Bran Van 3000, Rolling With The Rock
by David Kelly
in Music365, 9 juillet 1999
BRAN VAN 3000 have been loitering around the top shelf of the UK singles charts with their re-released track 'Drinking In LA' thanks to its appearance in a lager ad. Chief Van driver Jamie Di Salvio pulled up a chair with DAVID KELLY and served up a few tales about his life and the evolving hip-hop workshop that is the band.
When Jamie Di Salvio was 26, he was working on a movie (yeah, right). But it wasn't happening. The days he spent in LA were wasted just hanging about - sleeping late, going to the beach, then slipping from bar to bar, drinking into the small hours. Clearly this wasn't going to get a film made. But it might just inspire a song. Or, indeed, a band.
"Since I got my first Super 8 camera," says Jamie, installed in a plush London hotel lounge, "I've been making movies. Everything I did filmically was music-related, but I never tried to make music myself - I had the psychological block that nobody's ever played music in the family. To me it's always seemed like a very English or WASPy thing to do - just pick up a guitar and play. Did I just offend everyone in England by making that connection?"
As it did for dozens of people who never learnt to play an instrument, DJ culture provided a way into making music. "I saw De La Soul and Massive Attack making amazing records as DJs, and I just went right into it."
Initially, Bran Van 3000 was just a little something Jamie and a few friends decided to play around with, killing time during the tedious limbo-state in which most fledgling film-makers find themselves as they strive to gather the cash. Recordings were fairly primitive; songs were pieced together in his apartment in Montreal, collaborations that featured anything up to 26 people at a time. Tellingly, Jamie describes the set-up in terms of film.
"It's kind of a road movie in which I'm the director, and we're just a bunch of characters that one meets on the road; some people stay and some people go, and some people end up getting married and staying a long time. There are no real stars, like Liam and Noel; the real star of Bran Van is the logo - the deer and the bunny - an image of something that will always be changing. We learnt that from touring with Massive Attack I tell a lot of stories on the record, and if I want that story told sweetly in a register I can't go in, then I'll ask one of the girls."
The resultant album is a deeply unusual hotch-potch of disparate styles and genres, all of which are poked about, played with and then discarded. Hip-hop is the glue that binds them all together.
"That mix - it's really a little bit of ignorance and arrogance. There's a whole training, which I've never received, that teaches about closure and repetition. And I quite like the fact that I don't do it the right way - although some people, of course, say that it's basically just weak songwriting."
There's something rather charismatic about a band without stars, or even a static line-up, who represent their ever-changing sound with nothing more than a logo. (Look at Jamie's beloved Massive Attack, for instance.) But it's not without its contradictions.
'I really like people like Zappa, The KLF, The Residents, I love that statement in popular music but I listen to The Beatles, The Clash and Björk a bit more so I'm kinda torn between the two. I'd love the record to stand out with 15 great Motown feeling vibes and for the statement to be as fantastic as The KLF's. So I'm just learning. Like the songs themselves, maybe it just says 'this guy's not clear about what he wants to do'. And that may be very true."
In fact, he seems rather fond of contradictions.
"If a guy's gonna call his record 'Glee' (See Music365 Review), and he's an extremist, then you know he's wrestling with the other extreme. It's funny, the only other act that came out of Montreal last year, that were touring a lot, was a beautiful Spanish singer called Lassa, and her album was called 'La Larona', which is 'sadness'. And it turns out that after doing this incredibly melancholic, sad show, she goes out raving, while I'm back at my hotel room deconstructing Gary Cooper on The Late Show."
Nothing illustrates Bran Van's change in fortunes like the new album. Their lo-fi self-produced home recordings have been replaced by sessions at Hendrix's 'Electric Ladyland' studio complex ("it's so exciting - the Purple Haze studio is completely purple"). The Cars' Ric Ocasek is producing, and it's being mixed by Mark 'Spike' Stent, known for his work with The KLF, Spice Girls, Madonna, Björk, U2 and the new Oasis album - oh, and naturally, Massive Attack.
It's his mixing for 'Mezzanine' that attracted Jamie; so what is his thing with Massive Attack?
"Take the show we did with them in Amsterdam; the nature of the oxygen in the room that night... The way they set up their show is technically similar to ours it's based on the culture of hip-hop, but I'm not from the Bronx, neither is 3D, so we communicate our own world through it. They did it in a way that was very disciplined, while mine is completely schizophrenic. Their music creates an entire universe."
BV3000's biggest hit to date, 'Drinking In LA', was inspired by those wasted days in California. Having made successful music from his experiences with film, isn't he just waiting for the moment to turn the tables, to use this success to help make that film?
"I don't think so... if it works - if it works - I've got to say music is the greatest joy I've ever had. I'd like to do this for a long time, because finally here's a craft where you feel, 'God damn - what a road ahead'."
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