“What constitutes a memory?” That’s a question Rachel Brown asks on “Let It Be 10,000 Years,” the opening song on their new Thanks For Coming EP What Is My Capacity To Love?. The project finds Brown in the immediate aftermath of a romantic break-up, trawling through the echoes of their past relationships and trying to piece themselves together while avoiding a repeat. Across eight scrappy and confessional songs, Brown reflects on a life spent seeking closeness with another person while never fully committing to letting anyone in. It’s a self-lacerating project that manages to find an air of positivity from the minor depths of another disappointment. Through their DIY indie rock songs, which feel like inner monologues set to unkempt guitars and drum beats, Brown realizes that self-understanding trumps projecting ideas onto somebody else.
If the EP represents an emotional breakthrough for Brown, it also marks something of a gear shift for their approach to releasing music. Previous Thanks For Coming releases have been recorded and shared on Bandcamp, with their page on the streaming site having the feel of a sprawling diary with over 80 entries all posted in the space of a few years. At the end of last year a best of-style compilation, You Haven’t Missed Much, was released and now comes What Is My Capacity To Love?. It feels like leveling up without losing any of the personal nature of the music that made previous releases so precious.
Brown, speaking from their home in New York, acknowledges that this year has been a step-up for them as a musician, though. In addition to Thanks For Coming, Brown plays alongside Nate Amos in Water From Your Eyes. Their excellent new album Everyone’s Crushed was released in May and the band spent the summer touring Europe, including some big shows with their Matador label mates Interpol. It was on this tour, a rare and somewhat overwhelming trip abroad for Brown, that What Is My Capacity To Love? started to come together. In the Q+A below, they explain the context of the EP, as well as sharing an unlikely love for Red Hot Chili Peppers, and why The Notebook is to blame for a generation of unrealistic romantic expectations.
The FADER: You have this vast collection of music that you've shared on Bandcamp over the years. I was curious, do you have a strong sense of all of the different albums, EPs, eras even, or does it get blurry at a certain point?
Rachel Brown: I feel like if I looked at it, I could probably remember what and listen to it. Then I'll be able to remember what was actually going on in my life. It's funny, sometimes I forget I have a certain song and then Nick, my manager, finds it and I’m like, I guess I did. I have a better sense of the full albums, but the random song uploads I have to rely on the song titles. If it’s called “I'm really depressed right now,” I'm like, okay. I remember that.
Did You Haven’t Missed Much feel like turning a clean page in that regard?
Not really, because I haven't recorded a full length as a band since 2017. I've done full lengths that have been either just me or that Nate [Amos] produced, or there's one where a bunch of people produce songs. But I've been saving these songs since 2018 to record that I have not, so it doesn't feel like I've completely turned any pages. I still have to do that. It did feel like a new era in that I've completely moved on from the random releases whatever I wanted though, for sure.
What Is My Capacity To Love? Is written primarily about a break-up. Were there any tropes or cliches of writing about heartbreak that you were keen to avoid?
I feel like I wasn't really avoiding anything. I feel like my relationship with that person, and not all of the people, but most of the people leading up to that, were all tropes. I'm not even sure it was about those people when I was like, ‘I'm in love with this person.’ I would be like, ‘Or am I?’ After a break-up I’d feel like I actually just really wanted to be in love, and then I projected all these things onto this person, and then I just kept projecting the same things on different people. I don't even think it was based on what I wanted in a partner. It was based on these tropes of romance that I think I've been seeking since I was a kid pretty much watching rom-coms.
Which rom-coms do you blame for putting those things in your mind?
I was a kid when The Notebook came out. I feel like everybody was, I mean, that's not a comedy, but I feel like that movie was so big on Tumblr. It'd be like the caption would be, “This is what I want,” and then you rewatch it and you see it’s pretty toxic. It’s romantic in a way that these people forgive each other after all the hurt they put each other through but I actually just don't really want to be hurt all that seriously.
“Loop” was the first song that we heard from the EP. That song kind of predicts or almost sees into the future of what's to come in terms of your relationships. I was wondering, do you ever look back over your old songs and see similar things where you've almost seen ahead in some way?
Not in a particularly insightful way. I have never written a song with the winning lottery numbers in it. I feel like it better predicts the outcome of my bad patterns. I'll listen to a song and be like, ‘wow, that's crazy,’ because that's what's happening right now. But that's kind of what I always do. Of course this was bound to happen because I didn't do anything to change the pattern.
The other song I wanted to talk about is “Unlimited Love,” which shares its name with a recent Red Hot Chili Peppers album. What is the significance of that album to you?
For the record, I love the Red Hot Chili Chili Peppers. They're one of my favorite bands, and me and Nate were listening to them all the time and talking about them a lot on tour. Unlimited Love doesn’t have many hits but it was really nice listening to it. You can tell they're just having a lot of fun and making music together. I don't know what else I would want from a band that's been around that long. It'd be awesome if they could write really good music again, but I think that's asking for too much.
I'd never been to Europe at all so it was funny that we were really on a Red Hot Chili Peppers kick, which is a very American thing to be doing. Just us running around and talking about the Red Hot Chili Peppers everywhere we went. I named it kind of as a joke, it was on my mind all the time and the idea of unlimited love, I guess maybe that's when things shifted when I was over there because it was like I was so outside of my element, and I feel like it made me reframe my life in this bigger context.
Is there a Red Hot Chili Peppers deep cut that you discovered on that tour that you could recommend to people?
“I Could Die For You” from By The Way. That song. I mean, it's a little bit romantic in maybe an unhealthy way, but I think that song is really beautiful.
I read that kind of early on for you, that one of the things that made you start a band and kind of get out is doing open mic standup. Is that something you've ever been tempted to go back to in any way as a form of writing or performance?
Yeah. I feel like every time I talk about it, it's this vague sense of that is something that I would be interested in doing again, but there's nothing in my body that compels me to go do it ever. I think I've had more friends that were doing comedy I would maybe do it. The New York comedy scene scares me. People are really trying to be successful and I just kind of want to hang out. I prefer hanging out with musicians, I think, which is probably why I do that mostly now.
We talked about the way you’re releasing music a bit more formally these days and the fact you have spent the year on tour. Does 2023 feel a little different to you as a musician compared to previous years?
Yeah, it definitely feels different, but I feel like I've been so used to it from Water From Your Eyes, because that was really crazy. They had us really stepping up in professionalism. In my head there was a small community of people that might've cared about the Thanks For Coming music. It felt low pressure, kind of like I had a diary that I was letting people glimpse at. I'm very back and forth with this project with what I want from it, because in some ways I've been doing it for a while, and I guess it makes sense to want it to grow. I’m also a human being that wants validation.
But in some other ways, I do almost just want it to be for me. I don't know if I actually want to have to think about it more than just pressing a button on Bandcamp. I just think, ‘Who's going to listen to this? But then the Danger Collective people and other people are like, ‘of course people are going to listen to it.’ I still can't process that.