By Brent Thompson
Photo Credit: Simpson Yiu
Con Brio (meaning “with spirit”) has landed on a unique musical formula – write socially-aware songs that address these unsettling times and place them on a funky, danceable platform. In July, The San Francisco-based septet released Explorer [Transistor Sound], the follow-up to its acclaimed 2016 full-length debut, Paradise. Thriving in front of a live audience, Con Brio has grown its fan base with noted appearances at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Music Festival. On Thursday, October 25, the band will perform at Iron City as the supporting act for Blues Traveler. Recently, we spoke with Con Brio’s drummer Andrew Laubacher by phone as he and his band mates prepared for a run of European shows.
Birmingham Stages: Andrew, thanks for your time. If you will, talk about the creation of Explorer.
Andrew Laubacher: Some of the ideas and content had been stuff we were working on for about a year and a half between Paradise and when we started working on this record. A lot of it was written for that record and written with a purpose. The way that you write material in a big band – there are seven of us – things happen organically, whether they’re ideas we’re working out at a soundcheck at a show or we’ll hole-up somewhere and do a songwriting retreat if we have days off. It’s probably about 50/50 – that and the other half of it [vocalist] Ziek [McCarter] and I go and work with other people to get some outside perspective and stuff for the record.
Birmingham Stages: Given you were busy promoting and touring for Paradise, was it challenging to find time to write material for Explorer?
Laubacher: Yeah, that’s always a tough thing because being on the road is busy. If we’re playing 200 shows a year, you add on your travel and rehearsal schedule. Just to keep that going is a full-time job, so to find time to say, “What do we want to make next?” really requires a lot of focus.
Birmingham Stages: Your band is known for addressing topical issues in your songs. If you will, talk about your lyrical approach.
Laubacher: I think there are a few songs – without going out too far of the way to hit the nail right on the head because we don’t consider ourselves to be a political band – on Paradise like “Hard Times” that speak pretty clearly to some issues. “Hard Times” in particular comes to mind because everybody has hard times. That’s not just what’s going on in the Bay or the U.S. I think there might be some pieces of that on Explorer, but I think we wanted to explore a different angle and bring some positivity and levity. We wanted Explorer to be more fun.
Birmingham Stages: How do you feel about the current musical climate in the age of Youtube, iTunes and satellite radio?
Laubacher: I was talking to Ziek about this some years ago. We’re not really in the music industry – the music industry has changed so much and been absorbed by social media. The way I look at it is that we are in the entertainment industry and there’s a retail aspect that has gone now in the way people consume music. People consume music differently and appreciate it on different levels. In general, we’re providing a larger service – we’re not just in the business of selling records. For the most part, people don’t buy records. What we’re attempting to provide for people is a way to unwind and a way to engage. I can appreciate the way things have changed – streaming services, Youtube. I don’t think that anybody knows what’s going to come next, but we’re all hanging in there. People are only going to be drawn to things that are authentic and have substance.
Birmingham Stages: Con Brio is known for its relentless energy in the live setting. How does your band continue to bring that intensity and enthusiasm so consistently?
Laubacher: What’s keeping good music alive is the live show. When you’re there face-to-face, people appreciate that authentic experience and it goes both ways – that’s the authentic experience for us, too. We might have a 24-hour straight travel day, but by the time we get to the stage, it doesn’t matter because that’s what we’re in it for. That’s the whole thing – that connection and that experience. The live show is where you see the chemistry between the members of the band and the band and the audience.
Con Brio will perform at Iron City in support of Blues Traveler on Thursday, October 25. Advance tickets to the 8 p.m., all-ages show are $28 and can be purchased at www.ironcitybham.com.