Last year, Nathan Brown of Dead Media Tapes was contracted to make 40 eight-track copies of U.K. artist Mark Ronson’s album Late Night Feelings. As a gift, Brown made five reel-to-reels of the record for Ronson and whoever else the labels, Sony Music Entertainment and Columbia Records, wanted to give them to.
Working out of his home in Denton, Brown recorded the album on the reels, but there were still five minutes of tape left on each one.
“I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’m just gonna cut this off,’” Brown recalls. “It’s kind of like that part in Back to the Future where Marty’s trying to go back to 1985, and he’s saying, ‘I wish I had more time. Wait a second, I’ve got a time machine.’
“It was kind of a realization like that. Like ‘Wait a second. I know maybe no one will ever listen to these reels, especially the end of them, but I could put one of my own songs on the end of it. Maybe someone at Sony will hear.’”
The labels sent the two reel-to-reels to Ronson’s office. Assuming anyone does listen to the end of them, they’ll hear a song Brown put out about his wife 15 years ago called “Snugglebug” off his album Gotta Get It Outta Here. Despite being in the eight-track and reel-to-reel game for a while, this was the first time Brown’s music was ever put on tape. And it won’t be the last.
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the album’s release, Brown is putting out Gotta Get It Outta Here Feb. 2 on eight-track and reel-to-reel.
“If I don’t put something of my own out on eight-track after all these years, I’ll be damned,” Brown says.
He released music and performed under the name Nathan Brown until 2005 when he met Tara Cunningham, whom he would later marry. Brown released Gotta Get It Outta Here the same year under the name Browningham, a combination of his and Tara’s names.
The project is a blast from the past for Brown. From 2002 to 2006, Brown’s home was a mobile one, specifically, a dark blue 1988 Toyota Van Wagon. For a while, he only had one bill he had to pay each month, and that was for car insurance. He was living the life of a traveling musician after the release of his debut solo album Nathan Brown in 2002. It was a mixture of songs from two EPs he had released before.
For months at a time, Brown toured the country. He’d wake up most days and drive into some major city, grab a copy of its arts weekly and look for venues where he could ask to play that night.
This time of Brown’s life, which was sparked by not being able to pay his rent in Fort Worth, was addictive for him, he says. All he had was his van, keyboard, some sound equipment and whatever merch he had at the time.
When he needed a break from touring, Brown crashed on his Fort Worth friends’ couches and recorded music for his second album in their living rooms. Brown released the album in 2003, but he says he can’t remember what it was called. It wasn’t terribly memorable, he says. But, memorable to Brown or not, he developed a unique electro-funk '80s-contemporary sound that really blossomed in his third album, Gotta Get It Outta Here.
The album opens up with sharp synths gliding behind choppy guitar riffs and drumlines. Notes on the bass guitar rumble and warp while Brown’s falsetto vocals pierce through it all in the first track “Urban Lyrics.”
Brown couldn’t tell you the meaning of all the songs on the album, but he says “Urban Lyrics” is about a couple from New Jersey trying to escape the grind of their blue-collar lifestyle.
One half of the couple is a man who works construction and steals auto parts and sells them when he can. The woman works at a strip club. One day, one of her patrons drops a pair of diamond cufflinks so she brings the cufflinks home and the couple decides to sell them, buy a motorcycle and ride out of town to start a new life.
“I have no idea why that came out of me,” Brown says, speaking of the song's specific storyline. “I just thought it was kind of funny. It’s called ‘Urban Lyrics’ because it’s just a bunch of blue-collar, stereotypical lyrics that you would hear in the '70s or '80s. Like, using the word city and that kind of stuff.”
Except for his tune "I've Been Feelin' It," Brown composed, arranged, performed, recorded and produced every track on the album. But no other part of Gotta Get It Outta Here is more emblematic of Brown and his music than the title song and its introductory track “Shit Story.”
“I guess there’s like a theme,” Brown says. “I guess I’ve — in the past — I’ve been known as, you know, like, ‘shit guy.’ I mean, whatever, for whatever reason. I wasn’t, like, trying to market myself as that or whatever. I just was like, you know, fascinated by feces,” he laughs, then clarifies, “in a sophomoric way.”
In “Shit Story,” you’ll hear Brown on a stage in Joplin, Missouri, from around the time he was touring and living in his van. He explains that the lyrics of his song “Gotta Get It Outta Here” are about a time he soiled himself at a 7-Eleven gas station.
Living in his van, Brown often didn’t have an immediate place to use the restroom. He woke up one morning a couple of blocks from the restroom, and initially planned to empty his bowels on somebody’s nearby lawn. But as he squatted there, Brown looked up at the house the lawn belonged to, which he imagined was owned by some kind people, and decided this was not the right move.
He decided to make the venture to the gas station, but when he got there, both restrooms were occupied. Brown couldn’t hold it anymore. So, he went. He went right there in the new khaki pants his mother bought for him from Ross the day before. He felt bad about ruining his new pants, so as soon as the men’s restroom became available, he scooped out the new contents of his underwear and tossed them into that 7-Eleven toilet.
“And that’s what this song’s about,” Brown says on the album, preparing to play “Gotta Get It Outta Here.”
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The cover art for the album is a drawing of a toilet by Brown that he made while blindfolded at a party back in the early 2000s.
“When I saw it I thought, ‘That actually looks like an interesting representation of a toilet,’” Brown says. “So I just hung on to it.”
The artwork has come full circle and being pasted on the front of Brown’s eight-track cartridges and the reel-to-reel cases for Gotta Get It Outta Here. The release includes new mixes of the songs and four bonus tracks.
After the album comes out in February, Brown says he also plans to re-release songs from his first two albums on tape in the future. Until then, he'll keep putting out other artists' work on tape and continue being the self-proclaimed "shit guy."