By Michael Elves
Released this spring, Points of View is a collaboration between Winnipeg singer-songwriters Chris Neufeld and Donovan Giesbrecht, who together are the Other Brothers. It’s a subtle, gorgeous collection of folk tunes in the vein of Simon & Garfunkel. Unlike that famous duo, however, Neufeld and Giesbrecht are happy to talk to each other. But to really capture their points of view, Stylus asked each musician the exact same questions, separately, and the results, while not quite Rashomonesque, reveal some key differences between them, including the fact that one brother is a little more verbose than the other.
Stylus: How did this collaboration come about?
Donovan Giesbrecht: We found ourselves playing the same volunteer gig for a few years in a row and started collaborating informally at these small shows. Things seemed to fit together pretty naturally, so we started wondering how we’d sound if we actually practiced a bit and put some forethought into what we were doing. Chris and I are also good friends. Playing music together gives us another excuse to hang out and enjoy each other’s music, especially now that I’ve moved out of the city.
Chris Neufeld: Mutual admiration of each other’s songs and maybe a little boredom with our own. We’d played some of the same gigs and realized it was fun to harmonize with each other.
Stylus: Were there any stumbling blocks to working on and recording the album?
DG: The hardest part of this project has been simply finding the time to get things done. We’re both new teachers. I have two young kids at home, and then there’s the hour-and-a-half commute to deal with when we want to practice. That’s been tough. On the positive side, Chris and I have had a really smooth relationship throughout this whole endeavor. You know, you often hear about interpersonal or artistic conflicts between musical partners or band members, but that simply does not happen with us.
CN: Donovan lives in Winkler. Loser. Plenty of driving and less in-person rehearsals than we’d like (it takes me about 400 attempts to get a harmony part just right).
Stylus: Why did you call yourselves the Other Brothers?
DG: We sound alike, we think alike, we’re both skinny, slightly balding, with glasses. Kind of feels like we’re brothers sometimes.
CN: A few reasons. One is that we’re told we look and sound like brothers, and maybe we’re hoping to fool a few: “Wow, listen! You can really tell they’re brothers.” Ha! Gotcha!
Stylus: Each of you are responsible for writing individual songs on the album. With that in mind, how did you go about choosing what made the cut?
DG: Nothing fancy here. We spend a couple of weeks together playing songs for each other and trying to collaborate. We focused on the songs that seemed to work and then whittled the list down to five of mine and five of his.
CN: Mostly, songs that suited the duet style. Also, songs where the arrangements came naturally.
Stylus: Which of your own songs is your favourite and why?
DG: My favourite on the album is “Forever Wrong.” This feels like a real duet to me, a song where we really hit what we were aiming for. You can’t always tell who is singing harmony and who has the melody. The song is sparse and yet full of feeling. When we perform, however, I really enjoy “Many Ways to Love.” I wrote this after the album was finished, and I just love how it comes off live. Chris and I have worked in a little whistle solo that always makes me happy.
CN: “By My Side.” Simple love song theme and a hook that’s fun to sing.
Stylus: Which of your partner’s songs is your favourite and why?
DG: I love “Sleep in the Sunshine.” Again this is a great duet. The lyrics are signature Chris Neufeld: thoughtful but not overstated. The melody is interesting and yet simple. Chris is clearly one of my favourite songwriters. In this song I love the idea of sleeping in the sunshine while “there’s a shadow in every room.” Perfect.
CN: “Progress.” An important story simply told and a melody that never tires. Has the sense of an instant classic.
Stylus: Did you find yourself writing your own material with the other brother’s reaction in mind?
DG: I’m not usually thinking about Chris’ reaction, but I am starting to write with his part in mind, and I definitely look forward to sharing my new songs.
CN: Not during prep for the album. That was mostly just picking songs from each other’s back catalogue that worked best. Now I think we’re starting to write with the other in mind.
Stylus: Looking forward, what are your ambitions or expectations with the Other Brothers?
DG: We haven’t set our sights too high. Obviously, we don’t expect fame and fortune. That said, we’d love to play a few more gigs here and there, maybe get into the folk festival circuit, play some house concerts. We’ve talked briefly about another album, but haven’t really made concrete plans.
CN: More gigs and more new songs! Maybe collaborative writing. Maybe some fuller band arrangements.
Stylus: Brothers sometimes squabble. Do you two disagree at all when it comes to making music?
DG: When we squabble, it’s usually on stage. We’re usually a bit nervous, and then we start bickering about little nothings, mocking each other, blaming each other for little screw-ups, etc., etc., always with a smirk on the face. We’re a lot more interesting, even funnier, when we’re nervous and on stage. Actually, these squabbles have a redeeming quality to them. Yep, I think they make our shows more enjoyable for us and our audience.
CN: Quite the opposite so far. I think we both have sort of“passive to a fault” tendencies, so there are a lot of apologies and overly polite banter.