Bran Van 3000 Tell the Story of "Drinking in L.A."

"We were a collective, like Massive Attack or Wu-Tang Clan, telling hip-hop stories"

Photo courtesy of Sara Johnston

BY Sydney BrasilPublished May 27, 2024

Bran Van 3000's "Drinking in L.A." has soundtracked Canadians' 26th birthdays for the last 27 years, and the band are said to be releasing their first record since 2010 soon. In anticipation of this, James Di Salvio and Steve "Liquid" Hawley spoke to The Guardian about the smash hit's inception.

Di Salvio, the band's songwriter, hails from Montreal, but started travelling to Los Angeles to make music videos in the '90s, and "Drinking in L.A." was directly inspired by his travels back and forth between directing on the West Coast and DJing on the East Coast.

"I remember waking up face down on a lawn in West Hollywood after a night of drinking," he said, "I'd wandered into this area with big houses — like the TV show 90210 — and was probably passed out for four or five hours in the hot sun with nobody bothering me. I woke up and thought 'What the hell am I doing, drinking in L.A. at 26?' Those words and the melody were already in my head."

Liquid shared that the track was concocted in the basement of a Montreal townhouse he was renting. "When I asked James if I could be on it, he said: 'It'll cost you a case of beer.' I came back with three cases for three songs. I did the radio caller voice going, 'This is Liquid ring-a-ding dinging…' and the shouts of 'Beer!' and such," he recalled.

This spirit of collaboration is what made Bran Van 3000 into a full-fledged band: "Once the vocalists Sara Johnston, Jayne Hill and others came on board we were a collective, like Massive Attack or Wu-Tang Clan, telling hip-hop stories," Di Salvio reminisced.

This is when a trip-hop mainstay got involved: "I gave Moby a cassette tape at South by Southwest. He gave it to someone at Geffen Records, and a bidding war started," he said.

When Glee — the record which houses "Drinking in L.A." — turned 25, Exclaim! spoke to Di Salvio about how he turned what was originally going to be an instrumental trip-hop record into something more eclectic. Revisit Glee's seminal single below. 

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