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Robert Brown Band Slays Illusions On 'Phantom Power'

Christi Bushby
The Robert Brown Band from left to right is is Micah

Is this real what I’m feeling/Is this real or am I dreaming my life away?

Those lines from the song “Pills” open “Phantom Power,” the just released sophomore album from the Robert Brown Band. A life of delusion seems top of mind to band founder Robert Brown. Heck, he even titled the debut album “Love Is a Ghost.” 

“Pills describes the daily ‘why are we doing this?’ said Brown. “Why are some people amazing and some (not)?”

Brown is pointing at those who prefer escapism over reality.

“I know so many people and friends who take anxiety medicine or pain killers, and it’s like ‘oh my god I have to swallow pills to deal with reality,’” Brown explained. “Down the line, if you sedate yourself to a point of asking ‘what is real and what is not’ or ‘why do I feel like I need this to be able to do this?’ … That’s pretty much the gist of why the song is called ‘Pills.’”

A wife and two young children help keep Brown grounded. That family and two small businesses he owns or co-owns keeps him quite busy. So how and WHY does Brown find time to lead and front the hard-rock trio? Therapy.

“We’re not even playing shows right now,” said Brown. “My band fellow band members Travis Wheet and Micah Hattaway are doing their thing right now with their band Old Smoke. They want to play shows because that’s part of why they play music, where I kind of selfishly sometimes like to indulge in recording and writing songs. I have a fix that I get there, and that’s where I’m at with why I play music.”

“Long Time Coming” is another song on “Phantom Power” that speaks exactly to that.

It’s been a long, long time coming/It’s good to be here/It’s so good to be here.

Where is … "here"?

“’Here’ is ‘there’ in that moment,” said Brown. “We’ve opened with that song so many times. ‘It’s good to be here with my friends’ is the next line in that song. So it’s that moment … that show and that promotion … all that work goes into putting on a rock show. And ‘that’ is ‘here.’”

"Phantom Power" is two years in the making. Brown acknowledges that even a guy with a recording and engineering degree probably needs an in-studio producer cracking the whip and making tough editing and producing decisions.

"Exactly. I've always changed my sound. Some of the people I play with probably wish I would find a genre and stick with it," laughed Brown.

He grew up playing drums in his fathers' worship band in a First Assembly of God church. He said though he was in a choir, it wasn't quite like the gospel choirs in African-American churches.

"That black gospel choir sound is something I would like to put on a record," said Brown. "Just to capture that power."

“Make You Proud” closes “Phantom Power.” It's a live take that derives it's power from intense lyrics.

I’m gonna take the words you said/And make them live again/I’m gonna do the best I can/Like a man should live.

Brown said he’s particularly proud of “Make You Proud.” It’s a song about losing his best friend, a Marine who was killed during battle in Iraq in 2005. He said others can relate to similar losses in their own lives where they envision someone who died watching over them and especially how they live.  Brown said he gets choked up nearly every time he thinks about the song.

“A song that draws that emotion … you kind of change your life because they’re watching you. You want to make them proud. You don’t want to make them think you’re not living right; you’re not doing things well. That’s that song,” said Brown.

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.