It's Sunday afternoon at Capitol Hill's Redwood tavern, and Mat Brooke might be a little hungover. Brooke, who co-owns the place, has been celebrating its first anniversary all weekend, and both he and the bar seem slightly worn-out in the midday light. An employee is sweeping up the weekend's mess; someone is servicing the jukebox. Brooke fixes us a couple of bloody marys.
Brooke has been making music in Seattle since he was just old enough to drink, and he's accumulated his share of ghosts and regrets. In the '90s and through the early '00s he helped orchestrate the tear-stained symphonies of beloved locals Carissa's Wierd. More recently, he wrote and recorded with last year's surprise Sub Pop success story Band of Horses before leaving the band just before their breakout success. Officially, Brooke left last July due to his other projects taking off, though at the time he wasn't playing with any other bands.
Archives began in September, when Brooke got together with Curtis Hall (the Jeunes), Jeff Montano (the New Mexicans), and Ron Lewis (Ghost Stories). After just six months, the group already has an impressive four-song demo, recorded by Ben Kersten, and a debut show lined up opening for fellow former Carissa's Wierd member Sera Cahoone at Neumo's.
"Everyone sings," Brooke says of the new project, and it sounds like it could be the band's mantra. "We initially tried creating a '70s-ish Beach Boys/Crosby, Stills & Nash/Hall & Oates kind of thing, and we ended up nothing like that. It's more singsong than anything I've ever done before, which makes it a lot more fun, a little less tears-in-your-beer."
"Torn Blue Foam Couch," the first track on the demo, begins with Brooke's familiar, weightless voice and distant picking, but halfway through, the song builds to a bright bounce highlighted by vocal harmonies and electric guitar. Lines like "Hey, darling, don't you look nice/the dull look in your eyes/we are terrified" and "As brave as we were those days" feel like flipping through a faded photo album.
"Sleepdriving" and "Southern Glass Home" form the centerpiece of the demo, two sides of the same story, tied together by the shared lyrical image of "frozen roads." The slow, aching "Sleepdriving" follows an escape across highways and hotel rooms, while the buoyant "Southern Glass Home" watches from the disappearing horizon, indicting with the round refrain, "Run back/run back/run back to your Southern glass home."
The song, Brooke contends, isn't about anyone specifically; rather it's a collection of thoughts and memories from the past 10 years.
"I guess you'd call it like a montage, just a bunch of friends I used to have, and just the concept of running away from your problems," he says. "Which I guess isn't as happy as I was earlier talking about, but it's got a happy note to it."
"George Kaminsky" was inspired by the former holder of the world-record collection of four-leaf clovers, a convict who collected thousands of the good-luck charms on the grounds of his prison before ultimately losing the record to a man in Alaska. The song's coda ("I'll leave all these clovers in the ground/for you to find next time around") mixes resignation with redemption, and its crescendo of voices, organ, and guitars gives the song a sense of near triumph.
Archives are a little tearful, but their songs are also full of hope. Brooke explains that the emotional shift away from the glum territory of Carissa's Wierd was less a conscious choice and more a simple matter of growing up.
"You can only go so long writing sad songs about girls breaking your heart," Brooke says. "That kind of goes [away] with your 20s.
"Carissa's Wierd was a strange thing. We were very depressing music. We never really went anywhere. It was a really strange underground thing. I like that people still hang onto a band that never went anywhere. It's cute. Not to belittle it, but 'cute' would be the word I would use."
But when asked about Band of Horses, Brooke is reticent.
"Uh-oh," he chuckles and stirs his drink. "Here we go.
"Nothing," he says. "Nothing happened.... I really enjoyed writing some stuff on that first record, and I enjoyed making the record a lot. That was a blast. And, uh, I also enjoy not doing it."
He laughs. Rather than annoyed, he seems weakly amused by the attention his departure gets:
"How should I put this? We all agreed to do our own things.... The story is dark, and, uh, it's no fun."
And that's it. Whatever dirt there is, Brooke and his former bandmates don't dig it up. Brooke says he keeps in touch with some but not all of them. Ben Bridwell, the Band of Horses frontman who recently moved back to his South Carolina home, is a name that doesn't come up in Brooke's list of correspondences, or in fact at all, though it hovers unspoken at the edges of our conversation.
"Frontmen are great, and it's a great thing to do for a band, but I'd just like to see a band not have one," he says about Archives' harmonious approach to songwriting. "I'd like to hear a collective thing with no frontman, no egos, no temper tantrums. When you've got four or five guys all equal parts in the writing process, in the singing process, and the recording process—everything—you're gonna get a better performance, a better vibe. It's more exciting when you've got that many more personalities collectively becoming one, rather than one person's ego."
"As I sit here and do this interview without the rest of my band," he laughs. "I can just start spitting off quotes for them and say it was those guys. I told them we were meeting here; I think they're probably all still asleep."