February Records is pleased to announce that, in the coming weeks, we will be digitally re-releasing Lunchbox’s Glow Like There’s No Tomorrow 7″, which was originally released by Magic Marker in 2001.
Tim Brown and Donna McKean are the two constants among a revolving lineup in the critically-acclaimed indiepop band Lunchbox. Forming in 1994, Lunchbox released a string of albums between 1996 and 2002 — their self-titled debut on San Francisco’s Not Happy label,The Magic of Sound and Evolver on Portland’s Magic Marker, and Summer’s Over on Stewart Anderson’s (Boyracer) 555 Recordings.
This coming May, a reformed Lunchbox, featuring one of the band’s “classic” lineups will play the San Francisco PopFest alongside other late ’90s and early 2000s indiepop icons Boyracer, Rocketship, The Softies and The Cat’s Miaow’s Bart Cummings performing as Bart and Friends. A new album from Lunchbox — the band’s first since 2002 — should also be available around that time from Jigsaw Records.
In 2010, Tim reached out to February Records looking for a label to release some songs from his then-band Birds of California. The Great Expectations EP received quite a bit of blog buzz at the time and was followed by a full-length on Jigsaw Records.
We got in touch with Tim to see what he’s been up to in the last four years and talk about the new album, San Francisco PopFest and moving across the country, among other things.
March, April & May: Hi Tim, last time we spoke was in 2010 when February Records was releasing the Great Expectations EP from Birds of California. It looks like you’ve been pretty busy since then — relocating from the Boston area to Oakland, Calif., reforming Lunchbox and getting ready to release a new LP on Jigsaw, and signing on to play this year’s San Francisco PopFest. When did Lunchbox reform? How did that come about? Does that signal the end of Birds of California?
Tim Brown: It all just sort of happened by accident. I was in discussion with Chris from Jigsaw, who was saying he wanted to re-release an early Lunchbox album, and I asked him if he wanted to release this album of material we recorded in Boston after the Birds of California album, One and Only. He was enthusiastic about that, and we agreed that we’d do a vinyl LP, which I was excited about.
Then Stewart from Boyracer messaged me to tell me that Boyracer was playing the [San Francisco] Popfest, and offered to play drums if I wanted to do a Birds of California show. Somewhere around that time Chris said, “If we’re doing an album, you ought to play the Popfest.” So the whole thing somehow morphed into a Lunchbox reunion show. Stew gracefully bowed out so that our old Lunchbox drummer, Shannon Handy, could play. So now it’s going to be the “classic” Lunchbox lineup (one of the “classic” lineups), with me on guitar and vocals, Donna on bass and vocals, Shannon on drums, Jeremy Goody on trumpet, and Amr Toppozada on guitar and keyboards.
It definitely does signal the end of Birds of California. Birds played the SF Popfest in 2009, but then, because of various obstacles, the record didn’t come out until 2013, and even before that, for various reasons (not least because Donna and I lived in Boston, Stew in Arizona, the others in the Bay Area), it proved impossible to continue the band.
M,A&M: Both Lunchbox and Birds of California featured you and Donna McKean. How much of an overlap in band members was there between Lunchbox and Birds of California? Was there a specific reason you released under the different name instead of just Lunchbox with a different lineup?
Tim: Well, the new Lunchbox album is almost completely me and Donna. Donna played bass, sang lead on a lot of the songs and I played guitar, drums, and everything else (except for trumpet, strings, and flute). The live bands are actually the same, except for Shannon being on drums instead of Stew. Jeremy and Amr are both incredible musicians, so I would never willingly not have them in the band. I got together to rehearse with Amr last week — mind you, we haven’t played a Lunchbox song since 2002 — and he just started playing the songs again, almost like we never stopped. Amazing. I think he remembers them better than I do.
The reason the Birds of California album was not a Lunchbox album was partly because I always hated the name Lunchbox, since (as even a little consideration should have told me) it’s such a generic name, that other bands are bound to have it (and do). More fundamentally, it had been so long since Lunchbox that I wanted to do something fresh and new, and part of the idea was that this is a band we would do with Stew, and it would ride on his powerful Keith Moon-like drumming, and we would combine that with electronics and a kind of shoegaze-y wall of sound type of thing. And live, it was definitely like that. But I’m pretty sure that band did not benefit from being recorded with our usual piece-it-together-in-the-studio method; it would have been a good band to rehearse with for a while and then record live, with everyone doing their own thing, building into some kind of organic climax. But the time-frame and geographic situation did not support that. Recording the album sucked for me. Protools too-many-tracks madness, combined with geographically-dispersed band, drums tracks completed before songs were finished, with corresponding arrangement and tempo problems, etc. By the time the album came out four years later, the band was already defunct. I do like the Birds of California album, but it is an artifact of kind of an isolated, hard time in our lives.
M,A&M: Tell us about the new Lunchbox LP coming out on Jigsaw Records, “Lunchbox Loves You.” When will we be able to purchase it?
Tim: The record is supposed to come out in May, in time for the Popfest. It’s going to be a red vinyl LP, which I’m happy about, because, at this point, I’m all about the physical artifact. We stayed analog on this one (as on all the previous Lunchbox records). It’s simpler and it sounds better. I’m not the first one to say it, but it’s far better to have fewer tracks and be forced to make mixing and bouncing decisions along the way. The sound degradation of tape just helps matters. I don’t like separation, I like sonic glue. The more bouncing the better!
M,A&M: When February Records released Great Expectations, the band was based out of the Boston area. How long have you been back in California? What prompted the move?
Tim: We moved back to Oakland about a year and a half ago. That’s where we’re from, and we basically moved back there at the earliest opportunity. Oakland is a great place to be right now, but even if it wasn’t, it’s home.
M,A&M: What did you think of the Boston/New England music scene when you were living here? Were you involved in local music at all?
Tim: I was only nominally acquainted with it. Boston seems like a good music town as far as I can tell. The only music we did was recording those two records (Birds of California and new Lunchbox) in our mildewed semi-subterranean basement. In Oakland, the “basements” are actually at ground level — much healthier! We saw a few shows, at Great Scott or whatever; but I was really busy with work, and just really found it hard to meet people to do music with locally.
M,A&M: You played San Francisco Popfest in 2009 with Birds of California. Are you excited to return to the fest with Lunchbox?
Tim: Yes. It’s really fun to do Lunchbox again, and play with Shannon again, and sort of reclaim the oeuvre. When we stopped doing Lunchbox in 2002, we had been at it hard for years, and were kind of burnt out on it; but now it seems fresh again.
M,A&M: Are you playing with the original Lunchbox lineup?
Tim: There have been so many lineups; but this is one of the classic lineups, since Shannon played on Magic of Sound, and Amr became our main “utility person” not long after that.
M,A&M: What can festival goers expect to hear?
Tim: We’re going to play songs off all three of the old Lunchbox albums (Magic of Sound, Evolver, and Summer’s Over) plus songs from the new one. Stew will be making a guest appearance to reprise his ace guitar work on “Letter from Overend,” so that will be fun. It will be the less shoegaze-y Lunchbox; trying to keep it pop for the kids :)
M,A&M: What do you think of the San Francisco PopFest lineup? A lot of the bands harken back to the late ’90s and early 2000s — Rocketship, Boyracer, Dressy Bessy, The Softies. Other festivals, such as New York PopFest have followed this trend as well, recently featuring Close Lobsters, The Bats and, this year, The Flatmates. How do you feel about bands like these reforming, touring and even releasing new music?
Tim: I love all those bands. I love Boyracer, and Rocketship is fundamental for us. If there was no Rocketship, there would have been no Magic of Sound, I think it’s fair to say. I’ll never forget walking into Mike Schulman’s shop, Dropbeat, back in the ’90s, and seeing the Rocketship LP, and thinking, “fuck, some smart person called their band ‘Rocketship’,” and then I heard the record, and that was a game-changer. We went off to live in Berlin for a year in 1996 with Rocketship ringing in our ears (among other things), and we moved back to Oakland a year later steeped in drum and bass and kind of Berlin-haunted, and that was really the genesis of the Magic of Sound/Evolver/Summer’s Over era. I am stoked that Rocketship is releasing a new LP on Jigsaw, so that we’re now label-mates.
As to all of them (and us) releasing new music; I see no reason to stop, and I’m sure they feel the same way. If people like it, or want it, then it’s a great thing to be able to do.
M,A&M: Are you planning more shows for Lunchbox? Will you tour to support the new LP?
Tim: I want to. I’ve made a few inquiries about some West Coast dates. I told Chris at Jigsaw to tell Dusty from Rocketship that I want them to tour with us. Dusty, if you read this drop, me a line — it’s not too late!
M,A&M: What else have you been up to musically since we last spoke?
Tim: Donna and I have a new band, with Lindsay Romig (Pennywhistle Park) and Jon Braham, called #1 Smash Hits. It’s a return to our earliest loves, basically Buzzcocks plus feedback, mostly fast, very pop, but no wistful Major 7 chords like Lunchbox. We’ve been gigging around the Bay Area quite a bit with some bands we like (Kids on a Crimespree, Terry Malts, etc.). The goal of the band is to keep it simple — no studio skullduggery, no painful self-exposure, just fun. It’s working out pretty well. We’ve recorded an LP, which hopefully will come out somewhere at some point.
There’s a new Lunchbox bandcamp site up with some tracks from the new LP; and we’re working on a video this spring for the Lunchbox song “Tom, what’s Wrong” with our friend Claude Cardenas.
Interview conducted via email and compiled by Dan Goodwin. Photo illustration by DG.