What Fun Life Is

Two months into 2001, Matt and Bubba Kadane start The New Year

The difference was slight; it was supposed to be. Well, it wasn't supposed to be anything--it just was. Matt and Bubba Kadane weren't fooling themselves, and they certainly weren't trying to fool anyone else.

This was pretty much the same band.

These were pretty much the same songs.

“It’s not like we were in a huge band,” Matt Kadane, center, says, laughing. “It’s not like we’re The Who, and this is our new direction.”
Lizelle Villapando
“It’s not like we were in a huge band,” Matt Kadane, center, says, laughing. “It’s not like we’re The Who, and this is our new direction.”

This was pretty much where they were two years ago.

Yes, there was a new name, and yes, there were new band members, and no, neither one of those facts changed anything other than the album cover and the liner notes. When it came down to it, all the Kadanes had done, really, was replace one word (Bedhead) with three (The New Year). At least, that's how it seemed before the Kadanes took the stage at the Gypsy Tea Room on August 25 for their first Dallas show since 1998. Even to them: "The Texas shows felt like there was never a break," Bubba Kadane says. "You know, it was like everything picked up where it left off."

That night, however, and on The New Year's debut--Newness Ends, set for release February 20 on Chicago's Touch and Go Records--the singing/songwriting/guitar-playing Kadanes sounded more like a couple of guys who grew up worshiping The Who (they did) rather than the Velvet Underground acolytes Bedhead was always accused of being. Which isn't a new idea, either, not if you've paid attention: Listen to Bedhead's three albums (WhatFunLifeWas, Beheaded, and Transaction de Novo--all scheduled for rerelease by Touch and Go on the same day Newness Ends hits stores), and you can hear the exact same thing. The Kadanes have always played in a rock-and-roll band, only one with the volume turned down. Sometimes way down. Whether you call it The New Year or Bedhead doesn't matter.

"It didn't change anything," Bubba Kadane says. "I think that's what people do a lot of the time. Most of the time, when people change, they change everything. We had no intention of doing that, and probably in the end, I would think that'd be a dishonest thing for us to do--to decide to do something different just to do it. I think it probably would've come out to be not as good. It's only probably viewed differently because you're changing the band name. This might've been viewed slightly different being a Bedhead record. It's going to be viewed more dramatically different not being one."

Like any long-distance relationship, bands usually can't survive when one of the members moves to a different city, even one in the same county. With its five members--including third guitarist Peter Schmidt, drummer Chris Brokaw, and bassist Mike Donofrio--spread out over two time zones and three cities (Dallas, New York, and Boston), you'd assume The New Year would already be at the breaking point. You wouldn't even be close.

"There are plenty of times when it would be much better to be in the same place, but you never know how much strain that would put on things," Matt Kadane says. "I think it's just the excitement of getting together probably keeps...I don't know. It's like any relationship: There's something to be said about the excitement of seeing each other when you don't see each other a lot."

The Kadanes have been living apart for six years, since Matt--currently finishing up his dissertation at Brown University--left Texas to further his academic career. While Bedhead was still together, Bubba would practice with drummer Trini Martinez and bassist Chris Wheat in Dallas, while Matt would get together in Boston with guitarist Tench Coxe, another Texas transplant. Now with The New Year, the situation is reversed: Bubba learns the songs at home with Schmidt, and Matt gets to play with the band's rhythm section, Brokaw and Donofrio.

The new members are already used to the arrangement, comfortable with it. "It's been great," Brokaw says. "I really like the music and get along well with the others, and it's been pretty pleasant, unhurried. This is one of three bands I'm in right now [along with Pullman and the Steve Wynn Quartet] where the members all live in different cities, so I'm accustomed to working on things in a sort of nontraditional way, that involves a lot of communicating and coordinating schedules. But the main thing is, I think the music's great, and I'm honored to be involved. Making the record with Steve Albini was a lot of fun, and the shows we've done so far have been pretty exciting, and I'm looking forward to more."

It helps to have such a talented cast. Besides splitting his time between Pullman, the Steve Wynn Quartet, and The New Year, Brokaw has also been performing lately with his erstwhile band mate, Come's Thalia Zedek. "We're just working on a bunch of new songs and taking our time figuring out what route to go with it," Brokaw says. "So far, it's been pretty quiet music, a lot of ballads, not much loud rock music." As for the rest of The New Year, Donofrio also plays bass with Saturnine, and Schmidt fronts Legendary Crystal Chandelier, set to release its second album, Beyond Indifference, on Quality Park Records on February 27.

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