This past Friday, Brothers Gow rejoiced in their return to the stage with a performance that blew the walls of WinstonsOB! The show featured a lot of song sandwiches including a “Brohemian Groove” > “Den” > “Brohemian Groove” and a “Good Clean Fun” that was left unfinished until the encore. Sound-Fix got the opportunity to sit down with Brothers Gow and talk all things Gow before they hit the road to embark on their Peaks & Valleys 2018 Fall tour!
Sound-Fix: I wanted to start off by asking Nate about his back, specifically what happened and a run down on the recovery process and where you are in that process so we can better understand your situation.
Nate Walsh-Haines: I have a very rare bone condition that’s basically Osteoporosis but it’s a genetic version of that called Osteogenesis Imperfecta so I’ve had a ton of fractures as a little kid and some degenerative issues in my spine and rib cage. I obviously live a very active and dynamic lifestyle, I surf, play drums, work in kitchens and do a lot of activities that to be honest, perhaps I shouldn’t be doing, but that’s who I am. I had a crazy week in April. I went to work and had a couple issues picking some stuff up so I went to the hospital to find out I had to compression fractures in my T7 and T8 and what happens is the vertebra collapses and it never expands back out. For instance, when you break your arm you can reset it and it will more or less heal normally back to its original shape. In this case, the spine stays compressed and then the rest of your back will modify itself around that so my ligaments have atrophy from being inactive. Fortunately, I didn’t have to have surgery. The doctors told me to just wait it out, patients, do physical therapy, eat right, etc. That’s kind of where I’m at now, I just started physical therapy a couple weeks ago. We played one show this summer because of it. As you know we cancelled the [Spring 2018] tour because of it. So it was a pretty big setback, in life in general and obviously for Brothers Gow. I feel like I’m really on the mend and I’m just counting my blessings because this kind of thing could always be more catastrophic. In some more severe cases we’re talking paralysis and numbing and weird mechanical issues and I don’t really have any of that which I’m super grateful for. So slowly but surely I’ll get back to full strength. I wouldn’t say I’m quite there yet but I’m moving around again and practicing a ton and kind of getting back to myself.
SF: What kind of things are you doing in physical therapy?
NWH: At the clinic I’ve been doing a lot of reps at low weights and some bicycling stuff and some arm rotational stuff and a bunch of exercises with elastic bands that have varying degrees in resistance. I’ve moved up pretty quickly in resistance and weight in a short period of time which they’ve said is good. It’s crazy because I haven’t done stuff like that in a long time but I can feel the difference. I can feel myself getting stronger so it’s helping for sure. And then just being smart and still sort of babying it but try to get it to do stuff. We practice for several hours a day and just being in that posture. In drumming, it’s a lot of rotational movements like left and right and at the beginning that was very daunting, but now that’s becoming way easier and more fluid and more natural so I think by the end of the year I expect to be really riding the horse.
SF: So while you’re inactive, what’re you doing to keep yourself entertained?
NWH: At the beginning, I wasn’t working, I wasn’t playing, and I had a ton of down time. I think this is kind of hilarious but I started to learn Mandarin. I really like to cook so I was cooking a lot at home and that was the one thing I could do that was really fun and I found it invigorating through a pain process is cooking and being with friends, social things that I was able to do where I was not moving around too much. As far as trying to keep my mind active and positive I meditate quite a bit. I’ve actually opened a new door of meditation I think. I’ve been doing it a lot more consistently and have found some techniques and processes that I really like that work for me. As far as music goes, even though I’m not playing I’m still actively listening and that’s really important anyways. The more you listen almost without playing you can still learn a bit from it. I also teach privately which is one thing that I could still do because in reality I don’t have to demonstrate at full strength at all and a lot of my students are really young so we do a lot of elementary kind of things. It keeps my mind in drums and in my practice space. Explaining something you always get something out of it by proxy anyways so I found that teaching gave me a lot of vibrancy. It was tough, there were definitely some down days where I thought to myself “is this going to get any better?” You always hear the horror stories of the people who don’t get back to full strength and can’t do what they used to do or whatever. I had a worry and anxiety of that uncertainty for sure. We’ve probably cancelled two or three gigs in the 10 years we’ve been together so to cancel a tour was a big deal. In the moment it makes you wonder what this means for the big picture for us.
SF: Thanks for sharing Nate! This question is for anybody to answer and it’s something I asked Alex [Mello] when we spoke at the Music Box in April. With Brothers Gow’s recent dynamic change, can you tell me how it’s impacted the music?
Kyle Merrill: The funny thing with the two guitars is that it gave me the opportunity to just sing. This was the main challenge for me. So many of the songs and songs that I’ve wrote, I just drop out because there’s already piano and guitar so I’d focus on singing. Now I’m relearning my own songs and practicing playing and singing. So that was a big thing for me, but I like having the space. There’s so much more space and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now that we’ve gone this way I like being the only guitar player, unless Alex picks up a guitar!
Alex Mello: We’ve talked about in the future, possibly when our stage setup is bigger and venues can accommodate it. I come from a guitar background too so I think I’d make a very good rhythm guitar. There’s some songs in the catalog that I think “dang, that really was written for two guitars” whether I like it or not. I think there could be some fun stuff in the future with that.
SF: So you’re a multi-instrumentalist, Alex [Mello]? What other instruments do you play?
AM: The first thing I ever started playing was drums, then I picked up guitar and bass in rock bands until I started focusing more on keyboards. It wasn’t until about 2014 that I bought a nicer professional keyboard and I got a lot better and joined a couple different projects playing keyboards. So it’s just what I’ve been up to, but I do come from a background of playing other instruments. It helps in the band because not only do I know my part, but I know all the other guy’s parts so I have a better understanding of the music overall. After being a bass player, you know how much room to leave or not to leave and stuff like that.
SF: I was recently watching one of the old Brothers Gow performances and Kyle [Merrill] who is already a big stage presence pulls a trumpet out of nowhere and played it well! What’s your background in music, Kyle [Merrill]?
Brothers Gow – “Sledgehammer” – WinstonsOB – December 31st, 2013
KM: I’ve also grown up playing bass, piano, drums and trumpet as well.
AM: There could total be a big instrument switch for a fun show at some point.
SF: That’s a great idea for a gag!
AM: And seriously, I think it’d be a great jam too.
NWH: I’m the weakest link there because I only play drums (laughs). I can strum some guitar but nothing serious.
SF: Ethan [Wade], you used to play guitar and now you’re on bass. Is guitar your musical background?
Ethan Wade: Actually, it started out when we were really young. I met Kyle [Merrill] in the 8th grade and he sold me my first bass, so I started on the bass but I played guitar too. But when we started the band our old bass player didn’t know how to play anything else so we were all just goofing around and so we decided he’d play bass and I’d play guitar. So that’s just kind of how it happened, I spent about 6 years trying to hone in on the guitar. I’ll be honest, I’ve always liked to be Kyle [Merrill]’s bass player so it’s cool to end up back in that position.
SF: Would you say picking up bass in the band came easier for you given all that?
EW: I wouldn’t call it easy because most of the songs I wrote, I wrote on guitar. So now I have to rethink how I approach the music, and also just thinking like a bass player instead of a guitarist. Trying to back and realizing what I have to do for the meat and potatoes of the whole thing. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I’m enjoying it a lot more!
SF: As the bassist in this band, you look very comfortable on stage and the fills seem to come very naturally for you.
EW: I think a lot of that has to do with 11 years of being on stage. It doesn’t matter if you’re good, it just matters that you’re having a good time! So a lot of that just comes from being comfortable playing a show.
NWH: And also being with us too. I can imagine if you were jumping into another band entirely it’d be a little more challenging. But we’re all comfortable with each other in general.
SF: Tell me more about how rewriting of the song catalog. I’m sure that’s taken a lot of effort.
KM: It has, but it’s been really cool with Alex [Mello] because he’s coming up with his own parts and I’m like “whoa, I never really heard this song in that way” especially with the song “Rolling Stone.” We’ve used this opportunity to make little changes to the songs that maybe we were like “if we could do this, it’d be cooler” or “this would be better if we did it like this” and so that’s been really fun. A lot of the parts that Alex [Mello] was talking about that called for two guitars, a guitar harmony, he’s playing the harmony on the piano like in “Legacy.”
Brothers Gow – “Legacy” – Belly Up Tavern – July 14th, 2018 – video by Jim Stidham
EW: I’d say it’s almost a little freeing too. It allows you to realize this is a whole new thing. Anyway we used to do it, we don’t have to do it like that. So we’re not locked into this song that we’ve been playing for the past 8-9 years.
AM: I start there. I start how I hear the recordings of old keyboard parts and I work off that. So I’ll try to keep certain things of old songs alive, but I definitely play it with a little different feel. Rewriting the songs has been a bittersweet chore for sure!
NWH: And the harmony too, he has an excellent ear for harmony and we all obsess and love harmony which is why all three of us sings. It’s habitual to kind of commit to the first impression of a harmony a lot of the time without actually mapping it out within the chords. So Alex [Mello] has the ear for harmony which is changing some of the little details of the songs so we’re creating different feels and different chords
SF: So now Fall tour is finally upon us, Brothers Gow is about to hit the road and explore the country at large which in itself is exciting! Are there any places your especially excited to visit?
KM: I like Montana a lot, I’m really partial to Montana. We’ve really built up a strong following there in Bozeman, Missoula, and especially in Whitefish. I don’t know, maybe when I retire I’ll move out there because I love it and I love playing there!
EW: Montana is always fun for us, it’s really beautiful up there. I’m looking forward to all of them really (laughs). It’s been awhile. With Nate [Walsh-Haines]’s back issue, this has probably been the longest time period in the band’s history we haven’t been on the road. And I’ve had to adjust to adult life and working all the time. It’s just kind of been a different beast, so I think we’re all chomping at the bit ready to get back out there
AM: Denver. Denver is such a big music scene and one of my favorite cities in general. I think a lot of my buddies will be out and a lot of musicians. We got quite a bill that night so Denver should be sweet, as well as their hometown in Arizona.
NWH: That’s what I was going to say. Circumstantially, I got hurt and the first show the following week was going to be in Flagstaff. This week when we hit the road our first show will in Flagstaff. So when that happened, the owner of the Orpheum Theatre, this sweet, big theatre, called me and said “we want to help you out” so instead of cancelling the show, they turned it into a benefit for me. And that is paralleling the beginning of this conversation. Part of the process of healing and the crazy, profound things that were happening positive and negative all at the same time. Multiple bands played, they did a big raffle, 200 people showed up, and they sent me a check which is crazy flattering and humbling. It also bought me the time, because as musicians, we’re living a kind of paycheck to paycheck kind of life. It’s a grind.
KM: And you don’t have health insurance! (laughs)
NWH: (laughs) Exactly, and anything helps in that regard. Also, it goes to show it’s not just me, it’s “Nathan from Brothers Gow” and had I been injured, they wouldn’t has just conjured that of nothing. It’s because of the band and sort of that solidarity that happens when you’re in this lifestyle and meet all these people everywhere where people just flock to the rescue! We’ve played hundreds of benefits and if you ask me if we could play a benefit for so-and-so because something happened I wouldn’t hesitate to say yes, but when you’re that guy who the event is benefiting it’s really weird and really just a very touching, beautiful thing. I feel like we should all be really honored to be playing there right away because it’s a hell of a way to get back into it, and I feel like everybody there is going to kind of know the circumstance. So I expect it to be a great show in and of itself, but there’s that sort of heroic, rock, do or die, go for it kind of vibe going into that show. And if that many people showed up for us not being there, I can only imagine what’ll be like when we take the stage there so Flagstaff is going to be a big one for sure.
KM: What about the Pacific Northwest? (laughs) the only one we’ve missed!
NWH: We have like 5 shows in Oregon. We haven’t been to Hood River in a long time which will be really cool. All those shows are very exciting!
SF: So I know that tour is finally upon us but is there anything other big things brewing in the world of Brothers Gow?
KM: Beyond Bridge. A good friend of ours named Johnny Shows, a local guy would always go out to the Bridge School Benefit, Neil Young’s thing where everybody plays acoustic at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA. It’s for a school with developmentally disabled children and so it’s a big benefit for that. So Neil Young stopped doing that last year and so Johnny [Shows] was like “oh my god, we got to keep this tradition going. Let’s do it in Ocean Beach!” So there’s a school here in OB called thePioneer School and they do the same thing working with developmentally disabled children. He put this whole thing on, all the bands play acoustic and it’s a bunch of locals as well as some others Johnny [Shows] brought in like Particle Kid which is Micha Nelson, Willie [Nelson]’s son. We did all these raffles and silent auctions and a bunch of people from the community came together to raffle things and raise a whole bunch of money for the Pioneer School in OB. So we’re going to end this whole tour playing the Beyond Bridge benefit outside at the Loma Club all day Saturday, October 20thwith all proceeds going to the Pioneer School. Everybody plays acoustic and we got some really good bands like Groove Sessions with Joe Marcinek, and Zebulon [Bowles] the fiddle player from Hot Buttered Rum. Zebulon [Bowles] will be the artist at large sitting in with everybody. So some really great bands as well as some SoCal natives like Brothers Gow, TV Broken 3rdEye Open, and more! So that’s going to be really cool, that’s on October 20th, and that’s the big thing. We’re also doing Oktoberfest in Ocean Beach on October 13thand we’ll be doing multitrack recordings from every night of tour so those will likely be on soundcloud.com. There’s so much we can get on the road with the technology that exists these days. We’ll see what we can get,I don’t want to make any promises, but maybe we’ll do a best of fall tour album, definitely some videos and all that good stuff.
SF: I want to conclude by saying thank you guys so much for your time, I’m excited to see what the Peaks & Valley’s 2018 Fall tour berths and we’ll see you back in San Diego for OB Oktoberfest and Beyond Bridge.
Brothers Gow will be playing at the Orpheum Theatre in Flagstaff, AZ on Thursday, September 13th. This hometown throw-down will be one for the books! Tickets are available online and can be purchased by clicking here.
The featured image for this article was taken by Johnny Shows