It's natural. We all romanticize the road in one way or another. There's a universal freedom to life out on the road and never being tied down to a set place. Still, it comes with a lot of lonesome nights, distant friendships and quite a bit of sacrifice. Sometimes, it loses its shine and leaves you questioning why. Singer-songwriter Philippe Bronchtein is no stranger to the double-edged nature of being a touring musician. On "Me and the Moon," the title track of his freshly announced new album, due out Oct. 5, he explores how those lonely nights can sometimes outweigh the highs.
Bronchtein recalls that "Me and the Moon" was written after a night alone in his truck in the deserts of New Mexico. It fell in the midst of a particularly disastrous tour, plagued by canceled shows, oil leaks and a bad alternator.
"And I'm drinking for free in a new town each night. With my sleeves rolled up, man, this is the life," sings Bronchtein. With each line, he follows up with an exhaling "man, this is the life" and it slowly becomes less convincing. There's a melancholic echo that accompanies Bronchtein's low buzzing vocals. He peels back the ornate layers of nomadic life revealing an overcast and solemn mood.
"Traveling can inspire an amazing sense of freedom and the idea of 'the road' has certainly been mythologized in America. But it's a double-edged sword, the freedom that it provides comes with quite a bit of sacrifice," Bronchtein tells Wide Open Country. "When you're always traveling around and playing gigs, the sense of what home, it gets less and less concrete. Especially as I get older and my colleagues and friends are beginning to settle down, have children and buy houses, the freedom to go play a two-hour set at a dive bar a ten-hour drive from home begins to lose its appeal."
Even while Bronchtein sounds defeated by the endless cycle of setbacks and breakdowns, there's still a touch of resilence on "Me and the Moon." The optimism may be faded, but it comes in Bronchtein's savvy experience as a veteran of the road. "The desert's for dreamers, for me--for me and the moon," he sings as the song slowly closes. Even with more than a decade out playing, there's still the embers of a young man inside Bronchtein. It may drift in and out, but it's still letting off light.
Though sparse in nature, "Me and the Moon" doesn't feel hollow or empty. Bronchtein does an adequate job of still creating a gentle bedding that glimmers like a starry night out in the countryside.
Bronchtein has been a multi-instrumentalist for the likes of Americana acts such as Quiet Life, Esme Patterson and The War & Treaty as well as toured under with his own solo project using the moniker Hip Hatchet. After three full-length albums and a handful of 7" EPs and singles, Bronchtein decided to let the moniker go and return to using his own name.
"I was nineteen-years-old when I picked out the name, largely arbitrarily, after a novel that had struck me when I was a kid," says Bronchtein, who's a dual American-Canadian citizen. "It felt stuck in the past and more like a burden than anything else. My first name is from my mother's Quebecois (French-Canadian) side. My last name is from my father's side, of Russian-Jewish Heritage."
Bronchtein, who was born in Quebec, Canada, raised in New Jersey, went to college in Vermont and spent the last eight years in Portland, Ore., moved to Nashville, Tenn. this past year.
Bronchtein wrote the songs that makeup Me and the Moon over a two year period. Naturally, most of that time was spent out on the road.
"Some of the songs were sketched out in motel rooms, during soundchecks or the kitchen tables of friends putting me up for the night," says Bronchtein. "Perhaps the most important thing I've taken away from all the traveling and touring is a genuine sense of empathy towards other people. Driving around the country and connecting with communities through music, you get a real sense of how other people live their lives. That's something that feels lost these days with all of the political bickering accentuated by the rural-urban divide. If everyone left their little bubbles more often, maybe we'd argue a little less. I think both those elements managed to seep into the songs on this album. The weariness and the heartfelt empathy are the nuts and bolts of this record."
Bronchtein says that being both a songwriter and sideman has given him incredible insight and a wealth of knowledge on how the two occupations work with one another.
"It's helped me know how to listen to lyrics and stay out of the way, know when to lay out and how to reflect the mood of the lyrics in my chord voicings and accompaniment decisions," says Bronchtein. "When I'm fronting my own songs with any accompanist, it's helpful to speak the language of a side-musician. There are technical advantages to being able to speak in music theory terminology, but I'm never shy about saying 'this lyric needs to be on its own, don't play here.'"
That varied collection of instrumentation has also helped when it has come to recording Me and the Moon. Bronchtein says he's played most of the instruments on the album--all but pedal steel and dobro. That sense of mood and feel helps elevate the album through sparse arrangements that focus on Bronchtein's evocative delivery and sincere lyrics. Faint swells of pedal steel and synthesizer give off warm and hazy hues glow underneath and above Bronchtein's finger-picking.
Me and the Moon is due out Oct. 5. Bronchtein will play an album release show at Nashville's The Basement Oct 8. For more information and other tour dates, click here.