An Interview with Papadosio: From Coffee Roasting to Hellraiser (and other ways to stay sane on the road)

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An Interview with Papadosio: From Coffee Roasting to Hellraiser (and other ways to stay sane on the road)

L to R: Billy Brouse, Rob McConnell, Mike Healy, Anthony Thogmartin, Sam Brouse. Photo: Erin Fowler

It’s just after five o’clock in Black Mountain, and the afternoon storm is over. The light catches the raindrops on the electric green grass behind the stage at Pisgah Brewing, where I’m standing with four of the five members of Papadosio. In a few hours, as the sun flashes crimson and bright coral before slipping into darkness behind the mountains, they’ll take the stage in an explosion of light and color, in front of some of their most devoted fans.

This is one of Papadosio’s only non-festival shows of the summer, but they’ve managed to create a little festival here nonetheless. Food trucks dish up everything from red Thai curry hot wings to boudin, live painters are preparing for a long night of audiovisual inspiration, and glowing hula hoops, LED poi balls, and other bright and shiny objects I can’t even begin to name are arriving on the scene with their wild-haired owners, decked out in their finest for a night of celebration. 

Papadosio has always been up to big things, and they show no signs of slowing down. Their fan base probably wouldn’t let them at this point. Last year, they headlined at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. They also put out a new album, Pattern Integrities, that is one of the more stripped-down works in their ouevre. In August, they’ll head to the Oregon Eclipse festival. That will be followed by Earth Night 2017, happening this year in Chicago, as well as a New Year’s show series in Nashville, where they’ll headline with support from Doyle on December 30th and Zoogma and Push/Pull on December 31st (the official announcement drops today, and tickets are on sale Friday, so get ready to pounce). In the years they’ve been playing, a lot has shifted, but their evolution as a band and on a personal level has stayed consistent. 

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I caught up with Papadosio's Anthony Thogmartin (guitar, keys, vocals), Sam Brouse (keys, vocals), Mike Healy (drums), and Rob McConnell (bass) to talk about everything from their latest record to their affinity for horror movies, coffee roasting, and Asheville synth meet-ups (among many other things).

You guys have been in Asheville almost seven years now. How’s it treating you? What do you love about living here?

Mike: I grew up in Cincinnati. It’s such a big city. And we all lived in Athens, Ohio, which was a small town. We decided to move to Asheville, and for me, personally, the reason I like it so much is that everywhere you go—it doesn’t matter if it's one of the ugliest or nicest streets ever—it’s green everywhere. It wasn’t that way at all in Cincinnati when I was growing up. Downtown was a concrete jungle. Asheville is the total opposite. I love that part of nature I get here. I can enjoy myself wherever I go. I can go hiking, mountain biking, to breweries and great restaurants. And it's beautiful.

Sam: I like the mountains, even if I’m not up in them. I like looking at them, and it's cool not having to go far to get out. I've had a lot of friends move here as well. We all have a good community of friends here. Also the local companies are so great: Buchi, Make Noise, Moog...there’s a lot of cool stuff going on. It’s a nice place to be and end up after you run around the country on tour.

Rob: Coming home is like a vacation for us. And I like how everything’s green, and I’m amazed by all of the different plants. Like, "This grows here too? This grows here?" It’s super diverse.

Anthony: I really enjoy hiking and mountain biking a lot. But it’s also a great food scene. It’s not very common for such a small place to have such high-end eating and delicious cheap stuff. You can get almost whatever you want food-wise. We eat a lot of cheap food everywhere when we’re traveling, and to get a lot of delicious cheap food in Asheville is a gem. There are not too many cities like this in the country.

Asheville is getting more known for its music scene, and you guys really tour everywhere but live here. How do you see yourselves as fitting into and contributing the local music scene? 

Rob: There are so many different people here doing different things. It’s really inspiring. It's a really small area but it’s very diverse. I think we fit in, but just like anything else I’m not sure where we fit in (laughs), but I think we do.

Anthony: We have a lot of musician friends here. We recently had an impromptu jam session. We're really good friends with Midnight Snack and Third Nature, and those bands and some other musicians came over at the drop of a dime and we had a great jam.

Recently I went to a house party that was a producer party. They stopped doing point and click with their mouses and started using instruments. It was really cool because I came from the opposite background, and was able to organize these jams where we use really unconventional instruments, like MIDI controllers and little drum pads to jam with. There are companies here making new technology, and we’re right in the thick of it. Billy [Brouse] and I just went to the synth club meet, where synth dweebs get together and geek out. It’s fun to be active because the quality of what’s happening here is so high. I don’t know about fitting in, but if you’re a bluegrass musician you could definitely get caught up in a lot of stuff, just as much as if you’re a synth enthusiast. Photo: Erin Fowler

What are you all doing for the eclipse? 

Mike: We’ll be in Oregon for the massive global eclipse gathering and festival. It's one of the bigger festivals of the summer for us, and we get to watch the eclipse. Or maybe some of us might fly back and watch it here too. It's great that it's going right across the country.

It’​s still a bit early, but tell me a little bit about what you're planning for this year's Earth Night, if you can. I know it’s in Chicago, right?

Sam: It’s pretty far off, but I would say this is the most organized we’ve been thanks to our manager, Jake, and our friend Jason Takahashi, whose idea Earth Night was. Between the two of them and the fact that we’ve had a lot of time to plan, we’re excited. And to be in Chicago to do it is pretty cool.

Mike: We’ve done it a lot in a couple of different places, but being from Ohio and the Midwest, that region of Illinois was one of our biggest draws. So just think this is an area that everyone in the Midwest can come to. It seemed like the right fit. We want to bring it around the country to all sorts of cities.

Pattern Integrities is an amazing album, and I really like that it’s quite experimental, in a way that almost hearkens back to Black Mountain College and John Cage, some of those early experimental artists working in this area. Can you talk a little about the process of making it and the inspiration for it?

Anthony: It’s Interesting that you mention Black Mountain College, because I watched a play there [R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe] and the actor [David Novak] had studied Buckminster Fuller a lot and had gotten so good at impersonating him that that’s what he does. It was about two years ago, and he was so good at it. Basically, you became a class member when you walked into the performance.

It’s just so cool how Fuller talks about a human being being a pattern integrity. If you like a certain food, for example, it means you’re executing a pattern. So if you like an apple and you live in a certain area of the world that doesn’t have apples, those apples literally come to you based on a pattern. And music and art are also very colorful and productive in that way. 

Making the album was all in the moment. Everyone contributed a lot. It felt like an authentic thing that we were doing. If felt really collaborative, more than ever before. And the underlying idea behind name was because we felt that, in the same way that a human being is a pattern integrity, so is music, because people remember music later, they sing it. It keeps happening.

Sam: We were coming off of Extras in a Movie, which was this huge concept album with so much more pressure. There was a lot going into that, and the lyrical content was so personal. We said a lot, and when it came time to make something new, I was writing stuff and I just didn’t have anything to say. And at the time it was leading up to the election, and everybody had so much to say that it felt silly to try and comment on it then, so instead of trying I just focused on the aesthetics of the sound of it. And it just so happened that everyone else was writing instrumental stuff too, so we decided to scrap all the lyrics. It's the first time we’ve decided to do that and it was really cool. It was really freeing not to have something like an idea that you’re trying to push on someone. When it’s more like art for art’s sake, you can interpret it how you want.

Yes, and the lyrics fix the narrative in a particular way.

Rob: It was definitely more of a natural process. Everyone was totally burned out after the Extras tour (we did 80 shows), so when we finished that tour it felt good to just be like, "Ok, this is summertime, let’s just get together and see what everyone has." And a month later we had the whole album. It was way easier of a process, it was like, "Wow, why did we freak out about this?" 

Sam: TETIOS took us two years, Extras took 2 month, and this just came out.

How has being a musician changed since you started, in terms of the business of music and your own creative approach?

Anthony: I think it’s cool that everything you do in the business world of music that’s creative tends to be rewarded in the same way that if you do that in your music. People really enjoy creativity in what you do and how you approach your fans. It’s crazy, with the whole Pattern Integrities thing, we just were like, "Let’s see what happens." It felt like this was exactly where we were at, and it was just there, it was all really present and happening, but we didn’t know what to expect from the fans. It all happened so fast, it’s like I don’t even remember the process of recording it. But it was rewarded like crazy.

Because we made statements with Extras, there were people really behind it and people really not into it. Over time, people warmed up and everything was great, but with Pattern Integrities everything was instantly accepted by people. It’s pretty easy to vibe with something that doesn’t necessarily say anything (all laugh). So I guess, along with that answer, what I mean to say is that every time we think of something creative to do in terms of how we’re reaching people, it works. We haven’t skipped too many steps. It’s been hard; we’ve dealt with financial stuff. And being a band is kind of insane, and maybe virtually impossible now as compared to when we started. Now the music industry is based around a lot of singular acts and very small groups. But yeah, if we’re creative everything seems to work out.

Rob: We have GPS’s now too (all laugh). Instead of, like, Rand McNally maps. We used to use those. It’s crazy how much has changed.

Anthony: And Internet on your phone. Sometimes I think that makes me sound old, but yeah.

Rob: I was thinking about that recently, about going on tour without a cell phone. Like, “I have to go to the pay phone.” Now, I try to put the phone down.

Sam: Except when you’re on the road and have nowhere to look but out the window of your van for the 1000th hour of the past year…

Rob: Bye bye dopamine. 

Do you have any practices, while you're on tour or just generally, that keep you from going crazy? 

Sam: I watch horror movies.

So do I! I love horror movies! You watch them on the road? What’s a good one you watched recently?

Sam: What started me out was, I’ve always kinda liked them, but one day when we had a 10-hour drive I watched all the Hellraisers. It was horrible, but that’s what started it, something about horror movies just takes me away, and if I get too scared I just look out the window, which is nice (laughs).

I was thinking you guys were going to say yoga, meditation—but I love it, horror movies.

Anthony: I try to get at least 10 minutes of non-thought in in the morning, which is not easy if the bus is freaking out or if there’s some problem to solve. I think Billy has the most interesting one, though. He reads the front page of Reddit, and he’s like a steel trap in terms of his knowledge of what is happening in the world. Every single time I bring something up, he says, “Oh, I read that 4 hours ago,” and I’m like, “Dude, what?” He’s pretty impressive in what he knows.

Rob: He’d be a great history teacher.

I like to exercise on the road. To kinda get the anxiety out. Just being around people all the time can be draining.

Mike: I like to go on walks by myself sometimes. Like when people are just chilling on the bus playing video games in the back or practicing inside the van, I’ll go on an hour walk. Sometimes I'll go to a coffee shop and stroll around, experience town a little bit. 

You guys often cite Nine Inch Nails as an influence, and you're playing a tribute set to NIN at Resonance, right? Does Trent know? Are you guys buds?

Anthony: I hope not! He’s really gotten strong recently; he's buff now!

Rob: I’d have been more scared of him back in the day. He was a loose cannon. He was always punching his bandmates and shit.

What do you take from NIN? Is everyone in the band a fan?

Rob: Oh yeah, I love them. I like the sounds they make most of all, the tones.

Mike: They have excellent songwriting. There’s a lot of material I don’t love, but there are some songs and albums that are some of the best ever. I love John Freese, the drummer that played with them on tours back in the day. I love the style; they're a huge influence for me on drumming, and I love a lot of the messages. Trent is definitely a musical activist. He's inspiring. One of their shows was the best I’ve seen in my life, along with Tool and Radiohead. It was here in Asheville at Mountain Oasis. 

Anthony: All these people that go to the more vanilla shows and do hippie dancing were all at the NIN show. I don’t think it clicks for people until you see how funky the band can get. That’s not quite the word I want to use. I mean more how compelling it is to dance to that music.

Rob: He had the funkiest musicians with him on tour then, though, it was crazy, man, the drummer had played with Paul McCartney.
 

Anthony: They’re such an amazing band. They had an interview in the 90s, maybe their second Rolling Stone interview, and Trent said, “There’s something strangely musical about noise.” That always really stuck with me. If you have a noise layer under music when you're recording, or an old record with tape hiss, there’s something about it that sounds better. So their albums feature a lot of white noise and hiss, these kinds of things, and I think the brain makes stuff up when that happens. That always stuck with me. Sound design-wise he’s just amazing at that.

Sam: I just watched The Defiant Ones, the story of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre and how they moved up. Jimmy Iovine is this crazy producer, and Trent Reznor was one of the first artists at Interscope to get his own label off of Interscope. Jimmy Iovine said, “We can’t mess with what this dude wants; we’re just going to give him his own label, we’ll split it 50/50, he can do whatever the fuck he wants.” There’s something to be said for that. He’s such an influential artist, not only music- and production-wise but also the show, the way that they produce a live show is insane, all of their innovations and LED walls and craziness. And the fact that he was just given the go-ahead to do whatever, I think that was really interesting. He didn’t have to answer to anybody, and then he got to sign Marilyn Manson and all of these other people. 

Besides NIN, what’s feeding you right now? What’s inspiring, whether it's music, movies, tv, hobbies, esoteric interests, books, whatever?

Sam: It’s nice to see that Radiohead is having a good time. They’re the biggest influence on me musically, ever. To see that they can still have fun and write compelling music later down the road, that’s really cool.

Rob: I’m roasting coffee. I get to drink super fresh coffee and be really caffeinated and play music. I get the beans from a wholesale direct green bean source (Sweet Maria’s). They send a lot of Ethopian beans, stuff from Brazil and Costa Rica. The Ethiopian ones are really good. They're always really floral and fruity. I have a pourover and I also have this super Swiss coffee machine that makes shots of espresso and adds water. It basically makes Americanos. It’s the perfect cup every time.

Mike: I don’t have a garden right now, but gardening is a big passion of mine.

Rob: Yeah, that too.

Mike: And my wife is pregnant right now, so that’s inspiring! It's like, "Oh my gosh, this is happening so I have to get better at everything. I need to level up!" She’s due in November.

Anthony: I’ve really been vibing on the crazy synth technology that this town makes and that’s around and available. That juxtaposed with the amazing woods around here. So it’s half and half. I go from being extremely nerdy in a basement in my house with all my stuff around me, and then I walk right outside and am in in this amazing place. I like to call it "original design." They borrow from each other. I think about the woods when I’m in the basement, and the basement while I’m in the woods.Invisible instruments make the sweetest sounds. L to R: Mike Healy, Sam Brouse, Rob McConnell, Anthony Thogmartin. Photo: Erin Fowler

What's on the radar for Papadosio? What are you working on?

Mike: We did have a meeting about tons of new ideas people have a few months ago. I’m not sure when we’ll start working, but it's pretty exciting. We're getting ready for big fall tour, five weeks coast to coast. Then we’ll spend New Year’s in Nashville.

Anthony: We always have a lot of shows coming up, a lot of musical ideas. It’s hard to say when we start working on things. We’ve been working on them, so it’s always perpetually happening. Work never really ends or begins.

Rob: Sometimes we work on the road, sometimes at home. Wherever we are, we’re still working. At home I feel like I’m working more! On the road you play video games if you’re on the bus.

Sam: It’s so hard to write music on the road. You’re trying to drink enough coffee to be awake for the day and for the show.

Anthony: And trying to talk to people to the degree that they feel satisfied and not insane, and then cut it off, you know what I mean? I think some of us are introverts.

Sam: Me and my brother are going to start doing a podcast. It’s going to be called either “House of Brouse” or “Brussels Brouse,” because that’s our name. We haven’t talked about it too much, but we have the idea. I listen to Joe Rogan all the time, and Tom Segura. I’m so mad I didn’t go to the show [in Asheville]. It will be a good way to engage the fans. We'd maybe have musician friends on as guests. But I’m not exactly sure what it’s going to be yet.

Rob: Now I have another podcast to listen to!