This past week I got to sit down with Brooke Binion, the singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter of the grungy rock trio, theWorst, to discuss songwriting, local music, and her return to the Portland music scene after what has been a very big year for her personally.
What do you look for in music, and who are your influences?
You know when it comes to any kind of music it’s just the emotion behind it. I’m always trying to classify what I like and it’s always the feel or emotion. It’s never like how someone sings, or plays, I mean I just feel like all my favorite artists have that in common — there’s this palpable force of emotion that’s behind it.
I’ve gone through stages but as far as what I really always come back to — Hole, Baby Shambles, The Libertines, Eliot Smith. I love Distillers. Pretty much anything that’s really heavy but still has a melody.
What’s going on in music right now that really excites you?
I’ve always really been into women having a voice, but I feel like now all I listen to is women making music. I feel like it’s so relevant now, maybe its like a psychic energy thing. Feminine energy seems to be doing something powerful. I’ve been on that kick where I listen to a lot of women rock singers — if I’m totally honest I listen to a lot of Weakened Friends and it’s weird because I know those guys but I still listen to them all the time. They’re definitely in my constant rotation.
You’re a big fan of local music, too. You always take the time to listen to new albums from local bands. What’s really exciting you in the Portland scene right now?
I love Weakened Friends obviously. I love Spillers, Bumbling Woohas — and these are all people I listen to for real, not just because they’re my friends. I love seeing Cadaverette live. There’s so much. I guess I feel like Portland is almost too talented for its own good really. I lived in Asheville which is also a very local music-driven place but honestly, the talent here is so much better. You don’t need to say I mentioned Weakened Friends twice actually — that’s embarrassing.
Yeah yeah, I won’t.
Alrighty, and theWorst has a show coming up! Tell me about that, and how it feels to be getting back on stage in Portland.
We’re playing our first local show in a year on November 23rd at The Apohadion Theater. We haven’t played in a year because I spent the first half of the year in drug and alcohol treatment. I was an opiate addict, and then when I went on a West Coast tour last fall, and due to technical difficulties I couldn’t keep up with them on tour. So we were out there for three weeks and I used alcohol to curb the withdrawals, and I played the shows. I made it through them. Then I got home, had a couple of big shows with various cover bands. Kept drinking, and then alcohol became a real problem. I went to treatment for 2 months, came back, went again, came back, wrote a lot of songs when I was there. I realized that it wasn’t just a current problem, that it had been a problem for a long time, and I felt really bad. I came back to some really close friends. I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have people who were there for me. It was embarrassing and scary and I’m glad it’s over. So we’ve just been practicing. Figured we’d let the dust settle and now we’re back at it.
People are always like “are you nervous about playing?” And I’m like no — I’ve never associated being creative or having stage presence with being fucked up. Luckily. I know a lot of people do but I was just not productive. Doing anything was a chore. It’s a miracle that anything got done really. I don’t even understand how because I’m not very creative or smart or charismatic when I’m fucked up. I couldn’t get up and go places and be where I said I’m gonna be. I just couldn’t. People really didn’t deserve to be playing with or hanging out with someone in that state. I started to have a break with reality — at the end there I couldn’t trust myself so how could anyone else trust me? It’ll feel good. It’ll feel like the end of something to be back on stage in Portland after everything. It’s been a really big change but I like it.
You wrote a lot in treatment, which totally makes sense. Do you wanna talk a bit about what your process is, and why you write songs?
Yes, Olive, I will talk about my process. This is exactly how it happens. I get a good line, like something really cool or clever way to say something I really wanna say, and it just sticks in my head and it’ll be just this line — like for Fake It Like A Hero someone said something to Ben, they were like in the early stages of a relationship and she was like, “You seem like you would be good at Christmas”. I heard that and I was like “that’s such a cool line.” And so I get a line, and they’ll always be some melody that I just keep working on or some guitar that I just keep playing over and over so it’s like the first thing I’ll play — it goes in phases. So I’ll try to like match that line to the melody and then write a song around that one line and whatever the emotion is that I like the line for expressing, I make a whole song and hope it comes together. That’s pretty much how I’ve written every single song.
I mean first and foremost I really love getting in front of people and just like screaming. As far as having art out there, the actual creating the art — I feel like playing it live is like a reward you get for the process of creating it — I don’t know. I have a lot of mental health issues and a lot of pain as we all do and a song is like somebody perfectly tied it up with a bow. I like taking a nagging feeling and making that into something so I can put it aside — like I just said what that feeling was and now it’s out there in the world. Especially when you get a really good one where a song just comes together and you’re just like “man that is exactly what I wanted to say with exactly the right feeling” and it’s just… health. Processing pain.
Especially when it’s done and I bring it to the band so they can write their part, and we can play it start to finish and it’s done — it’s like the best feeling. So I feel like just getting to play it in front of people is the reward for sitting there and doing something productive with your pain — because I’m not a very productive person so if I can turn something bad into something…
I don’t really know the impact my work has on people, but something I love is when you hear a song and you can’t completely understand what they’re saying. So you make up a different line to the melody, and you make the line that you made up mean something, and just the way that the words are tied to the melody, tied to whatever kind of velocity that’s behind it, it doesn’t matter if that’s not what the person was saying. Like the energy exists somewhere, so yeah, you know — I don’t really have a handle on it completely.
We here at Rad Plaid are very excited to see theWorst back on stage as well as grateful to have the chance to hear from Brooke about the tumultuous but ultimately healing year it’s been for her. Buy tickets early for their show at The Apohadion. It’s a small space and this is expected to sell out. After a year away from the mic, you won’t want to miss what she’s got to say.