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Meet Cary Brothers (and no, he's not a band)

Cary Brothers talks about making it big with his song ”Blue Eyes,” his close friendship with ”Garden State” director Zach Braff, and why doing your own music-video stunts can be hazardous

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Rebecca Sapp/WireImage.com

Isn’t it a bummer to realize that everybody loves the exact same track on an album that you thought was your own unique discovery? Take ”Blue Eyes,” the sixth track on the Grammy-winning Garden State soundtrack. The song not only became a surprise hit (the single has been downloaded on iTunes more than 20,000 times), it jumpstarted the career of its writer, Cary Brothers. Other Brothers songs have since appeared on Scrubs, Bones, Smallville and Grey’s Anatomy, and his song ”Ride” also made its way onto the soundtrack to Zach Braff’s second film, The Last Kiss.

But don’t be misled by his name. Cary is just one guy, a singer-songwriter who calls Los Angeles his home and Braff his friend. ”On my MySpace, people are like ‘Why is there just one guy on the picture, what a jerk,”’ says Brothers, who’s adds that he’s not tired of having to explain that the rest of the guys in the band are not his brothers. ”As long as people are listening, I don’t care.” Judging from the crowds at his album release party in Manhattan last week, people are all ears. Who You Are is his first album (in stores May 29) — a follow-up to two Brothers EPs — and it’s the kind of record that you want to listen to all the way through. Or as Cary likes to envision it: driving across the country with the windows rolled down. Brothers, who will be touring through the summer, spoke to EW.com about life since Garden State and making the kind of record ”that people get attached to.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you talk about the whirlwind that was the Garden State soundtrack?
CARY BROTHERS: The fact that it has been as successful as it has is just shocking. Zach asked me to put ”Blue Eyes” in the film…and we would go up when he was editing the film and it was almost like mixed tapes that a bunch of friends made rather than what it has become. I think its organic nature is one reason for its success. To this day, I get phone calls from other people doing soundtracks saying, ”We want to do a Garden State-type of soundtrack.” I’m like, ”That’s just never going to happen again. It was a one-time thing.”

Actually, when you played ”The Last One” at your release party, I was thinking that should have been on the Marie Antoinette soundtrack. The film felt like one long music video.
[Laughs] I love it. I’ll take it. That movie was just a sensory experience for me — all of my favorite ’80s tunes, and everything was just gorgeous.

So what was life like before ”Blue Eyes”?
Something great had happened before Garden State: The Hotel Café. [It’s] this great community of musicians [in Los Angeles] who kind of found each other. Every Tuesday night, [there was] just amazing music that attracted all of us who were playing open mics and at other venues and weren’t really happy about [the scene] in LA. That’s where I really started getting my legs on, onstage as a musician. It’s an amazing environment, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in music — at least in my generation.

There was a Hotel Café tour last year too with a bunch of folks like Matt Costa and Rachael Yamagata.
Yeah. It was a thing where we’d get a tour bus for six weeks and every two weeks different artists would hop on and hop off. It’s kind of like an old Motown review. It’s fun as an artist because it’s not the same old grind. And you get to do it with your friends every night. I think that tour is probably going to go forever. It did really well the last couple of years and everyone who did it wants to come back and do it again.

So is Garden State still helping you pay the bills?
A lot of these songs are licensed for film and TV shows so that’s kind of kept paying the bills. I’m a big film buff so I unconsciously write cinematic songs. When I came out to L.A., I started a production company right out of college, and did a couple of indie movies [including 1997’s Sparkler with Freddie Prinze, Jr., and 1999’s Dill Scallion starring Lauren Graham, Peter Berg, and Jason Priestley]. I love films and I love working with writers and directors.

So how’d you make the switch to music?
I was going home every night and writing songs. One day I just realized, I want to put in the work that I’m putting in other people’s dreams into my own. I [started] taking odd jobs, working as a camera assistant, anything I could do to pay the bills. It was about that time that I started to hang out with Zach. He was waiting tables. Good friendships come when you’re broke.

And so you and Zach went to Northwestern together?
Yeah, we were buddies in college. We didn’t know each other too well. [But] then when were in L.A., none of us really knew many people, [and] we became really good friends. Zach was the first one out of the gate who was able to find some real success and he helped everybody else out a lot. That’s my attitude with any success I have — I just want to help anybody else out I can. I just don’t have time for that kind of ego.

But having said that, which Zach Braff film or Scrubs episode do you hate the most?
Do I hate the most? [Laughs] Zach who?

NEXT PAGE: Brothers talks about returning to movies, growing up in Nashville, and idolizing Peter Gabriel

Do you aspire to star in or make films down the road?
Maybe, someday. It was cool when we shot [a music] video the other day. It was nice to get back into that world for one day.

Is this the shoot for ”Who Are You” that you got injured in?
Oh yeah. This video is about this little nerdy high school kid who asks the hot girl in school to dance with him at the homecoming dance. Then her boyfriend just beats this kid up. So the band jumps off stage to defend him. The director was like, ”Just jump over the camera and land on the side of the stage.” I was in midair when I was throwing the guitar to the left when I looked down and realized that the camera was right below me. I took a bad tumble on my ankle. Five feet down. I got a cast and everything…a bottle of Vicodin that is yet to be touched. The idea of getting used to Vicodin during my record release week sounds like the start of a bad Behind the Music.

Has there been anything that you’ve released that you later go, ”What was that all about?” Or, ”I would have done that differently”?
[Laughs] That’s why three of the songs on the EPs ended up on the record — because I was able to rerecord them. I feel like the EPs were like playing triple-A baseball. With this record, I was able to get into the majors a little bit. The fact that there’s growth [is] important to me. You know, they’re all my kids. I can’t not like my kids.

How facetious were you being at your record release party, when you said you’ve had enough failed relationships and therefore enough material to support an album — as opposed to more EPs?
Part of the reason I was able to finish the record was because I finally got in a good relationship. My guitar has always been my therapist. I felt like that was a big thing for me to get over: the idea of the tortured artist bulls—. I know a lot of people who try to live in pain so they can write good songs. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Do you think that ”Blue Eyes” is going to become that song that you love but also resent because it was sort of pivotal point in your career?
Absolutely. ”Blue Eyes” is a song that I wrote years and years ago. In like 15 minutes for an ex-girlfriend for a Valentine’s present. It’s very honest and every single line of that thing is real and true. I definitely had a love/hate relationship with that song for a while. I just can’t tell you how many times I’ve played ”Blue Eyes.”

It’s always like, Oh, and here’s the guy who plays ”Blue Eyes.”
Right. But I’d rather them say that than, ”Who the hell is this guy?”

What are some artists who’ve been influences in your music?
I grew up in Nashville surrounded by country music in what I considered a bad period of country music. Pre-Garth Brooks. Now, I really respect country a lot. Two things that really affected me: R.E.M., because they were Southerners who were doing something unlike anything anybody else in the south. It made me think, okay, if those guys can do it then maybe I have hope. And I really went across the pond [to the] U.K. [back] then: Stone Roses, Smith, Cure, New Order. As far as pure idol, Peter Gabriel has been big for me.

Peter Gabriel was the master of rad videos back when they were actually still a lot of fun to watch and they were getting played.
That’s the thing. For the Last Kiss soundtrack we did a little video for ”Ride.” We just went out to a trailer park and shot it in a couple of hours. It was a pretty low budget. This was the first time I actually sent the song out to directors for treatment. And I guess they were trying to appeal to my ego or something — these treatments were like, It’s you standing on a hill, smoke machine and just you and a guitar. And sunset. Cut to a hot model in a room surrounded by needles and pills just thinking about you. All of them had the hot model concept. I was like, What?