Breakfast With The Media - Mary-Lou Zeitoun chows down with Bran Van 3000.
by Mary-Lou Zeitoun
in Envy, 1997
Oh my goodness me! I'm just connecting the dots on the back of Bran Van 3000's CD jacket and it looks like it's a girl swimming... no, it's a bunny rabbit swimming... are those breasts? She's holding on to a... it's a bunny bending over... it's a bunny bending over with three legs... it's... Where's her hand? Is she holding a toy? No, she's on all fours. Wait a minute - she's got her finger up her... that's not a toy! Oh My!
Connect the dot masturbating bunny girls on their CD jacket; bunnies sniffing Bambi's butt on their stickers and a CD that brims with mischievous sexuality. That's BV3, a collective of young, hip music-making Montrealers. Coordinated by James "Bran Man" Di Salvio, a dark elfin filmmaker who fled from directing commercials to create BV3, and grounded by Electronic Pierre, the man behind the trippy electronic sound, the BV3 collective includes the talents of singer songwriters Stephane Moraille, Jayne Hill and Sara Johnston. Also featured are Adam Chaki on bass and the snide raps of Steve "Liquid Hawley." That's not even close to a complete roster of talent, at one point this group included 27 people, not all of them in the touring band.
In June 1997 they released "Glee" (Audiogram), 17 seamlessly combined tunes of rap, pop and techno. They immediately started getting airplay and their "Drinking in L.A." video won a MuchMusic video award. "Glee" has gone gold in Canada and Capitol records just signed the band to a worldwide licensing agreement. Their new single "Couch Surfing" is up and running, and there's a real buzz with both industry and fans that this band is going to break big.
The music is timely for the confused 90s. They're not "I'm so scary punk" like Prodigy or wash 'n' wear ska like No Doubt, or even super poppy like Hanson. They recognize that retro trends are getting shorter and shorter lived, they've taken seventies kitsch to an almost tolerable level, mixing samples from movies like "Meatballs," doing Heavy Metal covers (Cum On Feel the Noise) and designing trippy techno.
"It's a bit of kitsch, like design elements that were hot at the time and didn't age too gracefully," says Electronic Pierre from the Golden Griddle in Toronto where he and the band are being sniffed over by media sharks over breakfast. "A smorgasbord of all the stuff we loved as kids."
"I grew up in the seventies," says drummer Adam Chaki."It was like, 'Oh, this is the worst decade of all', and then disco came and destroyed cool music. The clothes I used to wear, a lot of that stuff - polyester and the big wedge heels. At that time that was the bomb... the thing."
Across the table, James Di Salvio is wearing a blue 50s style sweater and black jeans, laughing. Stephane Moraille, the mighty voice behind "Drinking in L.A.", is queenly and impish Jayne Hill is giggling and rolling her pronounced eyes. They all look to The Bran Man as they answer questions from TV reporters, and he seems gently in control, like a an affectionate Dad at the dinner table.
I pass over a piece of paper to EP and suggest he and Chaki write a song.
"Can I pass it around to everyone?" asks Pierre, showing real democratic spirit.
"James has got a vision," say EP, after scribbling a few lines of the song. "I look at him even as a manager. He's like Malcom McLaren with the Sex Pistols. I really see him like that. we have this special understanding - we knew that we tripped on the same kinds of things and his movie making ability gave him the discipline and the strength to be able to do longer hours and to commit to actually having something in his hands as opposed to a band who starts something and never quite finishes." Chewing his toast he looks down and writes a few more lines on the paper.
A woman eating breakfast two tables down gets my attention. "Who is this?" she asks, gesturing at the long table of Bran Van members surrounded by lights and cameras.
"Bran Van 3000," I reply
"No, Bran Van."
If ever there was a name to counter household usage, it's Bran Van 3000.
"James and his friend Mike, when they were in L.A., they were joking around with phonetics," says EP. "You know when you get really messed and you start to say gibberish? Bran Van was one of the things that came out of the gibberish and that wasn't even a band - it was maybe a movie or two guys who wanted to be rock stars and just set themselves up for failure but with a dream. He's been brewing that idea, and suddenly he just kind of morphed and lyrics started appearing on his napkin."
After Di Salvio got about $10,000 for directing a video for Branford Marsalis he gave EP a call. He was going to spend it all on sound equipment.
"We said, 'We gotta do this! We gotta make a band!'" says EP. "And we were inventing names like 'The New Beatles' or 'Michael Jackson's Marketing Department'. Then we thought the year 2000 is coming up... Bran Van... yeah, Bran Van 3000... yeah, the next millennium."
"How do you spell 'clog'?" interrupts Adam, who is now working on the song.
Bran Van is heavily influenced by techno, mainly because DiSalvio was into the trip-hop scene and worked occasionally as a DJ, but "Glee" has none of the coy repetitiveness most techno possesses. EP is a big fan of techno, yet understands how it evolved into mush.
"The name techno itself was a category of disco when it started," says EP. "It was alternative... it was actually innovative, like Gary Numan, innovating at times actual machines as well as sounds. The music in some cases is really, really good if it's inspired, but blending it with other music is what gave us our sound."
The whole feel of the album is a rec room party where friends drop in and do their bit when they're comfortable enough not to be shy.
"That's what it was like!" says Chaki. It was EP who afterwards labored in the studio.
"'Ceci N'est Pas Une Chanson' took two months and twelve-hour days, seven days a week," says EP. "It was 56 tracks. 'Couch Surfing' and 'Supermodel' were made the same day in about 15 minutes. The order of the songs took two months. That was so much work - just the order."
Everyone around us starts bustling and making "to go" noises. The cameras start packing up. Bran Van get up to do more interviews all day before their sold out show at the Opera House that night.
"Done!" says Chaki, and hands me the paper with the brand new Bran Van song on it:
Early in the morn I wake,
Bran is floating in my plate,
Camera pointing in our face,
Now I don't know what to say.
I wanted bagels but,
White bread greases my plate,
Fatty bacon oily eggs will clog,
My heart but I will enjoy the moment,
Because it's Breakfast With The Media.
"Let's show it to James." says EP and they rush over excitedly to Di Salvio, who, even though he's surrounded by demands and noise, smiles at them like an indulgent father as he takes the paper.
Mary-Lou is a contributor to eye Magazine
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