But that intersection doesn’t indicate any sort of concession or compromise. The blend of grit and smoothness makes perfect sense coming from Brooks, who appreciates the exuberant energy of Van Halen as much as the easygoing bounce of yacht rock. From the band’s breakthrough with 2008’s Meanderthal to their new album, Admission, Torche has continued down its own distinct path.
Before a recent gig in North Carolina, Brooks spent some time on the phone with AllMusic to discuss his ambivalent feelings on lyric-writing, knowing when a song is done, and the inspiration he takes from a Hollywood legend.
AllMusic: You come up with a lot of vocal cadences that are never what I expect. Do you have a routine for how you come up with vocal lines?
Steve Brooks: I come up with so many different ways, or options, to sing when I’m demoing things, usually certain melodies or parts of a song will get me to start humming something, and it starts the structure of the vocal part, and it goes from there.
Sometimes the words change, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes after I’m done I’m like, “I could have said this,” but sometimes you just have to realize a song is done and move on to the next one, that’s how I work. I just want to continue working, continue writing. I don’t want to sit and dwell on things, how I could have done things differently. Just move on. While I’m writing, I’m just analyzing everything, but then once I hear it and it sounds good time, I’m like, “OK, time to move on.”
AllMusic: Do you enjoy writing lyrics?
Brooks: I absolutely hate doing lyrics. Back in the 90s, a lot of my songs didn’t even have lyrics, I’d just hum melodies or yelled or did something, improvised.
AllMusic: The Sigur Ros route.
Brooks: Something like that, yeah. It was more just a feeling, but then I’d have to repeat it. So I’d be like, “Well, I don’t know what I’m saying here, but I’m going to basically say what I’m saying on this recording again,” even though it’s not a word, you just try to make words out of it in some ways. But I’m more of a melody maker. If there’s something meaningful to me, I’ll put it in, but most of the time I’m just playing with syllables.
AllMusic: Are you ever like the kid who forgot to do his science fair project, and you’re scribbling stuff down on the way to a session?
Brooks: No, but sometimes I’ll come up with things and the other guys aren’t digging it, so I’ll have to rethink it all or improvise, and I’m good at improvising and trying different things from what I tried before. I can hear music and just let myself go with it, and some really incredible things can come out and we start working from there. Then I have to bring it all together in the song for it to feel complete or feel like a song rather than just a bunch of parts.
AllMusic: I also admire your restraint to let a short song stay short.
Brooks: That’s just rock and roll, in and out, we’re not a prog band or anything like that. We’re going to write a rock and roll song, and when we all feel like it’s finished, it’s finished. Sometimes a song will be a minute long, or even shorter, and I’m like, “I don’t know where else to go with this, it sounds done to me.” It’s like that with all of us, we all kind of know.
AllMusic: The band has such a distinct, instantly-identifiable sound. Do you feel like you have to stay within that sphere, or can you do whatever you want?
Brooks: We push ourselves on every record to do something that’s a little different from the last. Even though we have a sound, we don’t really think about what other people are expecting other than if they’ve heard our records, they know that we know our sound best, so we write the way we do, we have the style that we have, and we just keep writing new material with it. We push change, definitely. We keep it all in mind, but we’re really picky fuckers, too.
AllMusic: You’re a big Van Halen fan; do you think they need to tour with Michael Anthony for a happy ending?
Brooks: I would like that, that would be great, because he was a part of the band that I fell in love with, but things change, people change, they’re not the same band they used to be, they’re not the same people they used to be. But as long as Alex, Eddie and Dave are there. I don’t care if Dave’s voice isn’t there anymore, I’d rather have Dave than no Dave, because he was the personality of that band. There’s not a better frontman for that band than Dave.
Michael Anthony not being part of it sucks, but I don’t have to tour or live with him, either. Wolfgang is different, but he is an amazing guitar player and bass player. He’s great for the band, and he’s family, so with age that those guys are, I get it. He had his son join the band. There’s a lot of drama with that band, which I can’t imagine what they have to live with, so maybe keeping his son on the road keeps Eddie in check in some ways. I don’t judge them for any of that stuff. I’d like to see Michael Anthony back, but they’re all different people.
What I’d most like to see is Van Halen back in their heyday, which was supposed to be my first concert. My dad talked about taking me, and then he was dealing with some issues, and was like, “They’ll be back.” Then it was 5150 time, and I never saw Van Halen with Sammy, I just wasn’t into them. I was into a lot of the music, except for the really light songs. They were still good, but it was a watered-down version of the band that I didn’t connect with. It was more commercial and safe, it wasn’t as rock and roll to me.
AllMusic: On your Instagram I saw you posing with Rosalind Russell’s handprints at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. What about her in particular connects with you?
Brooks: Auntie Mame is a movie my grandmother introduced me to when I was young, and it became one of my favorite movies and an inspiration. Rosalind Russell, just seeing her name, is a big deal for me. You don’t see many people talking about her very much, so whenever I go down Hollywood to the souvenir stores, I’m always looking for Rosalind Russell and I never find her. She’s one of the best, and she’s kind of unknown. She’s got Gypsy and The Women, and she did a few where she was a nun that were fun. I just like her personality, I’ll watch old interviews with her, and she’s quick, she just has that personality that I’m drawn to. She just had class to her, which I love.
Written By: Chris Steffen