Brent DeBoer is a songwriter and musician.
I first met him in unique circumstances in September 2010, when my partner and I won a competition to fly to the United States and interview The Dandy Warhols at their studio in Portland, Oregon. This was a promotional tie-in because the band were booked to play at Parklife Festival that year, so we were accompanied by a cameraman for Australian website Pedestrian.TV, who filmed the encounter and cut a short video about our experience. (The entire interview was later published on TheVine.com.au). I’m a big fan of The Dandy Warhols; they’re one of the best live rock bands I’ve seen, and as a solid drummer and co-vocalist, Brent is a key part of their appeal.
Born in Portland and based there for most of his life, Brent has called Melbourne home since 2010, after he married an Australian and relocated. When he’s not touring or recording with The Dandy Warhols, he’s inevitably doing the same with his Australian band, Immigrant Union, who this year released their second album, entitled Anyway. It’s a brilliant piece of work, and one of my favourites of 2015. When reviewing Anyway for The Weekend Australian in June, I described it as “a timeless album for all moods and seasons” and gave it four-and-a-half stars.
Besides his excellent musicianship and songwriting in two of my favourite bands, though, I actually didn’t know much about Brent’s past or his path into music, so I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him a little better during this interview, which took place upstairs at Lefty’s Music Hall in Brisbane, a few hours before Immigrant Union played three sets there on a Thursday evening in late August. Brent was jet-lagged, and spent most of the interview either staring out the window, watching the fading light, or with his eyes closed, while darkness gradually consumed the room where we sat.
Our conversation touches on how he learned to play the drums at age five; how he manifested his own destiny as a child, when he would imagine playing to a sea of people who were all there to watch him play drums; a favourite prank of his when playing to drunk fraternity crowds in his early career; how he was asked to join The Dandy Warhols in 1998 and how he struggled for a couple of years with the demands of the role; and the differences between being a drummer who sings in that band and being a singer-guitarist in Immigrant Union.
Brent DeBoer was born in Portland, Oregon, where his parents bought him a drum set for Christmas when he was five years old. By the age of 16 he had formed his first band, Spoon, with Rick Bain. Just out of college, in 1998, he joined The Dandy Warhols as their drummer. After moving to Melbourne, in 2010, he was at the iconic Cherry Bar in AC/DC Lane. It was here that he began to form a band called Immigrant Union with Bob Harrow and Peter Lubulwa, taking on the role of lead guitar and lead vocals. The Dandy Warhols will release their ninth studio album in 2016 and they continue to tour the world extensively. Immigrant Union recently released their critically acclaimed second studio album entitled Anyway.
Brent DeBoer on Twitter: @FatheadDeBoer
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6.00 What Brent likes to do between soundcheck and performance while touring: “Usually a few beers, or a nice, long nap”
6.30 Brent had no idea of the demanding lifestyle that being a professional touring musician would bring
9.30 Meeting and touring with some of his childhood musical heroes, such as Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, The Cure and David Bowie
12.00 “Hanging out with Tom Petty is enough, really. Damn, he’s like, the coolest ever. He never had a disco phase”
12.30 Growing up in the suburbs of Portland, hanging out with his cousin (and Dandy Warhols singer/guitarist) Courtney Taylor-Taylor “at weddings and funerals” as a child
13.30 Brent got his first drum kit when he was five, and grew up listening to The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel
14.30 He was self-taught on the drums and learned by playing along with The Beatles on headphones, staring out into an empty cul-de-sac and picturing himself playing to a sea of people: “I dreamed that they were all watching me playing the drums”
18.00 “I’m not the greatest drummer in the world. I don’t have any big stunts or tricks. I really only tried to emulate Ringo Starr, but I still, to this day, cannot possibly do a lot of those fills that he does. I’m kind of a four-trick pony when it comes to drumming”
21.30 Brent’s father switched careers a lot, from being a stockbroker to real estate and a commercial cabinetry company, and his mother was a third and fourth-grade teacher for her whole career
22.30 Brent almost quit college because he was offered a “pretty nice” job at Coca-Cola
23.30 Brent also worked as a security guard at a dump for a summer, as well as building scaffolding in a warehouse, and putting together smoke detectors in a factory at age 21
26.00 At college, Brent majored in psychology and minored in philosophy. On graduation day, he flew straight to New York and played a gig that night
29.00 Brent’s first bands included Rick Bain and the Genius Position, and Miss Red Flowers, both of which supported The Dandy Warhols
30.30 A favourite prank of Brent’s at the time involved pretending to break his drum kit and fooling drunk audience members into singing along to Frank Sinatra
35.00 The moment where Courtney asked Brent to join The Dandy Warhols as drummer and co-vocalist, six days before a 45-date European tour
38.30 “There aren’t that many drummers that sing. It’s like, Don Henley, Phil Collins, Karen Carpenter; there really aren’t that many more”
39.30 Brent found it “really difficult” to learn along the way; it took him a couple of years to start feeling comfortable with his performances
42.00 During that introductory period to the band, it never crossed Brent’s mind that it was too hard, and that he wanted to quit
43.30 “The only way I would have quit or stopped is if they would have said, ‘Look, this just isn’t working’ – which I definitely thought was gonna happen on a couple of occasions”
44.30 As songwriter, Courtney has the final word on band-related decisions, but it’s not a dictatorship: “We’re collaborative all the way; we’re all on a similar trip”
48.00 How the songs for the second Immigrant Union album, Anyway, were written and arranged
51.00 The five songs that didn’t make it onto Anyway are planned to be released together as an EP in 2016
55.00 The differences between playing drums and singing with The Dandy Warhols, and playing guitar and singing with Immigrant Union
57.00 “I don’t behave any differently on stage than I do in rehearsal, really. I don’t know any ‘rock moves’ or anything”
58.00 What keeps Brent energised and motivated when it comes to music: “Going to festivals. I don’t listen to a ton of modern music”
59.30 The story behind filming the video for the Immigrant Union song ‘In Time’, which involved recording in a stop-motion style at Soundwave Festival 2015 in Melbourne using a Canon G9 camera
64.00 The video for The Dandy Warhols song ‘This Is The Tide’ was filmed using the same technique in 2010
A question for Brent: I was able to understand why The Rolling Stones and The Cure would be influential to your work with The Dandys. Which Bowie and which Petty albums were the most influential, and how would you compare and contrast Immigrant Union’s sound to your previous work?