Payday at the Chinese restaurant was always a big day for young dishwasher Carl Broemel. The eatery paid in cash, so Carl would pocket the money, bolt the Indianapolis eatery and skateboard to Karma Records, where he’d “slowly purchase the entire Van Halen discography.”
“For me, Eddie Van Halen is kind of like a master, like Segovia or somebody, a really important guitar player,” says Broemel, the My Morning Jacket guitarist, who released newest solo album, “Wished Out,” today. “When I played that for my dad” — a symphonic musician who played bassoon and had little interest in rock — “he kind of understood. I played him ‘Eruption,’ and he was like, ‘OK.’ ”
A musician raised on radio — he loved Michael Jackson, Men At Work and Bryan Adams, and covered The Outfield and The Police in his “first horrible band in junior high school” — Broemel would go on to earn a degree in classical guitar from Indiana University. The disparate influences and education have helped inform a musician who is rather hard to pigeonhole and as equally open to using his classical training as abandoning it and entering the unknown.
The new album is a prime example. If there is a common thread on “Wished Out,” it’s simply “my mental state,” Broemel says.
“Over the last couple of years, I’ve been reading a lot of interesting books that have kind of opened my mind a bit, books about philosophy and science. There are a couple songs that are kind of about how we’re using knowledge and how we’re not using it, and how beautiful the world is, even from a purely scientific viewpoint.”
“Wished Out” is the first album he recorded in his new home studio in Nashville.
“I built kind of a simple, one-room studio/music space in my backyard,” he says. “I had a piano and drum kit in my basement and drove everyone bananas, so I moved them out there. I just started out with the idea of trying to (record) all by myself. I had written some songs, so trying to record them and see if I could get things to sound good here.”
Here, Broemel laughs. “I quickly realized how limited I am as a drummer. So the first concession was I had by friend Russ (Pollard) play drums on every song. As I got more comfortable I added more people to the mix.”
In addition to Pollard, formerly of indie legends Sebadoh, Robbie Crowell of Deer Tick and Broemel’s My Morning Jacket bandmates Tom Blankenship and Bo Koster ended up on the record.
The album title and the title track “for me is like fighting the urge to have wishful thinking or only seeing things in a certain perspective.”
“For example,” he continues, “now our country seems so insane and so kind of off the tracks that it seemed to have come on suddenly, but really I think it was a slow progression to this point that we’re all complicit in. So if there are things that are wrong, let’s look at what role we played in that.”
With MMJ, frontman Jim James commands most of the attention. Describing himself as “kind of a mellow, introverted person,” the solo career offers Broemel an opportunity to push himself in some new directions.
“I love the band dynamic and that shared experience,” he says of MMJ, “because you can really help each other through something. Like , ‘Oh shit, we’re messing up this song,’ and we all figure it out. Or spread the work as far as doing interviews and promo stuff. (Solo work) is a cool challenge, but I have the benefit of knowing that this isn’t the only thing I do. I’m going to go back and play with the band.” (MMJ fans: He’s not sure when that will be. “There’s been a couple times where we kind of jumped the gun in talking about stuff, so we’re just not releasing anything” about a follow-up to 2015’s “Waterfall,” the group’s most recent studio album.)
Asked about the two-guitar dynamic between him and James, Broemel jokes, “anytime Jim takes a solo, I just walk to the front of the stage and take a solo myself.” He describes their interplay as “almost like a ouija board.”
“Sometimes when we’re improvising, and I listen back (to live recordings), I can’t tell who’s doing what, and I love that, where it’s one big instrument. … We both go through phases. I think I’m more attached to the instrument than he is maybe. So it’s someone who’s kind of more focused on the more technical aspects combined with someone whose way more artistic and in touch with his muse.”
Carl Broemel and Steelism will perform Sunday, Sept. 23 at Bowerly Ballroom (6 Delancey St., New York, NY 1002). Doors 7 p.m., show 8 p.m. $25, 21 and over.
Photo credit: Jack Spencer