Brooklyn-native Brook Pridemore might be a singer/songwriter. Just don’t lump him in with your John Mayer’s of the world. Ed. note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2010 Youngstown Pulse. By B.J. LISKO Youngstown Pulse Magazine Editor I’m not a big fan of e-mail interviews. They take a lot of the emotion out of things. You can’t follow up questions, you can’t get any kind of flow going. In short, it almost never works as good as a face-to-face or even a phoner. So it was with great relief that even though Brook Pridemore couldn’t do a phone interview because he was in Europe, he had an awful lot to say. Even if it did come via Facebook. As a singer/songwriter though, he probably should have a lot to say. As a touring staple, he should have even more. Pridemore basically did my job for me. I didn’t have to describe him, or his travels, trials and tribulations through the world of music. Didn’t have to. He did such a good job of telling the story, quite the same way he does in songs, that I was able to leave his responses as is. Pridemore first appeared in Youngstown back in January playing with Doug Cote of The Sweet Ones on their solo acoustic tours. He’ll appear in Youngstown again Tuesday, April 13 at The Royal Oaks, and play the soundtrack to a lot of the interview you’ll read here. And when he speaks of people telling him that they don’t normally go for singer-songwriter stuff, but that he “brings it” live, they’re not kidding. He might be a solo act, but in front of a crowd, he can hold an audience with the best of any full band. Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been playing? Who are your influences? Who is, the man, the myth, Brook Pridemore? I got my first guitar for Christmas in 1993. I started taking lessons a month or so after. Lessons though, mostly consisted of the teacher listening to tapes I’d bring him and telling me what chords were in the song. It took a couple of years before I started to realize how those chords related to each other, and from there, a couple more years before I started to figure out how to put chords together to make listenable songs of my own. I’d estimate that I started writing ‘real’ songs around 1997 or ’98. Though I had several little bands in high school, the first “Brook Pridemore” show was in January 1998, in Kalamazoo, MI. My lyrics are informed the heaviest by They Might Be Giants, Will Oldham, and Bob Dylan. I couldn’t shake the Mountain Goats comparisons if I wanted to, so I guess them, too. As a guitarist, I’m drawn more to stuff like the MC5, Ramones, and Neil Young. Rhythm is key. I have no interest in being a guitar hero – the song is paramount. Touring is an ongoing struggle for a lot of bands/performers. How have you been able to make it your life? Go, go and go. If you tour once, it’s gonna suck. No one will know you, and you’ll play to only a handful of people at best. The second time is a little better, and it grows incrementally after that. The leg of tour I’m on now (leg four of a seven-leg, six-month jaunt called “The Multinational Perspiration Tour”) is somewhere around thirty, so I know at least some people in most places, and I’ve learned how to keep my expenses low. The singer/songwriter genre tends to be bogged down with many John Mayer’s of the world, and often times when someone is playing solo w/an acoustic guitar, people can put you into that category. Does this frustrate you? And how are you able to differentiate yourself? When I show up to a place for the first time, you can guarantee I’m being written off as a John Mayer-type as soon as I pull the guitar out of the bag. If I can keep their interest long enough for the first song to kick in, I can usually hold them. I’ve lost track of the number of times someone’s come up to me after a show and said, “You know, I don’t usually go in for singer-songwriter stuff, but you brought it.” The folk punk movement that was prevalent from 2002 through about 2007 made it hard, as suddenly there were a thousand guy-with-guitar acts inundating the scene. But perseverance and, if I may be so bold, ability, kept me afloat, and I survived alongside the rest of the strong. Bands like Ghost Mice, Wingnut Dishwasher’s Union and Redbear make me proud to be a … I dunno … folk punk survivor. I’m not Muhammed Ali, here. I just dealt with a lot of (sometimes hostile) apathy before I felt like I had some people on my side. Give the readers of the Pulse your best or most outlandish touring story. My first time in Minneapolis ended with me and Pat from Wingnut Dishwasher’s Union leaving ass-early to get to an afternoon show at a Christian coffeehouse in Grand Forks, North Dakota (when you tour this much, you end up playing every kind of venue imaginable). The show was awful. I played a “mellow” set for a young married couple, their toddler son and baby that was nursing right in front of me. We got paid in gift certificates that were only good for that particular coffeehouse. All we wanted to do was go to sleep, and our host told us after the show that we couldn’t stay with him. We called our contact for the next day’s show in Minot, ND. He sounded friendly enough, and said we could stay with him. Dog tired, we drove another four hours, basically in a straight line, to Minot. Our impression of North Dakota to this point was that of a state full of square, unwelcoming recluses. We felt like we had no hope but to go to this guy Billy’s house and hide until show time the next day. However, when we arrived, Billy, this lumberjack of a dude, threw the door open like we were his newly reunited childhood friends. He and his girlfriend cooked us this elaborate meal and we partied all night in her parents’ jacuzzi. This was early April, snow was still falling, and we hadn’t prepared for such a cold journey, but the hot water (and beer) warmed our souls and we partied until the sun came up. The show the next night was stellar. It feels now like a hundred people came out (impressive for a small, seriously remote town), and treated us like superstars. Minot is so remote that the kids there will typically drive six to eight hours for a show, so when one comes to town, they throw down hard. Billy and his friends kept me awake until sunup again, singing whatever songs I could think up. Zero sleep, we made the eleven-hour drive to Bozeman, Montana with a new impression of the super-rural Midwest. I semi-documented the incident with “Minot to Bozeman” the opening track on my 2009 album, “A Brighter Light.” What were your impressions of Youngstown the last time you played here at The Lemon Grove and Royal Oaks? It’s rare to walk into a coffeehouse and feel like everything’s gonna be okay. The folks at the Lemon Grove turned what could have been a boring Sunday night into a jam session of epic proportions. I sneezed in mid-lyric, a first for me. Upon walking into The Royal Oaks, I told Crafty Dan (bigwig of Crafty Records) that I was gonna open with “Back in the USSR.” He didn’t believe me, then I did it. Sometimes you’ve gotta do the most classic rock-friendly, barnstormer opener to get them on your side. I’m glad I did it, as I met John F. Kennedy that night, played drums and then guitar for an impromptu old-school punk cover band, and feel like I made more friends in that one evening than in the last month, collectively. In short, Youngstown knows how to have a good time. YTP mostly deals with touring rock bands, and not necessarily singer/songwriters as much. We know that Europe is a much better music scene in terms of supporting live rock ‘n’ roll. Is it the same for the live acoustic singer/songwriter? Being a little newer to the European circuit, I have had a great little path cut out for me by the plethora of New York songwriters who have been here before me. The term “antifolk,” the scene I align myself with in New York, is very well known on the continent, so my brand of songwriting is a little less unfamiliar here (I’m writing from Berlin). Most New York musicians I know only tour Europe, skipping the States entirely. I cannot criticize anyone for making that move. Generating an audience on the DIY level in the U.S. is a daunting and often thankless task. Where there is almost always a meal and a comfortable place to stay at European shows, you’re lucky to be fed at all in the U.S. Sometimes you have to share a bed with a big dog. The dismantling of CD/vinyl buying culture-still a vital aspect of making music to me is less prevalent in Europe as well. People have probably already downloaded your stuff, but they want hard copies of it, too. I’m not complaining about my home country. I still do it because I love America and I think it needs music as much as the easier countries to tour. I’m happy to do the work to get new, challenging stuff out there. Any plans for a new album? When can we expect new material, and how does it compare to your previous efforts? Part of the impetus for such a long tour is to spend my spare moments writing new songs and road testing them. When I played in Youngstown in January, I had two new songs. As of a couple of days ago, I have seven. I’m typically opening every show with the new material, before delving into the more familiar stuff. The plan is to have the new cycle, which will be called “New Standards,” finished in time to debut in full at the final show of this tour, at the Sidewalk Cafe in New York on June 19 (my 31st Birthday). I will then spend the summer teaching the songs to my band, who are also their own band, called The Telethons (the band may end up being called Brook Pridemore and the Telethons, as I love those guys, and want everyone to hear them, too). I’m planning to record basic tracks with the Telethons in September, hop overseas for another European jaunt in October, and add finishing touches (strings, horns, piano, etc.) in November, with a tentative late Spring 2011 release. “New Standards” deals lyrically with my life after March 19, 2009 (the day “A Brighter Light” was released). It’s about saying goodbye to a lot of people I’ve carried around on my (metaphorical) shoulders for years, and moving forward into a greener, emotionally stable future. The lyrics also deal heavily with my health. I had a health scare (which I will relate in person if asked, but am not comfortable reading in print) in Fall 2009 which led me to believe I was in my last days and almost made me quit music. For the first time since Christmas 1993, I wasn’t going to sing songs anymore. Everyone I’ve met in the past ten years that I care to know, I met through music. Suddenly, I wasn’t going to have that connection with those people anymore. As I looked into Teaching Fellowships, etc., I was devastated. Listen, I think teachers are an extremely important part of society, and teaching is a job that should be done with the utmost care and enthusiasm. I have total respect for good teachers. But I am not a good teacher. When I got things figured out, I was filled almost immediately with the drive to get back on the road, see my world with clear eyes, and document the affair in song. “New Standards” is that document. Sonically, “New Standards” is shaping up to be something of a synthesis of “Harvest”-era Neil Young and “Nothing Feels Good”-era Promise Ring. I think it’s high time to show some love for late-90s emo, and Neil Young has always been the dog’s bollocks. What is the best thing about being Brook Pridemore? I was raised so provincially that, when I moved from Detroit to Kalamazoo for college, I thought I was bicoastal. Now, through the power of music, I am never more than a few hours from the home of someone I’m looking forward to seeing again. I have friends all over the world. I did not have many friends growing up, but having friends all over makes me feel like I’m still a kid.