In the 1990's musical landscape, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois' Braid carved a place for themselves that continues to resonate.
Armed with a much deserved reputation as a touring band, their dual guitar and vocal assault coupled with a math-rockesque rhythm section earned them a legion of fans and a popularity that continues to grow over a decade later.
In 1992, Bob Nanna, who was playing drums and singing in a band called Friction, decided to start copying and collecting videos of shows taped by him and his friends. Once the collection grew to a respectable size, wanting to find others to trade videos with, he placed an ad in the classifieds of Maximum Rock n Roll.
In early 1993, his ad was answered by another young drummer, Roy Ewing of Thomasboro, Illinois. Roy was looking to get a copy of the last Sludgeworth show but had nothing to trade. All he could offer was a personalized tour of Champaign-Urbana's record stores. Coincidently, Bob was getting ready to graduate high school in May and become a freshman at the University of Illinois in, you guessed it, Champaign-Urbana. Bob took him up on the offer and Roy got the video.
In town, days after arriving, Bob called Roy and the two arranged to meet in front of Illini Orange. They canvassed local record stores, making a stop at Parasol Records which, at the time, was but a mere door-in-a-wall. The two became quick friends, making frequent trips to Normal, Illinois to skate and visit acquaintances at Illinois State University.
Bob soon introduced Roy to Pete Havranek, an old friend from Chicago. Pete was looking to play in a band. Despite already being involved in Lowercase N, Roy decided to take a chance and start a new project. Pete was on guitar, Roy on drums. Bob, who was so used to hiding behind the drums and singing in Friction, wanted to join, but only on vocals. The only element they lacked was a bass player.
Enter Jay Ryan. Jay began to practice with the three in his basement. Around this time, Bob tried his hand at playing guitar and they chose the name Braid. Practices were slow and Jay was a busy senior, so he had to bid farewell. (Don't feel bad though, he ended up forming Hubcap and Dianogah as well as the acclaimed Chicago screen print shop The Bird Machine.)
As a replacement, Todd Bell of Lowercase N was brought aboard. Another vocalist, Kate Reuss joined and the band's first show was planned for December 10, 1993 in Danville, Illinois. Kate left the band after only her second show. The only song this incarnation of Braid would record, "Elephant," was released a year later on the Ghost Dance double 7" compilation off of Slave Cut.
The following year, Friction parted ways and Braid became a full-time project. After a mediocre show in Urbana, the band decided they still wanted another vocalist. Chris Broach of Wheeling, Illinois had come to the show wanting to hear the band being billed as "ex-Friction." He ended up leaving the show as Braid's new singer. Shortly thereafter, by mutual decision, Pete left the band in August 1994 and Chris took over on guitar. A week later, Braid recorded the Rainsnowmatch 7" and released it on Enclave Records. When the 7" went out of print, the band convinced Polyvinyl Records to re-release it.
All cylinders were clicking. The band now had a solidified line-up and entered the studio in Urbana, IL to record their debut full-length with Andrew Bedinni. Across 26 tracks (each one named using a different letter of the alphabet), Frankie Welfare Boy Age Five melded a spastic amalgamation of punk rock onto textured math rock movements. The album was released on Divot Records in June 1995. Despite moments of excess and the occasional lack of focus, the album captures the early, youthful urgency of the band and remains a necessity for Braid fans.
In late 1995 Bob and Todd decided to form their own label, Grand Theft Autumn. The following summer their first record, released in conjunction with Polyvinyl Records, was Braid's I'm Afraid of Everything. The record quickly sold through repeated pressings and many would argue the three songs were the most representative recordings the band released in its six-year history. One month later they would release their second album.
On July 25, 1996, Braid's The Age of Octeen was released on Parasol's MUD imprint. In three years, the band had played 151 shows. On The Age of Octeen alone, they would play nearly 200.
The band was winning over fans left and right. In March 1997, because of time and job constraints, Roy had to leave the band. He would eventually take over Bob's half of Grand Theft Autumn and go on to play drums for Days in December and Very Secretary. He was replaced by Damon Atkinson whom the band had met a few weeks earlier. Damon's first recording was "Collect From Clark Kent" which appeared on the World Domination in 13 Easy Steps compilation off of Stratagem. His next appearance was on the First Day Back 7" released on Polyvinyl.
1998 was the defining Braid year. The band played almost 200 shows that year, toured Europe twice (first with The Get Up Kids, then with Burning Airlines), and Polyvinyl released Frame and Canvas, the quintessential Braid album, recorded and produced at DC's Inner Ear studios with J Robbins. The record was released in April 1998 and met with more success than neither Braid, nor Polyvinyl had ever imagined.
By early 1999, Braid was ready for a break and, ultimately, ended up deciding to call it quits. The last five days of the band were documented by the Bifocal-directed Killing a Camera video. Nearly a year later, Damon, Todd, and Bob emerged with friend Mark Dawursk as a new band -- Hey Mercedes -- while Chris went on to start The Firebird Band and Lucid Records.
Not mentioned thus far was Braid's prolific output of 7"s and compilation material. A complete discography of these songs had widely been planned (and even announced by the band) but it wasn't until a year after Braid parted ways that the discography saw the light of day. Movie Music Volume 1 culls together all of Braid's non-compilation 7" material and one previously unreleased song. Movie Music Volume 2 includes all of Braid's compilation material and five previously unreleased tracks.
In April 2010, after years of being out of print, Polyvinyl re-issued Braid's first two full-lengths, Frankie Welfare Boy Age Five and The Age of Octeen, on vinyl. As well, Movie Music Vol. 1 and Movie Music Vol. 2 were made available for the first time as separate 2xLP releases.
In mid-2010 the members of Braid -- Chris Broach (guitar/vocals), Bob Nanna (guitar/vocals), Todd Bell (bass), and Damon Atkinson (drums) -- became excited about the idea of releasing something for Record Store Day 2011 and decided to set aside time in December to get together and see what would happen.
As Bell explains, "Maybe things would not click and we'd get nothing, or we'd end up joking around the whole time like usual. Or, everything would align and we'd get some good material."
Luckily, the latter occurred and, not surprisingly from a band that recorded almost 90 songs during its initial five-year run, it took only a few practices to write three new tracks and arrange a cover (of Jeff Hanson's "You Are the Reason").
Then, when it came time to enter the studio, the choice of engineer was immediately obvious: J. Robbins (Jawbreaker, The Promise Ring, Jets to Brazil, Frame and Canvas).
Says Nanna, "We knew we wanted to record with J from the very beginning. Being in the studio with him felt like we were just picking up where Frame and Canvas ended."
And like their last studio album, Closer to Closed crackles with energy throughout. From the immediately hummable Broach-sung opener "The Right Time" to the staccato-like drumming that fills closer "Universe or Worse," Braid expands its trademark sound with new layers and textures.
The success of this recent practice session no doubt raises questions of what's next for Braid. But beyond a couple of shows already scheduled for this summer it's hard to say for sure what the band's future holds.
Although no plans are currently in the works to record a full-length, the group is certainly open to the idea.
When asked to describe his reaction after first hearing the new EP in completed form, Nanna encouragingly replied, “I felt like how I feel every time a project is finished: When can we start writing more songs? I’d love to do another record.”