Chris Brann (interviewed May 1, 1998)
by Andrew Duke
"'Describe your music.' I apologized later, but I actually said this one interviewer was stupid for asking me this. I won't describe my music. I mean, you listen to it, and I don't really care. I won't do it. What am I supposed to say, ‘oh it's deep, oh it's beautiful, oh it's melodic'? That's just bullshit."
It's a warm afternoon on the first day of May and Chris Brann is calling from Strictly Rhythm's bustling office in New York, quickly developing a case of cauliflower ear as the sharks circle in hopes of a juicy quote. He's lost track of just how many phoners he's done. "I'm not sure," he says, "I think this is the fifth one so far today."
Brann's Wamdue Project has journos pulling out the thesaurus for words to distill the results of two years' bunkering down in his Atlanta studio. Brann's sarcasm is exact. No matter the style, his aquatic electronic output has recurring qualities--it is deep, it is beautiful, and it is melodic. Not only is he prolific--recording solo and with partners Deep C and Udoh (both Chris as well) for labels including Junior Boys Own, !K7, Communique, Substance, Acacia, and Love From San Francisco since 1995--but the music always has that certain, unmistakable something that tells you it's a Wamdue production.
Wambonix. Wamdue Kids. Wamdue Project. The list of names grows. "It has always been me doing the bulk of the music," Brann says, providing a primer on the ways of the Wamdue. "The Wamdue Kids is a collaborative process between me and Deep and Udoh, who are both primarily DJs based now in Philadelphia. I want this to be known because there is so much confusion about ‘who is Wamdue?' and what Wamdue is and isn't. It is what it is. It's a fluid, moving thing. I'm with Chris and Chris, however, I do a lot of music outside of them as well. Now they're branching out and doing music on their own, but we're still in the Wamdue collective or the Wamdue way of looking at things, so it is not so much of a formulaic ‘we are a group/we are not a group' type of situation."
Strictly Rhythm is expecting major action from "Program Yourself", the follow up to Wamdue Project's 1996 LP, "Resource Toolbook Volume 1". The jams were kicked out on the publicity machine early in the year. Advance listening parties held in California lead to heavy recommendations in the March/April editions of URB and XLR8R magazines. Being the musician responsible, Brann has had to deal with the barrage of interviews that come with great expectations. Hence the ready reply when asked what's been the dumbest query recently thrown his way. Still, he's content to play the musician, not the media darling. Brann is confident, not cocky, and refreshingly honest. He's comfortable handing over his music for the label to promote as they choose, even if this means the first single, "Where Do We Go", has a remix by Armand Van Helden. "I really understand the marketing and the whole idea that this is a business," Brann states. "I would like for the record to sell and for people to buy the album, and if it means getting a high profile mixer to work on it, that's really good for the most part, even though I may not personally enjoy the new version."
Keeping in mind Strictly Rhythm's reputation, you'd be forgiven for expecting "Program Yourself" to be a healthy serving of house. Many, in fact, are hoping Brann is shaping up to be the new messiah of house music, the one who'll give it a needed slap. Yes, there's 4/4 action here, but it's balanced with drum ‘n' bass and downtempo pieces. The biggest leap was bringing in vocalists for the majority of the cuts, a welcome change for a musician who likes to experiment. "There is an obvious difference that I like to stress between the two separate things," Brann remarks. "Wamdue Kids is more of the house, more of the underground, a little bit more floor oriented, whereas with the Wamdue Project stuff, I've been given an opportunity by Strictly to present that kind of music in an album format, which is what I really love to do, more so than singles or EPs. Wamdue Project is something that encompasses a lot more styles. Although I consider it all one sound, it's not something that is immediately limited to DJs, it's for a wider mass of people." The word "branching" appears often as he speaks; understandably, Brann has no enthusiasm for slotting music into different categories. "I'm of the frame of mind that everything that involves this kind of instrumentation is techno music in the broader sense of the word," he explains. "I'm more into the idea of pushing the wholeness of it rather than the many different fractures. It's a personal perspective, but I consider all kinds of music like this techno, in essence, be it rap, hip hop, house, or drum ‘n' bass. It's all music from a technological root. And that's how I first started to look at things, and I kind of in a way still do because it gives me more of a sense of continuity between all different aspects of this music, that's it's all interconnected and it's all related, instead of analyzing things to the extent that it all becomes little pieces. If you look at the originators of the sound, like Kraftwerk, they've been equally inspiring to house music and techno music, in the common form now, as much as hip hop and R ‘n' B music, so it's just pure techno." A love for Kraftwerk is the given in most every electronic musician's youth, but Brann has some surprises. "I was a huge Police fan," he reflects, "I loved Stewart Copeland's drumming and that motivated me to play the drums and be involved in rhythmic music. I was also into electronic music like Cabaret Voltaire, plus I got really heavy into Steve Reich when I was about 15 or 16. There was an experimental music and industrial scene that I would take part in growing up in Atlanta and I'd go to places and do sound installations and experiment with video collage and Super 8 film and just do weird kinds of avant music around this stuff. I've never really got into saying that I came out of an experimental music background, but then again, I've also always loved the form and tradition of a good pop song and that branches into Pet Shop Boys and the Euro-English kind of situation tempered with a lot of American soul like Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes."
So if he's not the savior sent to put the whip to house music, why all the fuss around Wamdue Project? "I'd like to think that the music has spoken for itself and that the media's interested, at least to give it some time to talk about it, which is a great thing. I just think about it as just making the music and not really having any kind of political stance or kind of issues about what I want to achieve; it's just doing music and that goes back to the whole philosophy of what ‘Wamdue' means and how Wamdue started. It's very simple. It's what it is, it's ‘what I'm gonna do', it's immediacy and spontaneity. I'm not trying to design a certain genre, I'm not trying to be on the forefront of anything, I'm just expressing myself and trying to grow as an artist to the point where I can express myself even more fully, continually growing in an expanding process so that I can make deeper and deeper music; what I mean by the deepness is music that branches into more folds, more dynamics, and more levels of emotion or feeling or body-inducing rhythm." Brann is keen to shrug off any preconceived notions of his music. "I'm just doing what I do," he observes, ready to put the phone down and get back to what matters most. "I'm more about destroying people's conception of what it is, rather than trying to create an image of this type of stuff. I'm in the studio every day and there are probably five or six different projects I'm working on now that are outside of Wamdue that incorporate music that is not, what I consider house or dance music. I don't feel like I'm a strictly a dance music artist, I'm just doing music because I like to do music."
Wamdue Project's "Program Yourself" album was released May 26 on Strictly Rhythm.