Droneflower is a new collaborative project and album from songwriter Marissa Nadler and workaholic heavy-musician Stephen Brodsky (Cave In, Mutoid Man, New Idea Society). The wistful record is the definition of “heaviness” without literally being heavy music. Marrying dense tones and Nadler’s symphonic voice with Brodsky’s guitar arpeggios, the duo have built a sound that’s enveloping like a wet blanket but doesn’t suffocate.
The pair recorded Droneflower on the fly, mostly in Nadler’s Boston apartment studio, adding a layers of spontaneity and a little chaos that’s immediately felt — but never in a bad way. Nadler and Brodsky also do justice to two cover songs including Morphine’s “In Spite of Me” and the monumental “Estranged” by Guns N’ Roses. mxdwn recently had the pleasure of speaking with Nadler and Brodsky to discuss Droneflower, their roots in New York and a follow-up that could be coming sooner than later. Stephen Brodsky also discusses the new Cave In record that’s out today, with all proceeds going to the family of late Cave In member Caleb Scofield who passed in 2018 in a tragic car accident.
mxdwn: One of the phrases you mentioned in regard to this record was wanting to “do some songwriting that didn’t fit into your existing projects.” What songwriting were you looking to explore and do you think you found what you were looking for with Droneflower?
Marissa Nadler: Well, for me, up until now I’ve written most of my solo records with a guitar. So, when I get a track that already has instrumentation, it’s very freeing in some ways because it’s a totally different type of writing.
Stephen Brodsky: I’ve been a fan of Marissa’s music for several years now. She’s definitely influenced a lot of what I do outside of my loud, heavy, wild rock & roll bands. But most people don’t really know about that stuff, because it never really got legs as far as a solo career, the solo releases that I’ve done. The shows and the tours that I’ve done playing solo are sort of modest at best. So, I took this opportunity to think, like, well, this could be interesting to sort of mesh what I’ve tried to do on and off as a solo artist with someone with a really wonderful voice, presence and imagination. Someone who has influenced my music in that realm. And so, this is to me kind of like a dream come true. There is a yin and a yang on the record. I look at songs like “For the Sun,” which is very heavy and very dark. And then after you have a song like “Watch the Time,” which has more of a sunny disposition. Is that a conscious songwriting decision?
MN: I think I kind of do everything in the natural approach. I don’t use that other side of my brain very much when I’m making music, so it really was just a very organic process.
SB: Well, with that song in particular, “For the Sun,” that was a really wild moment for me, because it seemed like Marissa, you just kind of came up with the lyrics and the melodies almost instantly, right off the bat while we were listening to the track together.
MN: Yeah, we did it in, like, a room. We kind of wrote it and recorded it the same day at my old apartment, right?
SB: Yeah. The vocals and the lyrics were just super spontaneous and they seemed to just come off the top of your head and I was really blown away by that. I think the only reference that I had made during the creative process when we got together to finish that song was Nirvana’s “Something in the Way.”
mxdwn: You recorded a lot of this material on the fly, moving from place to place or in the home studio at your apartment. Do you think that style of recording added some flair on the fringes of the record versus being recorded in a proper studio?
MN: Yeah. I have a lot of thoughts about studio-versus-home recording, just because I’ve been slowly getting better at home recording over the last decade and kind of feeling empowered because I prefer to work at weird hours. I’m kind of a night owl and I go on benders. So, a lot of these tracks, I would stay up really late tracking the vocals. I’d get it right to the point of…I’m a little OCD. It’s something that I find easier to get the results that I want when I’m working in that way. This [Droneflower] doesn’t sound very lo-fi, which is pretty cool considering we did it ourselves. But I’m not a stickler for fidelity. I think performance usually is more important.
SB: Yeah, I think the advantage to us working in the way that we did was we were able to take our time over the course of three years. And over the course of that three years, in addition to making this material and getting it to be what it is, we also got to know each other. I think that’s very important. You can kind of hear that, at least I can hear that. The difference between when we first started working together and by the end of the record. I think that kind of maybe sets it apart from other collaborations. We made every moment count. From the very beginning all the way up until artwork and mastering.
MN: Yeah. I guess I don’t have a very good perception of time. Because I’ve been kind of in this full-on lifer mode of making records for so long. I’m like, has it really been three years? I don’t even really remember. I guess, it was in between tours and when we had time. It’s been a weird few years for both of us, so I think it was nice to have an outlet.
SB: I live in New York. I’ve been here for about eight years, but I grew up in Massachusetts and my ties there are still very strong between family and friends and music and work. So, there’s always a pleasure for me to revisit Massachusetts for numerous reasons and Droneflower being one of them. I’d wake up, I’d cook breakfast for my parents, wash the dishes. Drive into Boston. Make some music with Marissa, come back and watch movies with my brother. So, there was this balance of creating this really cool album together and also just getting time with friends and family. In some weird way, it probably makes it a little more organic. Having it just kind of fit into all of these other familiar aspects of your life, I guess.
MN: Steve’s experience was really different from mine. I feel kind of the opposite even though I’m in Boston. I’m a little bit itinerant. I don’t feel a lot of connections, so I was really grateful that he just kept showing up. I, just for whatever reason, have failed to bond. It’s just my personality type. A lot of artists are kind of shut-ins or introverts. So, I had a lot of ideas and what I liked about working with Steve is he’s one of the few people I’ve ever worked with or met, where I’ll say something like ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we did a cover of blah, blah, blah.’ And the next day, there’s a perfectly executed cover of that said song. He makes it really easy. We’re both Aries. I think that might have something to do with it. Fire signs.
SB: Yeah. Nothing stands in our way. We just burn through it.
Stephen Brodsky playing with Mutoid Man. Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat
mxdwn: We all grew up with Guns N’ Roses. But “Estranged,” actually, is probably my favorite Guns N’ Roses song of all time. You take a much more organic approach than the original. I think Axl would give his blessing.
MN: Maybe, I’ve been waiting for that. I don’t know if we’re on his radar or not.
mxdwn: What’s the significance of that song? Why record a cover of it?
MN: It was one of the ones where I was like, wouldn’t it be cool if we did a cover of “Estranged.” That’s the thing about working with a guitar. Steve is really technically adept and can do styles. I’m a good guitar player too, I’m not going to throw myself under the bus, especially when it’s important for women to stand behind their instruments. But I’ve been having issues with my hands for the past few years, so I was psyched to just sing. I think it was my idea. I don’t remember though. But Steve was the one who really got it going. We almost gave up a few times but we kept going.
SB: It was absolutely your idea. I made a little teaser video and posted it to Twitter and tagged you in it. And it was like, is this the right direction? And I’m pretty sure you responded by saying yes. So, that was important before you go into covering a nine-minute long song. You need to know that okay, at least I got the first 30 seconds down to something that will work for this project. Honestly, kind of like what I was saying before, earlier, being very inspired and influenced by Marissa’s playing, when it comes to the guitar stuff, especially in that song, it’s kind of like well, how might she do something like this? Another one of my favorite players in that realm is Jack Rose, and I know Marissa’s played shows with Jack Rose. I’ve seen him play once. So, for this project…I’m about to just gush over Jack Rose. I try to put some of that vibe into what we do here, because I feel like spiritually there’s a connection with Marissa, and I’ve been in the same room with that guy. I got very lucky to hear him play once and it was mesmerizing. At PA’s Lounge in Somerville.
MN: I was probably at that show but at a corner in the back.
SB: Oh, cool. Yeah, I’d just moved to Somerville. That was like 2004, I think. Amazing.
MN: I do think with “Estranged,” I think the live version might be even better. I’m excited to try it because we have to get together next week for band practice.
SB: Yeah, our first rehearsal together.
MN: One of us has got to play a little bit of that riff, I think.
mxdwn: I read that Droneflower was originally thought of as a movie soundtrack to a horror film. I though ‘Yeah, that’s correct. It could be.’ Why did you guys steer away from that?
MN: Because I just say shit like that, but I think we were really not sure what it was going to be. I think we both have a interest in getting into that. We’ve both been touring forever and it’s not an easy life. It’s a fun life. But, it’s always exciting to think of the prospect of sitting at home and making horror movie soundtracks. At least for me, touring has been a real love/hate thing. It’s just like the loneliest thing in the universe. That’s why I’m like, oh, my god, I get to just sing and I get to be with other people? How cool.
SB: I love horror movies. I have ever since I was a kid. I just love being scared. There’s something that’s continually exciting about that. And if you can find that in music, without a visual to accompany it, that’s pretty powerful. I think the inception of Black Sabbath was that those guys just wanted to make rock & roll music played to the idea of doing a rock & roll soundtrack to horror films. And it worked for those guys. So, we just figured, that’s a good way to start.
mxdwn: There are tracks like “Dead West” and “The Space Ghost,” which have a very heavy tension. And it’s a good kind of tension. I wanted to know, where that tension originates from?
MN: It’s because we’re both miserable. No. I think that music is our outlet. I think it’s not surprising there’s a lot of tension in the music given what is going on in the world, even. Kind of scary. Totally. I think this one is…like the idea of a Droneflower could end up being a bad omen. Like, I think we’re going to make another one.
mxdwn: Another record?
MN: Yeah. Today, I’m actually going to go get some fresh mic cables and we’re sitting on this cover. There’s some pretty exciting stuff that Steve’s actually followed through on and they’re just waiting for me to sing some stuff. And it might be a good way to get back in after touring. There’s a cover, between you and me, of the Extreme song from the ’90s, “More than Words.” Nobody’s ever covered that. I kind of thought how funny it would be if one of Droneflower’s projects was covering some really ridiculous. Because I think those songs do stand up and people, maybe they get a hard history lesson because of the production or the cheesy video or something.
It’s weird, Guns N’ Roses, there’s a bunch of stuff. That’s the fun thing about Steve. I have a lot of people I’ve worked with before or wanted to and they just don’t do anything. It’s like how did this come to happen? It’s like two workaholics, they put the time in. I’m kind of psyched that I have 15 tracks to sing on. I’m going to get that electric guitar out, though, for this one. That was our lament was maybe Steve can sing more in the next one, and I can play more in the next one.
SB: Yeah, I would love that. I’m waiting. It’s not fair that you should be the only one to dose on LSD – Lead Singer’s Disease.
MN: I want to kind of experiment. I’ve been playing this finger picking with a lot of my music for years. And it’s so different on the lead guitar. I really like it, so I’m hoping to throw some of that in. I think it would be really funny. That’s part of my half-year list. I have like 200 covers that I’m going to put on Spotify, but now that we actually know how to get good home recordings, it makes it a lot easier. Sacred Bones is also awesome for putting this out.
Stephen Brodsky playing with Mutoid Man. Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat
mxdwn: Stephen, Cave In has a new record coming out with new single out in June. And Marissa, you had a record that came out last year, For Your Crimes, A beautiful record. So it’s nice to see you guys come together. Is this something you’re going to do to make more time, more often? Is it going to be another three years until that other Droneflower comes out?
MN: No, I think it might be like another month, just judging by my own kind of feeling a little on fire right now. So, I’ve kind of got an application for it. I don’t know. Not another month. Sacred Bones doesn’t even know about this. But I was just thinking it would be fun to just send them an email, like a Dropbox…
SB: They’ve been great, and they have a ton of enthusiasm for it and I think we’re able to match it. Like Marissa said, there’s already a bunch of stuff that’s in the works. I’ve been really loving it, enjoying it, getting a lot out of it and it’s very fulfilling in a lot of ways. I think us putting the wheels on the live show is going to be kind of a whole new thing too, and it’s going to send our brains spiraling in new directions. I think that could be really cool for whatever we do next to let that sort of inspire the trajectory.
mxdwn: You guys are touring, you have some new songs written. Is there anything else outside of this project on the horizon? Marissa, I know this is about Droneflower, but I’d hate not to ask if you guys had solo stuff coming out or other projects in the works.
MN: I have a sitting on quite a few collaborations waiting for me to work on. But I’m not really sure what my next solo record’s going to be like. So I’m going to take a little bit of a break from that kind of stylistically. Better live a little.
SB: Well, there’s a big Cave In record coming out on June 7th. They’re’ll be some shows and some touring to support that record. It’s kind of a big one, it’s a big change for the band. It’s a real trip to have made a record without a key member being alive to celebrate it with. That’s a first for me and my friends as well. The silver lining to all this is that this record is going to support the family, the Scofield family. We’re going to put 50% of proceeds to them.
Yeah. But that combined with the fact that we decided to get together and make it and spend time together, reminiscing, telling stories about our friend and just getting through this grieving process, which is never going to end. But, the first year is pretty fucking hard. I’m thankful for it. Is it the Cave In record that I envisioned we would make when we set out to do it? Definitely not. But, I think we salvaged what we could and so far the response to it from fans of Cave In and fans of Caleb, it’s just been great. People love him and we love him. So, that’s kind of the big thing for me, this spring. Aside from these Droneflower shows is just kind of giving that the attention that it needs.