Growing Up Broder

by Dan Haugen

No matter how many times you listen to Fog, it probably won’t remind you of The Replacements. Connecting any of it with Atmosphere would be a big stretch, and it’s got even less to do with Dillinger Four. And it sure as heck has nothing to do with Prince. In fact, Fog’s strange post-rock-turntablism concoction doesn’t seem to have any obvious peers, past or present, in the Twin Cities music scene. Perhaps that’s partially why local DJs and critics have been so slow to pick-up on the Fog.

But its creator also questions whether the now internationally praised album would have come out as it did if it wasn’t for his growing-up and living in the Twin Cities.

Twenty-three year-old Andrew Broder began recording Fog three years ago as strictly a turntable album. Spinning records since the age of 15, “for no other reason than for just being obsessed with hip-hop in high school,” years of practice earned DJ Andrew a good reputation around town and some regular club nights, as well as a “Best Turntablist” nomination at last year’s Minnesota Music Awards.

“I did the battle kind of thing,” Broder deadpans. “I did the try-to-be-the-best-turntalblist-in-the-world kind of thing. I did the beat-digging thing and tried to own every record ever made. Any aspect of DJing and turntablism, I’ve probably tried to put myself into at one point or another.”

While working on a bedroom four-track, frustration with the original concept led Broder to augment the project with fragments of pop-songwriting structure and a range of other instruments, including guitar, keyboards and-a first for Broder-vocals.

When the songs outgrew his four-track’s capacity, Broder transferred the tapes to a bigger board at the studio of Jeremy Ylvisaker, where Fog was completed. The result, Broder points out, “is all these grimier, shitty four-track sounds… hiss and all that stuff, mixed with cleaner, studio sounding stuff.”

The whole project was paid for with Broder’s college fund-no longer needed since he had just dropped out of art school at the University of Minnesota. The disc was released locally on Broder’s own Dinkytown Records in September of 2000 with little fanfare.

“When I put it, I wasn’t very in-tune-I’m still not-with the right crowd to get it to, at least locally,” Broder says. “I just kind of put it out, consigned it to stores and put a bunch of stickers everywhere.”

The album was all but completely ignored by Radio K, and it hardly garnered any press ink until the following year, when it turned-up on a few local writers “Best of” lists. While the record remained relatively ignored at home, thanks to a California rapper it did catch some right ears abroad.

While visiting mutual friends in Minneapolis, Dose One of the Bay-area hip-hop group cLOUDDEAD met Broder and ended up leaving Minnesota with a copy of Fog. The CD then went with Dose One to London, where the group was doing press interviews after a release on Bigdada Recordings, a hip-hop branch of Ninja Tune Records. Fog was played for the label bosses and they loved what they heard.

Next week, the London-based label will re-release the album to an international audience. The “four or five people” who own the original-Broder actually sold around 800-will also notice that all the songs have been remixed and remastered, and three new songs have been added.

“Basically, I made an album, and then I got the opportunity to live with it for a while, then go back and fix everything that I didn’t like,” said Broder, “which is a really, really cool opportunity, I think.”

Broder returned from a one-week trip to London last week. The main objective was to do interviews with European press, but Broder says the highlight was his sold-out show at the Knotting Hill Arts Center.

“It was really weird,” Broder says. “Really, really weird. I was doing the soundcheck and the promoter came in and said, ‘Do you think you could hurry up? Cause there’s actually a line of people out the door and it’s raining right now.’ And I’m just like uhh…really? Holy shit.”

Last November Broder played two sets-one solo and one with his other band, Lateduster-at the same center. Since then, the European music press has been buzzing about Fog. New Music Express described Broder as “Elliott Smith reborn as a scratch-pervert, or Beck with a broken heart, and better than either comparison suggests.” And the London Times wrote: “Coming across like Neil Young with a beatbox and a turntable, the 23-year-old’s first single ‘Pneumonia’ is ineffably lovely and weird. It would be very surprising if his debut album was not nominated for the Mercury Music Award come the summer.”

“The excitement of it hasn’t necessarily worn off yet,” says Broder, “but then, if you do eight interviews in a day, after four or five you’re kind of like phewww.”

True to the already made comparisons, Fog is as depressing as Elliott Smith, as avant-garde as Radiohead and as strange as Beck. So why is the interest from abroad so overshadowing the domestic response?

“I don’t know,” shrugs Broder. “It’s a weird record. Maybe they like weird stuff over there a little more.”

Either way, Broder comes off more surprised by his European success than he does bitter about the laggard local reception. Expanding on the geography theme, Broder questions whether Fog, or his love for music, would have been what it is without his experiences living in a “smaller city” like Minneapolis, or before that, growing-up in the southern suburb of St. Louis Park.

“I’m not proud or necessarily ashamed of where I grew up,” says Broder. “[Growing-up in the suburbs] just instills this total restlessness in you. At least if you’re someone like me, I guess. If you’re one of these people who has a need for adventure or new and different experiences and things that aren’t homogenized. That sounds obnoxious, but it’s true. Music was always an escape from that.”

“Early in high school hip-hop really started setting in with me. On Saturday nights I would sit at home and make pause tapes off of [DJ Stage One’s] show on KFAI, Strictly Butter… dubbing songs off the radio onto cassette. Then I’d watch Yo! MTV Raps! That was my big fuckin’ high school Saturday night right there. Social fuckin’ butterfly that I was.”

While simultaneously teaching himself guitar, bass, piano and turntables, Broder also began escaping to the city for concerts with his brother and friends. He now live in Minneapolis, but he still sees the limits of his external world.

“Minneapolis is a small place, too, and if you’re here long enough, there’s going to come a point where you’ve sort of done everything that there is to do. And then it’s at that point that you need to retreat into yourself and make something,” Broder said.

“You’re sort of forced to push yourself more and try to get more out of yourself as opposed to drawing from all these wonderful amazing things in your surroundings. Not to say that there aren’t wonderful and amazing things here. If you look you can find them. But there are times where it gets really bleak, especially in the winter. It kind of comes down to where all you have is yourself.”

“Living in New York would be like having a huge, huge, huge music studio with ProTools and five isolation booths and anything you wanted. That’s great, but there’s so many options that you can get lost in it all. Being from Minnesota is like being in a bedroom with a four-track and a guitar and a turntable. It’s so limited that it forces this ingenuity out of you. That’s not to say that I have certain rules about how I record music. In fact, that said I’d probably like to mix my next record in ProTools.”