[DANCE POP] As a kid, Ben Braun sometimes went to work with his father. Normally, these would be torturous experiences for a boy—but things are a bit different when your dad’s job is touring drummer for the likes of Todd Rundgren, Michael McDonald and, for 20 years, Hall and Oates.
“My dad would bring me onstage at Madison Square Garden when they were playing. He’d put headphones on me and sit me behind him,” Braun says from his rehearsal space in Northwest Portland. But even while giving his son a front-row seat to the peak of success in the music business, Braun’s father encouraged him not to take the same path. “As a young kid, my dad was like, ‘Be a producer, be a writer. Don’t be a player, don’t be a side guy. Have a piece of it.’”
Where We Are, the second album from the younger Braun’s project with multi-instrumentalist Ian Mackintosh simply dubbed Mackintosh Braun, is his shot at taking a piece of success for himself. Combining Braun’s background as a hip-hop producer with Mackintosh’s longtime love of electronic music, the record is full of swooning synths, dance rhythms and processed vocals that make them sound like lovesick androids. Taking cues from acts like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Depeche Mode, the album manages to be machine-driven while still beating with a human heart.
Like Braun, Mackintosh grew up in a musically inclined family, harmonizing with his siblings in what Mackingtosh refers to as “the super-white Jackson 5.” As a teenager, his tastes shifted toward harsh industrial noise. He moved to Portland in his early 20s to join a band with his high-school friends from California, but found himself being treated like a hired studio hand. Wanting creative autonomy, he quit to focus on his drum-’n’-bass-influenced solo project. In 2006, impressed by the material on Mackintosh’s MySpace page, Braun called him up and found they shared similar ideas of fusing electronic textures with pop songwriting.
“I’ve waited to work with somebody with the same vision, and who wanted to do stuff with samples and really intricate songs—something that makes you get into a groove and is a really emotive collection of sounds,” Mackintosh says.
Having hit it off, the pair moved into a one-room loft on Alberta Street that doubled as their studio. That launched a prolific creative period for the two, culminating in the release of their independent first record, The Sound. A publicist at Minneapolis firm Tinderbox enjoyed the disc enough to offer to promote the group practically for free. She got the band’s songs on NBC’s Chuck, then to the desk of Atlantic Records subsidiary Chop Shop. After signing to the label, Mackintosh and Braun sequestered themselves in their home studio for more than a year to make Where We Are. And now that it’s out, the duo is focusing on something it wasn’t able to do all that much during the lengthy recording process: integrate itself into the Portland scene.
“I don’t feel like we’re unaccepted, I just feel like certain things take time,” Braun says of his group. “I love what Portland does and I love what’s going on [here]. I want to be part of it.”
SEE IT: Mackintosh Braun releases Where We Are on Saturday, Nov. 13, at the Alberta Rose Theatre, with Copy and Oracle. 9 pm. $10. 21+.