If you’ve been around a TV any time in the past few months, it’s likely Bronze Radio Return’s “Shake, Shake, Shake” has wormed its way into your consciousness. The handclap-filled tune, which captures the feeling of playing a show from the band’s perspective, has been featured in a variety of television shows and commercials, most notably a TV spot for the Nissan Leaf. The band formed in Hartford, Connecticut, when singer, songwriter, and guitarist Chris Henderson met drummer Rob Griffith, bassist Bob Tanen, and keyboardist Matt Warner at the Hartt School of Music. With lead guitar Patrick Fetkowitz and harmonica/banjo player Craig Struble, BRR puts out danceable, ridiculously catchy tunes infused with blues and tinged with nostalgia. They’re wrapping up their 2012 tour soon; before their show at the Hamilton on December 13, we chatted with Henderson about musical bucket lists, juggling creative visions, and the concept of selling out.
How’s it going?
Good—we’re currently en route from Columbus, Ohio, to Ann Arbor, Michigan. We just had a bit of time off around Thanksgiving, so we’re just doing eight more shows for the year and we’re gonna wrap up the year with the Wheeler Brothers and finish out around the middle of December. I grew up in Maine, so I got to go home for five days [for Thanksgiving]; prior to that we’ve had a pretty busy fall. We’ve been going steady for the past couple of months.
Tell me a bit about your life on the road.
We travel in a 15-passenger van and tow around a trailer with all our gear in it. I don’t know what we did before we had iPhones—my neck gets sore from looking down at my phone for hours on end, killing time. Sometimes we’ll practice harmonies in the van, listen to music, try to do things that are productive, because we spend a fair amount of time in the van.
We try to stay up on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and be on top of the connections and everything like that. We’ll stream YouTube videos, Spotify, do everything and cycle back through it again, and keep doing it all day. I think we’re fortunate to have some of these tools in the current music industry climate to connect with folks outside of markets you’ve been in; if you use them correctly, you can really connect with people all over the country and work on developing real fans.
Do you have a favorite city to travel to?
We’re from the Northeast, so we like New York City and Philly; we like playing in our hometown of Hartford. And we like the adventure of cities we haven’t been to much; we like spending time in Austin, and we really enjoyed Asheville. We were just in LA recently, and that was totally a trip, a fun experience. The big thing we like is the adventure of it, meeting people we’ve yet to meet.
The band’s name is inspired by your dad’s old radio—do you remember the first band or song that really got you interested in music?
I know some of the early stuff was Eric Clapton, BB King, Muddy Waters—more along the blues theme of things. That’s what we play a lot in the studio.
And when did you start to think, “Okay, I could be a musician for a living”?
I feel like I was a bit late to the game. I went to school in Hartford, where most of us met, for music production and technology, so I was on the studio engineering side; I didn’t start songwriting or singing until junior year of college. I just wrote a tune and wanted to test out some audio gear, so I tried it myself. I passed it around to friends very reluctantly and got some encouraging words, and I kept doing it, but it was a while before I realized, “I’m going to have a job in performing music.” The band’s been together for four years, and we recently all became fully dependent on the band, with no other jobs—that’s a huge milestone for the band.
What kind of jobs were you working before?
For the past few years, prior to spending time with the band, I was teaching guitar lessons. I had a good group of mostly younger children, so that was fun. Prior to that I was more or less a butler/personal assistant to a lawyer in Hartford. We don’t have enough time in the day to talk about that job—it was interesting working with a very quirky gentleman.
There are six people in the band—what’s your strategy for juggling all those individual creative visions?
We have a good system for working on it: Most times I’ll start with the idea, the concept, the rough structure of the song, and I’ll record it down a little bit—garbled nonsense that will be the melody of the song but not have words to it. I take that and send it to the guys, and everybody kind of has their take on what the drum part should be or a section that’s too long; it very much becomes a team sport at that point. We do a good job of being respectful with people’s ideas; it can be tricky with six cooks in the kitchen, but everybody values everybody’s ideas.
We recorded a new record this summer in Virginia, about an hour east of Charlottesville, on a farm. It was very removed, down about five miles of dirt road on a few acres of property. There was this great studio in a barn; we recorded on the first floor and lived on the second floor for about six weeks.
So it was a full-immersion experience.
I think it was more fully immersed than we thought it would be. We liked the idea of doing it all at one time, wrapping our brains around it, being away from friends, family, girlfriends, wives, and focusing on making an album. We’re getting the final masters soon. We’re excited to have the new record, and we’re releasing it next year in February; we’re looking forward to new songs, a new repertoire.
Speaking of which, your song “Shake, Shake, Shake” has been featured on a bunch of TV shows and in commercials. Do you ever get sick of hearing it?
[laughs] Our largest placement to date is this Nissan commercial. I’m dying to see this thing on TV; I feel like everyone else has seen it. It can be tiresome to listen to your own music, but it’s exciting to hear when people are hearing it; we don’t really sit around and listen to our own records, but it’s exciting to hear when it’s on a commercial or a TV show, and it’s nice to get that exposure.
Did you have any hesitation about licensing your song for a car commercial?
We didn’t hesitate; we were excited to be a part of the campaign. Our band doesn’t have the mindset of selling out; we look at using your stuff for commercials as an opportunity to get our music out there and get new fans.
What was the last concert you went to?
I went to see Delta Spirit; I’m a big fan of them, and they put on a really great show. A couple summers ago we went to see Eric Clapton. That was a great field trip for us; it was such a spectacular show, and a really special moment as a band to sit there and watch someone we grew up listening to.
Who’s on your bucket list for bands you’d like to see live?
Clapton was definitely on that list. I’ve heard so many crazy things about Mumford & Sons, so it would be great to see them live. Talking Heads—it would be so fun to do a live show with all of them together. I’m a big David Byrne fan. There are so many great shows, especially with all these massive festivals now.
Are you planning to play any of those big festivals?
We have our fingers crossed for a couple—we will be doing FloydFest, in Virginia, a stopover in Savannah, South by Southwest, and hopefully several more of the larger fests.
[Otherwise] we have a little downtime, time off for the holidays. We don’t have any shows for January, so we’ll use that time for rehearsing new material. Then we head out for an extensive run February, March, and April. It’s a national tour, so we’ll be pretty busy.
What do you hope people take away from your live show?
That it was a worthwhile time to come out. We take pride in our live show and having energy; we love doing this, we feel very fortunate to have this be our jobs, and we like to have a good time, so we don’t forget that.
Bronze Radio Return performs at the Hamilton Thursday, December 13, at 7:30 PM with the Wheeler Brothers. Tickets ($17) are available through the venue’s website.