Broken West: mixing Muppets with Shins and Byrds

BY MELEA ANDRYS | MARCH 12, 2009 7:27 AM

If James Mercer of the Shins and Byrds guitarist Roger McGuinn formed a band and enlisted Animal from the Muppets to play the drums, the resulting ensemble would sound a lot like the Broken West.

At least that’s how Broken West bassist Brian Whelan describes his group’s power-pop aesthetic. With two full-length albums, a spot on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and several coast-to-coast tours under its belt, the Broken West’s patented indie pop has garnered the group a solid fanbase and national recognition since its 2004 inception.

On Friday night, the Broken West will invade the East Side of the Iowa River for a show at the Picador, 330 E. Washington St. The show will kick off at 9 p.m. with openers Blind Pilot and Oui Bandits.

“People can expect to get rocked at this show,” Whelan said. “Friday night in Iowa City? Are you kidding me? We’re going to bring the pain just like we did last time. We love our Iowa fans, and we’re all really psyched about this show.”

KRUI general manager Nathan Gould said the Broken West nohas had its share of success in Iowa City, but that the group has the potential to be the next big thing on the national indie circuit.

“The Broken West is a band that has consistently done quite well at KRUI,” he said. “It has an accessible sound, putting it in the category of potential ‘breakthrough bands’ — kind of in the same group of bands such as Vampire Weekend or Tapes on Tapes.”

The Broken West’s steadily growing résumé is preparing the group members for such an advancement. “Down in the Valley,” a track from the band’s 2007 début release I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On, was one of the up-and-coming indie tracks featured in the third season of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“We were very grateful to be included on ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ” Whelan said. “If we got a few people to go buy our record after hearing us on the show, then the plan is working.”

The band’s current plan is to tour the country and promote its latest album, Now or Heaven. If the group’s début release is all LA pop and West Coast sunshine, Now or Heaven takes a more mature look at the themes of desire, turmoil, and heartache through a rose-colored lens of catchy hooks and tightly woven harmonies.

“The lyrics were usually written late in the [songwriting] process, typically late at night,” Whelan said. “We self-produced our first record, and for Now or Heaven, we hired a producer. So basically, the new record took a lot less time and was much more painful.”

The Broken West’s diverse sources of inspiration (which, Whelan said, range from poetry to Jägermeister) and tight relational dynamic keep the creative juices flowing, allowing the band members to maintain an overall optimism about the future.

“We’re kind of like brothers in many ways,” Whelan said. “Except we’re also rolling around in a Ford van rocking faces, so even amid the squabbles, there’s a lot of love.”

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