Q&A: Megafaun's Brad Cook

Categories: Interview
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Playing in Minneapolis marks a return to familiar territory for North Carolina trio Megafaun. Brothers Brad and Phil Cook and bandmate Joe Westerlund all grew up in nearby Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where they were members of DeYarmond Edison with Justin Vernon. After that group disbanded in 2006, Vernon rose to prominence under the Bon Iver moniker, while the other three enjoyed a watershed year in their own right last year with the release of Gather, Form, and Fly, Megafaun's second album.Gorgeous numbers like "Kaufman's Ballad" and "The Fade" demonstrate elegant songcraft and a keen sense of folk traditions, such songs' ramshackle warmth and rough-hewn harmonies earning the band comparisons with Fleet Foxes. What separates the trio from their many retro-leaning folk counterparts is a penchant for experimentation, as more often than not the band prefers to blow up their melodies with improvisational shards and found-sound snippets to create a unique collage of Americana and postmodernism.

Gimme Noise caught up with Brad Cook over the phone to preview tonight's show at the Cedar. The guitarist reflected on his band's Midwestern roots, its newfound success, and the recording of a new EP, Heretofore.

Gimme Noise: Did you follow the music scene in the Cities very much when you were growing up in Eau Claire?

Brad Cook: By the time we started playing together we were really into Bobby Llama. They were really our window into the Minneapolis music scene. We actually played a few shows with them back in the early '00s, and we were also especially into bands like the Love-Cars, 12 Rods, Happy Apple. We just really thought all of these bands wrote incredibly thoughtful, fresh tunes -- not necessarily just because they were insane musicians but because were just kind of moved by it.

You moved out to Raleigh a number of years ago.  What prompted the move out East?

It was really pretty arbitrary. You just lose so much steam in the winter [in the Midwest], we decided we wanted something more moderate. Everyone seemed to be going to Austin and Nashville, so we didn't want to do that, and we weren't ready to go all the way out West, so North Carolina seemed like more of a neutral location.  We've found a community that's similar to Wisconsin, the people are friendly and down to earth, so it's been good for us.

When you first moved out East, you were still in DeYarmond Edison. Justin Vernon wrote a lot of the songs back then, so how did that change with the formation of Megafaun?

It's extremely collaborative. For instance, with our new six-song EP, we each brought a complete vision to the project.  The arrangements we fully collaborated on, but otherwise we'd piece it together -- maybe someone writes a melody, someone else a chorus. We try to leave room for creativity and leave windows to get out if we need to, and maybe start something new. It's great when someone brings something complete, too; it's a way to help learn about another person.

Can you say a little more about the new EP?

When we finished our tour of Europe in November and December, we recognized we were going to be home for all of January and February -- the longest period we've been home in one shot for a year. It wasn't long enough to get jobs, so it was really a matter of self-discipline: we'd write and record every day, treated it like a 9 to 5 job. We ended up coming up with about thirteen songs and latched on to five of them. We also wanted to come up with something improvised, so the first day in the studio we took an unedited 13-minute improvisation and recontextualized it as a composition. [The project] was a good way of staying motivated and focused. The label's releasing it in the summer, we actually get the master back today.

There was a lot of positive press for your last album, Gather, Form, and Fly. Has that changed life much for you guys?

Yes and no. I don't know, I feel like when I talk to people at our concerts the majority of people are still arriving through word of mouth from people who've seen other shows. It's not like we're selling a ton of records, and we're still a relatively new band, but [the reviews have] been helpful and opened a lot of doors. Our internal momentum has stayed steady, all the changes have been pretty digestable.

Does it still feel like a homecoming to come back and play in the Midwest?

Absolutely. We have so many friends in the Minneapolis music scene. It's weird how much that city has become a hometown for us because it never was when we were there. I think we played there maybe four times -- a couple times at the Cedar, once at the 400, and another time at this weird sports bar in St. Paul that I can't recall -- but somehow [Minneapolis] became this mutually exciting place to go in the Midwest. Definitely, it feels like a homecoming.

MEGAFAUN play with Charlie Parr and Breathe Owl Breathe TONIGHT, APRIL 9, at the CEDAR CULTURAL CENTER. All ages. $12. 7 p.m. doors.


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