The Brakes: Neighborhood band grows together
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” There exists, presumably not in wide circulation, a copy of a tape recorded at Derek Feinberg’s bar mitzvah, some nine years ago. The tape features the bar mitzvah boy jamming with his buddy Matt Kass.
It is notable that Feinberg and Kass are still playing together, two-fifths of the suburban Philadelphia rock band, the Brakes. More interesting, however, is that the origins of the group extend back well beyond the bar mitzvah jam. Feinberg and Kass started playing in rock bands together when they were in second grade, just after they picked up guitars.
“This goes back a pretty long way, especially relative to our ages,” said Adam Flicker, who, at 23, is the oldest member of the Brakes.
The childhood roots of the band are not limited to Feinberg and Kass. All five members ” lead singer Zach Djanikian, drummer Josh Sack, keyboardist Flicker, and guitarists Feinberg and Kass ” attended Bala Cynwyd Middle School, in the area just west of Philadelphia known as the Main Line. Flicker says they weren’t all in the same social group ” there is a three- year age gap between Flicker and Sack, the youngest of the five. But all played in the school’s jazz band, and were further united by their desire to play rock ‘n’ roll.
“Derek, Matt and Zach participated in a rock-band camp during middle school. Then Derek and Matt were counselors there,” said Flicker. “So they had the rock ‘n’ roll bug for a while. They wanted to get into that scene.”
The Brakes broke into rock with a Sept. 11 benefit gig in late 2001, performing as Blue Mouth. Flicker, who was studying classical trumpet at Temple University at the time, wasn’t part of the original lineup. A few months later, however, the keyboardist, Ben Kane, left to pursue a career in music production, and Flicker rejoined his old mates.
“Piano was my first instrument,” said Flicker, who started playing music at 5. “So I dusted off the piano skills, practiced a bit and became the keyboard player.”
The Brakes have had quick success with their song-oriented, jam-tinged take on straight- ahead rock. They have opened for Robert Randolph, the Wailers and more. Their first real tour, last summer, included appearances at such top festivals as High Sierra and Allgood. This past New Year’s Eve found them at the Theatre of Living Arts, a top Philadelphia club on the city’s famed South Street. Having released a series of EPs, the band is currently at work on their first full-length album.
The Brakes’ current swing, through Colorado and Utah, the Midwest, then back to the East Coast, has them opening for Big Head Todd and the Monsters. (The tour opens tonight at Aspen’s Belly Up, marking the local debut for the Brakes.) The band’s relationship with Big Head Todd goes back three years, when they opened several dates for the Colorado rockers.
Flicker said that the members of the Brakes have common musical interests, especially in what he calls “the great improvisers of the last half of the 20th century.” The two he mentions are the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan. Apart from those similar influences, the various members bring in traces of their specific favorites: “I’m personally a big fan of reggae and classical music,” said Flicker, who had anticipated an orchestral career. “Matt loves Phish. Josh was primarily listening to the Dave Matthews Band. Derek and Zach love Pearl Jam with all their hearts.
“You put all those things together, and that’s the Brakes.”
Perhaps the biggest influence, however, has been each other, and the fact that the members have been bouncing ideas off one another virtually all of their musical lives. The most identifiable component of the band is Djanikian’s vocals, but when the band was formed, Djanikian wasn’t a singer at all. He had been a saxophonist, and when it became evident that the band needed a lead singer, he learned on the fly, supported by his bandmates.
“I think it adds a certain level of interpersonal musical understanding,” Flicker said of the band’s long roots. “I’ve been playing horns with Zach for years. We understand each other musically, better than a band who’s, say, three months old, or is auditioning a new bassist.
“We feel the connection. It’s tangible. We’ve played a lot of music together. It’s like hanging out onstage every night with your best friends.
Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.