Walk away Brain
Runaway Brain packs it in
By Brian Goslow
Dreams die hard for those bitten by the rock and roll bug at an early age, especially if you were inspired by the Beatles and the British Invasion or the Ramones and punk rock. If you've
been seduced by music at its most invigorating as a fan, musician, or both, it can be the world's most enticing drug. Few area performers have experienced the highs as Bret Talbert, who last month announced he was pulling the plug on Runaway Brain because drummer Matt Dubuque was leaving the group, and he didn't think it made sense for him and bassist Lance Muhammad to search for a replacement.
"There was a couple of times in the past he wanted out and I convinced him to stay but if finally came to a point," Talbert explains. "I didn't want to get a new musician and have to practice for six months before starting again."
Runaway Brain began seven years ago as Everthing. When a group called Everything signed a major label deal, the company threatened them with a cease and desist order; rather than waste valuable time fighting the edict, Everthing decided to change its name. "It had a tremendous impact," Talbert says. "We started on the wrong foot. I had just got out of Public Works and felt I had to get back out on stage as soon as possible so I didn't lose what I had built." Talbert says the decision also led to a series of rushed decisions in both playing and recording too soon. And he wishes he had fought for the group's original name, a play on Everlast boxing wear. "I though it made it so we couldn't be pigeon-holed. I would have used Everlast but I thought we'd be sued."
After a brief period as Say Please, the group that would become Runaway Brain found itself with another roadblock. "We got some momentum, and they we lost a musician," Talbert says. "It takes a lot of work to build a tight show. Even with the name changes people kept coming to the shows, but it was the changing musicians that hurt the most."
The group's sound, which Talbert reluctantly calls "melodic pop," was thrust onto a local scene filled with tribute bands, '70s-style rockers, and grunge. "Our music wasn't the trend at the time," says Talbert, adding much of the audience who had supported him in Public Works were settling down and going out less often. "Getting a new breed of clubgoers was very challenging. Whenever we did play and got into our stride, I think we did well in impressing those who were there enough to convince them to come back again."
Talbert has never written for a specific audience. "I can only write by inspiration. I don't have to experience all this pain to write this song, but I'm not going to go into [musical] territories I'm not into and fake it."
For much of his life, Talbert has boldly devoted himself to achieving rock stardom. He's been moderately successful at it, having toured with the Wonder Stuff (who chose Public Works to open for them on a two-week tour of the US after he put a copy of their tape in their hands after a show at the Paradise in Boston) and been on the B-side of a number one British hit ("Falling on a Bruise") by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine; Runaway Brain played MixFest '96 on Boston Common alongside Susanna Hoffs and Stevie Nicks. Can he really give up the desire to be top of the pops?
"It doesn't matter anymore. I don't need the adoration and all these shows," says Talbert admitting, he wouldn't mind making one more run at the charts with the right group of musicians. "But it's not going to kill me if it doesn't happen. I'm happy as a musician who get some recognition and gets his songs played. I'm past the dream stage."
What's his formula for success? "You get that dream by getting your hands very dirty. When we hit the peak with both bands, we were able to go out to the clubs, schmooze, rub elbows and play the game. It takes a lot of time and you have to see there's a lot more to the dream than the dream. You have to be sacrificing a lot of things, like not being with your girlfriend or wife, or to not be there for your children all the time, you have to go out and be social.
"I've done all this 100 times over and I think what I've done is worth it. But I don't think I can put everything in it so I feel for the past few years, we've been cheating. We were joking that we were shooting to be a one-hit wonder."
As a final farewell to the fans, Runaway Brain has compiled Oddball: 2001-1995 (Quarter to One), a collection of previously unreleased material. "Since it was our going away present, we wanted two new songs ["Because" and "Driftwood"] for everyone who had our other music. They're remnants of the four-track stuff we were doing. It's kind of like Pete Townshend's Scoop in a way - at least they'll have something no one else has." It'll be available at their farewell show this Saturday night, May 5, at Ralph's, where they'll be joined by Huck and Thinner.
The disc isn't intended to stand as the ultimate Runaway Brain disc, he's satisfied to let Put It All Together do that.
"If it grabs you, it grabs you - it's all about substance. And I think we were all substance."
Brian Goslow can be reached at bgoslow[a]phx.com.