Brook | Built You For Thought (debut album) - Exclusive track-by-track Interview
From my very first listen to Built You For Thought, the debut album from UK-based electronic duo Brook, I very quickly realized I was taking in something truly special and breathtaking. Comprised of seasoned soul and blues vocalist Beth Brooks and electronic musician Howard Rider, the duo's debut album is the product of two years of work and a collaborative songwriting process that began with Beth recording alone with an acoustic guitar before Howard began wrapping her vocals in layers of intricate synths and textures.
The ten fragile, captivating pieces that are presented on Built You For Thought are nothing short of brilliant. With a range of delicate, clever and minimal-leaning electronic arrangements, the album's enticing sonic tapestry is adorned with Beth's magical and spellbinding vocals that bring to mind icons the likes of Annie Lennox, Kate Bush, Alison Goldfrapp and Seinabo Sey - all comparisons noted in the most complimentary sense. Brook is creating music that needs to be heard.
Built You For Thought is released on Vince Clarke's (Erasure, Yazoo) 'very small' record label, Very Records - his personal endeavor that is dedicated to releasing very fine electronic music. As only the fifth official album release from Very Records, Brook's debut firmly reinforces the label's founding principles of sharing innovative, fine music. Built You For Thought is a perfectly-crafted and striking debut album that will likely leave the same indelible impression on your ears as it did mine.
In order to properly accompany you on your journey through Built You For Thought, SoundThread Music Blog is excited to present an exclusive track-by-track interview with Howard and Beth. The duo's comments provide an insightful glimpse into the lyrics and mechanics of each song on the album.
Built You For Thought opens with the haunting and entrancing "Ewes," which casts a solitary, radiant spotlight upon the two primary elements of the Brook sound: Beth's magical, alluring vocals and Howard's elegant, less-is-more musical tapestry.
[Howard Rider]: ‘Ewes’ was always going to be the intro. The main idea, originally, was just to have Beth’s voice and a piano, but then I took apart the drums from ‘Everglades’, sped them up and brought them in at the end. It was like we were saying, ‘This is what Beth does, and this is what I do.’
[Beth Brooks]: It’s about sleeplessness and insomnia, but there’s also a reference to ‘Snow White’ with the line ‘Put poison in my crimson’, and that follows into the theme of ‘Prince’.
The pace picks up with the upbeat, pulsing 'big drum' "Prince," which sees the Brook train boldly bursting out of the gate and onto its musical journey.
[BB]: 'Prince' is partly about waiting for that really special person to come into your life, but also a friend of mine recently got divorced and a lot of that song came from a conversation with her. She was saying, 'I was just waiting, and he just came into my life like a flash, and then he went again just as quickly'. It's about love and loss and how the ideology of love gets wrapped up in a fairy tale that often doesn’t reflect reality.
[HR]: That track’s got massive drums. I remember we were sitting in the studio listening to an early version and I was constantly thinking to myself, ‘Come on, we can do better than this,’ and so I changed it a lot. The final version’s got a bit of a rocky beat that goes into a 4/4 right at the end, and the rhythm and melodies have a power to them.
[BB]: That’s one of the things I like about it. I think it’s got a proper 80's groove to it. The other thing I like is that the lyrics are a bit contradictory – the first two lines are almost the complete opposite of each other. I like double plays on words. I’m also quite dyslexic, and so a lot of things like that in the lyrics are genuine mistakes.
[HR]: ‘Prince’ was actually the last track we recorded. When Beth and I first started writing together a couple of years ago, we had the idea for this song: it was really cinematic, almost like a film score but with a random arrangement. It was so fun to revisit it and have a different perspective come out of it.
With its delicately building, electronic atmosphere, "Damage" showcases Beth's soulful, smoky vocals, with a style that noticeably evokes the depth and presence of the legendary Annie Lennox.
[BB]: ‘Damage’ sounds quite strange, but that’s because it’s three different ideas put together into one song. I realised I had three separate ideas, all with the same chord structure but in very different patterns. I know it probably doesn’t make as much sense as it should, but then I thought, ‘Why does it need to make sense?’ Annie Lennox, who’s one of my idols, she’s sung loads of songs that don’t make sense.
The lyrics in this song are about instability and dependency. I probably wrote this about a year after I met Howard, and all the different parts of it are slightly about him. It wasn’t intentional, but it was just the way it happened. The opening line, ‘I take the road down South,’ sounds like it might be about the Deep South, but it’s actually because Howard’s from Essex.
[HR]: With ‘Damage’ I like the way that just as you think it’s finished, there’s a pause, and then it builds into an almost violent conclusion before it comes to a dead stop. I really like doing those kinds of things in songs – things that take you by surprise, things that come out of left field.
The soulful, edgy "Everglades" traces it roots back to the duo's early days, along with noted contribution and input from Vince Clarke.
[BB]: I have to stop myself from laughing, because you’re going to think that all the songs on the album are about Howard! This one is about when he started proper touring as Vince’s keyboard tech with Erasure just after we met.
[HR]: I’ve been off tour for a little while so we get on each others nerves a bit! I need to get another job!
[BB]: This is the longest time we’ve been together where he hasn’t toured, so that’s why we’re a bit edgy with one another! So when he first went on his long tour shortly after we’d met, I wrote this. But I also just like the word ‘everglades’ and it just went from there. I didn’t even really know where the everglades were!
[HR]: This one started off just as a verse – we didn’t have a chorus vocal, and Vince added in the organ sound where a chorus should be, and then it all came together. That track also has an unexpected ending. It finishes with this sequence of bass notes which is completely different from the rest of the song. I had that section and I just didn’t know where to put it. So Vince said, ‘Put it at the end.’ I think it’s a really cool section. There are also four layers of Beth’s vocals in that end part which build up on top of one another.
[BB]: The original demo of this song was more violent, and then we slowed it down a bit. The version on the album seems to creep along.
5. Trying to Forget You
With one of the album's most poignant and bare bones (musically) tracks, "Trying to Forget You" is a gorgeous, gently-arranged composition with subtle, intricately-placed layers of Beth's reflective vocals.
[HR]: This was one of the first songs of Beth’s I listened to. She was playing acoustically – just her and a guitar – and I used to listen to it over and over. I played it to Vince and he went, ‘This is great – do eight songs and we’ll put an album out.’ And then he said, ‘Actually, make it ten.’
[BB]: It’s funny how songs come out of your head. Sometimes it’s just one line, and that line will just go round in my head for like six months, and then I’ll sit down one day and go, ‘I’ve got it now – I’ve got the rest of it.’ ‘Trying To Forget You’ and ‘Wasn’t Meant To Be’ were probably the two quickest songs written for the album. With the demo of ‘Trying To Forget You’ I literally had the guitar out, pressed record and just sang it as I went. That doesn’t happen very often!
I wrote this maybe five years ago. It’s about my long-term ex-partner. It’s quite a humbling song, I think. It’s just about two people who become best friends but who know that they’re not going to make each other happy in the long-run. I don’t see it as a sad song. In fact, it’s quite a happy song in a weird and emotional way, and it’s nice to sing like that. It’s very gentle and sensitive, to me, and I had a very clear idea of how I wanted it to sound.
[HR]: She was very specific about how she wanted this song to be, so much so that I just couldn’t work it out at the beginning. There were lots of different rhythms clashing with each other, and it had to be stripped back.
It’s not a traditional structure. It does have a verse-chorus outline, but then it all changes at the end. Vince gave me a lot of support with the arrangements, because that part was pretty new to me, and I learned a lot from that. One really important thing Vince did say to me was, ‘Keep it simple.’ And he’s right. When I sit and make pieces of music I would add layer after layer –
[BB]: – and I’d just be going, ‘Stop it, stop it, stop it!’
[HR]: Beth’s got that skill on the song writing side. She gets it naturally, and I’ve definitely learned from her since we’ve been writing together.
6. Built You For Thought
Leading the listener into the second half of the album, "Built You For Thought" is the charming and gorgeous result of the organic, spontaneous and creative nature of the songwriting process.
[BB]: This is my political and environmental song.
[HR]: Unlike the other songs that began with ideas Beth had, this song started with an electronic loop I’d put together, which became the main part of the song.
[BB]: Howard was going, ‘Write something, write something, write something!’ And I’m there in the studio listening to this same loop going round and round, just staring out onto the street. I saw a bricked-up window opposite and that gave me the basis for the song. I’ve always loved old architecture and am aware of the amount of abandoned buildings there are. I’m just a hippie at heart, and it was nice to write a song about a different subject. This is about old buildings and us letting them fester away, and yet we build more and more when we’ve actually probably got enough empty homes that we just don’t use.
[HR]: Beth came up with this brilliant melody, which became the first verse. I was like, ‘What the hell? Where did that come from?’ To me the voice sounds like Kate Bush.
[BB]: We wrote it pretty quickly after that.
[HR]: The lyrics came together quickly, but the arrangement took a long time to get right. It changed a lot from the original versions. When I was mixing in the studio with the mix engineer, he said, ‘This isn’t really a song,’ so I went back and sat on it while we were doing the other ones. I realised that it needed to be more about the substance rather than its style.
I’m happy with where it ended up. It gets to this point at the end where Beth’s singing, ‘Is there much left? Is there much left?’ There’s so much going on in that part. There are layers and layers of sounds, and that lyric – it feels like it makes sense with what’s going on in the music. A lot of these songs came from persisting. They haven’t just been written. It was more a case of keeping going and learning from that. Some songs do just happen, and others don’t. But the ones that don’t, when they eventually do, they’re the ones that end up being really good.
7. Diamond Days
"Diamond Days" with its subtly-textured electronic and vocal elements, is the stunning, somewhat dark-sounding lead single from Built You For Thought, with a lyrical theme that originates 'down under.'
[BB]: Partly this is about not wanting to give up on someone, even though they’ve decided to run off and be with someone else. A couple of the lines were written ten years ago when I was living in Australia, and so that’s me looking back on the diamond days of when I was younger, when I was young and carefree, living on the other side of the world.
It has a tragic quality, and at times it’s quite bleak. Often men and women feel like they should be at certain milestones at points in their lives. This is from the female perspective and how her different values and not wanting a certain lifestyle has caused a relationship breakdown.
[HR]: I really like the middle part of this song and the way it builds up again with all these backward sounds and crazy electronic textures and effects going on. It all just ends up rolling over onto itself, so when the vocal comes back in, everything has gone back to being very subtle. It doesn’t really lend itself to the most pleasurable listening experience – there’s an edginess and a grittiness to it. I think you need that rawness sometimes.
"Rage" is easily my favorite track on Built You For Thought - an utterly moving, exquisite and melodic ballad with pre-Brook origins when the duo once found themselves center stage supporting Vince Clarke with Erasure.
[BB]: This is one of the songs we played live when we supported Erasure for their three Robbie Williams warm-up shows in 2017. We were called Isgar back then. It was me, Howard and James Knight, the guitarist from the band I’m also in called The Swaps.
[HR]: Those shows happened because we’d just started to do stuff together, but we hadn’t yet managed to get it to work. Erasure’s tour manager, Andy Whittle, phoned up and said, ‘We need a support band for these three shows,’ and I said, ‘Are you joking? We’re not ready for that.’ I put the phone down and Beth said, ‘We should do it.’
[BB]: I thought it would help us decide if it was going to work or not, and if it didn’t then we could move on. I expected that the audiences would watch us crash and burn, but it went down ok.
[HR]: We got this song together for the shows, and put it up on SoundCloud, but it was a very different version. This song was my attempt to get something working between what I was doing and Beth’s voice.
[BB]: This one could come across as political, but it’s about how personalities sometimes clash. The title makes it sound like it’s going to be an angry song, but it isn’t. It’s because I am literally the most chilled-out person in the world, and Howard has a very different personality. When we were first spending long periods of time together working out the dynamic was quite a balancing act. We obviously both react to things differently, and we’re both different people. I’m just there going, ‘What’s your beef? Chill out!’ So this is about us – me and him – and how different our general personalities are, but how that all works together very well.
[HR]: Reed Hays from Reed & Caroline plays cello on this and also ‘Built You For Thought’. The original version of this was almost folky, almost like a country song, and it took us a long time to get this track right. There’s no drums on it at all and it’s very sparse, which doesn’t give you a lot to play with. In the end it became very cohesive, and everything fitted together naturally rather than needing things like a massive kick drum to push it along.
9. Wasn't Meant To Be
A captivating, soulful song that, dare I suggest, Annie Lennox would long to perform, "Wasn't Meant To Be" is yet another standout track with a clear, commanding musical and vocal presence.
[BB]: This one’s about being stuck in a weird surreal situation, almost like being on the edge of having an affair. It’s a concept that came from this idea of being in a surreal moment in a place like a museum, and being really close to someone when you’re complete strangers. It’s about having an unexpected connection and asking yourself if you’d taken it further, or if you’d just spent one extra minute in that situation, what could have happened? It’s that idea of maybe crossing a line, and realising that if you did you may not be able to go back.
[HR]: That was written on piano, but the final version gets very big, very quickly, because of the drums. There probably aren’t drums like that anywhere else on the record, so it has this verse, pre-chorus, and then these very clear, clean drums, and then it just disappears again. There’s a lot of layers of synths and vocals at the end, and we took quite a lot of those out when we mixed it.
[BB]: I did go a bit over the top on that one, I remember.
[HR]: When we were recording, Beth would go, ‘Oh, I’ll just try this,’ or, ‘I’ve got this harmony,’ and I’d just keep recording. We’d just keep adding, which is quite amazing because some people just have one idea, but we had so much to work with. There was also a lot of synth things in this track and Beth wasn’t really into that. They’re still in there, but you have to really listen carefully to hear them.
[BB]: It’s not that I don’t like electronic music. I grew up on blues, soul and 80's music and I don’t have much modern electronic music knowledge. But I’m learning!
[HR]: When I come up with a sound that’s got weird pitching and modulating all over the place, I say, ‘This is brilliant!’ Beth goes, ‘No!’ so I turn it down – a bit!
There couldn't be a more appropriate closing track to Built You For Thought than the sparse, introspective "Applaud." Reinforcing the core Brook elements that started this musical journey, this touching, closing track will undoubtedly leave the listener with a lasting musical impression that entices a repeat listen.
[BB]: I’m more interested in acoustic music, so there was a lot of give and take as we were making the album. ‘Applaud’ was a song that I definitely wanted Howard to leave as natural and organic as possible, because it’s meant to be more of a live performance.
[HR]: What we would do is pretty much finish the arrangements, and then I would pop in the studio the morning before I was taking it to the next stage, and add a few little extras in! I knew that six months later Beth would have forgotten about it. If I was working on a dance remix I’d just throw in all this stuff and make it really wild. I love doing that, but this is just a different way of working. I’ve learned how to be subtle, and how to focus.
[BB]: It’s basically about the fact that men have messed up the world, and how much more we need Eve than Adam. It’s about how men have ruled the world forever, and about where we are today, and how different it could be if it had been the other way round at the very beginning, if Adam had eaten the apple instead of Eve?
Sincere thanks to Howard and Beth for taking the time to provide the intuitive track-by-track commentary!
For more information about Brook, follow the band on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), and find their music on Spotify, SoundCloud and Apple Music. And to learn more about Vince Clarke's Very Records, visit the label's official website, and follow on social media (Facebook, Twitter).