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Three Against Four

An interview by AMZ's Dave Merrill

†I had the opportunity to meet with the band THREE AGAINST FOUR online for an interview. I very much liked the AOL format. It allowed us all to relax and speak our minds, or just joke around. THREE AGAINST FOUR are Brandon Patton (bass and vocals), Anand Nayak (guitar and vocals) and Jay Skowronek (drums). Here's what they had to say:

AMZ - Where did you get your name?

Nayak - Aha!

Skowronek - Brandon will take this one.

Nayak - It's a long story, full of intrigue. . .

AMZ - I'm intrigued.

Nayak - Well, before Brandon and I met Jay, we had been in the process of putting together a band for some time.

Patton - We tried to think of a name we could agree on, but we didn't have a band yet really, so it was hard to find something that felt like it fit. It all seemed a bit hypothetical.

Nayak - But then one night. . . it came to us in a flash!

Patton - Not really. I had to get Anand drunk.

Nayak - Brandon and I were sitting at the table, drinking. Italian liquor.

Skowronek - That's how I met him, too!

Patton - Then he started to like the sound of things a little more. I believe it was Malibu? (ching $100 product placement!)

Nayak - And THREE AGAINST FOUR came floating out of the ether.

Patton - I've always liked double entendres. Or, at least, names which can be interpreted in many ways, infinite, ideally. . .Three against Four is a poly-rhythm mainly.

Nayak - Seriously, it's a poly-rythym that we both dig.

Patton - It rocks.

Skowronek - It's Brandon's favorite time signature. A lot of our songs fall into it.

Patton - But rock usually has that snare on the two and four sort of thing

Skowronek - A tad bit more challenging for a band. "Grace" is in 3/4 time.

AMZ - OK, thanks, I'm not a musician myself. I knew there was something different going on, though.

Patton - Imagine if you took a measure and cut it up into four parts, right?

Nayak - Brandon's about to get medieval

Patton - But you also took that same measure and cut it up into three parts. Then some people are playing in three, while others are in four, but it all interrelates. . .

AMZ: Don't worry, I'm not totally in the dark.

Patton - The band name, though, we were also trying to decide how many people were in our band.

Nayak - There's this other guy, Nate (Van Til, who performs on their album, "Some Of Us Are Here") who was going to be in the band for a while, but it wasn't working out.

Patton - He plays different roles for us, kind of like a George Martin...

Skowronek - This was before my time in the band.

AMZ - When did you join, Jay?

Skowronek - Iíve lived in Boston for a long time. I was looking for a band and couldn't find one. Then, my friend suggested I put an ad in the local music mag. The next day, Brandon called me. He and Anand were living in Amherst, MA, at the time.

Patton - The next day?

Skowronek - I think. But, they invited me to see them perform at the Kendall Cafe in April, 1998. I went to the show and was blown away!

Nayak - Yeah, baby!

AMZ - I can understand that. I was blown away by you guys too.

Patton - I'm speechless.

Skowronek - I couldn't believe that they didn't have a permanent drummer. I thought that was odd. Then, I realized why . . . Brandon and Anand DO NOT wear deoderant. (joking, I think) During the summer of '98, I would drive to Amherst and jam with the guys. We started getting serious in September. That's when Anand and Brandon moved to Boston.

Patton - The first thing we ever played together was a Jeff Buckley song, no?

Skowronek - Our first show was on Oct. 26th at the Middle East, and the rest has been history. The first time I spoke with Brandon, we were both totally consumed by Jeff Buckley's music. So, we immediately had a connection point. When the 3 of us got together, we kicked right into "Eternal Life" off of J.B.s "Grace" LP.

AMZ - So, you've really only been performing together since October?

Skowronek - Yeah. We played our 8th show last night in Rhinecliff, NY. I think the show you caught in Nyack was our 6th.

AMZ - But Anand and Brandon had done the 2 albums ("Nocturnal," Patton's solo effort and "Some of Us are Here.") together before that.

Patton - Right.

Skowronek - Yeah, these guys were cranking out material!

Nayak - Still are, too.

Patton - After college, Anand, Nate and I, and four other friends, played steel drum music on Cape Cod - and quickly began hating life.

Nayak - I was still in college and hating life.

Patton - Nate got so fed up he moved very far away and Anand wasn't done with school. I said, "Fuck, what now?"

AMZ - What college were you going to?

Patton - Wesleyan in Connecticut.

AMZ - Anand too?

Nayak - Yup.

Patton - I met Anand my second year, but it takes a while to get close to the boy. I knew instantly he was enormously talented. Pretty much the only person Id met who had anything sort of uncontrollably personal AND also interesting.

Nayak - My first real memory of meeting Brandon was in his dorm room, which was completely filled with random musical instruments.

Patton - Anyway, Anand was playing 2 acoustics with his buddy, and I was sitiing alone writing cheesy, "Why doesn't she love me?" type crap, and gradually we started playing.

Nayak - He wanted me and this other guy to accompany him at this coffehouse show he was doing, and I was completely impressed by how serious he was about songwriting. We didn't really start doing stuff together till later, though. I think two years later, Brandon came to me and said that he was starting a party band, and he wanted to win the Battle of The Bands, and would I play guitar? That's when we had our first real collaboration, four years ago.

Patton - In some ways, that band was actually a clever attempt to get us to work together, Anand. Have I ever told you that? The party band was in 1994, the steel band was in 1995. But, that was just like school. Our hearts weren't in it. We needed to write.

AMZ - Your lyrics are great. Who writes them?

Nayak - Both Brandon and I.

AMZ - Is it a collaborative effort down the line?

Nayak - Well, it goes back and forth. Lyrically, we tend to create whole songs, and then piece them together musically, in a more collaborative way.

Patton - Actually, we tend to have a hard time writing lyrics together, it's too hard. There needs to be a consistent voice in a song. And sometimes the point of view of the singer gets watered down by too much haggling over vocabulary.

Nayak - Now, with Jay in the Band, we've been changing our approach to incorporate his ideas as well.

Skowronek - Yeah, that's what's really cool about this band.

AMZ - I was thinking the same thing, Jay.

Skowronek - Anand and Brandon will write the stuff, but will totally leave it open ended for my input. Truly refreshing . . .

Skowronek - The band's songs are STILL changing. We always find new ways to segue songs, start or end songs. The songs are always malleable.

Nayak - Bringing Jay in has really started to create a more coherent sound for us. We like to try and change things up live.

AMZ - I like it when bands do that.

Patton - One thing I've learned, is that live performance and recorded music are totally, totally different. I didn't have consistent jamming buddies, so I came of age with a 4 track. And now I get to learn how to play live. Totally new bag, baby!

Skowronek - Did anyone tell Dave about our tour?

Nayak - I believe I mentioned it in passing

Skowronek - We are doing a month-long tour of the U.S. to really give us the experience we need.

Patton - Five weeks.

Skowronek - Well, we really want the experience of playing live shows, co-existing for long periods of time together . . . all the stuff that eventually makes a great, solid band.

Patton - See, the song "Park City Is Not LA" (from his solo effort, "Nocturnal") is about my experience at the Sundance Film Fest, Redford's big hoopla. I've been volunteering for the last three years. And we finally got a party gig at it, with a pro soundman and. . .

Patton - Mandatory attendance for all the aspiring film buffs, also volunteering. I'm hoping we can get on a soundtrack maybe.

AMZ - It sounds like a great opportunity.

Nayak - We'll see. I'm personally just psyched to see what touring is all about. I have been getting more and more anxious about heading out West in mid winter. . .

Skowronek - We're all really psyched for this opportunity. We feel ourselves incredibly fortunate.

AMZ - You mentioned Jeff Buckley before. Who else influences you?

Skowronek - WALT MINK!

Nayak - Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles!

Patton - The Police, MeShell Ndegeocello, The Beatles, Paul Simon, Jane's Addiction, Grunge, Sue Burkhart.

Skowronek - The Clash, Iggy Pop, the Stones, Prince . . .The Police are a big one for us!

Patton - Ani DiFranco. Funk heroes, rock heroes, some punk heroes.

Nayak - How would you "pigeonhole" us, Dave?

AMZ - That was one thing I liked about you. I couldn't pigeonhole you.

Skowronek - Excellent!

Nayak - Cool.

AMZ - Usually I'll make comparisons to other bands. You won't see much of that in your CD review.

Skowronek - Brandon has also exposed me to a ton of international artists.

Patton - I went through a three year obsession with world music. That's when I learned about three against four, the polyrthym. I really liked a local artist, "VINX," during that period. I used to listen to any world music I could get my hands on, until those damn Deep Forest type European producers started new aging all of it with their computers. I got to take African drumming classes at school. Try hearing, and really feeling, the spaces instead of the hits.

AMZ - "Juluka" got me into the African beat.

Skowronek - Brandon can sit behind my kit and blow my mind with the stuff he plays.

Patton - Or, try having no sense of 1,2,3,4, but just this cycle that diffent parts lock into. Brilliant. Ok, I'm getting excited, I'll calm down.

Nayak - Yeah, when I try to sit behind a kit, I'm lucky I don't hurt myself. . .

Skowronek - Sometimes we'll switch up instruments . . .then we realize why we play the instruments we do.

Nayak - Although Jay plays a mean ocarina.

Patton - I walked into Judy Jetson's to get a haircut and the guy cutting my hair said, "So, are you a drummer or a bass player?" I think I'm a rhythm junkie.

AMZ - (laughing)

Patton - Which is why it's a good thing Anand has melodic and harmonic genius.

AMZ - What song or band made each of you decide you wanted to be musicians?

Skowronek - I was a big fan of the original Adam & the Ants, line up. They were the first ones to overdub drums on top of drums, so they sounded massive. That's how I picked up my craft.

Patton - The Beatles, I guess. Playing the kitchen pots and pans in Trinidad, when my parents were busy. Along with "Magical Mystery Tour."

Nayak - Prince, U2 and The Indigo Girls were my first biggies, other then The Beatles. When I was four, I knew all the Beatles songs off the red and blue compilations, which I have since forgotten. Due to my ever diminishing brain functions.

Patton - The main motivation for me, honestly, was consistent dissatisfaction with bands I heard live. Somebody has to do something interesting AND passionate goddamnit. And everybody is just up there preening themselves, or flogging themselves, or imitating. It's boring!

AMZ - So, it came pretty early.

Nayak - Not really. For me, at that point, there was this total difference between that music, which I loved, and the piano I was playing, which was more like work. I didn't pick up a guitar until high school.

Skowronek - We are really critical about our performances. Not too critical, but we care. I think our main focus and goal right now is to really go out and play our asses off. Give it 800% instead of 100%.

Patton - Some mistakes are good. Better than anything you could do on purpose. The rest just. . .distracts.

Patton - Tell them the story about, "Loaf."

Nayak - "Loaf" was my high school band. I learned guitar in about a year and replaced the other guitar player.

AMZ - In "Loaf?"

Patton - Yes.

Skowronek - Anand was spawned from a centrifugal mixture of all the great guitarists from the past 5 decades.

Patton - B. Stanton, one of our temp drummers on the album, was in "Loaf." They listened to a lot of Primus.

Nayak - Yes, we did. And Jane's Addiction, and Led Zeppelin.

Patton - Nobody mentioned Radiohead or Bjork yet. Or Funky Porcini. Bob Marley needs to be on our list of influences too.

Skowronek - We should do more reggae stuff . . .

Patton - In fact, the history of Reggae, with African, Brit Pop, Soul, R&B, it's all there. It's just not obvious.

AMZ - I can see why there are so many styles that come out on your album. Do you have a favirite song to perform live, yet?

Nayak - I have a new fave every show.

Patton - "Fallout" and "Bottle" have been going well for us. It's always a surprise what we pull off and what stumbles a little.

AMZ - The one that grabbed me in the live show was "Statement."

Nayak - Yeah, that does grab the attention. I have fun playing that one.

Patton - We might try that one on radio. Do you think it will be worth the effort, or not bland enough?

Skowronek - "Statement" honestly got me into the album the most!

AMZ - The lyrics for "Bottle" are pretty intense. Who wrote them and what fed into them?

Patton - Its hard to explain where a song comes from sometimes, because you don't really know. All I can do is offer possiblities. . .My parents were divorced. People are always breaking up. I was a bit depressed at the time, and I think I spat out a line about a bottle, then was just contemplating it wondering how it fit in with a couple other lines I had written. I got the idea of this broken bottle, which was maybe the champagne bottle from the wedding years back, or just a significant metaphor for the couple arguing. Does that make sense?

AMZ - Yes.

Nayak - Yeah, it's funny how some songs seem to come straight from experience, while others seem to materialize from nowhere.

AMZ - Was "Bonedragger" one out of nowhere?

Nayak - Also a Brandon song.

AMZ - It's a lot different than the others.

Patton - Actually, that was a weird little poem I wrote after reading a book called "Riddley Walker," this kind of post-apocalyptic Huck Finn, with a unique style of talking. I never imagined it would become a funk song.

AMZ - It's great that way. One of the other stand outs for me.

Patton - One day, I pulled out the old lyrics, and I like singing in a funky stlye about something that had nothing to do with sex or love or the MAN, etc. It's sort of eerie funk about Death and inevitability. It's about the grim reaper, I suppose, which makes me laugh out loud, because that's usually something only metal bands write about.

Nayak - We were pretty happy with that one. We had a lot of fun recording it. Brandon and I were holed up in this little house on the Cape for three weeks going completely nuts.

Patton - We watched "The Deer Hunter."

Nayak - Most of that stuff was done very late at night.

Patton - In between games of ping pong, or deeply mindfucking moments of self doubt.

Nayak - That house was where we recorded the bulk of the album. Crazy experience. . . very educational.

AMZ - I think you guys grew a lot between "Nocturnal" and "Some Of Us Are Here."

Nayak - Thanks, Dave. We definately figured out a lot of shit.

Patton - Well, that, and "Nocturnal," were just less edited, so much harder to put together and less focused.

Nayak - Although I feel like "Nocturnal" was a more ambitious album in some ways.

Skowronek - Yeah Brandon, that must have taken a LOT of time . . .

Patton - Ambitious?

Skowronek - You played all the stuff yourself!

Patton - Should've taken less, I was pretty lazy and overwhelmed.

Nayak - Well, we put a lot of effort into making "Some Of Us" sound really good, but there's a lot more experimentation on "Nocturnal."

Skowronek - I think we're planning to go into the studio in March or April to record a new album. . .

AMZ - I think I hit all my questions. Is there anything you want people to know that we haven't discussed?

Skowronek - Seriously you guys. Do we have anything else? We want to propagate Walt Mink . .let the world know of their GREATNESS!

Patton - I want people to know that they MUST, MUST, MUST support independent radio stations, or else everything we hear will be an advertisement.

AMZ - That's one reason I seek out unsigned bands, Brandon. I figure that's where I can really do some good.

Nayak - I want people to know that, deep down, I'm really just an ordinary guy, just tryin' to make my way in the world. Good call, Brandon. Down with the Starbuckizaton of the planet!

Skowronek - We'll send you a postcard from the road!!! Keep in touch!!!

AMZ - Great, Jay. I hope you guys have a great time!

Nayak - Dave, thanks for taking the time, and thanks for your positivity. It helps.

AMZ - Thanks for putting so much energy behind your music.

Patton - But seriously, Dave, your timing couldn't be better. It's really great to get some positive feedback.

AMZ - Night guys, and Thanks! †

© 1998 by Mary Ellen Gustafson