Interview: Runaway Brother
Cleveland, Ohio's Runaway Brother are a band of brothers. Well, at least the main singer/songwriter/guitarist Jacob Lee & bassist Ian Lee [AKA "Tan"] are brothers. Charlie Gunn [Guitar/Keys] & Ian Phillips [drums] are not. But Runaway Brothers' wistful, punchy guitar pop can sometimes feel oddly familial—as if they've been crafting their peculiar brand of rock since those youthful years of Gameboy Pockets, Choose Your Own Adventure books & late nights of D&D. Though their sound is mature & their execution is pristine, the band is unafraid make unorthodox decisions & create their own adventurous path.
New Pocket, the quartets follow-up to 2015's Mother, is set for release in a matter of weeks—and the band seem almost exhausted from their own anticipation. The record is a lively collection of songs brimming with dramatic tempo shifts & quirky, inside joke-like instrumental breaks. The big, glistening singalong choruses that you might expect from the band are still there, but some undertones of remorse peak up from beneath the surface... New Pocket is a complex but worthwhile listen. It's a testament to the fact that you can't anticipate where Runaway Brother will take you within a song, but you can almost certainly expect to find a piece of comfort along the way.
We caught up with Jacob from Runaway Brother to talk all about New Pocket & their upcoming U.S. tour.
hope: When did you start writing the music for New Pocket?
Jacob: I want to say a little bit before we released Mother—so, the summer of 2015 we started demoing it. We started to record it in January of 2017 after compiling all of the tracks that we wanted to do.
hope: Mother was recorded in one of your members’ basements, right?
Jacob: Yeah, it was actually recorded in mine & my brothers’.
hope: And New Pocket was the first record that you worked on with a producer?
Jacob: Yeah, we co-produced it. It was the first time that we’ve ever worked with a separate engineer, aside from myself.I went to school for recording, but I just felt like it would be better if somebody else took the wheel.
hope: Did you have a studio that you were working in?
Jacob: I was interning at this studio called “Bad Racket” & I made good friends with all of the people working there & they were able to cut me a good deal to record New Pocket there. So, shout out to Bad Racket.
hope: What was your experience working with Eric Cronstein, comparatively to working on your own.
Jacob: It was really cool. One of the big parts was being able to use all of the equipment in the studio—in my studio I don’t really have any notably cool or expensive gear besides the bare-bones.
He was pretty hands off when it came to songwriting, but he definitely pushed us in the right direction for certain tracks & really got us out of our comfort zone.
hope: It’s funny that you say he pushed you in certain directions, because after listening to New Pocket a bunch of times I recognized how you aren’t afraid to go in kind of whacky directions. Runaway Brother is sort of known for being really hook-y but also having lots of dynamic shifts, but on the new record y’all venture into a lot of crazy territories that I hadn’t really heard from you yet.
Jacob: Yeah some of my favorite bands are Smashing Pumpkins and Built to Spill. I was really trying to channel that dynamic vibe, because they like to do that with their recordings. They’re not afraid to get loud or be quiet for another song. I like that.
hope: "Apply Care Directly" is one of my favorite songs from New Pocket. It kicks the whole thing off and sets the tone on what to expect from the rest of the record…
Jacob: That one is probably of the craziest song on the record. It’s all over the place.
hope: Definitely. I don’t know how to describe that last section of the song other than “telephone hold music”. How do these weird little breaks play into the writing process?
Jacob: Honestly, I don’t really know. It kind of just came together from us being like “Well, what do we do next?” I think we were just trying to surprise ourselves. Elvis Costello does a lot of weird stuff like that sometimes, so I feel like that is sort of an influence on that song & a few of the other songs. We were just trying to think of an interesting arrangement & be a little weird.
hope: I think it’s really cool. You're pulling from a ton of different influences & pushing them in so many different directions on this record—sometimes just to fill little sections of a song. When you guys are coming up with these more bizarre shifts in the writing process is there any pushback from the other members of the band? Or are all of you open to exploring the weird side of your music?
Jacob: Pretty much everyone wants to try to push things a little bit, at least comparatively to our older stuff. Before New Pocket we recorded in my bedroom—and then in my basement—I feel like we were always trying to make new sounds or take elements from stuff that we like and make it our own.
Usually I’m trying to be self-aware and I’m trying to make interesting things. Sometimes I catch myself when I’m being boring or just not doing what I want it to be in the future—you know what I mean? I just try to think about what we’ll be releasing in a year—I think “I like this as a listener” or “I think this is crap. Game over.” We all try to get into that mindset.
hope: Alright, so we’ve definitely touched enough on the more left-field parts of your songs... You also have a lot of big pop hooks. How do you discern which songs are pop songs & how do you pick your singles?
Jacob: When we were trying to decide which songs would be singles everyone picked different songs. The only song that we all agreed should not be a single was “Apply Care Directly”. There were times where we thought that “All Saints Day” should be a single, or one of my personal favorites from the album “Obscured By Light”. It’s kind of all over the place. Some of our friends have said that “Bully” should be a single—I don't know! We all feel differently about the songs.
hope: I think that “No Fuzz” has maybe the best hook on the album.
Jacob: I kind of have a love-hate relationship with that song. We recorded it one time differently—I don’t have have a love-hate relationship with the recording, I think the new one is better—but we recorded it a different way the first time. Some of us thought that the old way was better & some of us thought that the new way was better when we went in to record it.
I don’t really know how to feel about that song anymore because it is so old. It’s about as old as "Kissing" which is one of the first songs that we wrote for the record. It was going to be on a split originally. It feels different to me, but the newer recording does it justice.
hope: Before New Pocket—on Mother & on the EPs—you went through some lineup changes...
Jacob: We’ve been through like 3 lineup changes I want to say. We were a 5-piece when we recorded Mother, but that member quit the band before it was released. We toured on it as a 4-piece.
hope: Do you feel like the writing on New Pocket was the first incarnation of your current band?
Jacob: Definitely. I write the skeletons of the songs—so the writing process hasn’t changed much. It’s more like when we all went in, we were actually able to kind of jam on the songs rather than piece something together over months. We only really had 10 days to record New Pocket, where when I was recording everything myself we would take like a year to record the album because we had all the time that we needed. We weren’t working on someone else’s watch.
hope: That’s an aspect of writing & recording that a lot of listeners don’t often to consider.
Jacob. Yeah, like sometimes one song—before New Pocket—would be completely different months & months later because somebody didn’t like their part, or they wanted to change it because we’d all been sitting on it for so long. Where with New Pocket we only had 10 days. We were just trying to get everything in and make sure that everything sounded alright. I think that kind of pushed us a lot more—we had to spend less time on quality control. I think that in general it's better that way because you don’t have the ability to overthink it.
hope: Did you have any certain emotions that you were aiming for with this record? Or is there a big theme behind New Pocket?
Jacob: New Pocket is kind of an anecdote about the little conversations that you have with someone everyday. I was talking to my partner, Alisha—who actually did the artwork for the album—about how her pants have small pockets and I said “You just need some new pockets.” It just kind of stuck. It’s kind of stupid, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense to me. I don’t want to say that it's political at all, but there are some underlying elements. Things are honestly just super shitty right now, ya know? It’s a pretty easy thing to hark on.
hope: “Paws” is the first single from New Pocket. It touches a bit on regret & hopefulness. Could you elaborate a bit more on the story behind the song?
Jacob: I wouldn’t necessarily call it "regret". I had a good friend in high school and a couple years after we graduated I got a phone call from one of my close friends letting me know that he had passed. Nobody really knew how it happened. I just remember contemplating & wishing that I had reached out to him.
I couldn’t find closure. I feel like that song is more an expression of wanting closure & just not getting it.
hope: I feel like you toured a whole bunch after Mother was released. How would you describe the feeling of returning home after a long tour?
Jacob: It’s the best feeling ever. We have been touring in this minivan for like 4 years now. We don’t have a lot of personal space at all when we’re on the road. We tend to get a little nasty to each other—we get a little mean.
Our last tour with Prince Daddy & The Hyena and Jessica Knight from Looming was one of the best experiences that we’ve had touring. Everyone just tried to be really supportive of each other. We just had a better outlook towards it. They’re all just the nicest people ever.
We’ve had tours where a band dropped off and we were asked to jump on the tour instead of the other band. When we’re asked to be added to a tour of course we’re going to say yes if it’s a good one—but you can tell that the band taking us felt like they would’ve rather had the other band. We shouldn't get down on ourselves, but it’s hard to feel good after those types of interactions.
hope: What would define a successful tour for you?
Jacob: I think as long as we don't have to get weird about food or go broke out of survival, I think that’s success for me. It’s always amazing when a show turns out awesome because the promoter did an amazing job. It’s always a great feeling. It can be weird when it feels like the promoter did it as like a favor to a friend rather than putting on a good show for us.
hope: I saw that you ended up in Rutland, VT earlier this year. What brought you there?
Jacob: We had a friend that was trying to get us a show there, but it didn’t end up happening. The show was supposed to be at this castle, but it was raining a lot so the castle ended up having like lots of sewer problems & drainage issues. So we just ended up staying at our friends place and going out on his boat that his parents own. It was a nice little break day.
hope: Did you have a New Years resolution for the band?
Jacob: I have a New Years resolution for myself. I’ve been in a writing slump recently. I try to write like everyday, but the past few months I haven’t really been doing that. So I’ve been trying to write in different styles. I’ve been doing hip-hop beats recently just for fun. Maybe somebody would buy them, because I definitely can’t rap. I’ve been working on that a little bit, rather than working on what I am used to.
hope: What are your favorite Ohio bands?
"New Pocket" is out on Friday, February 16th via Tiny Engines. You can pre-order the album here.
Runaway Brother play Winooski, VT, on Monday, February 19th with Full Walrus & Belly Up at The Monkey House. Entry to the event is $5-10 // RSVP to the event here.
- hope all is well