Tim Browne can't quite comprehend the appeal of Elway, the band for which he sings and strums a gummy guitar.
His self-effacing tendencies surface suddenly as he reminisces about preparing to enter Atlas Studios in Chicago, IL to record Delusions, the band's first full-length as Elway. “I can remember in the weeks that led up to us recording there,” Browne explains, “I was incredibly nervous. We've never really put a whole lot into recording, and we've never really been in a proper studio. And [producer Matt Allison] is a guy who records the Alkaline Trio, and the Lawrence Arms, and Less Than Jake. I knew, as soon as we walked in there, he would sense that we are imposters. He would know that we are a bunch of half-assed amateurs—which, I really want to emphasize, we are.”
It's difficult to determine if such statements are moments of modesty, or sincere expressions of uncertainty, or a little bit of both. Whatever the case, though, Browne seems surprised at his own band's success, especially considering it's humble beginning.
Having moved to Fort Collins to attend college, Browne went from playing punk shows with his friends to having no one with which to play music. “For the first year,” he explains, “I just wrote songs and played them acoustic in my tiny-ass apartment.” When he met drummer Garrett Carr and bass player Joe Henderer, he decided to form 10-4 Eleanor. “I had a whole lot of songs saved up from not being in a band for a whole year. Those songs that I wrote, particularly over the summer of 2007, would become our first EP and LP that we released on Death to False Hope.”
After stumbling upon the donation-based, online label almost by accident, Browne reached out to Scotty Sandwich, Death to False Hope's founder and frontispiece, about helping 10-4 Eleanor expand its audience. Sandwich agreed to post the six-song EP Words Cannot Express How Much Fuck This Band for free download on his site and, shortly thereafter, ...Too Bad, the band's first full-length.
“We were really set on Death to False Hope,” Browne explains. “They kind of opened a lot of doors for us. I can't possibly express more gratitude for what Scotty did. Even though Death to False Hope is not really a record label, he does a lot for the bands on his label.”
Like the 10-4 Eleanor's first EP, ...Too Bad sounds unrefined—greasy and almost ugly. Browne's howl competes with two sludgy, grunting guitars. Unlike his colorful snare, Carr's cymbals don't sparkle; instead, they clang with the grace of a shattering glass and are dampened by the muddy trails made by Henderer's traipsing bass. “The recording quality was a little bit better than the first one, but still pretty fucking awful,” Browne snickers, succumbing again to his self-depreciating tenendcies. “But these twelve songs set the tone the kind of band that we were becoming.” He's right; despite the ragged recording, the band executed ...Too Bad with precision and, more importantly, sincerity, displaying a musical identity maybe more advanced than their resources could capture.
Following the release of ...Too Bad, 10-4 Eleanor began moving in a more serious direction, starting with the addition Brian Van Proyen, Browne's old friend from Colorado Springs, on guitar. In support of the record, the band spent over a hundred days on tour and played the Fest in Gainesville, FL twice, which awarded them a wider, excited audience—“As much of a following as a band without a decent recording could have,” Browne adds.
Things changed for 10-4 Eleanor in an instant, though, when Browne and Van Proyen came across Brendan Kelly, singer and bassist for the Lawrence Arms, at Surfside 7—“Really the only halfway-decent dive bar in town,” Brown clarifies. “I eventually struck up a conversation with him. He wanted to try and play a show at Surfside while he was in town, but it all fell through. I was really drunk and was like, 'Yeah, we'll set you up a show before you leave!'” Quickly, they coordinated a DIY show for Kelly at the Hammer Time Tool Cooperative, a warehouse that Carr runs, and arranged 10-4 Eleanor to open. “He watched us and was really impressed,” Browne remembers, “and he decided that he wanted us to do a record with Red Scare.” The prospect of signing with Red Scare Industries excited Brown, not only because the label released physical records (something that Death to False Hope just didn't do), but also because the company's founder Toby Jeg pressed several records that had been applauded by the punk-rock community.
The offer, though, forced Browne and his bandmates to reconsider the seriousness that 10-4 Eleanor has so far exhibited. In an attempt to reinvent themselves as a more serious band, 10-4 Eleanor decided to rename itself Elway. “Not that Elway is a super serious name,” Browne explains. “We were never super-thrilled with the name 10-4 Eleanor. It just was something that we thought didn't sound terrible. So, we changed it is just to clean the slate, to start fresh, and Elway seemed to fit.” To Browne, the name “Elway” seems to express a certain sense of humor; attaching the name of a “legendary” Colorado quarterback to his punk-rock band amused him, so it stuck. “We're not super-interested in sports,” he continues, “so I think Elway is a better name because it's characteristic of our personalities, which is snarky and kind of sarcastic.”
Newly christened as Elway, Browne began making arrangements with Jeg to record the album that would reveal a reinvented band. “When I was talking to Toby, he asked where we wanted to record it,” he tells. “The first words that came out of my mouth were, 'I want to record at Atlas in Chicago with Matt Allison.' Toby just went, 'Woah, woah, woah!' Because Matt has got a incredible reputation; with that incredible reputation obviously comes an incredible financial obligation.”
But Jeg was able to arrange recording time with Allison at Atlas, which was a dream-come-true for Browne; the realization that this particular dream may come true, though, terrified Browne, who had his worries about working with the producer the recorded some of the most important punk-rock records of the past ten years. “You think of famous recording engineers and immediately you think of pony-tails, and way too many rings,” he says, “but [Allison] was just a super-down-to-earth guy who loves Busch Light a lot and has a great ear. Before we even got into the studio with him, my fears about him revealing our incompetence to the world were put to rest.”
Working with Allison brought out the best in Elway, and Delusions, the record with which they left Chicago, displays a band that has not only found itself, but has finally captured that sound faithfully. A track like “Passing Days” features the same sludgy, grunting guitars that dirtied up 10-4 Eleanor's songs, but contain crisper, clearer rhythmic elements. Carr's cadences are as straight and tense as they have ever been, but cut through the grime left behind Brown and Van Proyen's guitars; alongside Henderer's denser, brighter bass, the song hops with infectious pep, especially during the song's repeated intros.
Browne's voice, though still raw, is more refined and natural. As “Passing Days” approaches its pinnacle, he sings, “There I go, digging graves for every single pretty girl / Pretty soon, there'll be no more earth to move / And I'll be filling holes with the longing in my soul / and it's not one of those things I tend to lose,” and introduces one of the main themes on the record: the loss of and longing for a romantic relationship. “We decided to call the record Delusions because the record is about the way that people intentionally and unintentionally distract themselves from what is real and true,” Browne explains. “Romantic longing and loss is one of those ways and has always been a big theme in our music because I tend to write songs about various relationships I'm in. I write what I know and that's something I regretfully know a lot about.”
Another way that people delude themselves, according to Browne, is through religion, though these songs, including the opener “3/4 Eleanor” and “San Mateo”, are less personal. “'San Mateo' is about my friend Matt who had a card in his wallet that was given to him upon completing of his confirmation in the Catholic church,” he explains. “He kept it in his wallet for years and years after he was confirmed. We were talking at a bonfire in my backyard about how he felt so guilty carrying it on him even though he had absolutely had no belief in God whatsoever anymore, and that he only really did it to appease his parents, so he threw the card in the fire. It felt really significant for me to be there for that moment, even though it was a frivolous action.”
“Basically, when I write about religion,” Browne clarifies, “I want to talk about the ways that it inhibits people from being able to experience all that is great about life.”
Perhaps the most important theme on Delusions is how Browne and his bandmates redeem themselves from the suffering inspired by these distractions. “Song for Eric Solomon to Sing”—indeed a shout out to the O Pioneers!!! singer and screenprinter—begins with a delicate, though seemingly combustible lead that tip-toes across plucked, piano-like strings and a steady, caffeinated drumbeat before suddenly pouncing into a quick-paced chase. During this gallop, Browne growls about how America's sick music industry causes independent musicians to compete with one another. Still, “Song for Eric Solomon to Sing” is about the liberty that performing music allows—the release and redemption that forty-five minutes onstage can afford. Somehow, the song succeeds at celebrating the power of music and condemning of its politics
To Browne, music—and especially punk-rock—is something sacred. “Of all the music that I've ever heard, and all the shows that I've ever seen, I only ever feel like I belong to something bigger when I'm at a punk-rock show,” he says. “I can still remember listening to Bad Religion records, and listening to Rancid and NOFX records back in the day. I remember thinking that there's a frustration that was worded in just a perfect way that I could identify with it. It's like a visceral, sort of aggressive way of expressing any emotion. I think that punk-rock can express so many different emotions, and yet still sound so raw and aggressive.”
I can't really explain it,” he concludes, “but it's definitely something rooted in the core of me now.”
This might be part of the reason why Browne, even though he seems so proud of Delusions, is so self-depreciating. It's a defense mechanism, a means for dealing with the possibility that he is on the other end of that “something bigger.” In this new position, Browne will be initiating that electric connection between musician and listener rather than merely receiving it.
Maybe Browne's modesty is merely a desperate attempt not to appear self-important and over-state his art. Or maybe he worries that Elway isn't worthy of this consequential role; maybe he wonders whether a band like his should be placed on the same pedestal as the ones that inspired him.
Soon enough, though, Browne and his band will discover exactly what makes punk-rock so powerful—that modest musicians with self-effacing tendencies are those that make the most meaningful impact on their listeners.