The Brothers Comatose sound shaped by lively string theory
Written by COLE CHRISTENSEN Sentinel Staff Writer   
Monday, 19 August 2013 14:22
The Brothers Comatose (Photo provided)
The Brothers Comatose have a 2012 South By Southwest Festival promotion video on their website called “The Living Room Sessions.” The video features the band sitting on some “slightly” used furniture in a wooded area, a beautiful backdrop for a rootsy string band.
During the performance a golden retriever pops in and out and snips the fiddler’s hand before his solo, the banjo picker drops into his trademark comatose playing style, and aside from the rustic outdoors setting, you get the sense that this is probably pretty close to a normal rehearsal for the quintet when they are not on the road.
While the video shoot makes for a nice promotion, in many respects it is also a representation of the roots of the band’s approach to eclectic American string band music. For 20-something band founders Alex (banjo and vocals) and Ben (guitar and vocals) Morrison, living room music is and will always be the foundation of their American musical experience.
Their sound will be showcased at the Black Swamp Arts Festival with a Main Stage show Saturday Sept. 7 at 1:45 p.m. as well as sets on the Acoustic and Family stages.
“My mom was in a band and they used to practice all of the time at the house,” Ben said in a recent telephone interview.
“They had a lot of musician friends and they would have music parties at our house, usually on Sundays or on days when they didn’t have gigs. Everyone would just play, and that is what sparked the fire.”
Certainly there are numerous musicians around the world that were initially attracted to a particular instrument, genre, style or sound through growing up with the music around them. No different for the Morrison brothers, who listened closely and eagerly sought to participate in the energetic folk and bluegrass musical environment.
“I really distinctly remember people coming over and calling out songs and then everyone being able to play it,” Ben said.
“Everyone just knew what to do and that was just really inspiring when you are a kid and watching and really wanting to be a part of it.”
For the Morrison brothers this early introduction to American folk music has come full circle through The Brothers Comatose. Alex, Ben and band bassist Gio Beneditti, had departures into rock and punk rock, but eventually gravitated back to acoustic instruments and music.
While the instruments and means of amplification changed, the energy of experience the music parties as kids, coupled with their time exploring edgier punk rock, serves as the foundation for the sound of The Brothers Comatose. The addition of fiddler Philip Brezina and mandolinist Ryan Avellone has helped the band bring together string band and rock music into a cohesive and attractive sound that is not traditional bluegrass, but that certainly captures its energy and essence.
“We have all been in rock bands, and we love that sound, but a few years back we started picking up more acoustic instruments,” Ben said. “My brother picked up a banjo at one of the music parties and ever since then we have been playing songs that we like to hear on acoustic instruments. It is definitely not traditional bluegrass, and it definitely has rock influences.”
As a quintet the Brothers Comatose continue to expand their footprint in the Americana and progressive bluegrass music circle, a music scene that continues to expand through influential bands like the Avett Brothers, Trampled by Turtles and the Infamous Stringdusters.
“Banjos have kind of become cool over the last year or two, which is funny, but is awesome,” Ben said. “It is nice to open the sound the old time and folk music to broader ranges of people.”
Featured at string band festivals across the country like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, High Sierra and Grand Targhee, the band is capitalizing on a growing fan base that loves live music, dancing and high-energy acoustic string bands. With a strong emphasis on their live show, The Brothers Comatose bring an infectious sound that is ripe for audience participation.
“We really love to play live because of the energy people bring to a show,” Ben said. “I feel like people want to go to a show and have a party and have fun.”

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