For most people, the idea of chasing dreams in the music industry while working in another job is pretty standard. But if you're doing anything more complicated than serving coffee or lugging boxes, it can get pretty tough. Try being a college English professor. For Brandon Floerke, who teaches at Fullerton College, splitting time between grading students and grinding out songs is a long time hustle. He knew that working with a record label may not have been for him, so instead he decided to continue with school become a lit professor, and on the side, he's been putting in years of work with his band. Having recently put out his latest album, Rise Up with his band Brandon Floerke's Stuffed Animal Baby, it seemed like a good time to catch up with Floerke and maybe learn a thing or two from a teacher with some worthy artistic chops.
One of the upsides of having a professor that's passionate about more then one profession can inspire students to think outside of the box and reach their goals on their own terms. The industry won't bend for you, so don't bend for them, Floerke says. And through out his album and interview that was something that was very apparent. The old-school advice, while not exactly earth-shattering (especially for a groovy, bearded lit professor-type), is definitely worth remembering: listen to more vinyl and learn how to make an album on your own. And if you have a student who is willing to make the artwork for your album (pictured above), well damn it, let 'em do it!
From the beginning, Floerke knew the band was a DIY project and not much has changed. He produced Rise Up from his own pocket. The sound of the album is very much something that exists in the realm of artsy indie rock. Much of his political views are heard through the album and the Tom Waits, the Pixie-esque sounds are very prevalent throughout.
While the sound has plenty of lyrical complexity, the music he plays is real and accessible to the average person. Kind of like the music business today. When asked about his thoughts on the industry that's shifted quite a bit since got his start in the 90's he's glad things have changed. “I don't know if that's so bad. I don't know that we need a velvet curtain behind which there's millionaire rock stars,” Floerke says. “I think if you want to be a good musician and a good artist you still need to be a real person. I don't think it would be great for artist to be making millions of dollars of their records. I don't know if we ever needed that.”
Even though the idea of the curtain is something that is not needed, being able to pay your bills is important; something Floerke admits is a big struggle for musicians like him these days. But he does feel that kids today (he already sounds like a teacher) are missing out on the pleasure of listening to a record along with headphones and absorbing it from front to back.
“I look at young people and they are just getting a bunch of songs off of iTunes for a dollar at a time. They don't have that experience of being thirteen listening to Dark Side of the Moon, with their headphones on.”
Rise Up is definitely an album that one has to listen to each song right after another. Some of the lyrics overlap with one another and the imagery that is enhanced much like how the iconic Waits record Rain Dogs is assembled together. A singular song would not give the full story nor would the extra vocals, violin or stand up bass be the same without the whole album being played together. Each of these sounds is key as to how the over all albums are laid out. Which is how the album was suppose to be laid out, Floerke went into the recording with this mind set saying, “Those kinds of shared experiences with music and with the whole album I feel like that's such an important part of music. To hear the whole album I feel like that's such an important part of music to hear what the artist full product is.”
Although he was not able to put this new album onto vinyl because of the fact that there was far too much of it to put onto vinyl without making it a bulky double LP, it is something that he will try and do with the next album. To him it's something worth fighting for. “That's why I love the idea of young people going back to vinyl and cassette tapes,” Floerke says, even giving a shout out to Burger Records in Fullerton. “I think that's fantastic they're starting to promote cassettes, which like vinyl, encourages you to listen to the full album.”