Bronze Radio Return

by Shawna Ortega

They're already an integral part of your subconscious. They're in your living room. They're in your car, in the grocery store, at the gas station - they are everywhere, even if you don't know it yet. And if you don't know it yet, you will. And well you should. Bronze Radio Return is the most famous not-quite-subliminal band in history. In 2012 alone, their music was featured on American Idol (twice), Necessary Roughness, Anthony Bourdain's: The Layover, 90210, Hart of Dixie, and too many commercials to count. And that's just running fingers around the rough edges.

They've also rubbed elbows with President Obama - or at least the Secret Service.

Their newest offering, Shake, Shake, Shake, is testimony to their take on Roots rock and their unique approach to recording. While setting up camp in Oklahoma to work on the extended album, they discovered that yes, there really are friendly folk around those parts, and with the selfless help of those friendly folk, Bronze Radio Return now hopes to become part of your conscious world, where they belong. Chris Henderson is their lead singer and primary songwriter.
Shawna Hansen Ortega (Songfacts): You've said that in writing a song, the lyrics take the most focus. Why does writing the lyrics take so much more concentration than the music?

Chris Henderson: For me lyrics seem to take the most focus during the writing process. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure why. I think it may be because I am always terrified of writing bad lyrics. I find taking the time to craft the best lyrics I can allows me a better chance at connecting with our listeners. I try avoiding overly used and often cliché lyrics because it's been done a million times. The ultimate goal would be to have the listener be able to take any line from any song and have it stand on its own.

Songfacts: What is it about Maine that makes lyrics easier to write?

Chris: I grew up in Maine, but have lived in Connecticut for the last 10 years. Maine is now a place I go to relax, visit family and enjoy feeling "off the grid." The atmosphere there is more conducive to focus than where I live in Hartford, Connecticut. I love being around the energy of a busy house when I am working on melodies and form, but need the quiet environment of a place like Maine to develop meaningful lyrical content. I feel fortunate to have access to both.

Songfacts: Describe your experience performing for the President; did you get a chance to meet him? What songs did you play? What was the venue? Were there Secret Service everywhere - any extraordinary experience just getting into the venue to play?

Chris: Playing for President Obama was a thrilling experience. No, we did not get to meet the guy, but we were hoping we would be able to shake his hand. We were told before we played that we would get an opportunity to meet him briefly, but due to time constraints it never happened. The Secret Service folks were awesome and most of them left with one of our albums. I don't think they were allowed to show enthusiasm during our performance, but I am pretty sure I saw a few of them tapping their toes. Russell Simmons was the MC for the event and it was a cool experience to hear him, a music industry mogul, introduce our band. Certainly a memorable day!

Songfacts: On your recent album, many of the instruments were loaned to you. How did that happen?

Chris: I wouldn't say most of the instruments were loaned to us, but certainly a lot of instruments were loaned to us during the recording of our last album. Our producer, Chad Copelin, is based in Norman, Oklahoma, and he is surrounded by a community of wonderfully generous friends and musicians. Many of the instruments were already in the studio - vintage keyboards, amps, guitars, etc. If we were looking for a specific sound, Chad would know who to ask to borrow a piece of gear. It felt like the gear possibilities were endless and I believe that attributed to the overall sound of the record.

After recording Shake Shake Shake we sat down and decided what we wanted to emulate from the record in a live setting and what we wanted to be different. There were certain keyboard sounds we needed to find and Matt (keys player) did a great job of getting those sounds ready for tour. I believe that our live show sounds relatable to the recordings, yet different in some ways. We like to embrace the differences and offer slightly different arrangements at our shows. Nothing crazy, but if you want to hear the song exactly how it was recorded listen to the CD, right?

Songfacts: "Sell It To You" is a clever little dig at commercialism. Do you feel like you're guilty of the same thing? Are you someone who always notices the product placement in movies, and is it to the point of distraction? It's also amusing that your music is used behind so many commercials doing exactly what this song says.

Chris: I love the irony of the tune. By no means am I completely frowning on all forms of commercialism, but I do get tired of constantly being sold something. I appreciate good products. I like buying something I need, but sometimes I find myself weary of things that are presented as me "needing" them versus wanting them. After we play this song at shows I like to remind people that we are selling merchandise in the back of the room - sometimes people laugh. Sometimes they don't...

Songfacts: "Sticks and Stones." Wow. Powerful stuff. Tell us about what inspired this song.

Chris: The concept of this tune is simple in theory, yet many people (myself included) seem to have a hard time executing: If you are unhappy or unsatisfied, do something to change it. Don't stick around here to feed the mouth that bites you. I was hoping the lyrics could apply to anyone who recognizes that they could have something better and that the only way to do it was make the change happen for yourself.

Songfacts: "Rough Town" - what town is this about? And what happened that manifested itself here?

Chris: "Rough Town" came from the response I was often getting after telling people that I live in Hartford, Connecticut. Some people would say, "Oh, you're from Hartford... heard that's a rough town." While Hartford, much like other cities, has its struggles with crime, it's where most of us in the band live and we enjoy it. I'm not a native of Hartford, but I found myself defending it on several occasions. After thinking about it for a while I decided that the bigger concept is not what you see, but how you choose to see it. I live here and choose to see this city in a positive light. In the last several years I've seen places and people transformed by positive thinking. I never hope to sound too preachy on this topic, but I am a firm believer in making the best of what's around you.

Songfacts: Explain "Broken Ocean" to me. The words and music form a working dichotomy: musically it's so upbeat and fun, but the words don't suggest fun at all.

Chris: I grew up near the water and ocean metaphors are always creeping into my subconscious. To me the ocean is something that always moves; even if it seems to be a still day, the tides are always moving. A "Broken Ocean" obviously doesn't exist, but if it did I would picture it to be stagnant and motionless. There are days that I think we all feel stagnant in one way or another. It's possible that some of the upbeat and fun vibes you are hearing may be a suggested sense of optimism in a somewhat dismal topic.

Songfacts: "Shake Shake Shake." Tell me what inspired this song and what was it like hearing it on TV for the first time.

Chris: "Shake Shake Shake" talks about the moment in the night where we stand on a stage, most commonly to an unfamiliar audience, and begin playing our set. From the perspective of stage I would often see a still crowd trying to make up their minds if they felt like moving to the music. More times than not, it would only take one person in the room to start dancing and eventually others would follow. I will admit that I will almost never be the first person to dance in a crowd, but I always admire the people who have the courage to start before anyone else does.

It was very cool to hear the song on TV for the first time. The first placement I saw was "Shake Shake Shake" on American Idol and I watched it from the chair that I sat in to write the song. It was a nice sense of accomplishment, but mostly inspired me to create more.

Songfacts: What's your favorite use so far of one of your songs on TV?

Chris: Each placement has been unique and interesting to watch. When we are approached to use a song, we hardly know how the tune will be used and how it will fit the visual elements. Often times the song will be edited to fit into the visual aspects of the placement. We usually don't know how it will look or sound until it airs. I'm not sure if I have a favorite placement, each one is a surprise.

Songfacts: "Strawberry Hill," another dichotomy. Such a sad song. What's going on here?

Chris: "Strawberry Hill" is a fictional place in mind that I picture one may go when they are going through tough times. I picture this place to have lots of distracting remedies to take one's mind off the issues at hand. I think the most distracting remedies end up being unhealthy, yet temporarily comforting. While it feels good to be up there, it's important to come down at some point and face reality.

Songfacts: "Wonder No More." Explain the line, "While my faith was blind, my eyes could see, I was sure that the cure would remedy me, but it was just the disease." Intriguing.

Chris: The song "Wonder No More" was written in response to a song we recorded on our last record called "Worth Wondering." Many of the lyrics from "Wonder No More" are directly addressing questions posed in "Worth Wondering." The line mentioned above reflects on realizing that your blind faith, which maybe went against your own logic, was not the solution, but rather the problem. It's easy to get wrapped in our emotions and it's even easier to make irrational choices due to them. I once asked, "Is it worth wondering about?" and now I answer myself by saying "I wonder no more."

Songfacts: "Lo-Fi" - do you still have a turntable and a vinyl collection - what albums are in it? Will you be putting your records out on vinyl?

Chris: I do listen to records on vinyl and love it! I wouldn't consider myself a "vinyl junkie" but I do appreciate the sound, smell and feel of vinyl. Lately I've been listening to a lot of Talking Heads and Janis Joplin. We hope to press our own vinyl in the near future.

Songfacts: What is the most personal song you have written, and how does it feel to put it out there and perform it in front of people?

Chris: I think all songs are personal to some degree. All of the songs we write are our own personal feelings about something - it's the best way to connect to people. One of the greatest compliments a songwriter can get is when a listener tells you how a song you wrote is personal to them on some level. It's a people business and business is good.

February 1, 2013. For everything BRR, hit them up at their site:
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Comments: 3

  • Brittney from South Africa I would love to know the meaning behind *Sylvan*... For some reason that song just sticks in my mind and I want to know what it's about. So beautiful yet sad at the same time... absolutely in love with this band - my friend suggested I listen to gilded lily after she came back from the states and I just fell in love...
  • Ben Mason from Hilton HeadCouldn't help but toe tap during PGA promos. Saw the name burned in the corner of the screen. Loved the originality of the
    sound. Googled, went to Barnes and Noble, CD arrives in my mailbox, wife throws me out off the car due to excessive
  • Scott from UtahThis whole article is interesting, but, I still don't know why I've never heard of this band or what commercials they've done.
see more comments

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