Brave Combo keeps Denton close at heart

Brave Combo keeps Denton close at heart

Brave Combo keeps Denton close at heart
November 03
23:57 2014

Dalton LaFerney / Senior Staff Writer

In 1979, Carl Finch started Brave Combo, a band with a vocation for musical exploration that would make an impactful legacy in Denton. The band’s pioneering attitude has won two Grammy awards and five more nominations during its 35-year run.

The band doesn’t stop; it won’t stop. In September and October, it played more than 40 shows while recording its newest album, which is scheduled for release in late November.

When Finch was enrolled at UNT during the 1970s, the Denton music heart beat a little closer to UNT. It was the Fry Street area where students and townies drank and jived. But that soul moved up Hickory Street onto the Square.

“From Fry Street all the way down to Welch was just funky stuff,” Finch said. “It looked junky funky, but it was still funky.”

At Rick’s Place, now Fry Street Public House, Brave Combo played many shows for UNT students and Dentonites.

“We used to play for 400 or 500 kids every weekend night,” Finch said “It was a great showcase club. The scene was massive, but that all splintered. I don’t know what happened, but everything moved away from the college.”

The community joined the revolution of the late 1990s into the 2000s. The Fry Street area was transformed. Finch said when commercialization of the area began, the music scene naturally moved away from the school.

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Brave Combo’s headquarters contains a wild hodgepodge of recording equipment, Finch’s artwork and teletubbie collection, keyboard graveyard and more than a dozen accordions. The studio is located at 223 N. Locust St.

“The thrust of entertainment was changing, too,” he said. “The whole idea of going to see a band was changing a little bit. People were doing different things. There wasn’t the same passion for going to hear live music. You could feel that moving away.”

As the foundation altered, the band remained unmoved. Its ability to adapt and explore enabled it to keep making music.

The early years

Finch spent about eight years at UNT, graduating with a master’s degree in art. That was when he became interested in conceptual music, or the way music influences people. He sought to find a deeper meaning in music.

“Conceptual music was being introduced to university programs all over,” he said. “Professors were accepting the idea. When you break it down, your abilities as a craftsperson are no more important than your ability to conceptualize what you are trying to say. My mind was going toward the idea of how music manipulates people.” 

Muzak is a company that makes music catered to people’s efficiency levels at work. It analyzes the times of day when employees slow to a lull. During those hours, companies play music, often called elevator music, for the employees, with the idea to drive up efficiency. Finch coupled Muzak’s strategy with his education to target specific audiences with Brave Combo.

“I think art is at the core of it all,” Finch said. “I think the band is a concept. It’s not a really a band, so much. The idea of how people might use music for something other than just entertainment or pleasure was an interesting thing to me.”

The band had a different sound: polka music infused with rock, with an accordion mainlining the performances. Finch said the band bought into the idea of music as a concept.

“Over the years, the band absorbed more Latin styles or other versions of music,” bass player Steve “Little Jack” Carter said. “The band in some ways became an orphanage or a rehab center for rethinking music from less-popular genres.”

Finch said preconceived opinions often overshadow the music itself, so he worked to remove subjectivity out of the music. He said it was important for the listener to simply hear the music for what it is.

“This all came out of an exercise that had nothing to do with music,” Finch said. “I decided to take judgmental words out of my vocabulary. I made a really concerted effort to do that.”

That fit within the band’s method of mixing different music to create an authentic sound. Brave Combo had fortune with its arrangement. Over the years, there have been many different members, and Finch said each of those configurations had a unique sound.

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A collection of accordians Finch has bought and received over the years as a musician.

“Brave Combo was one of my favorite bands,” said Jeffrey Barnes, woodwind artist and vocalist. “So I gave them a call, and they figured I was weird enough for them. The sound is unique because it’s a garage rock band that plays music that other garage rock bands do not play.”

New generations

Today, the band uses those practices to keep up with new audiences.

“It’s invaluable and it is there every second,” Finch said. “I can go into a rock club, and I could tell you about what it would be like, and what I think those people would expect. I want to see if I can bring everybody to the same place.”

Today’s listener is more accepting of Brave Combo’s style and bands today have followed in the path paved by Finch’s band. Mixing one genre with the other is not unsettling to the current generation of listeners.

“This generation is totally open to what we do musically,” Finch said. “It’s interesting. We bring out weird instruments and it doesn’t freak anybody out. Ears are wide open.”

The openness could be positive for bands starting up today. Finch said it would be less difficult for a band like his to gain appreciation for today’s listeners, because they are so eager to hear new sounds. But he said an idealistic audience isn’t always a virtue.

“I don’t think any generation has it easy or hard. You’ve just got what you are dealt,” he said. “And what you end up doing with your life is up to you.”

Open-minded audiences make ascendancy a more practical outlook for bands today, but handwork is the main ingredient to triumph, Finch said. Thriving Denton is an optimal place for young musicians, but it could potentially be a drawback.

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Brave Combo’s Carl Finch talks about a young Brave Combo in a then-sparse Denton music scene, his thoughts on Muzak, and his appreciation of the new generation’s openess to new experiences.

“It is nice that there is a community here where we talk about music,” Finch said. “That kind of freedom is unique. This is a pretty special place, but it depends on the person.”

Finch said a receptive and tolerant atmosphere like Denton’s might inadvertently create a place where artists become complacent, and that Denton isn’t the end-all for one’s career.

“Sometimes, a supportive environment might give you too much of a sense of self-worth,” he said. “It can have a serious downside, because everybody is patting each other on the back.”

It’s different today, Finch said, for a band to start up. But ironically, he said today’s climate is more onerous for fresh faces, because everybody is tolerated and sounds aren’t turned away. But only true grit and a desire for success can propel a band to the top.

“I think it was easier for us, because the landscape was so much less supportive of musicians,” Finch said. “Not everybody thought they could do it, so the only reason why you’d be out there was because you were so driven to do it. This is a great town to try new things, I just think it’s a scary situation when you see a sameness developing.”

Featured Image: Brave Combo’s Carl Finch shares his thoughts on changes in the Denton music scene. Photos by Byron Thompson – Senior Staff Photographer

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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