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Interview: The Brook and The Bluff

6 October 2023

Photo by Noah Tidmore

The Brook and The Bluff’s latest, Bluebeard, meets at the corner of indie-folk and yacht rock, the smooth grooves blending with Joseph Settine’s gentle vocals to deliver an engaging, headphones-recommended collection of tracks. It’s a natural progression for a band that has been studying the How to Be a Popular Band book and putting the lessons to practice. Moderate success came early but not enough to inflate egos. Instead, The Brook and The Bluff honed their songwriting skills early on and gained experience by playing in front of live audiences, whether as a support act or headlining small venues. Gaining one (or a dozen) fans at a time, with each subsequent album release and accompanying tour, The Brook and The Bluff found the shoebox-size venues giving way to bigger clubs with more breathing room. The Bluebeard tour, which kicked off in September, finds the band playing on the biggest stages yet, most venues seating a minimum of 800 adoring fans, and racking up a series of sold-out shows. Putting in the work has paid off for Settine, Alec Bolton (guitars), Fred Lankford (bass), Kevin Canada (keyboards), and John Canada (drums) and it won’t be long before you’ll be catching The Brook and The Bluff in theaters around the country.

Early into the tour, and shortly following the release of Bluebeard, Settine joined me via video conference from the band’s touring vehicle in Los Angeles a few hours before they were scheduled to hit the stage.

You were born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama and lived there before moving to Nashville. Tell me a little bit about Birmingham.

JOSEPH: People assume Alabama is all country back-roads. We’re very much not like that. We’re city boys. Birmingham is definitely a true, proper city. I feel like we don’t have thick accents. I mean, I definitely do because my mom’s from Monroeville, which is Bumfuck, Alabama.

Birmingham actually feels like a mini Nashville in a lot of ways. I think the best thing about Birmingham is the food. There’s a bunch of *James Beard*-like chefs that have restaurants there. The food scene is super good. There’s also a big brewery scene – Good People Brewery is one of the better breweries out there.

And, as a city, Birmingham is really beautiful. There’s a lot of trees within the city and stuff like that versus a place like Nashville which is just a lot of buildings right now. There are also parts of Birmingham that feel like you’re legitimately almost in the woods.

Besides you, of course, who’s the most famous person to graduate from your high school?

JOSEPH: Taylor Hicks, for sure. He was the winner of the fifth season of American Idol. The guys all grew up in Mountain Brook, in a different neighborhood from me, and Courteney Cox is from Mountain Brook. I think she graduated from Mountain Brook High School so I think she would probably be the most famous high school graduate that is shared by the whole band, which is kind of crazy.

You’re early on in the tour cycle for Bluebeard. Are the setlists heavy with new material or are you only playing one or two new songs and easing them into the set?

JOSEPH: I would say it’s been pretty heavy. We’re playing like eight of the 12 songs that are on the record. This record has been so special to us, like the experience of making it, and we’re so proud of those songs that we wanted to go out and start playing them and also road test them for the first time. Most of these songs had never been heard by anyone so playing them in front of people is a really good gauge on whether a song is a universally-connecting song. But, we’re hitting all the big stuff people want to hear.

I’m in Columbus, Ohio and each time you play here, you move up to the next biggest venue. Is that exciting or does it make you anxious and leave you wondering whether you can fill these bigger venues?

JOSEPH: 100% it’s both. It’s like a perfect mixture. There’s anxiety, I put a lot of pressure on myself and the guys. This is the first time we’ve had a full production – lighting and stuff – and we’ve got some bigger arrangements and we’re doing a lot more on stage, it feels like a true show that we planned out versus a band concert. It’s really exciting to bring these production elements and add them to what we already bring, which is a really high energy show. It’s been super fun but also terrifying.

Have you ever found yourself on a bill that is a total mismatch?

JOSEPH: Oh my God, yes! Actually, a few funny ones when we were coming up. We played a few gigs in Florence, Alabama. I don’t remember the group’s name, but they had a guy that just sat in a chair and ate cereal the whole time on stage. That was weird. And the music was kind of close to metal.

Within the last year, we played a radio show in Phoenix, Arizona and it was us and Zedd, who is like an EDM artist. And we were just like, “What are we doing?” I don’t think we were direct support. Maybe there was somebody in between us, maybe not. We are a band in the most classic sense of the word and to have us before a rave, we were like, “This is weird, but we’ll play it.” I mean, we’ll play with anybody that will have us.

I’m going to ask you some questions that are inspired by song titles from the new album. For example, let’s start with “Normal Things”. What are some of the normal things that happen on tour and what are some of the abnormal things you’ve experienced on the road?

JOSEPH: I mean, honestly, the most normal thing on tour is a Love’s or a Pilot, a combination truck stop, gas station, and bathroom. That is literally 80 percent of touring, just sitting in a van, stopping at a Pilot, and getting a sandwich at Subway in the middle of Texas. It’s also normal to be used to running on about four hours of sleep.

An abnormal thing is a random story that just popped into my head because we’re in LA and it happened here. Two times ago when we were here, we played a sold-out show at Hotel Cafe. We were loading out and we weren’t really paying attention as we’re putting stuff in the back of van and in the trailer. We walked around and there was somebody sitting in the front seat of our van. It was like 1 a.m. and she was just on another planet. I think she thought we were a taxi because we tour in an airport passenger van. I legitimately think that she thought she was going to get a ride to the airport or something. It was so, so wild. That was probably one of the strangest things that has ever happened to us while we’ve been on tour.

Not related to a song or lyric but when you’re playing in a big city, have you ever put somebody famous on the guest list?

JOSEPH: Not anybody that’s crazy, crazy famous. We had a show in New York and we invited Ocean Vuong to come out. He’s the most famous person but maybe he’s just a famous person to me because he’s one of my favorite authors. He wrote a book called On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and it’s one of my favorite books of all time. He follows John on social media and the two exchanged messages where they both were like, “I’m a fan of your work” so we asked him to come out to our New York show, threw him on the guest list and he showed up. To me, he’s a major celebrity. But, no Clooney yet, unfortunately. Oh, wait, we put Jordan Fisher on the guest list one time too. He went to high school with all the guys.

We have friends and everyone in the family, including the kids, are over six feet tall, the tallest is 6’ 9”. You have a song called “Long Limbs” so I’m wondering who is your tallest friend?

JOSEPH: I’m my tallest friend. Actually, I have a friend named Taren who I played basketball with growing up. He was on my AAU teams and stuff. He’s 6’ 7”. I’m 6’ 4” so I’m a pretty tall boy. I’m taller than everybody else in the band. I grew up being the tallest kid and then once I played basketball, I was like, “I’m very much not the tallest kid.” I’ve been around super tall people, obviously, through the sport. I played AAU when I was 15, and there was a 7’ 2” kid that just came in and played with us for a weekend. And I was like, “How are you this tall?” The song is definitely kind of a nod to my super long extremities, because I’m long and lanky. I’m usually not around people that are taller than me, which is cool.

My wife has no interest in going to class reunions, she doesn’t use social media to catch up with old friends. She’s not interested in “Bulletins from the Past.” What about you? Do you look backwards? Are you still friends with people you knew in high school?

JOSEPH: I did not go to my 10-year class reunion, because, well, it was bad timing. We graduated in 2011. So in 2021,because of the pandemic, our 10-year reunion got moved to the following year. I think I was on the road but I didn’t want to go, to be honest. I didn’t want people asking what I was doing, not that I think that that would have happened, but I do think that in my graduating class that I may be doing the coolest thing of anybody that I graduated with.

I will say that I am actually incredibly close with a bunch of my guy friends that I grew up with from elementary school on. We have a group chat and we still talk every day. We’re incredibly tight-knit. We were pretty much inseparable during high school and still are very, very close. So I definitely have that nostalgia. I feel like a lot of our music is rooted in nostalgia in a way.

Is there anything that you dove “Headfirst” into in the last couple of years?

JOSEPH: This is bad for my bank account, but I have gotten really into clothing and design and that kind of thing. I’ve become really, really obsessed with the cut of a good jean or wondering if a shirt is cropped where it’s gonna fit me the best? So that’s definitely been one thing that I’ve kind of slipped and gone down a rabbit hole to my bank account’s detriment, unfortunately. That’s probably the biggest one.

We’re all big readers. Diving headfirst into a book is always one of our favorite things. And I would say I’ve gotten back into playing basketball. I grew up playing, that was my first love. I thought I was going to be in the NBA and then I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be in the NBA. It’s still the only form of exercise I can enjoy. In the last couple months before we left on this tour, I got back into playing and remembered why I loved doing that so much. It’s amazing what moving your body does for feeling better.

I broke my hand at the beginning of this year playing basketball, actually, so I took six months off of playing. When I went back, I was like, “Oh, yeah, you like doing this.”

I wish I could say that I got into bread making. That’s really what seemed like the coolest thing but, unfortunately, I did not. During the pandemic, I got really into PlayStation games. Yeah, I played a lot of video games.

Are you a leader or a follower? Do you say “Twist My Arm” when your bandmates or friends ask you to do something or are you the guy to twist other people’s arms into doing something?

JOSEPH: I’m definitely a leader. I’m definitely twisting people’s arms. In the band, it’s kind of my role to drive everything creatively and make sure that we’re making the right things and making things with the level of detail and level of attention that we have put into everything up to this point. I’m definitely sending the reminder text like, “We need to be on stage at this time.” We also have a tour manager that has taken over doing a lot of that.

I think outside of the band, I kind of like being able to take a step back, hang, and float down the lazy river of life.

I’m going a little off script and I do want to ask about a specific lyric. In the song “Knock,” there’s a lyric “Summer love / for some of us, it was more than ticket stubs.” That seems like a very personal line and put in there with intention.

JOSEPH: Maybe that one is personal. I’m married now and it had been an off-and-on, ten-year kind of thing. There was a point in the “off” section where I was with someone else. “Knock” is kind of about not giving that other person the right amount of brain space and attention and daydreaming about the past and what you did have.

I like to try and create a picture instead of just making words that sound good together. I think if you can create an image within a song that pops into somebody’s mind, that’s always going to be more powerful than trying to write something that sounds clever. That line specifically is me just trying to do that, create an image like a movie or a short film.

But, I mean, yeah, I have stubs specifically that I kept from the last Outkast shows they did in 2014. I saw them in Atlanta in the summer and I kept that ticket because it was just a really special experience.

I had my own interpretation of that lyric. When I was in college, I had a crush on a girl and I knew the bands that she really liked. I became a fan of those bands just to have something to talk to her about. And, when some of those bands came to town on tour, I bought us tickets and was like, “Hey, I have an extra ticket. Want to go?” But, nothing ever happened with that relationship. So, when I heard that lyric, it reminded me of having a crush in the summertime that never amounted to anything and all I’ve got to show for it are some ticket stubs from shows that we attended. For her, I was just a friend to go to concerts with.

JOSEPH: I think that’s kind of the sentiment of the line. One person is way more into what’s going on than the other. For one person, it’s more than a summer love. It’s this thing that maybe could last. And for the other, it’s like “I’m just having fun.”

You wear glasses. I wear glasses. There’s a song called “My Foggy Lens.” What is your least favorite part about wearing glasses?

JOSEPH: Smudges on the lenses. It’s just a constant battle. I’ve only got one cleaning cloth and I lost it for like four weeks before I left on tour. And then when I was packing, I found it in a pair of shorts and I was like, “Thank God” because on stage, I get really sweaty and the sweat gets all over my glasses and it’s salty and, not crusty, but leaves that film and I can’t see by the end of the show. That is easily my least favorite thing about wearing glasses. I feel like everything else is positive because you see better and I think most people look cooler when they have glasses on. It’s like an accessory that can elevate your look a little bit. So, I would say smudges are the only downside. Oh, I have a chip in the left lens and I can’t afford new glasses so I’m just living with a little tiny thing that is right there at all times. But, it could be worse, I could not see at all.

“Tell Me” a story that your friends and family would say is the story that you always pull out the first time you meet someone or whenever you’re asked to tell an interesting story.

JOSEPH: The one that immediately popped into my mind, because I was actually just talking about this with somebody, is more of a funny story to me than anything and it’s from my childhood. I was obsessed with Razor scooters. I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was 10 or 11-years-old. I had a bunch of friends in my neighborhood who all rode their bikes around and I couldn’t keep up with them so I had to get a Razor scooter.

My friend was going to move out of the neighborhood and it was our last day to hang together. I had learned how to ride a bike at this point but for some reason I was like, “Look, for old times, let’s go out on our scooters. Let’s ride around the neighborhood.” And we got to this giant, giant hill that is in my neighborhood in Bluff Park. It’s called Shenandoah Drive. It’s windy and not super paved. It was paved probably in the ’70s when they first paved the neighborhood.

I had flip flops on and my scooter did not have a break. We’re just sitting at the top and my buddy goes, “What if somebody just rode down this hill?” and I was like, “Oh, you mean like this?” I went down the hill and it was so disastrous. I got to the bottom and my handlebars were shaking and I lost it. I fell off. It was like a motorcycle accident. I had road rash down my back, both my elbows were scraped up as were the palms of my hand. It was insane.

I was coming down the hill and there was a guy who was the head basketball coach at the high school at the time. He saw me and just was like, “What are you doing?” He called my mom and my mom came to pick me up. I l was laid up in bed for the next two or three days. I had such big scabs on my knees that walking cracked them open.

It was probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. But I’m trying to have a funny, impress-my-friend-before-he-leaves kind of moment.

Also, midway down the hill, I was like, “I’m so screwed. I’m not going to make it out of this one unscathed.” I remember the pair of flip flops I had were really cheap. I had mashed my foot on the break and it was burning the bottom of my foot and then I looked at the flip flops and there was a giant indentation from the wheel burning off the rubber of the bottom of my flip flops and I could never wear them again.

Let’s finish with “Bluebeard”. There’s lyrics about carrying a picture in your wallet in your pocket. Are you the type of person who has full pockets or empty pockets or does it depend on what you’re wearing?

JOSEPH: It depends on what I’m wearing. I usually just have my phone, keys, wallet and, maybe, sometimes I’ll have a … you know, we’re in LA … so sometimes I’ll have a joint on me and a lighter. Other than that, I keep it pretty slim, but I will say my wallet is packed with shit. I keep random business cards, my old student ID from Auburn that got me into all of my music performances, my convocation card, I still have that for some reason.

I have an old medallion from the Met when I went to the Art Museum in New York the first time that we were touring. I like to go to art museums when we have some time. I’ll go by myself and just walk around museums in the cities that we go to. So I have a bunch of random stuff.

That line in “Bluebeard” was inspired by being in college, when my wife and I were dating. I was at her mom’s house and she had a bunch of pictures. I got a picture of her from when she was in grade school because I thought it was funny. And I had it in my wallet. And then, when we weren’t together, I was going through my old wallet and I pulled out the picture and I was like, “Oh, it’s still right here.” I hold on to as much as I can in my wallet, I would say.

What is the oldest thing in your wallet?

JOSEPH: Ooh, let me look right now and see. I think I have a train ticket from 2014. No, that’s not in here. I have so many expired gift cards. I think the oldest thing that I have is a $10 dollar gift certificate to Noble’s Beer Kitchen in Nashville. It’s probably three-years old. I have a fully-used $25 gas gift card that my mom gave me before I left Birmingham, so this is at least from 2017. I should probably throw it away, but when you get your wallet to a nice size and it fits well in your pocket, you don’t want to mess with that. You don’t want to mess with the ecosystem.


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