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Singer-songwriter Brian DeRemer’s twice-baked debut is worth the wait

Credit: Lacey Prpic Hedtke

Reams of song lyrics have been written around the themes like grief and loss, but few musicians have channeled those emotions in such literal terms like singer-songwriter Brian DeRemer. After parting ways with his bandmates in his former group, Mercer, DeRemer set out to make his first solo record, Dusty Songs for Children of the Modern Age. As his album neared completion, however, everything was suddenly whisked away when the recordings were stolen during a break-in at friend and co-producer Eric Lovold’s home studio.

As DeRemer tells it, he and his new band were, “about seven months into it, we were really close–all the instrumentation on the record was tracked. I had originally done the [drums for the] record at Mike Wisti’s [Albatross] studio, who was one of these guys that I’d always wanted to work with, and the record was kind of garage-y sounding,” he says. “It wasn’t like this incarnation of the record at all. It was very dusty basement, Mike Wisti kind of stuff. It was cool. And then the burglary took place on Christmas Eve.”

The incident immediately made headlines in the Twin Cities. Lovold is known in town for his work fronting the Alarmists (and more recently, new project Heartbeats), and the devastating and sudden loss of thousands upon thousands of dollars of instruments and equipment resonated deeply with members of the music community.

“I heard about it via Facebook, a Facebook status that Eric was posting,” DeRemer remembers, shaking his head. “I had thousands of dollars of equipment down there, and I didn’t even really think at first about the hard drives…” The reality of the situation soon sunk in, and DeRemer learned that all of the files that were to comprise Dusty Songs for Children of the Modern Age were gone. “We felt so secure there. We would grill and hang out and record, and it was safe, and it was at his home,” he says. “And it’s such an inexpensive thing, too–when you consider that it’s like 80 dollars for one of these hard drives. What could you get for that? Compared to the amount of time we put into it. It’s just dumb.”

Stunned, DeRemer didn’t know what he would do next. “It was a weird thing, because it was like, well, is that fire out now? It’s always been a compulsion for me, it’s one of these things where I just have to write, I have to make music. It’s like breathing, kind of. That was really the only time in my life where I’ve been like, I just don’t know if I can do this. Is it worth it?”

The real salt in the wound for DeRemer wasn’t even the loss of work, he says, but the thought of how much time he had spent away from his two daughters (now ages 3 and 4) making the stolen recordings. “I’m a father and I have two young children, and the way that I measure how important things are in my life is by what I’m doing spending time away from my children. What’s so important to me that I could do that and justify it? Making music is one of those things. But that’s what made it really tragic to me, is I spent all that time away from my family.”

But it didn’t take long for DeRemer to become reinvigorated. After an outpouring of support from the community and a benefit show at the Varsity Theater in early 2011, several studio engineers stepped forward to offer free time and resources to rebuild the record, including Zach and Noah Hollander at the Pearl and Kevin Bowe at Mastermix. DeRemer says the support from friends and family, too, made it easier to go back to square one and start again.

“My wife was just like, you have to do it,” he says. “She’s just that kind of person, and she’s been behind me this whole time. She said you have to finish what you started. And I think as an example to my daughters as well, you have to finish what you started. And if you want to be a creative person it’s not always going to be easy, but you have to finish it.”

DeRemer’s love for his daughters and struggles with adjusting to parenthood tie together many of the melodic folk-rock songs on Dusty Songs for Children of the Modern Age, and those themes are especially prominent one of the record’s standout tracks, “The Tunnel.”

Download: Brian DeRemer, “The Tunnel”

“It’s a very humbling thing,” DeRemer says, reflecting on his new role as a father. “It really makes you start to think about, what sort of values am I going to hand down? What’s the content of my character? What do I take from my parents, and what do I leave behind? And into that comes these decisions of religion, all these big things. When you have children you feel responsible for what you’re going to pass down to them, and ‘The Tunnel’ is about that… I think that the song really is about trying to attain that perfection and that one singular thing in your life that makes you important to your children. Finding a legacy. There’s a lot of those lyrical strains that run throughout the record, that I didn’t even realize at the time I was writing them.”

Now that the record is finally finished, DeRemer is planning to celebrate with a big bash at the Turf Club next Friday, February 10, with Romantica, Western Fifth, and Pistol Whipping Party Penguins. He says his wife will join him to sing back-up vocals for one of the songs, and his drummer Mark Lynch and keyboard player Tim Greenwood are flying into town just to play the show.

“Just to have it released and to celebrate with my friends and these bandmates who have just been amazing, they’ve just been so supportive–” He cuts himself off mid-sentence, his voice catching in his throat. “I’m getting kind of emotional, but they’ve just been there for me, you know?”