Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” is not just a cool cover for Con Brio’s upcoming sophomore album. It also helped jump-start the 10-song Explorer, which comes out July 6.
The soulful San Francisco outfit — whose frontman Ziek McCarter is big fan of Seattle bands such as Soundgarden, in particular — was contemplating an EP of grunge covers as its next project. That never transpired, but the smoother, more sultry rendition of “Heart-Shaped Box” — premiering below — that the group recorded while in Atlanta for last year’s Shakey Knees festival inspired Con Brio to get to work in earnest on the new album.
“We had a day off and I thought of a way I wanted to remake it and we came up with that (version) within two or three hours,” McCarter tells Billboard. “Right after that we wrote a few more songs to propel our writing process in a positive way. We were touring a whole lot at that time and it’s hard to find time to really get seven people in a room to pump out the hits. But after (‘Heart-Shaped Box’) we were able to really dial in the writing process a little bit more. It served us well.”
And, McCarter hopes, the song also serves Cobain and others in the same way. “I really feel like we’ve honored the life of not just Kurt Cobain but also Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington,” he explains. “Those were people I was listening to growing up. I loved ‘Black Hole Sun.’ I loved Chester Bennington; I loved his voice. And I feel like we have some of that same resilience they possessed in their performances, if not necessarily the same way.”
Con Brio recorded Explorer in San Francisco in San Francisco and Los Angeles with producer Derek Fuhrmann, and while the tone is buoyant and joyous, McCarter and company also embrace socio-political issues as they did on 2016’s Paradise. This time, however, it comes from a different perspective.
“Paradise was inspired by the death of my father,” McCarter says. “This one is a really intentional diving into the love and liberation aspect that I took from that event and every other event that transpired. The idea is ‘What can we create to inspire us to face life head-on?’ (Paradise) was raw; We owned that it was our first album. For this one it was more intentional to add more of a contemporary, modern aesthetic, more of a refined vocal production and more layerings of sonics and synthesizers.” Touring the world twice also had an impact on how Con Brio approached Explorer.
“Of course it’s a reflection of seeing so many amazing bands and artists around the world deliver their performances,” he says. “And just witnessing the industry in a whole other way definitely inspired me to go for the sound I’ve been hearing in my head for a long time.”
Con Brio gets back to touring this week, including a “dream come true” headlining debut at The Fillmore in San Francisco and mixing West Coast, Canadian and European shows throughout the summer — with more to be added in the near future. “Our band can rock,” McCarter promises. “It’s, like, R&B and soul but we can really get rockin’. This time out we’re like, ‘Let’s go further in that direction and see how far we can take it,’ so it’s going to be interesting.”