Up on the roof – scaling the heights with Brick Briscoe and the Skinny

When US singer-songwriter, filmmaker, TV and radio producer Brick Briscoe played a rooftop launch show for his latest LP in Indiana with his band last autumn, surely no one could have expected such a dramatic finale.

His shows tend to end on a high, but this – on September 11th of all dates – led to a major fall. Not from the roof, but on to his guitar. Thankfully however, bandmates Allen Clark III (drums) and Cory Folz (bass) were quickly to his aid, along with two medics in the audience. And he’s here to tell the tale.

First though, a bit of back-story and how, while appreciating the acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for his most recent LPs, 2020’s My Favorite Los Angeles Restaurant, and 2019’s Lucky Point to Pere Lachaise, Brick had decided that 2021 was a good time to mess things up and step outside his comfort zone. And his new record, credited to Brick Briscoe and the Skinny and titled (Iloveyousomuch) certainly did that, its live vibe aided by his rhythm section’s input on a winning collection of raw, emotional, full-on rock numbers.

Planting themselves in Brick’s co-producer Brett Mulzer’s studio, they looked to create an intense, direct, hook-laden record that reflected their live shows. And it certainly did. But by Brick’s own admission, the recording almost drove him crazy, a fella more used to running to his basement in Petersburg, Indiana, to work on ideas at 3am finding counting on the meticulous Mulzer to interpret his whims maddening, as he explained pre-launch.

“Brett and I are so similar, but different ends of the spectrum.  He’s a freak about sonics, as I am about artistic and emotional intent. We were a perfect match. I can’t imagine not working like this from here on in.

“It was high time to get back in the studio with other musicians. I had a totally different LP written and was preparing to record it the way I’d done the last two … alone in my studio with a stiff drink and tears no one else sees. 

“But we’ve been isolated from each other so long, I knew I had to do something where I was with people. We’ve all been lonely. I know I had been.

“With The Skinny, I knew I could take some rock-based songs I had in my case and work them out in ways I never would have conceived without them. The dynamic we have is so important to me, so why not get in a room and bash it out … then go to the best studio we can find and bash it out again. That’s what we did. 

“Cory and Allen both take note of what I’m writing about and find ways to enhance those narratives. And dammit! We rock together, plain and simple. We’ve thrown out expectations and in turn made something accessible without trying to do so. I can’t tell you how excited I am for people to hear these songs or see us play it live. It will be either freaking amazing or a glorious mess.

“Basically, I’m asking you to give us 28 minutes, or about the time it takes to drive to work. We don’t fuck around and drag things on, we get to it, both musically and emotionally.  We can make you happy and discombobulate you in the same half hour, That’s what I look for in records, and that was the goal here.”

This is a performer, 61 last month, who also finds time to produce and host US public radio’s The Song Show (‘broadcasting to the Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky tri-state area’, it says here), where he shows his passion for music and mines the deep history of song, relating common themes across genres and time periods in each episode, his guests the musicians and songwriters he comes across through playing or picks up the phone to call. He also hosts Any Road with Brick Briscoe for PBS, linked here, and produces TV and other audio-visual based projects from his Petersburg, Indiana, studio base, aka La Cueva de la Araña. But none of that, nor his recent health battles, stop him writing, recording and performing his own material.

I aimed to subtly inch towards his memorable LP launch show when I called, but he got straight to the subject in response to my initial enquiry, knowing this cancer survivor was just getting over positive Covid-19 status. Where was he up to in the health journey at present?

“Well, I would say I’m in the last moments of Covid. It was actually pretty easy. I was really sluggish for several days, I had one day of feeling really bad, but it wasn’t anything horrible. As you were calling, I was just finishing taking my medicines from my event that happened on 9/11, when we were doing our {album} release show.”

We really should get straight into that. You best talk me through what went on that fateful night. It’s difficult to piece together from social media, but clearly lots of people were worried about you.

“Yeah, including myself! We were playing our release show on a rooftop – a Beatles thing – in Evansville, Indiana. A city of 140,000 people probably. We were surrounded by these amazing big buildings, playing with 100 or so of our local followers. We were playing the last song. I remember looking up thinking, ‘Gosh, what a great night! This is just the best. We’re having so much fun’.

“Next thing I know, I hear a clang and I’d fallen face-first on my guitar. Next thing I know people are trying to revive me. Luckily, two EMTs (emergency medical technicians) happened to be in the audience and they tried to get me to settle down. Very soon I was in an ambulance. I had a 230 beats-per-minute heart-rate.”

Were you fully aware of this drama unfolding on the rooftop of the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana?

“Yeah, I was in distress, but I got it. I knew what was happening. You think you’re having a heart attack or something. That wasn’t the case, but they stopped and started my heart, got it to go back into a rhythm. Next thing I know, I’m in hospital for six or seven days, and don’t make it back home for 11 days, because I’m in a safe house near the hospital for a short period of time.

“And now they’ve figured out what was wrong with me. It took quite a while. And it’s nothing terribly dangerous, it’s just when it happens that it is. Now … it’s under control. What happened to me is called vasovagal syncope. There’s a nerve near your chest and when it gets triggered, your blood pressure drops, and your heart feels like it’s got to catch up and make up for it.

“It got in a loop and couldn’t get out of there. It had happened to me a few times during the cancer, and it’s always nerve-racking, but it’s never been where I’ve passed out like that … particularly in front of 100 or so of my favourite people … and on the last song!

“We filmed that concert, but I refuse to look at that. I’m so lucky that … people were just awesome and didn’t post anything … because you know how it is at any concert – it could be the worst band in the world and somebody would be filming it.

“We had a great show except for that last … y’know, the last 16 bars I didn’t get through.”

Was it a certain chord responsible for this, do you think?

“Ha! I don’t know! But my band refuses to play that song now. I wanted to run through it the other day for a warm-up, like, ‘We’ve got to get this off my back!’. It’s called ‘Heading to Kanorado’, and normally it’s our encore. It’s an old song of mine and it’s a lot of fun.”

And it’s a pretty full-on song.

“Yeah, it is, and we finish our show like it’s a big wave, so the last few songs are pretty full on.”

I can’t help but think of the late great comedian, Tommy Cooper’s final show, part of the audience – in the theatre and watching on TV – assuming his heart attack was just part of the act. Was there a sense of that from those you’ve spoken to since?

“There were a couple of people who thought it might have been part of the show. But then they knew it wasn’t. I wouldn’t ever pull that on purpose. We’re not quite that theatrical!”

Not that desperate to get your social media hits up, then.

“That’s right! If I was down with the kids, I’d definitely pull that!”

Was that launch set to be the first of a few live shows?

“Oh, yeah, we were gonna go to New York to places we like to play and find some we don’t know. Do a little tour, call it ‘The Hard Way’, play in front of people that didn’t know who we were as well.”

Are those shows on hold now? Or have you rescheduled them?

“We’ve cancelled everything, basically, until I come to Europe. But I think you’ll see us play Chicago before I go. We have a nice following there, and it’s only six hours away. We had to cancel shows there.”

Your medical experts haven’t suggested you never ever play live again?

“I think after they treated me for cancer, you know … I think it’s just about control. And the situation that happened at that show … I mean, as long as I’m on these medicines – and they’re very low maintenance medicines – I’m not worried about it. Most importantly, neither are they … and neither is my wife.”

Were any of your family at that launch?

“Well, my music family was there. My wife wasn’t, but my producer and the band and my closest buddies were there.”

Who made that difficult call to your better half after your collapse?

“I think it was my drummer, Allen Clark III, the youngest guy. He figured he could take it! An incredible kid … and he’d just had a baby.”

And all on September 11th, eh?

“Yeah, 9/11. A rather inauspicious date in the United States. But that didn’t play into it, it just happened to be when we could do it. In a lot of ways, we feel like it hasn’t even really been released yet, simply because we weren’t able to get out there.”

I suppose that’s no different to how it’s been for lots of bands these last two difficult years, bringing out new product amid the pandemic.

“Yeah, we were thinking when we were going to hit the road what songs we were gonna play, and I realised that from My Favorite LA Restaurant through to this we haven’t played any songs in front of people.”

However, this album sounds like a live album.

“Yeah, it really felt like it, and we made it that way. Apart from a few guitars and my vocals, the rhythm section and basic rhythm guitar parts were all done in the studio live, this incredible studio, by Brett Molzer. I used one of Pete Townshend’s actual amps, and we had one of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s in the studio. And one of the guitars belonged to Dweezil Zappa.

“The guy who owns the studio is a collector. And the Townshend amp made all the sense in the world! It was a lot of fun to have access to all those, one of those fancy consoles, and all the neat stuff you always want to work on that indie artists like myself seldom can afford.”

The new LP opens in no-nonsense style with two rockers, starting with the splendid ‘Dress Up’, suggesting an Iggy Pop vibe for me.

“Yeah, maybe!”

In fact, I can hear a bit of Iggy across this album.

“Oh, that’s a nice thing to hear. I love Iggy.”

And I get the feeling that in video’s golden era of ‘80s MTV and all that, you could have had a big production with this one, involving lots of big hair, wind machines, stadium rock settings, ZZ Top style gasoline station scenes …

“Ha! Okay, I’m gonna make a mental note, and maybe we’ll pull that off here!”

Then there’s ‘More Songs About Guns and Ammo’. It’s hardly The Undertones’ ‘More Songs About Chocolate and Girls’. Is this you reflecting on the gun culture that seems endemic in your home country?

“Oh yeah, I admit I own guns, but I inherited them. I’ve never taken them out. They’re antique. But I’m not shocked to see a gun. When I was living in New York, if I saw a gun, I was a little freaked out. Guns are a major part of people’s identity. I hate to say it, but it really is, you know, ‘Gosh, dang it, I got guns’, and I’m really not threatened to see somebody with a gun. But it’s more about that identity, you know, ‘I’m gonna have my gun, no matter what you say. I don’t care about your rights. I’m more worried about my rights’.

Worryingly true. And where does that leave your right to live? Or in your case, maybe your right to at least make it to the last song of a show, and perhaps even a second encore.

“Yeah! Next time, man, we’re gonna get there, I promise!”

Another of my favourites follows, ‘Up Yours, Up There’. There’s a Psychedelic Furs feel for me. Then again, they were heavily influenced by David Bowie.

“Well, we all were. And aren’t we all still doing that?”

True, and arguably Bowie was something of a magpie himself. And that song title suggests that this is your note to whoever’s upstairs that you’re here to stay, after all these health battles in recent years. It could be your ‘Where Are We Now?’ moment. In fact, it even carries ‘Space Oddity’-like harmonics.

“It does, doesn’t it. I didn’t even think of that. I wrote that as an anti-love song, more or less, appropriate probably to the labels and the industry … and my God, we’re in such disarray right now. It’s so depressing, I made a whole fucking movie about it!

“What I really liked about that song though was that I wanted to have that hook in there but at the same time I wanted it to be anti-rock. Allen has a wonderful jazz lick going on and the bassline Cory came up with is such a neat melodic thing. It’s so much fun live, and really shocks an audience used to seeing us do a certain type of thing.”

It’s maybe as reflective as this record gets, closer to where you were with the last couple of albums.

“I think so, although ‘Capitol Hill’ is pretty reflective. And ‘Gold Medal Uphill’, I wrote about my dad’s passing last year. But there’s no wrong answers, Malcolm!”

Well, let’s get on to brooding, Television-esque slow-burner ‘Capitol Hill’ then. It’s more than a year since those sickening happenings in Washington DC from Trump’s mob. Was this your reflection on all that?

“Erm, no, that song was written a long time ago. It’s about Capitol Hill in Seattle, a neighbourhood I know. We were thinking about that a little bit, but, you know … we hope we’re on the right side of history here. As for what happened in Washington, I wish I was that prescient to do that.”

I was about to ask where you reckon we’re at now. What worries me – from a distance – is that Trump and his ilk found a big rock to crawl or sliver back under, the legal proceedings about those events coming to little, it seems.

“There’s a lot to be concerned about.”

I get the feeling they might be bigger and uglier than ever next time if people don’t stay on their guard and get out and vote next time.

“Yeah, and it’s so easy to not take it seriously. It’s so ridiculous. And I’m sure you guys are dealing with some of the same thing over there.”

True, the furthest right-wing Government we’ve encountered, and another leader somehow getting away with it as some just see him as a character.

“Well, that’s what we had. Our guy was the same, right? Basically cut from the same cloth. I would say your guy has a little more subtlety to him … but not a lot.”

Yes, London fell for it first, but then moved on. And now it’s the rest of the country. When you see Boris Johnson back in the day on comedy shows, he’d come over as a clown … some seeing him as a loveable clown. Entertaining, maybe, but hardly leader material.

“Yeah, we thought that about the former guy here. Who would ever have thought that somebody would think he could run the country? Obviously he was just spouting ‘BS’, but there are so many disenfranchised people. They just found someone they felt they could grab on to.”

Strange times, and it does polarise people, as you see in your backyard. People you felt you got on with that you possibly don’t feel you can now.

“Well, almost, but here’s the thing – I live in the reddest of states, but to be honest, you meet people in public and nobody ever talks about it. You can go out, talk to those people, and it never comes up. I know where I stand. I know where they stand. It’s still pretty civil publicly. The thing I’m most worried about in this country is with the voting laws, the way they’re trying to disenfranchise a whole group of people throughout the country.”

That also sounds very familiar. But we’ll come off all that, shall we?

“Please! There is some politics on the record, but you know, you can read between the lines, about gun control and things like that.”

Seeing as he mentioned closing number, ‘Gold Medal Uphill’, it’s only since he mentioned about that being inspired by his Dad’s passing that I saw it in another light. It seems to be a song about coming to terms with all that. Not an easy song to get to grips with. But first I felt there was a Stan Ridgway/Wall of Voodoo feel there. Maybe he just wears his influences on his sleeve.

“Well, I’ve heard that, and think about that sometimes, but it’s always after I’m done. I guess everybody does. I listen to so much music, because I do a radio show and produce a TV show about music. I like to think I’ve stepped out of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s but guess that’s where I cut my teeth and learned how to write and play. I’m not just a revivalist. I totally get that’s not an insult though.”

I tend to think of someone like Mick Jones, who lived and breathed Mott the Hoople in his formative years, so when he was writing his own stuff in later years, I often hear Ian Hunter qualities, not least on parts of London Calling, although I imagine he didn’t consciously bring that to the party.

“Absolutely. And boy, I’m a Mott the Hoople fan, so I’m glad I know that about him.”

That got us on to Mick Jones following Mott from town to town, and how bands like The Clash and The Jam would carry on that rock’n’roll tradition of sneaking young fans into shows or soundchecks.

“Sure, and on this side of the pond, REM was kind of like that. And I bet I’ve seen REM 30 times.”

From quite early?

“I first saw them when I was in college. They played the small cafeteria in the student centre. I had no idea who they were, then suddenly they started coming back there. All the way to the stadiums … and I saw them at Madison Square Garden. I never saw them without Bill on drums though. Not that I wouldn’t, just that I never did.”

That got me on to catching them on BBC’s revamped Whistle Test, coinciding with their Reckoning LP tour, early December ’84, playing ‘Pretty Persuasion’ and Michael Stipe’s haunting, a capella take on ‘Moon River’, the night before I saw him do that at The Lyceum in London.

“I saw him do ‘Moon River’. That was incredible! They were amazing live, and so good.”

Anyway, tell me about your own band, The Skinny. They’ve been with you for some time, yeah? And they’re clearly a big part of this LP.

“Yeah, we’ve been through thick and thin, and they’ve saved my life when I’ve had one of these attacks before, after walking on stage, took care of me.”

How far back was that?

“That would have been one of the last shows we played before Covid, around January 2020 in Chicago. They got me to a hotel. Anyway, I had all these songs, half-old half-new, and knew this was going to be a rock’n’roll record, not as esoteric as some of my other stuff. I felt the best thing to do was to get these guys in a room at Brett’s studio, and just bash this stuff out. Let them make the parts their own. Here’s the demo, here’s the little drum-beats I came up with, here’s the basslines I came up with, let’s just break these down and play ‘em until they’re just right – the way I imagined all my favourite records being made.

“We had that luxury because the producer totally believed in it. We got in that room and Cory, he’s played with some really high-level blues artists. Bottom line, he’s professional and an incredible bass player. He took control of his part, he delivered, and Allen Clark III, the drummer, his dad was on my first record in 1979!”

Allen Clark II, per chance?

“Ha! I guess it would be, but I only knew him as Allen Clark. I was in a music store, a guitar shop in Evansville, Indiana, and this kid came up – he was working there – and said, ‘You’re Brick Briscoe!’. I said yeah, and he said, ‘Well, I’m Allen Clark’. I looked at him, said, ‘You’re not Allen Clark!’ then it dawned on me that was his son, who I hadn’t seen since I was living in Los Angeles. He moved out there around the time I had, to start another band. I went out there for the movies.

“I don’t know how many years, 30 years maybe, and here comes his son. I just knew right then, ‘You need to be in my band’. I didn’t even need to see him play. I knew he was going to be great. And he was, and he is, an extraordinary drummer. He can do anything.

“His Dad drummed for a band called The Lazy Cowgirls, who had quite a career here. And I don’t care whatever happens, Allen’s always gonna be in my life. He’s like my nephew, but at the same time we’re peers. He’s part of the family.”

Back to the new record, and the title track, albeit without brackets this time, ‘Iloveyousomuch’, although I get the feeling it is in brackets in the song – it’s almost apologetic, your delivery slightly embarrassed until towards the end, where you’re more vocal. Am I reading too much into that?

“No, I think you nailed it. My wife and I had just tripped to Los Angeles and were just loving it – ‘Oh my gosh, we got this great patio, and there’s a palm tree out our window, this is really cool’. We’re fixing dinner on a grill, cooking out on this patio, when a couple of guys run up in this little car and they jump out and beat the shit out of a Volkswagen with a baseball bat. And it’s, ‘Okay, this is the reality of living in the city’.

“As much as it looks great, Los Angeles, there’s always danger underneath, but you just keep telling yourself that you just love it, love it, love it. And this is no disparaging remark about LA, because it’s an amazing city. It’s a fabulous place, but at the same time it’s definitely a seat-of-your-pants sort of place.”

I get the feeling that song, another slow-burner with Television-like qualities for me (and I only heard Brick’s lyrical reference to Richard Hell a few listens in), like a lot of these songs started with a groove and a proper band rather than being knocked out on a pianola in the front room.

“I normally start writing everything on a bass, but you’re probably right on this record. That made it really easy to hand over to this great rhythm section, allowing me to just layer my stuff on top of that. But I think you’re dead on.”

The studio was in Brick’s co-producer Brett Molzer’s house in Evansville, about 45 minutes from his place. Was Brett there more in an engineering capacity, Steve Albini style, capturing that live feel?

“He was more of an engineer the first day, but once we got everything set up in there, it was our studio until we were done. He pushed me and the guys, particularly Allen, really made sure we were in that pocket. Not for the sake of losing spontaneity. We like it a little messy, but at the same time he was really a good taskmaster. We did several takes of some of these songs. When you listen to playback, it’s, ‘Yeah, that’s the one!’. There was minimal editing, and normally because of some noise we couldn’t control or something.”

And that leads me to my favourite on here, ‘Spoils, Sport Boy’. There’s something special, a bit like that Mekons intro on ‘Where Were You?’, a song I guess you must know.

“Of course I do! Oh, that’s so cool to hear. Thank you!”

That gorgeous riff instinctively drags you from the bar and down the front, and it’s a similar vibe here.

“That’s so cool to hear, because I always think that’s gonna be the least favourite people want to hear. Simply because it’s more abrasive, maybe.

“I saw The Mekons at the Whiskey {a Go-Go, LA} and Hugo Burnham {of fellow Leeds post-punk legends Gang of Four} played drums with them. And I didn’t realise until we started playing Chicago that John Langford lived there. I think Sally Timms is there a lot too. I’m a huge Mekons guy. Golly. But yeah, I thought that song was more abrasive!”

It’s great, and it’s not just about one riff either.  

“I’m so glad to hear that. We’ll have to play that every show!”

Also, you’re done after two and a half minutes.

“Well, it was funny because that’s the thing our producer Brett kept saying. ‘Guys, these songs are short’. But you know, he comes from a Southern rock background. He wanted me to do an Allman Brothers thing! We could have done it, but it wouldn’t have been very good. Leave ‘em wanting more, man!”

It’s perfect, and ‘Smile on My Face’ is another highpoint. Another killer riff. And for me, that’s more like Bob Mould and Sugar.


There are some winning chord structures there. However, this time I felt there was room for at least another half a minute.

“Well, I will admit that we did stretch that one out the other day in rehearsal. That’s the only song when we were about to start playing again I was going to play guitar on, until I’d built up my strength. Because it’s so chime-y and so much fun to play. To me, if I’ve ever written a hit, that’s the single, you know.”

Agreed. Take note, radio stations. So what’s next? Are you working on the next record?

“Oh, yeah, I’ve got about 25 songs written. One of the things, its working title is Opera’s Ready. It’s sort of my 28-minute song. It’s not opera, but it’s my take on a song with a lot of movements called ‘Northern Light’ that expands my feelings about my father and a wonderful night when my wife and I got in the car and started driving north until we could see the Northern Lights, but never got there. And those stories intertwined.

“I don’t know if I’m going to do that as a separate thing, but I’ve got another record written for the band, to get The Skinny to bang out, and then I’ve got another which will be similar in style maybe to Lucky Point to Pere Lachaise or My Favorite LA Restaurant.”

And you hope to cross the pond soon?

“Well, I’m scheduled to fly to Paris on March 30th for season four of my TV show. I’m hoping to come up your way and I’ve got gig opportunities in Belfast and Dublin, solo gigs. I don’t know how it’ll be over there, but I don’t play here where they’re clanking glasses all the time. But I’ll play wherever, you know, in front of people.

“Our goal is to come over there to the UK with the band in the fall. As long as it’s for adults. It’s not like we’re blue, it’s just that I write about certain things. We’re lucky we get to play places where they put you up as part of the deal and feed you. But we’re not locked into any of that. I really want to get the guys in the van and want to go play in Fargo, North Dakota, you know. I want to go places you just don’t expect us, to go out and see if we can communicate with people.

“We’ve all missed so much and haven’t got to do so many things because of all the crap that’s happened in the world. And you start thinking about this when you’re my age. How many more times am I going to be able to do this? I could be Mick Jagger, doing it at his age. I would be by choice, you know, but there’s no guarantees in life.”

Play every gig like you’re gonna cark it on the last song, yeah?

“Well, I will say that’s true about my band. We do that. You’d never know that this wasn’t our last time ever doing it. That’s what I hope we can project on our records, whether they’re rockers or whether they’re ballads. We’d want people to know that there’s something at stake.”

There is a footnote to this interview, something I pondered over with regard to adding, not least making sure he was okay with me doing so. Chasing something up last week following our chat, Brick, in typically understated fashion, told me, “I’ve just discovered I have leukemia. Luckily the doctor says I don’t have to change my plans or life much. But what a drag.”

It was difficult to know how to respond to that, but he quickly added, “The chronic not the acute, thankfully.” It seems that some people just can’t catch a break at times. But after what I hoped were at least a few meaningful words in response, and certainly heartfelt ones, he concluded, “I’m a very fortunate person. This won’t kill me or stop me from playing music or making my TV show.”

And there’s the mark of the fella. Here’s to the next chapter, and more great Brick Briscoe records, broadcasts and conversations with the man himself.  

For last February’s WriteWyattUK feature/interview with Brick Briscoe, head here. Brick Briscoe and the Skinny’s LP, (Iloveyousomuch) is out now. For more about Brick, upcoming dates and how to order the new LP and check out his back catalogue, head to his website or Bandcamp page. 


About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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