Down North is one of the most energetic bands in Seattle. Fronted by singer Anthony Briscoe, who is known for wearing bright pink pants on stage, the group is a hard working, soul punk machine. Briscoe, who is blessed with an electric voice and shocking amount of energy, is backed by a crew of pinpoint players (including drummer Conrad Real), who have as much flash on their instruments as they do authentic musicianship. In short, Down North is a force of fun. And on Thursday, Down North will release a new 5-song record at El Corazon. To preview the event, we caught up with Briscoe to talk about his origins in music, when he took ballet and what his group hopes to achieve in 2019.
When did you put on your first pair of pink pants?
The pink pants thing started by accident. It was the day of Bumbershoot. Before that, I’d wear my regular skinny jeans but for the show I had these red ones. But the day before Bumbershoot, I got a hole in them. I had this whole outfit picked out and everything and I needed to get a new pair of pants. So, we went everywhere looking for some red pants that I could wear. It was [guitarist] Nick [Quiller] who said, “Here are some pink ones!” And they made a big splash. They stuck out and everybody loved it. So I decided to get some more. They were on clearance at the store, so I bought the whole rack. It was only supposed to be for that one show, but I’ve been wearing them for five, six years now. And, you know, I’m used to wearing tight stuff because of ballet.
Wait, what? Ballet?
Yep! I did it from age five to 21. My mom always said I was girl-crazy when I was little and I had this crush on this one girl and I wanted to do everything she did. And we were at the YWCA – my mom was there to sign me up for basketball but I was following this girl around and she’s signing up for ballet and I said, “I wanna sign up for ballet!” I didn’t care what ballet was, I just wanted to be where that girl was. And it turns out that’s where all the girls were.
But ballet really helped me as a performer, I was dancing at a young age. And as I got older, my mom said, “You signed up, now you gotta finish it!” So I stuck with it. I was the only guy, so I got a lot of solos, which was good because I like being the center of attention.
Who was your first musical hero?
Well, Michael. I always sang in church as a kid but I remember my father taking me to go see a show in Japan. I was a military brat growing up, so we lived all over. And I just remember the excitement. I was in awe.
My father told me it was Michael Jackson but all I remember is a bunch of lights and stuff. I was like five years old. My first cd was Dangerous. And I remember this one time, when the cable went out, we were at my grandma’s house – my grandma had this infamous amount of recorded stuff on VHS. We were going through her tapes and watching old movies and I remember finding this Michael Jackson The Legend Continues – I was in 5th grade – and I saw that Motown 25 performance of “Billie Jean” and I basically wore that VCR out trying to learn every single move.
After Michael, I listened to Prince and Jackie Wilson. Most people think I’m doing James Brown moves when I dance, but I’m actually doing a lot of Jackie Wilson.
What do you feel when you step on stage that you don’t feel elsewhere in the world?
That’s my domain. When I’m on stage, that’s my home. Nobody is going to outperform me. I feel like the only people who are going to outperform me are dead now. It’s not being cocky, I’m just not going to allow it. To me, the performance is everything. These people paid their hard-earned money to come see you. And money isn’t easy to come by these days. If a person spends money on a ticket or an album, it’s our job to give them a great show. Period. If you’re not going to give a great show, just don’t step on stage.
That’s why I like the friendly competitions between Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. They flipped a coin to see who would go last and they put on a show. Jackie Wilson will dance and he has this crazy octave-type voice. Sam Cooke will croon you to death. He will outshine everybody. So, I look at it that if you come before us, I’m trying to outperform you. And if we come before you, I want to set the bar. Like when we played with BEARAXE, their singer [Shaina Shepherd] is a beast! I love playing with her. She makes me step my game up. When I heard her warm up, I said, “Oh, yeah. This is going to be a good show.”
What is your goal for the band in 2019?
We just signed with Wilson Entertainment, which manages Hall & Oates. So, they’re taking a chance on us. We have this major management company and we’re signed to Live Nation but it feels like it’s still hard for us to open up certain doors here in Seattle. But my grandpa told me you have to transcend. He used to own clubs along the Chitlin Circuit. He was like, “James Brown, the Temptations, Michael Jackson, all those bands had to transcend racism and be so good that the most racist person would stop what they’re doing to listen to the songs before throwing a brick at their bus.” They had to endure things I couldn’t even fathom. So I strive to transcend, to have our music transcend. We can’t be put in a box. It has to be that good.