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The Broken West 

“Another goddamn Big Star comparison!”

Wednesday, Jun 20 2007
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Go West, Young Fan: The Broken West play the El Rey June 26, opening for the National.

Broke and Beautiful: The Broken West’s musical DNA contains elements of the Beatles, the Byrds, the Kinks, Teenage Fanclub and Big Star. “All the bands we get compared to we completely love,” admits singer-guitarist Ross Flournoy, adding wryly, “Two years ago, I would have been flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as any of those. Now it’s another goddamn Big Star comparison.”

Emotional, Not Emo: When Flournoy sings “I’m reaching for the brass ring far too late” on the Broken West’s breakout debut, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On (Merge Records), he obviously isn’t singing about his band’s prospects. Their shimmery SoCal guitar pop — fortified by buoyant keyboards and a muscular rhythm section — sidesteps Weezer’s emo-adored self-consciousness, Beachwood Sparks’ cosmic cowboy ramblings and the Tyde’s postmodern cleverness. Intensely hummable tunes like “Down in the Valley,” “So It Goes” and “Slow” make for a perfect window-down, highway-cruising (or stuck-in-traffic) soundtrack.

click to enlarge Broken but not beaten: The great West (Photo by Aaron Farley)
  • Broken but not beaten: The great West (Photo by Aaron Farley)

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Busted!: The band was originally called the Brokedowns, but dropped the “s” after discovering an Illinois ska band with the same name. After they’d self-released an EP in 2005 (The Dutchman’s Gold), the other Brokedowns sent them a cease-and-desist order. As Flournoy recalls, “The week before, [our lawyer] said, ‘I bet you that this will be a problem,’ and I said it wouldn’t be.” The moral? According to Flournoy, it’s “Always trust lawyers.” (Several Merge Records–label interns also eventually suffered, being forced to handwrite “The Broken West” over “The Brokedown” on a thousand promo discs.)

How the West Was Born: The Santa Barbara–bred Flournoy started the band in the summer of 2004 with his high school buddy, keyboardist Scott Claassen. After some lineup changes (and Scott’s departure), the band now includes guitarist Dan Iead, drummer Rob McCorkindale, bassist Brian Whelan (whom they wooed from the Eugene Edwards Band) and touring keyboardist Jon Shaw.

But Does He Have Cowbell Fever?: Bassist Whelan does an incredible Christopher Walken impression.

Dreaming of Dwight Twilley: Sharing a bill with Tom Petty, Wilco and Teenage Fanclub is Flournoy’s dream, while he says Iead’s ideal lineup would feature Dwight Twilley and power poppers Sloan. According to Flournoy, “Dan loves Sloan with the love that dares not speak its name.”

Mystery Matchmaker: One way the people at Merge learned about the band was from their realtor, whose daughter worked with Iead at the Echo Park eatery Auntie Em’s.

Eastside Pride: The quartet all live on L.A.’s Eastside, either in Silver Lake or Echo Park. Flournoy asserts: “People who dismiss L.A. out of hand probably haven’t been to Echo Park and Silver Lake. The industry scene gives L.A. a bad name. We try to stay clear of that as best as we can.” Their favorite hangouts include the Short Stop bar, the Alegria restaurant and the soon-to-be-shuttered Sea Level Records.

Five-Year Plan: Flournoy would love the band’s career to be like the Decemberists’ — “selling 150,000 records, playing two nights at the Wiltern and having a very loyal fan base who appreciate what you’re doing.”

Westward Ho!: The Broken boys recently co-headlined a tour with the Comas, then opened for Fountains of Wayne through the Midwest; their date with the National marks their return to the West Coast.

Click here to download a copy of Broken West's "Down in the Valley"

Reach the writer at mikeberick@aol.com

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