Operators concert preview: Have Drums—Will Travel

Chris Gaitten
Operators, from left, Devojka, Dan Boeckner and Sam Brown

Sam Brown is on his porch when I call, enjoying a moment of peace in his Clintonville home. He’ll go on the road again in two days to drum with the band Operators, an electro-heavy, indie rock outfit also composed of analog electronics musician Devojka and front man Dan Boeckner of Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade.

Brown and Boeckner first linked up in 2011, along with Spoon lead singer Britt Daniel, for their acclaimed Divine Fits group (check out Brown playing maracas and a textbook in the band's Springsteen cover). They continued the collaboration in Operators, which formed in 2013 and released the debut full-length album Blue Wave in fall of 2016. It’s the newest in a long line of notable bands for one of Columbus’ elite drummers, whose credits include stints with New Bomb Turks, V-3, The Sun, Gaunt and live drumming for musician RJD2. Boeckner has witnessed firsthand Brown’s rare ability to command a room from behind the kit. “I’ve never been in a band where the audience is focused on the drummer like that,” Boeckner told Alive’s Joel Oliphint. “It’s like he’s playing lead drums.”

Now in his 40s, Brown’s life is not all touring and percussive heroics. His newest passion is home improvement; he and his wife recently tiled their bathroom, a first. He also taught drums to his high school-age son, whose surf-rock garage band Free Grass will hold its first local shows while Brown tours. “He’s super into it, and I’ve got a little studio in the basement I’ve set up for those guys so they could record, and they put their first song up on [],” Brown says. “It’s fun to watch your kid be in a band.”

As he geared up for Operators’ two-and-a-half-week tour, which stops at Ace of Cups in North Campus on Saturday, April 8, Brown discussed his evolving musical stylings and balancing his love of travel with the pleasure he finds upon returning home.

Do you think that fans of Divine Fits will find something in this music to enjoy as well?

Well, I think half the fans will like it because it’s Dan—so you know Divine Fits is kind of split in half as far as that goes, with songwriting [between Dan Boeckner and Britt Daniel]. It’s not a huge departure from what Dan has been doing. It’s actually kind of an amalgamation of everything Dan’s done because it’s got a little bit of rock and a little electronic stuff. It’s kind of a hybrid of Wolf Parade and Handsome Furs.

Do you enjoy the stylistic switch-up of doing something like Operators that’s a little bit different than what you’ve done in the past?

Yeah, for sure. I just like to play as many different styles as I can. I mean, jazz is the only thing that I don’t play, and maybe as I get older I’ll venture toward that, too. But yeah, I really like it because it’s just a different way of playing and it’s really kind of—especially playing to machines—has shown me where I speed up and where I slow down, which made me a lot more mindful of my tempos.

What’s it like to be out on tour and then come back through Columbus and play your hometown from the perspective of a touring musician?

Those are my favorite shows. I like to play in New York because I have a lot of friends there. I like to play in LA because I have a lot of friends. Anyplace is just fun to play music for your friends, so coming home and playing is the best. It’s particularly fun when it’s the end of the tour because we’re usually really good [after a] week’s worth of shows. Everything’s working.

I like to share what I’m doing with my people. That’s special. It’s like what’s great about music.

So when you’re out on the road, what is the one thing about Columbus that you miss most, whether it’s a drink or a food item or just a place you go walk?

Just about everything [laughs]. Yeah, and the older I get the less I enjoy the in-between bits of touring. I live around the corner from Walhalla, and I walk the ravine every day and that’s really nice. Just having a really nice place to take a walk is kind of a built-in requirement of my life now because it’s just good for clearing the head. So yeah, I miss that. I miss my friends. And I don’t really go out on the road for any longer than a few weeks, so just about the time I’m really over it I get to come home. So that’s nice. And then also I love traveling. I love seeing the country once a year. It’s not something everybody gets to do. And I think I’ve maintained a pretty high level of appreciation for it. You know, regardless of where I’m going it’s been fun to kind of check in on all these cities for the last 20 years and just see how everything’s changing.

Check out Operators performance in Iceland for Seattle radio station KEXP, and visit Ace of Cups website for tickets to Saturday's show, with opening sets by New York City's Charly Bliss and local band Connections.