It didn't take long for Bob Nanna to spot a pattern. Touring with his group Hey Mercedes, the singer and guitarist has played to throngs of devoted young emo fans over the past few years, supporting scene favorites like Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional. Without fail, after each set some of the kids would want to talk to him--not about Hey Mercedes but about his previous band, Braid. They'd say that Braid had been their favorite group, or that records like The Age of Octeen and Frame & Canvas--released in 1996 and '98, respectively--had changed their lives. "Then I really started talking to them," says Nanna, "and I realized all these kids, they'd never even seen Braid play."
Braid broke up in 1999, but for those who missed them the first time around, it's not too late: the quartet has reunited and will kick off a two-month national tour this week with concerts in Champaign-Urbana (its old stamping ground) and Chicago. "I assume there's going to be a few old friends turning up at the shows, but the majority of the audiences are going to be younger," says guitarist and vocalist Chris Broach. "A hell of a lot younger than us--and we're not even that old."
After the breakup, Braid's rhythm section, bassist Todd Bell and drummer Damon Atkinson, joined Nanna in Hey Mercedes; Broach started his own project, the Firebird Band, which tinkered with synths and dance beats. Broach now admits that the biggest factor in Braid's split--after six years and three albums, at a time when critical acclaim for the band was mounting--was his own dissatisfaction. "I was just growing apart from them," he recalls. "I was interested in doing some things that they weren't. I was a little frustrated with the way things were going. But probably everybody was frustrated."
The artistic differences within the band were exacerbated by a grueling road schedule. In 1998 alone Braid was on the road for eight months, crisscrossing North America in a cramped Econoline. "That much time spent with anybody in a fucking van is going to make you hate each other," says Broach. "There was so much unspoken stuff going on between all of us. But instead of working it out or talking about it, it got so bad that we just thought, 'Fuck this.'"
"There was no doubt in our minds we had to break up," adds Nanna. "There was no fight about that at all."
The band's final shows, in August of 1999, provided the raw material for Charles Cardello's feature-length documentary Killing a Camera. Though the film chronicles the group's demise, the myth it helped create has fueled Braid's growing posthumous cult--and its DVD release this month has turned out to be the crucial catalyst for the band's reunion.
The VHS version of Killing a Camera, the farewell concert set Lucky to Be Alive (Glue Factory), and the two-volume odds-and-sods collection Movie Music (Polyvinyl) all came out in 2000. Though the Firebird Band put out the full-length The Setting Sun and Its Satellites that year and the Drive EP the next, and Hey Mercedes released Everynight Fireworks in 2001, Braid's back catalog continued to sell steadily. According to Matt Lunsford, head of Polyvinyl Records (which has released several Braid titles), the pre-breakup discs are actually selling faster than they were during the band's lifetime.
Like Rites of Spring and Boys Life--two other acts enshrined in retrospect as progenitors of emo--Braid has achieved legendary status as the genre has become more mainstream and marketable. For the group, who doggedly resisted the tag back in the 90s, it's a strange situation. "When Braid was around we totally tried shunning the emo label," says Nanna. "Because at the time it was put on us as a way to dismiss bands like us. . . . I guess I don't mind it as much now."
"We've become sort of a staple in that scene unintentionally," adds Broach. "A lot of those kids who were like in grade school when we broke up have a Braid record now. It's something that people recognize as having influenced a lot of bands." A quick search of the Internet turns up a half dozen bands named after Braid songs (Sounds Like Violence, the Chandelier Swing) and multiple fan sites. "Yeah, the kids who are really into Braid are nuts," says Broach. "It's sort of weird. Actually . . . it's not weird, it's awesome."
Broach kept in contact with the rest of Braid after the split, showing up at Hey Mercedes gigs or hanging out with Nanna between tours. "That was great, because we didn't have to worry about writing music or being in a van," says Nanna. "We got to be friends outside the band, which is something that had never happened. Because basically the day I met Chris was the day he joined Braid."
In January the producers of Killing a Camera asked all four members to get together to record a batch of new interviews and an audio commentary for the DVD release.
"I feel like we all went into that thinking, Hmm . . . if we can hang out now, then maybe we can think about [Braid] again," says Broach. "We get along and we could have some fun playing."
After a few weeks of discussion ("Some people took a little convincing," admits Broach) the band announced plans for a 54-date tour. Because Atkinson now lives in Memphis, Bell in Milwaukee, and Nanna and Broach in two different Chicago suburbs, the group has spent the past couple weeks rehearsing upstairs at the Metro. Nanna says their set will focus on the last two studio albums and a clutch of favorites from compilations and seven-inches.
So far Braid has committed only to the upcoming North American tour and a brief trip to Japan. A new Braid record, however tantalizing the prospect for fans, seems unlikely: Immediately after the Braid tours, Hey Mercedes will travel to Europe for its own headlining tour, then take the rest of the year off to work on a new album. Broach is finishing a new Firebird Band disc and busy running the label he founded in 2002, Lucid Records, whose roster includes locals the Blackouts and the Silent Treatment.
"We don't have any plans to write new songs or record or do anything like that," says Nanna. But "if something like that would come about, it would just come about; nothing would be planned. So who knows?"
Braid plays the Metro on Saturday, May 29. Minus the Bear, Murder by Death, the Silent Treatment, and Chronic Future open. Tickets are $12; the show is all ages and starts at 6 PM.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marty Perez.