Stu Brooks Makes a Big Mess With Danny Elfman

The bass and production extraordinaire discusses his work on Danny Elfman’s triumphant new album and remix companion, Big Mess

Stu Brooks Makes a Big Mess With Danny Elfman

The bass and production extraordinaire discusses his work on Danny Elfman’s triumphant new album and remix companion, Big Mess

Brooks in Elfman's studio (photo by Melisa McGregor)It wasn’t long after moving to Los Angeles in 2019 that Stu Brooks got the call that legendary film composer and ex-Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman wanted him to perform a career-spanning set at the 2020 Coachella Music Festival. The New York transplant had no shortage of work when he arrived on the west coast, but he was especially thrilled at the prospect of performing with the iconic figure who had singlehandedly created the soundscapes behind his favorite movies and shows that influenced him as a budding musician growing up in Canada. The epic Coachella performance also enlisted Brooks’ good friend, drummer Josh Freese [Sting, A Perfect Circle, Devo], Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, guitarist Nili Brosh, a full orchestra, a 20-person choir, and a light and video show that would no doubt steal the spotlight of the entire festival weekend. With pre-production and early rehearsals going even better than expected, the whole camp was thrilled leading up to the big performance. That is, until Brooks and company got the call that the festival had been cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Photo by Alexander Bremis Crushed and convinced that the opportunity had passed him by, Brooks did what everyone else did at the time and retreated to his home to wait out the pandemic. Luckily, it wasn’t long before Brooks got another call from Elfman. Instead of taking the let down as a loss, the 68-year-old composer found wild inspiration in it, along with the angst and uncertainty that the current climate was projecting on everyone. Elfman had already written a batch of new songs and wanted Brooks to safely (with COVID precautions) come over to his studio to begin tracking bass for a new album—his first non-scoring record since Oingo Boingo’s 1984 final release, So-Lo. Before long the two bonded and their musical connection resulted in the triumphant form of Big Mess. An emotional ride from start to finish, the 18-song effort switches from chaotic and frantic to rhapsodic and calming in extraordinary bipolar fashion. As Elfman elaborates, “I knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t be easy to label this album or put it in one category. It was meant to be a cacophony, because deep down it is what I am too. The big mess is me.”   From the record’s opening riff of “Sorry” to the last notes on the closing “Insects,” Brooks’ bass plays a commanding role on Mess. The Dub Trio anchor matches every shade of Elfman’s oscillating emotions with brooding tones, intricate lines, and fast fingerwork when it’s called for. Using an array of basses and enough pedals to overflow multiple boards, Brooks exhibits his studio prowess and ability to conjure all the right sounds for even the grittiest moments. Once mastering was done, Stu and Danny headed back into the studio to hash out a remix version that found Brooks at the helm as both a producer and executive producer. Given the f
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Jon D'Auria   By: Jon D'Auria