Photo by Autumn Walter |CIGAR|
On March 26, the 193 Coffee House in the University of Rhode Island’s Memorial Union welcomed the unique instrumental, vocal talents and compositions of Brooklyn-based independent musician Alex Nahas, which coalesce to form the “Bright Brown” sound. Nahas is the leader of the music duo known as Bright Brown when joined by drummer Nick Smeraski, but has been playing under the name as a solo act since he embarked on a nationwide tour in support of his latest release, a solo digital EP called “What If It Exists?” in October of last year.
Nahas’ individual composition and musical voice is expressed clearly through the original songs he plays, but what sets him apart from most any other act you are likely to see is his use of the Chapman Stick, a ten-stringed electric instrument which is played by tapping and fretting along the neck. The instrument combines the sonic capabilities of both a guitar and a bass, which allows Nahas to play many lines at once and fill out the sound, even in lieu of percussion accompaniment.
Prior to the show on Monday, while he was in Rhode Island for shows at Jimmy’s Saloon in Newport and Java Madness in Wakefield, the Cigar had a chance to sit down with Nahas to talk about his tour and digital EP, as well as his long career in independent music, which he began in the 80s and 90s as a bassist gigging around San Francisco.
“It was a great music scene back then,” Nahas reminisced, “It was like Seattle, but it was tighter. It was a great community.”
Nahas utilized his talents for years as a bassist and guitarist, but his interest in the Chapman stick began later, when his school was visited by Emmet Chapman, the inventor of the instrument. Chapman demonstrated its melodic and chordal capabilities and captured Nahas’s imagination.
“It’s a very niche instrument,” Nahas admitted. But he also noted the rise in awareness and use of the instrument in the 20 years since he picked it up, saying “there are more players, and what I’ve noticed is that more people know what it is when I play than back when I started. There are less like ‘what is that?’ questions. Now people are like ‘oh, I saw some guy play a Stick 13 years ago!’- like they remember it.”
Nahas and his Chapman Stick certainly drew a reaction out of the crowd at 193 the other night. Even on a bill shared with three fully electric rock bands (the Providence-based funky alt-rock group “grizzlies”, Massachusetts blues/hard-rockers “Magic Eye”, and URI’s own alternative indie rockers “Sun Gangs”), Nahas managed to keep up, dazzling the crowd (and the other acts) by demonstrating the range of sounds made available with the Chapman Stick. He performed original songs from his solo EP, including the politically motivated wordplay and sinister bass-groove of “Talking Armageddon” and the enlightened levity of “What If It Exists?,” and several compositions made with the “Bright Brown” duo, including the bouncy melody and vocal desperation of “Are You Listening?” and the easy-going, sweet “Aurel,” written and named for Nahas’ young son, both from the 2009 album “No Matter How Faint, There’s Light In Everything.”
Following the 193 Degree Coffee House gig, Nahas is off to fulfill the last few gigs of the tour, with upcoming dates at the Light Club Lamp Shop in Burlington, Vermont, and at the Dogfish Company in Portland, Maine.
For more information on Nahas and the “Bright Brown” sound, visit BrightBrownNY.com, and be sure to check them out on Bandcamp at brightbrown.bandcamp.com.