Smile Politely

The sun has set on that

When Smile Politely last spoke with Chris Broach, he was in a delicate place. The Braid guitarist and vocalist was steadily producing music with his current group The Firebird Band, but he was also going through tumultuous times in his life, and his grip on stability was tenuous. In this vulnerable state, Broach had no desire to hide his issues, even from a complete stranger. In that 2015 interview we had with him, Broach was candid and honest about his alcohol abuse. He had had enough of his life that way, and our magazine ended up being a vehicle for his catharsis. Smile Politely happened to catch Broach mid-epiphany.

When I speak with Broach two years later, he’s reflective. He doesn’t regret his honesty at all.

“Interestingly, [author Tyler Durgan] caught me at a particularly vulnerable moment when he interviewed me. I had been thinking about that stuff a whole bunch and when we talked, it just kind of came out. I didn’t mean to even say anything, and he certainly didn’t ask. I think, in some way, I was stating out loud to someone else that I had a problem and that I wanted to fix it. Thing is, since right after that interview – and I think right before that piece came out – I have been completely clean. I knew I had to quit. The last time I drank, Braid played a festival in Brooklyn, NY. I don’t remember anything about it, except that I was at the airport the next day trying not to throw up, while everyone was having a beer waiting for our plane back to our respective homes. That day was July 27, 2015. That was the first day I didn’t drink, and the day before was the last day I took a drink.”

Chris Broach’s bold self-reflection helped to spark his latest musical project, SNST. Broach and bandmate Steve Znavor construct electronic rock music with synth pop sensibilities. Their debut album Turn Out The Lights, due out April 7th, sounds different from anything else Broach has ever done. When I asked Broach just how SNST is different, his response was simple. “I guess I strive to always do something better or more interesting. It’s different from my past work in that it’s my new work.” That’s how he functions nowadays. Art is therapy. He sees no need to hide things or be false, and he makes that philosophy audible through SNST.

With the new album’s single, “Remember How It Ends,” Broach defines his new self at once. It captures his constant struggle with his inner addict and the desire to stay sober with a mantra-like chorus: “Always see through, always see… always remember how it ends. Always see through, can you hear me? Can you hear me?”

The change from The Firebird Band to SNST was also about new beginnings. “We wanted to start fresh,” Broach explained. “The Firebird Band hadn’t had a proper album released in a long time, and I wasn’t looking to try to continue as the same band. I already did a reunion with Braid… I really needed a new take on real life, on music. We use synths and beats along with live instrumentation like I did with TFB, but we just wanted a clean slate. We wanted to do whatever we wanted and release whatever we wanted without being tied to some old shit.”

Broach has always been comfortable with change in various forms. He excelled in his role as Braid guitarist and vocalist in the C-U emo band, who found fame in the 90s. Since then, Braid have broken up and reunited, and issued different material over that time. Braid are currently a unit, but they aren’t actively producing. Broach embraces the opportunity to create on his own terms. Turn Out The Lights let us see his diversity.

In a track from the album, “National Monument,” released last October, Broach introduced us to SNST in a couple of ways. Sonically, we are met with a fade-in synth over pop drums, reminiscent of 80s fringe-pop and new wave. An echoing guitar initiates the chorus, and it’s clear that this song is “catchy,” but it still sounds clean. “This album is probably more immediately catchy than some others I’ve done,” he says. “It’s got a lot of layers, but not overwhelmingly so…. I think part of being a good musician is learning when to be content.” The track also introduces us to SNST’s possibility for cynical lyricism. “National Monument” criticizes the petty politics of the nation in a bold and ultimately ominous way. The video’s “haunted house” theme became even more relevant just a week after its release.

With “Maybe We’ve Got It,” Broach’s comfort in honesty shines through. The song has a warm friendship theme; a real sense of togetherness. A buoyant synth enhances that and and some cartoonish animation helps keeps things light. Lyrically, “maybe we’ve got it” tells of cautious optimism; of Broach finding himself again, with the help of those close to him. His wife and children are at the center of his growth. “My wife and I work hard at communicating and letting each other know what we need,” he expressed. “She really was a big help with this. Her understanding and compassion for what I was going through was unmatched. I had a kid, a little girl who was just about 15 months at the time that I quit, and now since I quit, [I’ve had] another little boy, who’s now almost one. It keeps me focused on what’s important. They need me, and I need them.”

Chris Broach premieres SNST with an exercise in Self that results in a distinguished and powerful debut album. The following statement is terribly cliched, but it’s still notable that this band is a metaphor and vehicle for the sun setting on a dark period of life and rising on happier, healthier days. His sobriety is a struggle that never ends, but he’s a better person for it. He’s changed his way of thinking. “I’m happy to be sober. I’m better at what I do. Music. Life. Family. Everything. Are there still days when it’s hard? Yes. Am I going to go out and get drunk over it? No. I do have to stay vigilant about it, but I’m not in danger of drinking every second of the day. I’d even go so far as to say that I am not worried that I’m going to drink, but it’s only because I know how NOT to drink, now.”

As for the future? Broach has a few things in the works. SNST is currently on its way down to play SXSW. He and the other boys of Braid chat about projects from time to time, but nothing is solid at the moment. “We’ve toyed with the idea of writing a new record and doing some other things, but we’re all pretty busy right now. [It’s] less certain for what we’re doing in the immediate future, but some of things we talked about doing are pretty cool, so we’ll see.” Broach has another project on the horizon — an outfit called Ghost Work, which consists of established musicians who also pull from a large scope of genres. It’s no surprise that he’d find that kind of collaboration easy. He knows how to roll with the punches.

SNST is playing at Cowboy Monkey this Saturday at 9 p.m. with Motes and Unknown Pleasures. Tickets are $7. SNST’s new album, Turn Out The Lights, comes out April 7th via Broken World Media. Preorder it here.

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