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Jontha Brooke - The Steady Pull of DVD-Audio

With DVD-Audio just starting to emerge Jonatha Brooke has decided to take the plunge, turning her critically acclaimed album Steady Pull into one of the first independently produced DVD-Audio DVDs.

An unlikely poster child for DVD-Audio, Jonatha Brooke creates an amazing glimpse into emerging world of high definition audio with a DVD that can be enjoyed both on new DVD-Audio players and on the millions of other regular DVD players in the marketplace. We had a chance to talk to Jonatha shortly after the limited release of Steady Pull DVD.

It's amazing you did this entire DVD on your own without the backing of a major label or studio!

A lot of people have no concept of what it took to make this thing happen. It was a total learning experience. It was amazing and we got such beautiful stuff, but it was a long, long process, especially to do the DVD audio. It was a technical nightmare and it just took so long to get all the ducks to line up, technically.

At what point did you start thinking "DVD! I'm going to do a DVD." ?

After we were finished with the record and we realized that we had gotten some pretty funky footage on tape while we were in the studio. We thought, "Wow, this is pretty cool. Maybe we could use some of this." We had at least a few songs with enough coverage to make some funky little videos. It was Pat's idea, my manager, to take that, go into a sound stage, and expand it by shooting seven songs in one day.

How did you manage to shoot seven videos in one day? Most bands are lucky to get one video shot in one day.

We had to. We had no money. We were calling in favors from all over the county. I mean Pat's brother Mark was the producer. His nephew Lee was the director. His other nephew Blake ran the boom box, which was playback. My band was kind enough to come in and plug through a really long day, pounding out tunes. We didn't have a choice. We just had to get whatever we could get in one day and see what we came up with. We were so lucky. We would just change our clothes between songs. Originally we had wanted to have a bunch of different color backgrounds to distinguish between the songs, but it took so long to get that one yellow background up, we were like "Ah, Fuck it. I guess this is the background for the day." So that's why most of the songs that we shot that day have the yellow background.

Have you released the footage on the DVD from 'Linger' as a video or is the DVD really the only place to see it?

We've been working nationally to get Linger played on all of the video outlets. It's so funny because it was #10 on the rock alternative video charts, which is the sweetest irony because here we are competing with these billion dollar budgets and these fancy-pants directors where it's a "concept video" and it's all a story line and everything. And here we are just goofing around playing Linger in front of this yellow backdrop, but people seem to love it because it's honest and it's just the way it is.

When you went to make the DVD, did you have to go in and remix your audio for 5.1?

The cool thing is that Bob Clearmountain had been doing 5.1 mixes just for the hell of it as we were mixing, so we already had the 5.1 mixes. That was part of the reason we said, "Wow, well we should do something with these". The DVD was the perfect place to use them. Luckily we didn't have to go back and recreate those mixes; they were already in the can.

That was a lot of foresight on Bob's part. Also Bob Ludwig, who mastered the record, did all the mastering and authoring for the DVD. He was the one who really pushed us to do the DVD audio. Even though it was so new, he was confident that we could make a real quality DVD.

What made you decide to plunge into the world of DVD-Audio? It's such a new format with just a handful of bands who have taken the leap.

I don't think anyone even knows the thing is out there. I mention it on stage every night in concert and tell people how special this thing sounds in "10 million bit audio sound" (actually 176.4 kilohertz, 24 bits stereo). When I went in to okay the master it just blew me away. It's such an unbelievable sound. With Ludwig helping us do this we knew that it was going to be fantastic. We also realized that we be one of only a few artists with a DVD-Audio release. So we decided to go for it. Right now most of the other DVD-Audio stuff in release are like re-issues of Rumors and Clapton's Greatest Hits. So this was just the next step. It just kept getting bigger and bigger as we were working on it and more and more technologically cool and funky. We figured, what the hell, let's just do it. Spend the money and see what happens.

How would you explain DVD-Audio to someone who's not familiar with it?

I would say that it's just the most profound sounding thing I've ever heard. I was a skeptic too. I thought "Okay, well how much better can it sound than a CD, right?" So when we were okaying it, I was blown away by the depth of the sound. It's indescribable. Especially on the very quiet, more acoustic songs, that's when it was most noticeably amazing. You could just hear the space in the mix. I guess I would describe it as there being more space. There's more space between the ranges of things. There just seems to be this depth coming at you from these speakers. It's hard to describe, you have to hear it to really understand how amazing it is!

With your music sounding this good on DVD-Audio, do you think people will demand higher fidelity when musicians perform live?

When we're on the road, we're sort of at the mercy of the club owners and whoever is buying the speakers for whatever room we're going to be performing in that night. Boy, it changes night to night so much. We have very little control over it. But it's always a real cool experience in a club. I don't think anyone expects us to sound like a DVD on stage. I mean that would be amazing, but it wouldn't be as fun. I have to say that I find that the worst sound nightmare clubs are sometimes the best performances. Those are some of the best nights when the monitors are crapping out and none of the speakers are working, and the woofer is blown and the hooter is hanging from a thread. The best shows are when the sound is completely kaput, but you're just putting out anyway.

Having gone through the process of making the DVD, will this change the way that you approach your next album?

Definitely, now that we have this little digital camera, we'll be very aware of the potential of whatever footage we're taking day to day. Although I don't want to become obsessed with documenting my life because then it becomes just tawdry and like a soap opera - filming yourself for the sake of filming yourself. We're really aware of the potential of capturing the behind the scenes stuff. Fans especially love getting the inside scoop on stuff.

Now that your DVD is done what are your favorite aspects of it?

A couple of the videos I think are just really stunning pieces. Lullaby is so beautiful, I could watch it again and again and again. That stark white background and me all in black. The way the editing happened is just brilliant, especially considering the budget that we had. I'm just thrilled every time I see it because I think "Wow, we did something so amazing and we didn't spend a gazillion dollars. We didn't have Warner Bros. behind us and look what we came up with."

Digging is also one of my favorites because I actually got to put the guitar down and dance around a little bit and that's very freeing for me. I discovered during the shoot for Digging that I want to do more of that. I don't want to always be stuck behind my guitar.

Also I do love the stuff with Bob. I think it's really unusual that you get to hear someone of his caliber talking about making a record and how much fun it was. So those things thrill me every time I see them.

My other favorite spot on the DVD is when Marcus Miller goes into the chorus on Room in My Heart and I almost fall on the floor from my chair. I think we cut the squeal because it was too loud, but I just kind of shrieked and I fell forward in my chair. Because it was his first take and we have it on film. You know? And that's what's on the record. That was such an amazing day to have Marcus Miller playing on my song and then playing such a brilliant base line. That moment is priceless.

Where did the idea come from to capture the recording sessions on video?

My manager bought a camera about a month before the shoot and thought "Wouldn't it be great to get just some of this down. We could put it up on the website." Then when we were actually making the DVD, we were "Dammit, we should have had more. Why didn't we get Neil Finn on the camera? Why didn't we get more of Michael Frante?" It would have been really cool to have planned this ahead of time, but we got what we got and it's just really special.

So on the DVD video side, the side that at this point pretty much anybody who has a DVD player can play, you've got both the Dolby Digital and the DTS audio track. What was the thinking behind adding DTS?

We really took our queues for that from Gateway Mastering. They have a great deal of experience with audio formats, and they felt that it was very important to have a DTS mix on the DVD. So we kind of deferred to their better judgement.

I went to your website and was amazed to see how connected your are online to your fans. In your forum you had answered a number of your fans' questions.

I think the 'net is a really nice additional perk, it's a great way to extend the kind of accessibility that I project on stage into another format. I can't say that it is a huge boost to record sales or DVD sales so far, but it's a great way to stay in touch.

Right now, the only place you can get your DVD is on your site, right?

Yeah. And so that's going well. It's kind of slow because it didn't come out right when the album came out. I think people are slowly getting to know that it's there and starting to come and buy it. We will be releasing it to retail. It's going to be in stores in August.

Another kind of Internet question: As an independent artists, how do you feel about the issue of file sharing and song-swapping (ie Napster)?

On one hand it's a real threat to my ability to support myself, but on the other it does help people get exposed to my music. So it's both really bad and possibly good. That's the confusing part of it for any artist. For instance, the other night when I was in North Carolina, I got a note backstage from this girl who had heard just the tail-end of one of my songs on the radio, had managed to tape (on her little cassette deck) the last minute of the tune. And for two years, she was going around playing this for people, trying to figure out who the hell it was. She sang it in her Sunday school class and she sang it to her parents and her friends and finally she actually found the tune on Napster, and then went out to buy the record. So there's a great Napster story.

And then for any great Napster story, there's ten others where there are these entitled people walking around thinking "Well why should I pay for anything because I can get it for free here." Those are the people that I worry about because this is my livelihood. Records sales are my livelihood. If I lose that, how do I pay for the DVD? How do I pay my band? How do I pay the publicist? How do I stay in business? For me it's different than for someone like Metallica and Don Henley who have become the target of the anarchic mind in this argument. But it's different for me. It is my livelihood. Okay, yeah, they're loaded and they don't need their record sales, but it's the principle more than anything. I think Napster is such an amazing idea, such a cool thing, that it's too bad that people didn't have a little more foresight to make it equitable for everybody.

There were three fantastic tracks that were on the Border's CD that didn't make all the CD's, what was the thinking behind those tracks and is there a future for them on your website?

Border's came to us with this really cool marketing idea that was very hard to turn down, especially for an independent, where I'm very visible in all the Border's stores for I think six months. In exchange, they wanted some exclusive tracks, so it was something I couldn't say "No" to. So it's a limited. I think we only pressed 12,000 of those CD's. At some point, yeah, maybe I would make them available on the website or somewhere else, but I haven't figured out how to do that and how to not piss anyone off at Border's.

So what's next for you? I see here you have a pretty extensive touring schedule coming up.

Yeah. I'm just going to be on the road with my band. Actually the guys that are on the video are on the road with me. So we're touring everywhere. We're out for most of June and then we're taking a little time off in July and we're out for all of August. Then we'll kind of see what's happening at that point. I may go to Europe in the Fall. We're really behind this record for the long haul. We're just getting started. We're starting to take it to more mainstream radio, which I've never had the luxury of actually doing that, so we'll see that happens.

As a small label, how, in the universe of gargantuan entertainment conglomerates, are you able to get your music out there?

You gamble big time. You lose your shirt and hope it comes back to you. You know we've just been really aggressive and really bold with money that we don't even have. We're just kind of juggling a bunch of stuff. We knew that we would sell maybe from 75,000 to 100,000 records. That's kind of my core base. So based on that, we invested what we thought we could sell back into the company, back into promotion, marketing, and publicity, and the DVD and just even keeping the band on the road. It's incredibly expensive. I was looking over the list of payables today that came in from our bookkeeper. We're just like "Oh my God, how are we going to do this" Okay, we'll we think we're getting a little chunk of change from our distributor this week so that will hold us over for another couple of weeks." But in we're gambling big time. It is incredibly expensive to do this and anyone who thinks that musicians are loaded...I would like to dispel that rumor and say to especially the independent ones, "Hats off to all of us" because it is risky business. It's really exciting because I think that this record could really break through and it's even more irony that we're doing so well as an independent, you know, in this day of the before behemoth. We're actually sneaking through the cracks. Actually we got booked on Letterman for the first time July 9th!

Buy Jonatha Brook's Steady Pull DVD from JonthaBrooke.com

Read the DVD Talk Review of Steady Pull DVD

- Geoffrey Kleinman


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