the material? I.e., talk a bit about how different pieces have to come together for a thematically-sensible 60-minutes?
I built the material from 2012-2016 with no intention of it being an album; I was initially writing the material to fill 5-10-15 minute spots over the first several years of performing comedy. As some material stayed around for successful repetition and other bits fell to the way side, when I started wanting to record something (as referenced above) I just picked my favorite material from my first four/five years of stand up and found an order that worked. It’s chronological in a sense, for example, my son is three-years-old early on in the album and is six by the end.
It’s a collection of stories and bits I formed over years; how the structure really started clicking was by taking the hour on the road for about a year. There were several iterations before I settled on what I committed to the project. The hardest part was finding where to put the Walden bit. I open with it on the album but that wasn’t my original intention, I just couldn’t ever find a place to put it that didn’t feel weird so I moved it to the opener since it stands on it’s own anyway. Almost like a pre-track to the album in a way.
Technical stuff might be of interest to some readers, e.g., what’re the mechanics of recording, mastering, etc.? Is getting material onto Spotify a breeze, or a pain?
The mechanics of recording are something I don’t know much about, to be honest, I am lucky to have helpful and talented friends like Jeremy Hellwig and Mike Petrowich that made it all come together and not sound like garbage (except for my jokes). How we set up the room for recording audio; a direct line from my microphone to the PA and into a laptop and Jeremy placed Zoom digital recorders around, one in the front and one in the back of the venue to get room tone and audience reaction. We recorded two shows and both were recorded the same way.
For mastering, Mike took all the raw tracks referenced above and mixed them into two hour long versions of my album. The early show and the late show. We then sat together for about 6 hours playing with audio levels and editing the two shows together so that it would be the best version of each bit from whichever show. Some material hit harder in the early show and some hit harder in the late show so we chopped it all together to make it sound like I’m much funnier than I actually am.
As for getting it on Spotify, Itunes, etc., it’s incredibly easy, actually. There are many services that will handle digital uploading for you. I used Distrokid, which I recommend to anyone trying to get anything available digitally. I just uploaded each track, filled in some information and then submitted it with my payment and it was active a week later. The hardest part about Spotify so far has been getting my account separated from some smooth jazz musician also named Eric Brown. It’s a common name and unfortunately my Spotify pages gives the impression that we are the same guy. I’m working on getting it fixed but they’re taking their time.
What’s your favorite comedy record, yours notwithstanding?
Probably Weird Al – Bad Hair Day. I know you wanted a stand up album but I got this CD for Christmas in 1996 and t’s just as funny now as it was then imo. It was my introduction to dark comedy (“I Remember Larry,” “The Night Santa Went Crazy”) and absurdity for its own sake (“Everything You Know is Wrong”). That album is the foundation for most of my comic sensibility. To be compliant to the question: Kyle Kinane’s “Whiskey Icarus” never gets old.