Luce Unplugged: Five Questions with Brushes

Madeline on February 22, 2017

For our February Luce Unplugged show, we teamed up with DC Music Download to welcome brushes, a rock 'n' roll band from the District, to the Luce Foundation Center. Brushes' set will feature music from their upcoming record, as well as a new single based on Gene Kloss' painting, Midwinter in the Sangre de Cristos, which is on view in the Luce Center. We spoke with Nick Anway and Tommy Sherrod to dig deeper into the band's creative process and their preparation for this Thursday's performance.

Eye Level: How does collaboration influence brushes' creative process?

Nick Anway: Brushes started as a recording project, and in a way I think that's where it still sits. We've played together in lots of different arranging contexts over the past year, with a group of musicians that have been playing together for five years in several other projects, but we're most articulate in the recording context. I think a lot of the fun of this stage of this project has been starting to flip that on its head: to write through performance and articulate those ideas later in recording. The experience of writing songs and then testing them out together with different arrangements and gigs really helps you see which parts of a song are fundamental, and which are fluff.

EL: At your Luce Unplugged performance, brushes will release a new single based on Gene Kloss' painting, Midwinter in the Sangre de Cristos. How did this painting inspire your new song?

NA: Much of our new record is about remembering home, returning to it, and reflecting on what it means. We've used imagery and sounds from the "American Western" to embody that process because this genre encompasses much of the heroic ideal vs. the problematic reality dynamic that we often feel in reflecting on our shared home through community, society, government, etc. Much of the material deals with an important juxtaposition between the home the narrator is searching for (skies, sunsets, clouds, wings, doves etc.) and the bleaker home they've come to recognize. Gene Kloss' painting, which is a depiction of the American West, jumped out to us as a visual representation of that motif, so we composed a theme for it.

EL: You experiment a lot during the recording and mixing process. How do you define yourselves as artists and what message do you want to communicate through your music?

Tommy Sherrod: We start with a foundation or concept and then pretty much just try things—pick up a different instrument, work out a weird mixing or production idea that comes to mind. If we don't like something we do, we scrap it and try something else.

NA: To date, most of the brushes' music has begun in a very introspective lyrical form. But as we add voices on other instruments, and through the mixing process, a more complete voice starts to emerge. How do we define ourselves as artists? Shoot, that's a good question. Our musical voice is a big part of that. At the moment, I think we're just trying to lift folks up a little bit.

EL: What do you think makes the arts scene here in DC special?

NA: The spirit of the DC arts scene that has been most potent to me is the incredible tradition of music that the area is home to. It's a tremendous legacy to learn from and, hopefully, to pay homage to through our work.

EL: How do you all prepare before a show?

NA: We don't have much of a ritual at this point, we just try to create space for open, honest expression when we're on stage.

EL: Lastly, how can fans access your music?

NA: You can check us out on Soundcloud, Bandcamp or Spotify.

Hear brushes play February 23 at 6 p.m. after a staff-led talk on Gene Kloss' painting in the Luce Foundation Center. For more details, check out Luce's Facebook page. See you Thursday!