The consolation prizefighters: Braid, just before the end
The consolation prizefighters: Braid, just before the end
Shawn Scallen

Forever got shorter

No one told Bob Nanna that trying to watch 365 movies in a year was a good idea. In fact, most of his friends attempted to talk him out of it by trying to lure him out of the house and the theaters to do something, anything, else. But for Nanna, who spent six years as Braid's singer-guitarist before the band split up in August 1999, it was too late to stop. He and his then-roommate Brian Shortall found themselves involved in the contest almost by accident, the result of too much snow outside and a Blockbuster Video store located just around the corner from their apartment. Stuck inside for a few days at the beginning of last year with little to do but watch television, Nanna and Shortall realized they were on pace to watch 365 movies by the end of the year.

It's the kind of thing most people would laugh off. But Nanna and Shortall decided to make a belated New Year's resolution: By the end of 1999, they would both have seen at least as many movies as there are days in a year. So, for the next 12 months, Nanna and Shortall watched movies whenever they could manage, starting with a triple-feature of Roger and Me, Wrongfully Accused, and I Went Down. They endured six-movies-a-day marathons at gargantuan cineplexes, 10:30 a.m.-2 a.m. runs that involved packed lunches and taunts of, "Hearing about you guys makes me happier about my life." When Nanna went on the road with Braid, he'd drag as many people as he could from whatever town he was in to the local theater, trying to keep up the pace.

And they made it, just barely. For Nanna -- a buff who says watching movies inspires him and wonders why Cannonball Run II is on DVD, but the original, sadly, isn't -- the experience was fun. He was even excited about having such cinematic classics as Beverly Hills Ninja and Encino Man be a part of his year. But while Nanna is proud of his accomplishment, that doesn't mean he's going to try to top himself.

"At the time, we were like, 'No problem,'" Nanna says, remembering the contest's origins. He laughs. "I don't know what we were thinking. What was hard for me was that I was going to go on tour for some of it. I was going to be in Japan -- how was I going to watch movies in Japan? And when I actually got home from Japan, I was 40 days behind in movies. That was in May. Around October and November, my friends were trying to intervene in the madness. They'd be like, 'Instead of going to see a movie or staying home and watching a movie, let's go do this or something.' We were just like, 'It's too late. We've come so far. The time for intervention was back in May, or even July.'" He laughs. "But we did it, and we did it even with a few days to spare. We ranked them too. And it's something I will never, ever, ever do again."

Another thing Nanna will never do again: play with Braid, though Polyvinyl Records will release a two-disc retrospective of the band, Movie Music Vol. One and Two, on April 4. Not that he didn't enjoy the six years he spent in the band, the hundreds of shows they played together, the three albums they recorded, and the dozens of singles and compilations on which Braid appeared. Those were some of the best years of his young life, and he'd do it all again in a second. And the new band Nanna, 24, is trying to get going features two of his former bandmates, bassist Todd Bell and drummer Damon Atkinson. But though his new group features three-fourths of his old one, it is not, he stresses, another version of Braid. The songs he played with Braid will never be heard again, even the ones he was writing when the band broke up. The group he was writing them for doesn't exist anymore, so they don't exist anymore either.

"They're dead," he says, simply. "There were never really finished songs, but there were three of 'em that I think we might've played once, but then...We weren't really happy with them anyway. You know, they needed some work. There's a new band in the works, and that's what I'm putting all my efforts into right now. We'll probably play out or release something by summer, the end of summer. It's not a final lineup yet, but it's me and Todd, who was in Braid, and Damon, who was in Braid." He laughs. "And someone else. I mean, obviously, you know, we got together and we started writing normally what the next Braid songs would probably sound like. But they're different enough to not be Braid songs. And especially, once we bring someone else in, they'll evolve more, you know?"

Braid's split came as a surprise to some, but Nanna says it had been "brewing for a few months." While he's quick to point out that singer-guitarist Chris Broach's decision to return to school wasn't the reason the band broke up, he admits the decision did put a crimp in the group's plans. They wanted to record another album and "tour forever on it." They wanted to go to new places, like Brazil and Australia, and return to Europe and Japan. But, he says,"We wouldn't have been able to do that if Chris wanted to go back to school."

So, after recording their final three songs together (two of which ended up on last year's "Please Drive Faster" single), the band sat down and "decided how to end the band." After that, they went their separate ways for a while. But soon enough, Nanna, Bell, and Atkinson decided they wanted to play together again, whether it was as Braid or something else.

"We all just took a break," Nanna remembers. "Todd took a vacation. Damon moved into a new house. I went to Brazil. It was just a new leaf we were all turning over. There was so much that we wanted to do. And after a few months, we realized we all still wanted to play in a band. Damon, Todd, and I were always determined, 100 percent, even when Chris wanted to leave. Todd tried to talk him out of it. I don't even know if he's in school or not." He laughs. "It just seemed kind of natural, to just get together and write some songs and see what happens. And it's working out."

In the meantime, Nanna is working at temp jobs in Chicago, putting off a career until it's absolutely necessary. He hopes it never will be; Nanna believes music is his future, and based on the available evidence (all three Braid albums, including 1995's Frankiewelfareboyagefive and 1996's Age of Octeen, are stellar), he's probably right. Yet while Nanna tries to move into the future, his past is still lurking around, popping up surprisingly frequently lately to remind him of the previous six years.

In the coming months, Glue Factory Records will issue Lucky to Be Alive (also, coincidentally, the name of the last song the band recorded together), a disc culled from the group's triumphant four-show finale in August 1999 in various clubs around Chicago and Champaign-Urbana, where the members of the band met while they were attending the University of Illinois. Braid's final four performances were also captured on film, and that footage will also be released later this year, titled Killing a Camera.

Most significant among these releases is Movie Music Vol. One and Two. Polyvinyl Records, the label that released Braid's final album (1998's Frame and Canvas), will issue Movie Music, a double-disc set that neatly compiles Braid's history over the span of 36 songs. Every song the group recorded for a compilation or a single is present and accounted for on Movie Music, as well as five previously unreleased tracks, including a nimble remix of "A Dozen Roses" from Frame and Canvas, revamped by The Dismemberment Plan's Travis Morrison and retitled "Roses in the Car."

It makes sense that the song has been retitled, because in Morrison's hands, it really is a different song. Hearing the jolt of electronic drums makes you realize how many possibilities are available, which, Morrison says, is the point of his version of the song.

"As opposed to, say, the Ramones, where it's pretty much impossible to hear the song for anything other than what it is, Braid songs would often make me wish I could join the band, or at least hang out at practices, because of the fascinating array of loose ends," says Morrison, who worked on "Roses in the Car" for a remix compilation that may never see the light of day. "They offer a rich buffet for someone that really wants to dig in and maybe come up with a new song out of the available pieces, which, to my book, is what remixing is all about. I hate remixes that simply exist for the giggle factor of hearing a rock singer dropped in the middle of a house tune. The bottom line is that Braid -- like all great bands that have an idiosyncratic vision -- sparked connections in my head, and the remix was a listener-fan's rare opportunity to speak back to the song and the band about those connections in a musical way."

For Nanna, Movie Music was his and the band's way to speak back to their fans, not to mention spare anyone who wanted to hear the songs off the out-of-print singles and compilations from paying $30 for just one of them on eBay or one of the various other auction sites. He doesn't mind eBay much -- he even put some of his rare records (not Braid ones, mind you) on the site a few months ago to make rent -- as long as what's being sold is band-approved, not something a kid with a CD burner and a scanner is making to score a quick buck.

"There's nothing I can do to stop record collectors that want the actual limited copies and stuff," he says. "The people that want them are willing to pay that money for them. They're collectors. As long as it's not bootleg stuff. I got two auctions taken down, people burning CDs of all of our seven-inches and stuff. And I see a lot of people have live shows, and they make covers for them, and they look all professional. That can be a little annoying. It's wrong. Not only is it illegal, but it sickens me sometimes."

As for Braid, to Nanna, it's already a memory. But it's a good one.

"For all practical purposes, we're different bands throughout the Movie Music CDs, but it's always seemed the same to me, even though obviously, looking back and listening to it, it's not," he says. "I remember all the non-music stuff. Those are my memories of Braid. I mean, I really enjoyed playing. It's kind of contradictory, because the memorable times were also the parts when we were in the van or hanging out or something happened before or after a show. But I really enjoyed playing with the three of them, because, you know, we'd come so far. We were almost perfect for each other, which was kind of doomed. It was great to be -- all four of us -- 100 percent into one thing. It was pretty amazing."


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