March 30, 2005

Spring Brakes

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This past week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Cornell student Matt Kass ’06 at the Southpaw in Brooklyn, one of New York’s great music venues. Kass is the guitarist in the innovative Philadelphia soul-rock band The Brakes, who are rapidly gaining momentum in the young east coast music scene. The Brakes, who are playing at Ithaca’s Castaways next Thursday, April 7th, have spent the past year watching their efforts unfold, gaining opening slots for such major acts as Moe, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and Soulive. So, just how does one balance an Ivy League education with impending professional rock “stardom”? Ask Matt Kass.

DAZE: How did The Brakes come to be?

MATT KASS: We actually came together for what was supposed to be a one-time gig for a 9/11 benefit during my senior year of high school. I called up all the best musicians I knew from jazz band and the local scene and we just had one of those instant connections. The lineup has changed over the years, but we’re at the point where we’ve really jelled. DAZE: Describe your style of music and biggest influences.

KASS: It’s a mixture. I would say we’re a rock band at the core, but we incorporate elements of jazz, soul and funk into our songs. We play in the Jamband scene, but I don’t really consider us a Jamband. My influences are pretty eclectic … Hendrix’s lyrical style of playing, and the way he revolutionized the electric guitar just naturally drew me to him. Stevie Wonder is a huge influence, in the way that he used complex chord changes in his music but still was able to retain that element of accessibility … our drummer and bassist study Jazz at school, so we turn each other on to new types of music and our sound becomes more refined.

DAZE: How do you write new material and practice, seeing as the members are based in different parts of the Northeast?

KASS: During breaks in the school year we do most of our rehearsing. After getting together the past winter break we found we had written nearly two albums worth of material as individuals. It’s frustrating sometimes to have to put a lot of your songs on the backburner until we’re all in the same place, but we’ll play new stuff in hotel rooms or over the phone for each other … the gigs are really our practice … but we’ve played together so much it’s like having a conversation with old friends.

DAZE: What’s the toughest part of the road?

KASS: The toughest part of the road is the contrast between where we play. In Philly we’re playing for huge crowds at the best venues in town … and then there are also those empty bars in the middle of nowhere. We’ve had to learn to not let the crowd dictate our performance … keeping up with school work is also tough … some weekend’s there’ll be nothing, but others are rough when I have two prelims on Monday and I’m driving back from Maine at one in the morning.

DAZE: What has your best live experience been?

KASS: The best live experience was definitely our CD release party. We headlined the Theater of the Living Arts in Philly this past winter break which holds about 1000 people, and we packed the place. It was just crazy to walk out onto the stage where I had been going to see shows my whole life and see this huge crowd all there for us, going nuts.

DAZE: How did EP Volume 1 come about?

KASS: After spending almost a year moonlighting at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in the Village, we wound up with an album that wasn’t really representative of who we were as a band. It was just too overdone, with guest artists, horn charts, and even a live orchestra. We decided to strip down and do some raw tracks at this studio near Philly and we tore through 5 songs in one day. They came out great, and our manager had the idea of releasing a series of quarterly EP’s, each with their own personality. The 2nd EP is going to be released in June, and we got to experiment a little more in the studio this time.

DAZE: Do professional musicians get the same academic “luxuries” as varsity athletes? KASS: I read somewhere in Sports Illustrated about how the varsity athletes have to take tests on the road at hotel banquet halls. This isn’t like that. If they knew what we were doing out there, I think I’d get kicked out of school real quick.

DAZE: School or Music?

KASS: Music. You can’t get free drinks and “band aids” at the library.

You can listen to EP 1 and check out more about The Brakes at

Archived article by Benjamin Jurist
Sun Staff Writer