TJ West: Catching up with The Brothers Comatose


TJ West: Catching up with The Brothers Comatose

By Kim Grant

The Brothers Comatose are a 5-piece string band that’s based in the San Francisco Bay area. Ben and Alex Morrison are actual brothers and original members of the quintet. They play guitar and banjo respectively and both contribute lead vocals. Fleshing out the quintet is Phil Brezina on fiddle, Ryan Avellone on mandolin, and bassist Ryan Lukas on high harmonies. Blending Americana, folk and bluegrass, the band is known for its high-energy performances. This month, they’ve taken that energy onto the road and will play several dates across the United States. TJ West chats with Brother Ben about life on the road.

I’ve been hearing your name around for a while, and finally saw you play at this year’s Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco. How was the experience playing at such a large festival?

It was pretty damn amazing. Not often does a band like ours get to share a bill with Kanye, Tom Petty and Macklemore. We tend to play more folk and bluegrass leaning festival so it was a great experience to play Outside Lands with such a diverse lineup. And it’s right in our backyard. I was able to walk home after the festival, which is pretty awesome.

Ben and Alex are the actual brothers in the group…did you always play music together?

Our mom was in a band when we were growing up and we spent lots of time watching them rehearse around the house and that’s what first inspired us to pick up instruments. Our parents would host music parties with all their musician friends and we learned so much from those get togethers. All of that really inspired us to continue down the musical path. About 7 years ago we decided to compile the tunes that we had written, get the band together and do some recording and booked some shows.

You’ve just kicked off a tour and are heading to multiple cities. Do you guys enjoy being on the road? What’s the best and worst part of touring?

bro_co_live300Last week we started our Mustaches Across America tour. We’re currently driving across Nebraska, which right now seems like it’s the biggest damn state in our country. It’s huge, and there’s so much corn here. We like really being out on the road though. We’ve spent lots of time out this year and I feel like we’d all get a little restless if we had too much time off. It can be pretty hard at times, leaving loved ones behind and all but it’s also a really exciting lifestyle. It never gets boring, that’s for sure.

Best things about touring: Lots of greasy burgers, seeing all the corners of our country, playing to different and excited crowds every night, regional foods.

Worst things about touring: Lots of greasy burgers, not getting to spend much time in any given town, bad van smells, sometimes fast food is your “best” food option.

You’re a 5-piece string band, is it hard for the sound guys to mic you all?

It can be. When we first started out we played all sorts of venues, including punk and metal clubs and the sound person might be used to mic’ing metal bands and that makes for a pretty awkward and noisy situation. We haven’t had that happen in a while. Lately we’ve been traveling with our own soundman and that has made a world of difference for us. It’s nice to have some consistency from night to night.

You’re playing the Americana Music Festival and Conference this year on November 20th in Nashville. Is this your first time playing this event? What are you most looking forward to in Nashville?

Yes, and we are damn excited! We’ve never played it before. We went to Nashville last year during the fest and did an unofficial showcase. We’re really happy we’re included this year – there are so many good bands. Besides the music, we’re really looking forward to having some Nashville “hot chicken,” which is spicy and greasy fried chicken served on a big ol piece of toast. That’s one of the best things about being on the road – trying out new foods. It’s something to look forward to.

You have a video out with Nicki Bluhm (of Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers). Can you tell us about that?

I didn’t actually know Nicki before we talked about recording together. I wrote a duet called “Morning Time” and we needed a great female voice to make it happen. I had heard of her and I heard that voice at a festival we were playing together. I immediately thought – that’s what we need! I had a mutual friend introduce us and she heard the song and agreed to do it. Since then we’ve become friends with her and her band and have done some tours along the way where we get to play that song together.

Tell us what the San Francisco music scene is like. Is there a large community of Americana and roots music outlets? Are there a lot of fans in the Bay Area?

SF actually has a great roots scene. There are lots of venues in town that support that kind of music. Also, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, which has been happening for 13 or 14 years now, has created a big audience for folk, Americana and bluegrass music. Since it’s a free festival and it’s friggin’ huge it has exposed so many people to different types of roots music and bands that they normally wouldn’t see. The scene here is bustling.

Did all the members of the band always play Americana/roots/bluegrass music?

Almost all of us have played in other bands, none of which were Americana/roots/bluegrass based. I played in a couple rock bands, Ryan (mandolin) has played in rock and funk bands and Philip (fiddle) is a classically trained violinist. We all come from different musical backgrounds but we all come together and make this type of music that we all love.

What’s up next for the band after touring?

After this tour we’re taking some time off to work on a new album. We’ll be recording in a couple months so we should have a new album out in early 2015.

Catch The Brothers Comatose on tour and on fb.

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