Cary Brothers Songwriting Interview

Cary Brothers (photo by John Schweikert)

Cary Brothers (photo by John Schweikert)

Current City: Los Angeles, CA
Record Label: Procrastination Music
Most recent release: ‘Let Me Be’ EP

Cary Brothers is just one guy..

first name.cary.  last name.brothers

I’ve known Cary for 7-8 years.  He’s helped me out on two pretty incredible acts of kindness that impacted all of us involved.  Grateful to have his help on those.  He graciously agreed to share some thoughts on music with us and very gracefully answered some difficult questions. No long story this time, just that Cary’s a good guy.

Cary Brothers is an indie rock singer-songwriter from Los Angeles best known for his song “Blue Eyes” from the Grammy-winning “Garden State” Soundtrack.  He has had over 60 songs featured in TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Bones,” and the recent hit teen film “Easy A” in addition to appearances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “The Late Late Show.” He is the co-creator of The Hotel Cafe Tour and has toured worldwide with artists such as Imogen Heap, Sara Bareilles, and The Fray. In the electronic dance music world, Brothers has found success collaborating with DJ Tiesto on a club remix of his song “Ride” as well as original material for Tiesto’s collection “Kaleidoscope.”

Our Scattered Words: What is your songwriting/composing process?
Cary Brothers: I’m usually a melody guy first.  Whether I’m in my car or around my apartment, something just pops into my head.  At this point in my writing career, I can usually tell if it’s worth a song if it’s still in my head hours later.  I’ll pick up a guitar or sit down at the piano and build the right chords around that melody and do a quickie recording, singing mumbly noises instead of lyrics.  Basically, I shape it so it sounds like a song you hear being played quietly through a neighbor’s window – defined structurally and melodically, but you can’t really tell what the lyrics are.  I have hundreds of such recordings.  Then I’ll listen over and over again.  If it brings out a story or connects to something in my life, it gets lyrics and becomes a real song.  Sometimes that last part takes a night, and sometimes it takes years.

Our Scattered Words: What are you most proud of?
Cary Brothers: I’m most proud of the fact that I’m still around and running the label myself.  When I got started, it was such a dream to be able to make a living playing music.  That dream became a reality, but I’ve seen it become a reality for so many people who squandered it or couldn’t take the heat when it gets tough.  Careers go up and down and up again, and I love that I’ve managed to ride the wave and not fall off.  Also, after all of the initial success I had around the release of “Blue Eyes” and the “Garden State” Soundtrack, I’m proud that many of my biggest fans/supporters today have never even heard that song.  It’s become about a body of work and not just one moment.

Our Scattered WordsLet’s talk MySpace. Back in maybe 2005-6, when I first got to know you there, you were doing what seemed to be a unique thing. On your page, you had a list of friends that you recommended everyone listen to. You did this with West Coast musicians and William Fitzsimmons did the same with musicians from the Northeast. It’s something that encouraged me to do the same. Supporting other musicians, especially your friends, is something I’ve seen as being a core part of your personality since then. Talk about that and why it’s important to you.
Cary Brothers: I got started because a fantastic musician named Gary Jules, riding high on the success his song “Mad World,” gave me a shot.  That brought me into the doors of the Hotel Cafe in LA, and I never left.  The support and kindness I felt as a rookie was unbelievable, and as soon as I had some weight, I wanted to give back to the new artists who were coming up behind me.  When I chose opening acts on my tour, it was always about quality and giving someone a shot.

Our Scattered Words: You’re one of the leaders of the Hotel Cafe Tour. How did that whole community come together and how important is it for singer/songwriters?
Cary Brothers: The Hotel Cafe Tour was an extension of the community vibe in The Hotel Cafe itself.  We would have these incredible nights of artists at the venue in LA, and one day we just decided to put one of those nights on a tour bus, book some shows, and figure it out as we went along.  Musicians with a big draw would headline and bring the audiences, and younger musicians would open and get their first ride on a tour bus and get some good advice/experience from those who had been road-dogging for a while.  I learned so much being surrounded by so many different personalities.  It was like traveling summer camp for singer/songwriters.

Our Scattered Words: Do lyrics come quickly or do you revise them over a period of time?
Cary Brothers: Totally depends on my state of mind.  If I’m “in it” – in a highly emotional place due to something great or awful happening in my life – lyrics can fall out almost just as they are heard in the final song.  Sometimes, I have to drag words kicking and screaming out of my head with lots of editing right up until I’m in front of a microphone.   Neither process means a song is going to be better or worse.  I just say things as honestly as I can.  If enough people feel the same way, the song takes on a life of its own out in the world.  My job is just to write what I like, what I want to hear.  Though they may not pay the bills, I’m as happy with the songs I’ve never released as I am with ones that have sold some records for me.  I don’t generally pick favorites among the kids 🙂

Our Scattered Words: Joshua Radin sometimes talks on his shows about how songs outlive the relationships they’re about. Which then leads you to be kind of reliving that relationship for as long as you sing the song. You’ve written some beautiful songs about good times in relationships and your last EP was a very touching look at the end of a relationship. Is it hard for you to continue telling those stories through your songs?
Cary Brothers: The process of writing for me is the exorcism of whatever pain I felt.  I pour everything into that process to make the song as true as it can be, but once it’s out of me, it’s out of me.  If I’m playing shows a couple of months after feeling those things, then yes, I can find myself reliving sadness on stage to some degree.  After a while, like any pain in life, it fades away, and sometimes I will even forget what (or more importantly whom) the song was about in the first place.  For me, the song is the thing.  Although it can be emotionally affecting as an audience member to see someone who truly relives their darkest moments on stage every night and amplify the impact of the music, ultimately that can really mess you up as an artist and keep your personal life in disarray.  Finishing the song gives me peace, and I like to keep it that way.

Our Scattered Words: What is your favorite songwriting lyric?
Cary Brothers:
If you mean my stuff, I think something I’m proud of is the chorus of “Disappear” off the new EP:

“i got you for the night, ghost or not
but you disappear in the light
when your shadow’s caught
in the sunshine.”

Most of what I write is just storytelling.  I don’t get hung up on metaphors or abstracts.  I like just telling it how it is.  In this instance, the truth was more evocative than I expected it to be, and it can be interpreted in many ways – as a lover that won’t stay, fragility of relationships, as a memory of heartbreak, as the spirit of someone you lost.  It’s nice when people come up to me and have an interpretation of the song that wasn’t at all how it was intended.  I’m not precious about intention.

Our Scattered Words: You do a lot of cover songs, and do a great job of putting your own stamp on those. What draws you to that?
Cary Brothers: The reason I got into this was because I am a fan of music first and foremost.  Doing covers is just a fun way to say thanks to some of my heroes and maybe introduce younger fans to songs/bands that they’ve never heard.  Most of the time, I try to send the songs to the original artists, and my inner fanboy freaks out when I get a nice email from The Thompson Twins or the lead singer of Level 42.  Also, I don’t have to write any lyrics 🙂

Our Scattered Words: What advice would you give to young songwriters/composers?
Cary Brothers: Don’t do it.  Put down your guitar and walk away and get a real job.  Write songs in your spare time after work or on the weekends as therapy. You’re probably not going to make any money, it will be full of heartbreak and disappointment, and if you succeed, it’s nearly impossible to have a stable personal life as a touring musician.  Now… if you just read that, and it pissed you off to no end because you HAVE to play music the same way humans have to drink water, because your soul will starve without creating songs, then maybe there’s hope.  In that case, you better write and play every single day until your fingers bleed and your head hurts with rhymes.  The people I know who succeed are those that train their musical minds like they’re going to compete in an Olympic event.

Our Scattered Words: If you could go back and be part of any album session what would it be?
Cary Brothers: Probably Peter Gabriel’s “So.” I know a bit about those sessions.  It would inspire me because of the sheer creativity and mind-bending musicianship on display off in some idyllic castle in the UK in the days when you could spend the better part of a year and tons of money on a record, but it would also make me feel better about procrastination because Daniel Lanois literally had to lock Peter Gabriel in a room to get him to finish lyrics.

Our Scattered Words: If you could sit down and talk about songwriting with anyone, who would it be and why?
Cary Brothers: To be honest, I don’t need that.  A lot of my friends are pretty damn talented songwriters, and I rarely talk to them about music unless we’re in a studio.  Usually we’re doing everything but talking about music.  We talk about life and laugh and drink to get away from that last line that hasn’t been written or that guitar part that needs one more take until it’s perfect.  I’m at a point now where my writing process is such a part of me and so personal to me that I don’t really care how other people do it.  I will always pay attention and try new things, but that comes from listening to music, not talking about it.

Cary Brothers on the Web

All interviews and Bonus Materials, including Cary Brothers, will be archived alphabetically HERE for easy access in the future.

Bonus materials for Cary include; 2 videos of Cary and 3 music videos of songs he’s been enjoying lately.


Please follow the Facebook Page for more updates and songwriting posts. Send us a message on Twitter and tell your friends, neighbors and relatives about us, if you like.


Thanks for spending some time here,
Our Scattered Words













6 thoughts on “Cary Brothers Songwriting Interview

  1. I’m ashamed to say he’s new to me, but he’s going to be part of my personal soundtrack from now on, thanks for the intro…also one of the most intelligent, honest, humble and inspirational songwriting interviews I’ve read in a long time. Many thanks, keep up the good work!

  2. Pingback: 小的意義,其實很大,成功延續獨立精神的搖滾歌手Cary Brothers | I bollocks therefore I am

  3. Pingback: 小的意義,其實很大,影集裡的好聲音Cary Brothers | I bollocks therefore I am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s