Andy Browne was a teenager when his band The Nightporters lit up Atlanta’s punk scene in the 1980s. Touring with R.E.M. and the Replacements, a true highlight for the band was sharing the stage with The Clash at the Fox Theatre in 1984. There’s a wild and rich history of Atlanta music that’s anchored in the legacy of The Nightporters– Tim Nielsen and Paul Lenz would join Kevin Kinney to form Drivin N Cryin while guitarist Ray Dafrico would become a staple of the scene at large forming bands like Shades of Shame, Kathleen Turner Overdrive, and the Ray City Rollers. The Nightporters continued to exist in various incarnations but as the scene changed, so did priorities and Browne found himself on the West coast, engineering video screens for stadium tours and sporting events. It was hard work, but it was the spectacle and romantic transience of the lifestyle (along with his punk-rock past and heart) that surely brought Andy Browne full circle. Since 2016, Andy has been back in Atlanta, fronting his own group, and releasing new music. He’s a man with songs to sing and stories to tell. The Andy Browne Troupe is set to play a FREE show at Macon’s JBA on Saturday, November 9th, and I was fortunate enough to share a few minutes with Andy and his bandmate & muse, Lucy Theodora Erickson.
AI- You’re actually from England, Birmingham, is that right?
AB- That’s right. My parents just moved back. They’ve been here a long time– but I grew up watching Bowie on TV and it’s like my homeland. I was born in Miami, but England’s home to me. It’s where I spent my formative years. Clash, Bowie, Stones, all those… People argue about American bands and English bands. I’m not going to argue with anybody about anything, but I’ll tell you my heart is with the English.
I think it’s tough to find a line between them when there was so much great rock n’ roll mixing and influencing each other… Going from Chuck Berry to the Beatles and then the Beatles to Dylan and then Dylan to everybody else.
AB- Yeah. I love the Allman Brothers. I love Skynyrd. They have that soul, and that’s what we’re kind of tapping into. It’s a universal language and when it hits, you know it. You know?
When did you get to Atlanta?
AB- I was maybe 15 when we moved here? 14? 13? I started playing with the other band, the Nightporters, at 15 and that was quite successful until we broke up around… I don’t know, I was maybe 21 or something. So we started playing when we were 15. I was in Dunwoody, Georgia, and kind of grew up here in my teenage years.
You bring up the Nightporters. You had what I would consider to be an extremely successful run there in Atlanta– but you were very young. What was it like to be at that point in your life… Not only were you making a big splash in the Atlanta scene, but you were getting to share the stage with a lot of what I would imagine were not only your contemporaries but your heroes at the time. Guys like the Clash and the Replacements.
AB- My fondest memory is Joe Strummer. We opened for The Clash at the Fox in Atlanta. You know, I took my guitar backstage after the show and got the thumbs up from him, “Good show, mate!” And that’s really important– to get the thumbs up from your hero. Nothing compares to that, you know? Not in a musical sense. And the Replacements? We were on the road with the Replacements for a little while, and they’re a great band. We love them, but it was like… Well, it’s a little yellow submarine you’re livin’ in and it was crazy and I can’t really go into details. I do have one story I’ll share with you when we see each other. It’s about Michael Stipe and Paul Westerberg and me being sick on the road and how they helped me.
I think I would like to hear that story.
AB- Both those guys are quite characters in themselves… But they were great because we were a bit younger and they helped us along. Both groups helping… Those who you see good things in and nurturing that. That’s not only great musicians but great people.
You got out of music at one point in time and you were engineering video screens for like huge live events. Like the big giant monitors that they have for everybody in the cheap seats to watch the show?
AB- Yeah, I moved to L.A. in ’93, and I got a job. It was all the U2 Zooropa video screens…
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I remember that.
AB- I did a couple of jobs and they hired me on a freelance basis, like permanent freelance, but I did work for the Stones, U2, toured with Van Halen. I was in Japan for the Olympics in ’98. I was here in Atlanta and the ’96 Olympics– had the bomb go off about 30 feet from me.
AB- And so there’s just like the whirlwind of just crazy stuff all over the world– special events, the Australia Grand Prix… It’s a lot of work. I cut my teeth on the grindstone of that stuff. It’s a lot of work, little sleep, a little bit of food, but it was very difficult.
Were you able to play music at all while you were doing that?
AB- I was dabbling, but you know, you’re on the road three weeks a month. My passion has always been music, so I knew that one day I’d get back to it. Well, I found that again, and that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re reigniting the passion of all those bands that we love and combining them into one sound. It seems to be working. People seem to be digging what we’re doing.
The Andy Browne Troupe… How many records have you put out underneath that banner so far?
AB- Well, there’s been four records in I think three years, and we’re working on the next one right as we speak.
And you’ve kind of had a theme going on for those four records– this circus performer, traveling lifestyle… You had Zazel, the human cannonball girl, and I know that you are a big fan of early 20th-century magic and those traveling shows. What led you into that theme? ‘Cause it seems like you’ve not found the bottom to it yet, that it’s continuing to inspire you.
AB- Zazel’s story is very interesting one, and it’s been an inspiration. As we sit right now, Lucy and I are actually working on a children’s book about her story, which we hope one day to see in the movies ’cause it’s just been an inspirational story. I can talk more about that when we’re there and give you the lowdown on what’s going on of her and how it inspired me.
Almost a year ago, you released Elephants- and you say that you are currently working on the next installment. Is this going to follow along the same line?
AB- Well, the difference is this, we’ve reformed the band in a certain aspect with Lucy on bass and we have Brad Mattson on drums, Jeff Ford on guitar, and Billy Fields on keyboards. We do have a trombone player here and there, a couple of ’em, but we have more of an organic sound now. Elephants... I think it was a really good album, but it was done with more electronics than we’re using now. We used some machines and stuff like that. We’ve gone back to the basics and a lot of people that hear this new stuff are kind of more… We’ve gone back to like the sound of The Who and the energy that came from that music– maybe the music that inspired us when we were young. And Dylan has always been a favorite of mine, so I really enjoy bands that are actually saying something. This new album is more of a… It’s not live, but it’s… It’s like when you listen to the Allman Brothers or Skynyrd, there’s a sound and it’s different from anything. It’s a certain soul– and that’s what we’re trying to get back to. To me, in a way, music has kind of gone astray. It’s lost its meaning a bit. It used to be, people followed music and they listened to it and they heard the words. And I think that one of the most important aspects is “what is this person saying?” Are they making a statement? And I’m not saying every song has to be some kind of political, you know… I don’t like that at all. It goes back to Joe Strummer when he says, “Don’t tell them how to think, but just tell them to think.” So I’d like to think we’re a thinkin’ man’s band. Well, thinkin’ woman’s band too.
Once upon a time, we didn’t have the internet, people walked into record stores or they had older siblings or they had friends that helped them locate and find new artists. You had to physically find these things, hold them in your hand. But in this day and age, with digital music, people are faced with so much. To me, it often seems overwhelming to try to locate new artists, and it’s very easy to just sort of fall back on what you’re already comfortable with and love. How do you see people finding new music in this day and age?
LTE- That’s a good question. With the Internet and television shows, movies… People hear songs and maybe they’re inspired to go look for it. But I work in a record store here in Atlanta– it’s Wax n’ Facts, and it’s been here for 43 years. We have people come in all the time that are looking for the original artist that was sampled in a new song. They’re being driven back to the original musicians, and a lot of them are like soul– so they might sample a little Brothers Johnson lick or something here and there and then they’re like “Wow, this is really cool!” Marvin Gaye, any of these, even Frank Sinatra. And they’ll come in because they want to know what the original music was like, and they end up oftentimes liking that better. So I don’t know if that’s indicative of what new music is kind of about. It doesn’t for me, but I could be stuck in some old school trap. It doesn’t seem to have the same originality that a lot of the older artists that I grew up with did.
Andy, what about you?
AB- Lucy is kind of like my muse. She’s helped me write and inspired a lot of stuff. So when it comes to musical… Not so much direction, but like she knows what’s going on. She works at one of the most respectable record stores in the United States. She knows what’s going on. Danny Beard who owns the store, he’s amazing. People like that, when you’re around them, it inspires you to be a better person.
What are we looking at coming up this Saturday at JBA? Are you going to have all your horn players along with the band for the show?
AB- We just usually have one player, but we might just take it easy ’cause I know it’s not the biggest place in the world. So it might be an acoustic guitar with me singing and Lucy on bass, Brad Mattson on drums, Billy Fields on piano, and Jeff Ford on guitar. Kind of slim it down just a bit in there and see. It’s kind of like a testing ground, but I think we’re going to do quite well in there. And if things go well, which I know they will, we’ll come back in a couple of months and bring the whole deal.
Lucy? Andy said that you’re from here?
LTE- Well, I graduated from high school at Mount de Sales, and I was there for my senior year. We moved from South Georgia, Wayne County. My mother also graduated from Mt. de Sales the last year that it was an all girl’s boarding school, and my aunt did too. So we’ve kinda got years of history, even though we haven’t technically resided there for years.
Did you ever get to play any music while you were here?
LTE- I did not. I wasn’t playing. I mean, I played some piano when I was a little girl, but I never practiced. So my mom made me stop taking the lessons. But other than that, I really never played an instrument until I graduated from high school and moved away. And I’d like to say thanks to my friend Trevor Dickson, who’s been a good friend to the Troupe– and all my classmates at Mt. de Sales!
Well, I know Trevor!
LTE- Yeah. Trevor’s awesome. We went to high school together!
Andy, were you able to get down to Macon during your Nightporter days? Did you guys ever come down here and play any shows?
AB- I don’t think we played Macon. But we did Savannah and we did Statesboro when we were on our way to Florida I think to play with like Husker Du. I may have stopped in Macon, but I never played there. I’m really looking forward to it.