Picture Me Broken has been on a rip-roaring tear this year. Following up on their December release of the Mannequins EP, they have completed two national tours, first with Otep and then with Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper. Not too shabby for a band that contains members that haven’t reached legal drinking age.
That said, the last 12 months haven’t been without challenges. The EP was originally intended to be an LP and, after drummer Shaun Foist parted ways with the band last month, Picture Me Broken is finding itself without a rhythm section (2013 touring has been without a bass player).
With all this as the backdrop, Brooklyn Allman (vocals) and Dante Phoenix (guitar) were kind enough to take a break from their apartment move to catch up over breakfast in the stifling L.A. summer heat. Opinionated, focused and driven, they know what they want and have the balls to go make it happen on their own terms.
Brooklyn started in bands at 12. At some point in time you went to your mom and said, “I want to go do this full time.” At what point did you have that conversation?
BROOKLYN: I think I knew from the very first band practice which was in ’05. I was 12 years old. That year was the big Green Day uproar and American Idiot came out and theatrical rock was at the forefront. I went to one of those arena shows and that changed my life forever. That coupled with discovering a lot of bands like A.F.I. and Alkaline Trio, I was sold on it. I was already passionate about English and writing so that translated to lyrics. Then I was heavily involved in performing arts and I think I officially knew I would do nothing else around eighth grade, going into high school. It was very early on.
At what point in time did you say, “I want to go for it Mom.”
BROOKLYN: I would pursue a lot of extracurriculars … I was heavily into sports … and when I’d do something I would fully commit to it. She’s always been supportive of any of my decisions so I think it was a little bitter-sweet for her because she was supportive of my athletics and academics and I remember that there was a day when I did say that I need to stop swimming so I could start playing music and she did start crying. But other than that she’s been very supportive.
And she worked in the music business …
BROOKLYN: Absolutely. So it’s something that she’s passionate about too.
2013 has been a busy year for you guys.
BROOKLYN: It has been hectic and busy and a blessing in many ways.
The EP [Mannequins] came out in December…
BROOKLYN: We did not initially want it to come out. It was intended to be part of an album that was to be called Corrupt Me which is still in the lab.
DANTE: Yeah, you could say that.
You’ve been pretty outspoken about the fact that it was never intended to be released as an EP.
So you have part of an album sitting somewhere …
BROOKLYN: I do think that we’ve outgrown that session. Obviously the lineup’s shifted around and we have a hundred tour dates under our belts. So it’s a bit of a blessing in disguise that it didn’t come out when it did because we do have wonderful songs in a can and new ideas that we can channel towards a release of this album in a more epic way.
DANTE: We have very high standards for this release. We want it to be something that we can sit back and listen to and go, “can this stand up next to any of our favorite records?” We look at it like an opportunity to hone our craft into something that we would appreciate even if we weren’t involved.
BROOKLYN: And I will say, touring with legends like Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson raises the bar so much because you can watch this genius up close and it really inspires you to want to reach for the stars, especially with theatrical rock music.
DANTE: Definitely in a live sense. I think having material that can translate so well on a studio record and then even better live … there’s something to be said about that.
Were there any songs that worked better or worse live?
BROOKLYN: Absolutely. Tour testing … one of the few bits of advice that my dad’s ever given me is that when you write a new song, tour test it and see if the crowd likes it. We were able to see what works and what doesn’t work and elements of our set that we definitely want to capitalize on the album when we head into the studio to finish it up.
Are you going to use what’s there or re-record it, augment it or start from scratch?
BROOKLYN: I don’t think it would be fair to release music that’s been sitting on a shelf for two years. We want to keep it fresh and want to deliver the best material that we’re capable of at this point in time. I think we’ve grown so much since that session.
DANTE: I think our fans deserve to hear where we’re at now, not where we were two years ago.
BROOKLYN: Needless to say, we’ll keep some of the stronger songs but we’re going to put them in the running with other songs and whatever stands the test of production …
DANTE: Like the album title.
BROOKLYN: That’s going to stay.
DANTE: We told our fans and friends, “hey this is our concept, this is what we’re doing,” and we want to uphold that promise but we want to have the best material possible. Some of the songs will be the same … that you may have heard on this last tour. Most of it will be new.
Of the 4 songs on the EP, which one do you think best represents your sound?
BROOKLYN: I believe it’s a toss-up between Mannequins and Beautiful Disguise.
Those are two very different songs.
BROOKLYN: Very different songs. Mannequins is the rocker and Dante’s introduction to writing in this band so it’s definitely going to be definitive of a new direction because we haven’t had an LP with Dante writing yet.
DANTE: The only thing that we released, a demo of Walls of White, was one of the first things. It wasn’t an official release, but I did get my fingers in it more. We wanted a more up-tempo, kind of theatrical song and we collaborated a little bit on that which was good. We’re definitely doing way way more collaborating …
BROOKLYN: I definitely think that’s probably going to be the strongest change in the album, the fact that we have to collaborate more as writers. The EP was a little bit scattered in the writing process which is maybe why you said those songs sound entirely different. I think one of our goals is to pull our influences in.
DANTE: We’ve been referring to it as a sample platter …
BROOKLYN: It’s like a smorgasbord.
DANTE: It’s a smorgasbord. And for our record, we definitely want something that’s more concise. We want to have balance, we want to have crazy fast songs, we want to run the gamut but at the same time we definitely want it to all sound like it’s part of the same recording.
In terms of the writing process, how do you see that working?
BROOKLYN: We changed it [the writing process] quite a bit. I think touring and just being in a band together has to do with that. We found that the lyrics and the concept and the vocal melody must come first and then the music should be composed around it as sort of the soundtrack to it. That gives you more freedom to play with the arrangement and I think that it helps you to better get across what the words are trying to communicate.
DANTE: Mannequins for example … I pretty much built most of that musically before the lyrics took place …
BROOKLYN: … and then I wrote the vocal over it.
DANTE: Looking back on it, it’s one of those things that just comes across best if you work on both of these things at the same time … simultaneously throughout the song so it progresses naturally so they reflect on each other.
BROOKLYN: … the vocals can marry the music better.
DANTE: Yeah, exactly. Rather than me working on something crazy and then her putting what that makes her feel … what the vibe is … we discuss the vibe of the song first.
BROOKLYN: Then you don’t have to worry about musical parts stepping on the vocal because they were written around the vocal and then they have their moments they [each] can shine. You don’t have to reel either element of the music in too much because they get their moments.
Jimmy is in the Bay Area still?
BROOKLYN: He comes back and forth. He’s going to be moving here soon, though. He always comes and stays with us whenever it’s time to rehearse. We basically do concentrated rehearsals rather than daily rehearsals. We’ll pick two, three weeks before a tour, before an event. We’ll just get in all day, every day for that period of time. I think that’s the best way because I like to be concentrated and have no other distractions going on when it’s time to rehearse.
How far along are you in writing the next album?
BROOKLYN: I’m still very proud of the remained of the songs off the previous Mannequins sessions. We would like to make them sound more like us and to represent the new line-up more based on how we’ve grown the last year through touring. We just started discussing a bunch of new concepts song-by-song … like we discussed with our new method of writing. So it’s looking like we’re going to be demoing it out here in the next month. We decided that before we go into the studio we want to formally demo-out everything so that the studio time can be focused on polishing rather than building.
Do you envision testing the songs live before you record them?
BROOKLYN: Absolutely. We’re praying that it’s set for an early 2014 release so for the remainer of the year, any shows we play we’re going to be testing out a lot of new material … when the line-up’s put back together, obviously.
Your first tour this year was with Otep. That was probably your first proper tour.
BROOKLYN: That was the tour where I feel we learned how to be a live band. I’m very grateful for that tour.
What was the hardest thing about the tour?
BROOKLYN: My aunt is involved with all these cutting edge scientists and this man invented this cuff that you wear on your wrist that measures your heart activity. He says, “In March of this year you had a traumatic event.” Apparently my heart fluctuated and fluttered because it’s brought on by stress or a catastrophic event. I’m like, “oh my god, I was on tour with Otep in March.” That was the main month that we were on the road with her so I guess the stress would get to you a little bit. It’s a bit of a shock to the system.
DANTE: Same here. I remember the heart palpitations the most.
Too much stress, too much caffeine, lack of sleep …
BROOKLYN: Bad diet.
DANTE: I think every band early on, they see a tour where they realize we’re digging deep and what doing your job really is. It’s staying up late and driving, having all hell break loose and not being as organized as you’d like to be. It was really pretty punk rock by our standards but we learned so much every show … the way to do things and the way not to do things. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
BROOKLYN: This year we really learned to tour and we have made soooo many mistakes that we’ve learned from.
What’s the biggest mistake?
DANTE: Don’t take the keys for granted! Just have them.
BROOKLYN: There are so many. Like you gotta be really careful about the people you bring with you. You gotta be able to trust people. You gotta know everybody’s got your back. The first tour with our money, we would just keep it in a Hello Kitty pencil box.
Who would look there?
BROOKLYN: There are just so many things … it’s a hard life being on the road so you have to make sure you’re supremely organized and have all of the right people around you if you want it to be an enjoyable experience and you want to be in the right condition to deliver good shows. I think that the lack of sleep and the lack of exercise … for me that’s the worst part of touring … it’s hard to keep a consistent exercise regime.
DANTE: Trying to eat properly to some degree is something that we look at now with more importance.
BROOKLYN: I brought a juicer and I was lugging around a mini fridge and then the mini fridge broke. It was terrible.
How long did the juicer last?
BROOKLYN: About two weeks because I couldn’t clean it and I couldn’t get produce. We were wondering what the awful smell was in the van … I think it was the Freon from the mini fridge. It was just bad.
DANTE: I remember the middle east [coast] in Boston, I just felt … I don’t know what it was … I had this sickness coming on for so long. We just got done playing a bunch of really northern states and it was getting to me. It was thirteen dates in a row and at that point in time, my cure for being sick and trying to play a show was just drinking as much coffee as possible so I could get up there and get the job done. And then taking thermogenics just to get up there and do your thing and not let anybody down … perpetuating your sickness and feeling like crap. It wasn’t something that I would do again. Maybe I’d take some vitamin B and some Emergen-C now.
BROOKLYN: But then on the Cooper/Manson tour it was a different story because there was amazing catering every day and lattes and protein and veggies so I was in heaven with that.
How’d the Manson/Cooper tour come about?
BROOKLYN: We were blessed to have so many people pulling for us that tour. Our booking agent, Andrew Goodfriend, is amazing … deserves gold medal of the year. Revolver Magazine has been supporting us since I was 16 years old and they put in a call. And then Manson’s manager Tony was seeking a band with a female singer and liked what Picture Me Broken was doing and gave us the opportunity. We cannot thank those people enough.
DANTE: We’re truly honored. I always look at that as a tour that anybody could be thankful for let alone this little band from the Bay Area.
Are you still a Bay Area band?
BROOKLYN: I usually say where we’re residing at the time. Granted I’m not going to say we’re Picture Me Broken from Beverly Hills, California ‘cause that would sound douchy. [laughing] We’re both really passionate about Los Angeles. Since we were kids, we always wanted to live here so I guess that inspires the need to say we’re a Los Angeles band but by the same token, the Bay Area built it.
DANTE: As history will show, I had a meeting over sushi with Layla and I pretty much packed up my suitcase and went up to the Bay Area after that meeting.
BROOKLYN: We were like, “how soon can you leave?”
DANTE: Now! Sometimes people gotta pack up and go. They gotta go where the project is and that was the Bay Area. It reminded me of Metallica. They had to move to the Bay Area for Cliff. That was just one of those things because I was going where the band was. And then a couple years later we were able to make it down here and that was cool for me.
BROOKLYN: He joined at a really chaotic transitioning period. We’d been doing a lot of shows, we had a lot of opportunities ahead of us but the band internally was kind of burning up and I was kind of regretting that we weren’t going the direction sonically I’d always envisioned. It was really a blessing to meet Dante because he always wanted to be in a straight-up rock band and we were influenced by the same modern bands. So that was marking a huge transitional phase at the time but I’m really happy it happened because now I have the opportunity to make the kind of rock music I like and not go too far down a road of a certain trend I didn’t want to be a part of.
How much of the band’s evolution and sound have been due to your vision as opposed to who’s in the band?
BROOKLYN: I think that the vision I had originally attracted the members that I have now. If you’re driving a ship and it’s your project that you’ve nurtured for some time, you’re going to make sure that the right people are in it. Every time there’s a lineup change, at the risk of feeling like the band is a revolving door, I accept it with open arms because I want to get that lineup that is going to protect and nurture the project the way I would and see it the way I would. I think now days, especially with female-fronted bands, there’s not the ambiance of what a real rock band is and I think you need to have a full house of dynamic members that want to do the same thing. Every day that I inch closer to that, I am thankful. I think I’m finally getting there.
Would you agree [to Dante]?
DANTE: Definitely. When I was introduced to Picture Me Broken, one of the first things that came up was, “oh, this girl is into all these great bands,” and none of them were necessarily screamo or hardcore bands. She was into A.F.I. and Green Day and these huge over-the-top rock bands and that was really something I wanted to be a part of at the time. It didn’t make sense for me to try and do something on my own then … I was really looking for somebody that shared a vision. And then I heard the record Wide Awake and I was sold. I knew that there was so much going on to push that vision. And then when we met up about it, we really saw eye to eye about where we wanted a band to go … what band this could be. She had the vision and I was lucky enough to have a similar outlook.
BROOKLYN: Interestingly enough, based on all of the setbacks and weird obstacles we faced this year, we haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to execute that creatively until right around this year which is why we’re really excited to be able to reinvent this line-up.
You’re without a rhythm section right now. Tell me about the plans for filling that?
BROOKLYN: Back to what I was saying about having the full house of people who share the same view and same outlook for their passion in terms of what style of music they play, I think we’re looking for people who are artistically identical to what we see. We’re going to take the opportunity to find people who mesh well together as a rhythm section. It’s a great opportunity to be able to find a drummer and bass player at the same time because we can try people out and see how they mesh. This is a band that has criteria for people to have it all … we’re not just looking for stellar players, we’re looking for people who have the right attitude, who have the right charisma, who have the right ambition to take this where we want to take it. I’m excited to have the opportunity to meet a bunch of young musicians who could possibly do that for us.
How much do their expectations of what they’d get out of the band matter? The music industry is a tough business and some people might not have the stomach for that in spite of how good they are.
DANTE: It is not for the faint of heart, that is true.
BROOKLYN: I’ve had wonderful band members … stellar musicians … and sometimes they cannot handle the masochism that is the music industry. That’s obviously part of the criteria, somebody who would saw their right arm off to do this.
DANTE: I think passion for this is the criteria because you’re going to need that to stick with it and know that it’s something that you love doing regardless of all the hardship and difficult things that come with it. It’s a difficult lifestyle and just because you love to play music doesn’t necessarily cut you out for that.
BROOKLYN: We want people who are also going to be a pleasure to be with on the road. A lot of the times I would be so engulfed in finding the people who could play the best, and the people who looked the best, that I would kind of overlook who’s going to add to my band on a personal level because I think that when a band is happy on a personal level, they’re thriving on a professional level. We’re also looking for somebody’s that’s going to be a good friend to us, who’s going to lighten the mood on the road and make it more enjoyable.
Are you going to go out and have drinks with everyone as part of the process?
BROOKLYN: We’re going to tour test them. Nobody gets an official spot until they’re tour tested. That’s one thing we’ve learned this year.
DANTE: If all hell breaks loose, we ought to be having a good time.
BROOKLYN: You don’t know someone until you’ve toured with them.
DANTE: That’s true.
You posted a lot of photos of you and Marilyn Manson. I take you two hit it off?
BROOKLYN: He and I became great friends on the tour. He’s a really interesting man.
Did you call him Marilyn or Brian or …
BROOKLYN: Manson. Or Asshole or Buttface. [laughs]
DANTE: “Mr. Manson requests your presence …”
BROOKLYN: I was at Red Rocks and his stage manager came up to me and said, “Mr. Manson would like to see you,” and I was like, “oh shit.” I did not know what to expect, but sure enough I walked into his dressing room and it’s all blacked out, there’s quite a gloomy ambiance, and I knew immediately that everything you’ve heard about him and everything you think of him is probably true. He’s the real deal. He’s very unorthodox but he’s also very kind. He’s a nice guy.
What was his best piece of advice?
BROOKLYN: He said, controversy … of course that’s what he’s thrived off of … he said controversy is important. He told me to do something in your 20’s that you’ll regret in when you’re 40. I would have a drink with him before every show and try to pick his brain and learn as much as I possibly could from him. Definitely some great advice that he shared with me throughout the tour.
So you’ve got about a decade to do something that you’ll regret … those are pretty good odds.
DANTE: Hopefully by this next record.
Dante, was there anyone that you particularly connected with on that tour?
DANTE: Tommy Hendrickson is great, from Cooper’s band. Ori’s [Orianthi] great … from Cooper’s band too. They’re all really cool people.
BROOKLYN: The two of us really hit it off with Ori.
DANTE: They’re really professional. We’d hang out with Ori and just bullshit before she would go on or before we would go on.
BROOKLYN: That tour knowledge-wise was so fulfilling. It was like ten tours. What we learned was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I think it’s going to make the next year of touring far more successful. We learned from mistakes, we learned by watching, every type of venue you could possibly play … it was definitely fulfilling in that sense.
Often times tour bands keep to themselves.
BROOKLYN: It was a close-knit community. Actually, every tour we’ve been on we’ve been lucky in that aspect. We’re always very social with the other bands. Some bands will purposely be standoffish in order to maintain some sort of aura but we make it a point to make friends with the other bands. I was so lucky to meet people like Orianthi and Manson and be able to hang out with them every day. I feel like that’s absorbing the experience and living it to the fullest.
DANTE: We’re really thankful that for acts that could just walk around with the biggest of heads, they don’t. They’re just doing their thing and they love doing it and they’re doing it for the right reason.
BROOKLYN: It was great to see that we’re a very small band and household name acts like that didn’t act like they were too good for us. They all were completely friendly and wonderful and willing to share with us and help us become a better band.
Did you watch the VMA’s last week?
BROOKLYN: My take was that a lot of people are blaming the artists, but I blame the fans for keeping that type of music alive. What ends up on the VMA’s is by popular demand so I think that’s the people’s fault for demanding garbage?
Is it popular demand, or is it corporate radio telling people what to listen to?
BROOKLYN: I think it’s a numbers game. Whatever is generating the most numbers for them is what’s going to prevail. It’s not Miley Cyrus’ fault that the public is buying her records. And the funny thing is that after that performance, people were giving her all the attention she’s clamoring for. That’s what she wanted. Everyone is giving her exactly what she wanted. I don’t think it’s her fault necessarily but I do think that the right type of artist could change that potentially plastic embodiment that music has taken on. Obviously trends change all the time. I think it’s going to take people eating too much fast food and sugar and getting sick from it and wanting something with substance.
What bands do you see out there that have the potential to fit that bill?
BROOKLYN: There are a lot of wonderful, wonderful bands out there right now but I don’t necessarily see anybody doing anything that’s going to push it over the edge in a pop culture sense. And I don’t think you’re going to do that by conforming to the garbage. I think it’s going to take somebody playing what they think is on the radio tomorrow, not what is the shoe-in today.
DANTE: I think when you look at the decades from rock and roll on … from the 50’s on … I think it’s important to make your stamp and make your statement in a new way. And when you look at the way that it’s been progressing, now is the time for somebody to step up to the plate and we’re going to try to do that. I know that there are bands that are trying to do that right now …
BROOKLYN: … that’s our goal. I know when I was growing up and I witnessed bands like Green Day and A.F.I. … both of those bands played the VMA’s. Green Day, during the American Idiot era, you couldn’t have been any more pop culture than that and more rock and roll at the same time. I was so inspired when Miss Murder [A.F.I.] was the top Billboard hit and there was an entire bridge with scream vocals. It just goes to show that it’s not about fitting a formula, it’s about reinventing the wheel and doing something better … something that pop culture cannot deny.
DANTE: I think that you can get a lot of attention with a train wreck but trying to get that same amount of attention while being inspiring is a pretty daunting task, but it’s not one that we’re intimidated by.
Will there be twerking involved? I still don’t know what that is.
BROOKLYN: It’s like that stripper move where you shake your butt really fast.
DANTE: That’s how I know about.
Have you ever twerked?
DANTE: Certainly not. Certainly not. I might have fallen victim a couple of times …
BROOKLYN: The sad thing is … not to slight any bands for their artistic decisions … but I do feel like rock music has become so sterile by the whole idea of the indie rock movement where everybody’s afraid to put the distortion on their guitar or wear anything other than a button-down vest.
BROOKLYN: Exactly! There’s no excitement anymore and I think that’s only to the detriment of rock and roll. So I think it’s going to take a lot of guts for a band to break through and create positive change in that sense. A lot of bands are so angry at it that they fight it and they don’t want to be a part of it but I think a band having the guts to step up and conquer it is probably what’s going to create that change.
DANTE: If rock and roll is going to be better than a lot of what you’ve seen on the VMA performances, you have to prove it.
BROOKLYN: You can’t become what you hate. If you hate popularity, if you hate pop culture you’re not going to become it no matter what angle you go at. You just have to surpass it and do something that’s exciting that people can’t deny.
Very philosophical …
What do you guys think of crowd sourcing as a means to fund projects?
BROOKLYN: I have really mixed feeling about it. I think some artists do it in a wonderful way and I think some artists do it in a horrific way. I’ve seen bands that I knew behind the scenes that were buying onto tours which I think is the most horrendous concept ever. And then they turn around and ask their fans for fundraising money. And I’m like, “well why don’t you do a smaller tour and calm your ego down where you’ll actually get paid and not have to pay to be on it.” There’s this site called PledgeMusic which I think is a wonderful way to do it and one of my favorite artists, IMx, is a part of this. What he does is he has so much fantastic content that people can bid on pieces of his collection … pieces of his wardrobe, setlists, vinyl, exclusive items … I think if you’re doing it in a way where you already have a cult-like fan base and you’re giving back to them in a way … it’s a mutual, symbiotic kind of support, then it’s great. I do understand why bands do it, because funding in the music industry is so entirely limited, but I do believe that you should probably tour your ass off to make money and pick tours where you’re going to be financially supported by your own art.
So it’s not instead of being smart about the business, it should be in addition to it?
BROOKLYN: I agree. I think you should already have been smart enough in your business to the point where you have a core group who wants to support you and you have a way to give back to them in that process. If you’re just asking your fans for money because you’re spending way above your head as a business, then I don’t necessarily support that.
DANTE: I hate to see artists have to be beggars. I wish that fan bases would maybe just buy their record and then they’d be fine.
BROOKLYN: Totally takes the glamour out of it, by the way. [laughs]
DANTE: Pardon Trent Reznor’s French … he just said, “it’s ten dollars or go fuck yourself,” and I’m totally about that. I think if you like an artist … and give them the number, too … buy their records, support them. They put their life and heart and soul into their music. That’s the one place where you should have your attention directed.
BROOKLYN: I do think that people should get over the “people steal music” battle because that is not going to change. There’s no technology that’s ever going fix that because as fast as that progresses, people are going to find ways to keep doing it. So I think people should use it to their advantage that more people can receive their music for free because it’s like drugs … you give them your first dose free, they come back and they buy more which means t-shirts, shows, etc. And if you’re really smart about your brand and monetizing your fan base, I think that maybe the illegal downloading era could become slightly fruitful rather than such a lethal drain.
© 2013 Alan Snodgrass | www.digitaldiversion.net. Please do not use without express permission. If you like what you see, leave a comment below and subscribe so you can be notified of new posts. You can also become a fan on Facebook.