Interview with Dan Brennan of Torchbearer

Photo: Jeff Zorn

Earlier this month, Torchbearer released their new full-length, ‘The Dirty Swagger,’ via All Ears Music. Recorded at CDR Studios and mastered by Carson Slovak of Century, the album molds hardcore, sludge, and metal into one completely chaotic package. Lyrically, the record touches on parts of vocalist Amit Sharma’s life. Sitting on top of raunchy guitar lines, he reflects on times when he felt abandoned, depressed, lost, and unable to hold onto any friends. As a whole, ‘The Dirty Swagger’ shows off the fact that the New Jersey act know how to pull together to create something ideal for those who like things edgier than the norm.

Recently, guitarist Dan Brennan spoke with Rock Edition about the band’s new album, scheduling conflicts, and upcoming shows. Head below for more.

Where does the title of the new album come from?

It’s something that kind of started as a joke between Will [Karakowski, bassist] and Sam [Patterson, guitarist]. They’ve been friends for a real long time and would just toss this phrase around. At one point, they were like, “We should call the record that.” Me and Amit and Chris [Ross, drummer] were like, “Well, what does it mean?” They told us that they couldn’t really explain it, but they could show us pictures of what it means. They started showing us all these pictures of pimps in the 70s. We were like, “Okay, I guess.” As the record went on, and we thought more about it, it kind of took on this life of its own where it means you’re down but you’re not out. It means you’re still maintaining a sense of confidence and swagger in the face of utter circumstances you can’t deal with.

It took you guys about a year to complete the record, right?

Yeah, we started writing in the winter of 2009 and we didn’t actually finish until the spring of 2010. That was before we even started recording.

Did it take that long because of scheduling difficulties?

It was a combination of scheduling stuff and the way we were thinking about the record and how we wanted to write it. Previously, a lot of our writing came out of this mode of me bringing a song to show to everybody, and them adding their parts to it. With this new album, we made a very conscious decision to write collaboratively as a group, which always takes longer because you come in with bits and pieces and about 80% of it you end up throwing out.

Was it hard to get everyone together because of the fact that some of the members have wives and kids? Has it ever been like, “Hey Dan, I need to bring my kid to soccer practice, so we need to cancel our plans today”?

[laughs] It can get a little difficult. The thing I’ll say is that the person in the band with the most responsibilities — Chris (our drummer) — has a wife and kids that are enormously supportive and understanding of the fact that being in a band is something that he does. It could certainly be a lot harder than it actually is.

I heard that you work at a museum.

Yeah, that’s actually where I am now.

Awesome. You don’t have to tell us the name of the museum, but I’m curious what sort of stuff you do there. I feel like it’s a cool job.

It’s a lot of fun. I actually work on the information technology side of things. I deal with a lot of digital images. I’m not an art handler or a curator or anything, but I’m here because I like art a lot.

Did your expertise come into play with the cover art at all?

Not so much. The cover art was done by our friend Jeff Zorn, and we all worked together on that. I do a lot of the basic design stuff for the band, but for print stuff we go to Jeff because he’s really good.

Since you and Sam have a very different approach to guitar, did that help the songwriting process or hinder it?

It helped it a lot, especially with the way we went into this trying to write collaboratively. Sam plays guitar from a very effects-driven standpoint. And Sam loves noise and layering things on top of other things. I come from a more hardcore/punk background. I’m always concerned with [writing hooks]. When it came to writing and recording, we switched roles every once in a while and came up with some of the more interesting stuff that way.

When you were in the studio, were you all just jamming a lot?

Yeah. Sam would come in with a riff and say, “I’ve had this riff for a couple of years and have never been able to make it into a song. Let’s try to make something out of it.” That’s how we would go into it.

Is this all fresh stuff or are there leftovers from all of your other bands?

This is all pretty much fresh stuff. I think our back catalogues of thrown away songs from our old bands are exhausted at this point. There were a few times on the record where we were very sensitive to that kind of thing — especially Chris. We would come up with a new part and he might say, “Wait a second, we can’t use this — it almost sounds like a Nora song.”

[chuckles] Did that happen a lot?

No, only a handful of times.

Have you had a lot of people approach the band thinking that you’re going to sound like Nora or Mother Night?

It doesn’t happen that often. I think to the extent that it does happen, it mostly comes from our friends.

Interesting.

I think they’re the people who were most familiar with what we were doing previously.

If you could, would you want people to not know you were in other bands, or does it not matter?

It doesn’t even really matter. If it was a case like you mentioned before where people were constantly coming up to us and saying, “Hey, I liked your old band, but I don’t like your new band because it doesn’t sound the same,” then it would start to bug me and I would be a little worried about it. But, as it is, no. It’s really nice when someone comes up to one of us and says, “Hey, I saw your old band a couple of years ago and this band is cool too.”

On that same subject, when Torchbearer was formed, did you collectively decide not to sound like the other bands you all used to be in?

I don’t want to say it was completely organic, because when the band started there was certainly a desire on the part of me and Amit, who were in a previous band together, to get together and do something that was somewhat different from what we had been doing for a couple years. As for what that different thing was, that was a more loosely formed idea, and kind of came together once we got together with Chris, Sam, our original bass player CJ, and later, Will.

Because of the fact that different members of the band are tied up with jobs and families, what are you guys hoping to do? Will you just make music and put it out there and see what happens?

That really is it. We knew from the start that that was going to be an issue, but we’ve all been in bands, played shows, and gone on tour to the point where we all realized that just creating music as an end unto itself was something we wanted to do. Trying to build on previous bands is one thing, and that works for about one show before people start to judge you on your own merits. We just wanted to make a band and pretend that nobody knows who we are. Traveling across the country, nobody does know who we are. It was really just a matter of looking at music with fresh eyes and ears and seeing what we could do with it.

Any upcoming gigs?

Yeah, we have a few local shows coming up. We’re trying to book some weekends out of state with friends. We’ll announce them if they happen.

Pick up Torchbearer’s new album, The Dirty Swagger.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.