11 Questions: Jeff Braimes
interview by Brent Cole
I vividly remember the first time I hung out with Jeff Braimes, this month’s 11 questions. We were playing poker together at a friend’s house, I knew of him but had never been formally introduced… he seemed like a cool guy – he was friendly, funny as hell and it was a great night. As the card game wrapped up, he turned to me and mentioned a review I had written of his band Watts a couple years earlier in which I absolutely blasted him personally as a frontman (it was one of my first reviews and I think I was trying to show I could be cool or something… I’d completely forgotten about the review). I was an absolute jerk in the review and instead of saying “I won’t play with that dude,” Jeff took the time to get to know me over the course of an evening and said at the end, something to the effect of “the last time I had someone blast me like that in a review, we ended up being good friends.” And sure enough, he is one of the few people I genuinely look up to as a parent, as an artist and as a person. His kids are amazing (Jeff’s daughter Edie is talented and creative, and I thought his son Vincent was one of the coolest kids on the planet after he sang KISS’s “God of Thunder” to me while playing the piano at age 3; he’s now 16 and fronting Odd Ones Out). Jeff and his wife Patti are creative, interesting and generally absolutely badass. Plus he used to write great stories for the magazine, has helped me with work at times when I’ve really needed it and been the most patient realtor on the planet for my family. When I grow up, I hope to be as awesome as Jeff Braimes. You do too. Seriously.
Who are you and where did you come from?
I’m Jeff Braimes—writer, father, realtor, rocker. Midnight toker. I followed a very natural and well-traveled path up the west coast from San Francisco thru Seattle to Bellingham.
What are a few of your favorite old-school memories of Bellingham? How does it compare to the current scene, both in the town and in the music?
I don’t believe “hunt Jeff down and kill it” is written above the door in the Up & Up bathroom anymore, but other than that it feels about the same to me. Oh, and everyone has a tiny television set in their pocket.
One of my favorite memories of old Bellingham is when we got 86’d from the Skull Room for filling the jukebox with quarters and playing “Dress You Up” by Madonna a hundred times. It was quite a while before we were welcome in the bar again. This was the mid 1980s.
Tell us about your book and how the idea of publishing it came about.
I had all these little bits lying around clogging up my journals and computers. Most of them weren’t worth developing, but they weren’t shitty enough to—you know—delete or whatever. I was staring down my 50th birthday and couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do to observe it. So I decided to organize the bits into a chapbook and burden my friends with reading it as a birthday present to me. I think a lot of them actually did it, too!
I’m pleased with how it turned out. If I didn’t already give you a copy, you can buy one around town for less than ten thousand dollars. It’s called [sic].
When it’s all said and done would you say this was a successful year for the Mariners?
I always believe the Mariners are going to win the World Series until the day they are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs– even when that’s in July. This year it wasn’t until the last couple of innings of the season. I would say that’s an improvement over recent years. And improvement is all any of us can hope for in our endeavors– whether in our art or in parenting/partnering or in baseball.
The Mariners just ran out of gas in September. And that’s ultimately what separates good teams from really good teams: timing. The Mariners are as good a team as Kansas City, but the Royals were peaking at just the right time while the Mariners were coughing up blood. They are definitely going to win the World Series next season, though.
It’s not well-known, but you were once the singer of a southend metal band during the Seattle scene explosion. What is your favorite memory of life in a metal band?
That’s not well-known? Dang, I thought everyone knew that…
I saw the Nick Cave movie last night and he said his greatest fear was losing his memory because, he said, our memories are what we are. I wish I’d seen that movie before the 1990s because I’d probably have a more functional memory to draw on now. But, like Nick Cave, I keep a journal and I also keep tokens—notes, drawings, newspaper clippings, little sticks and bottle caps and stuff. So I can piece things together even if I don’t have a staff of archivists like Nick Cave does.
But I do have enough raw memories to know that those were very free times. We had absolutely nothing to lose and we weren’t afraid of anything. We were certain that what we were doing was right, and we were fully in the moment every moment. We didn’t have the internet!
If you want one specific memory, one might have been cutting the cast off our roadie Pinky’s wrist with a hacksaw all drunk one night in Pennsylvania. Autumn 1991. I probably have a little piece of it around here somewhere…
If you could change one thing about Bellingham what would it be?
I’d abolish the internet.
It’s a cool Autumn Sunday afternoon, what are you and your family doing?
In my mind’s lazy eye we’re hanging around the living room writing songs together and whittling. There’s a fire in the fireplace and a corned beef on the stove. In reality the living room may be empty. I might be at work, the kids with friends, and someone is probably on Facebook. But one thing I know for sure in either reality is that we are all vigorously boycotting the NFL.
How does being a parent influence your creativity?
At its best, it keeps you young and current; at its worst it drives an icepick right between the shoulderblades of your creative self. Like (almost) anything else, it is what you make it. I’d be stone lying if I said that raising kids doesn’t limit the raw time and focus you are able to devote to your inner maker. But running in kid culture does expose you to other people doing the same thing and also makes it harder to hermit. And in a perfect world, your kids turn out to be just totally king hell awesome and you are inspired by them and maybe even are allowed a collaboration occasionally.
As a follow-up: what is it like to see your children perform in front of other people?
It’s exhausting! As a performer, you’re excused from the social component on a certain level because you’re doing your thing and aloofness is what is expected of you or at least tolerated. But when you’re the perfomer’s parent you’re extra nervous, because you share the risk without owning any influence. My kids are a beelion times more talented than I ever was (let alone as a teenager) but I still feel the nurturing gnaw when they’re “up there.” I have, however, become very skilled at staying the fuck out of the way.
But I love watching them spin—whether it’s on a stage or just sitting on patio with no one else around. My sister says she has almost as much fun watching me at one of the kids’ performances as she does them—because I’m so into it and so goofy proud.
You and Patti have a Friday night off—what are you doing?
Back when we used to need a babysitter to go out at night together, the opportunities were few. So we made the most of them. We’d walk into a bar together and the music and conversation would stop, like in a Western movie. Other people would finish their drinks and leave quickly. These days not so much. I used to get irritated when people older than me would whine “I can’t stay out late anymore” but the truth is that we don’t stay out late much anymore. We’re more likely to catch a movie at the Pickford and a glass at the Temple. Home by 11. We are normally wearing each others’ clothes, though—or at least each others’ underpants. That’s something.
There aren’t many other rock and roll Realtors in this area. What about buying and selling homes attracted you to the job?
When I first got into the business on September 11, 2001 (true) I had just sold and bought a home and it had looked easy. It is easy! My “job” is easy and fun– if you’re cut out for it. The hard part is attracting the business—the actual work is fun once you’ve attracted it. A real estate transaction is a very important proposition, but it doesn’t have to be a mass drag.
And I don’t know of any other rock and roll Realtors except for Neil Smith the drummer in the original Alice Cooper band. He’s pretty successful in Connecticut but we’re not really competitors.
What one thing more than any other do you most appreciate about Bellingham?
Bellingham, WA is a unique location on Earth—a true place. I grew up in the suburbs of King County, and when we are forced to go back to those places now, my kids are just totally grossed out. Even when they were very young, they knew that those places were different than where they lived and they were grateful for home.
In one word, I’d say local. Chain stores struggle here because people are generally willing to pay more to support an independent merchant. Whereas I miss The Newstand and Griggs and MerchBot, we still have a strong identification with our local economy and people still live here on purpose.
Any last thoughts?
Thanks for having me. All forks were made by and for the devil.
Published in the November 2014 issue of What’s Up! Magazine