Interview: Jeff The Brotherhood - Tonight!

Tonight, as you probably know, is the Reds opening day.  But I highly recommend that you get yourself to the Taft Theater at 8:30PM. Nashville rock 'n rollers JEFF The Brotherhood are in town and if I know anything about the type of bands Cincinnati tends to love, you don't want to miss this one. They've just released their first album on Warner Brothers records, but prior to that, they spent 10 years doing it all themselves- releasing their own records, touring in vans and booking their own gigs.  I had the opportunity to talk to guitarist/singer Jake Orrall about their DIY past and get some advice for local bands who want to take it to the next level, as well as find out more about what's in store for tonight's show.

CincyMusic: I've read a lot about the influence your dad has had on your music with his huge record collection and playing stuff for you and being a musician himself. But you guys get a lot of kudos for your live show.  Can you remember a show you saw when you were a kid that really stuck with you?

Jake Orrall: When I was like 14 and Jamin was 12, we started going to a lot of basement shows. Punk shows. Thrash bands from Europe would come and play basement shows in Nashville, and from there we ended up finding out about them.  You'd have 10 people in someone's basement and some fuckin' crazy band from Belgium is freaking out and everyone's having an awesome time. So once we started that that was a thing, we were like, "We gotta start a band." So it was like that. *laughs*

CM: So you just did it.  Did you have to learn how to play your instruments or was that something you had to pick up as you were becoming a band?

JAKE: Nah we figured it out. I mean we'd been like jamming and shit since we were kids -- just fucking around but never actually tried to write songs or be a band.  We got our friend Jesse to play with us and we wrote a bunch of songs. The guy who was booking the basement shows thought we were cute, I guess, and put us on all those punk shows.  JEFF The Brotherhood was kind of a side project off of that band. Then our first band broke up and JEFF The Brotherhood kept going. 

CM: So you've been really DIY from the start - playing in basements at punk shows.

JAKE: Pretty much the only influence our dad had on our music or career is playing his Devo and Clash records when we were kids.  He was in the country music songwriting whole biz, which is a really twisted business. We always tried to get away from that whole thing and just play music.

CM: Were your lyrics back then about angry stuff -- corporate whatever or just like angry kid stuff?

JAKE: Ohhh yeah, sometimes.  More like angry teenager stuff like, "Fuck school!"

CM: Your lyrics right now are kind of based around the "hypnotic" theme from your album.  Where did that come from?

JAKE: I don't remember. The name came from this flavor of daquiri called Hypnotic Nights that we get at this spot in New Orleans whenever we're down there. It has Hypnotiq liquor in it, you know that blue stuff? Anyway, on all of our albums we try to tie things together with a some sort of theme to confuse people and also make it seem more coherent, I guess.  *laughs*

CM: So you released Hypnotic Nights on Warner, but before that you'd been doing it yourself.  Was that a big change for you or was it a challenge? Did it make things easier?

JAKE: It made most things easier, but it was a challenge because you have more people that have to be on the same page. 'Cause you've got this huge team of people that are working your record and are in charge of promoting it and selling your record, which is fuckin' awesome. Before that it was just like me and my dad and our interns. I was on the road most of the time and none of us know anything about running a record label, so the only places our record was getting sold is local record stores in Nashville, from us directly on the road, and from our website. But now I don't even have to think about it and it's being done a million times better than I could ever do it myself.

CM: How did the conversation with Warner happen? Did they just approach you after seeing you at festivals and stuff?

JAKE: We'd had a bunch of different labels talk to us.  SXSW 2011 was really, really good for us.  We met our Australian promoter there and whatever. But we didn't really think about the idea of signing to a different label. We were like, "We put our own records out, why would we sign to a label?" Until Warner Brothers -- they were the last label to approach us.  We basically just asked them, "What is it that you guys think you can bring to the table that we don't already have?" Because we were already paying our rent off of the band at the time. And they were like, "Well, blahblahblahblahblah." So we said, "Ok, well we'll also need blahblahblahblah." And then, after a year, we came to an agreement on a deal. *laughs* It took a year of going back and forth.

CM: I ask all this because there's a bunch of bands in Cincinnati whose members I think are going to come out to see you. If you were advising them on taking it to the next step, what should they do if right now they're playing garage shows, basement shows, and local bars?

JAKE: Man, there's nothing you can really do except, like... for me and Jamin, at one point we were like, "Let's try and do this as a career." That was in 2008. We quit our jobs, moved out of our places, threw all our shit in storage and then just toured. We didn't have a booking agent or anything -- we were booking shows on MySpace. We'd go up and down the East coast and every month we'd go to New York and play as many shows in Brooklyn as we could. And then we finally got a booking agent. Don't play local shows.  Playing local shows is bullshit. It's not gonna get you anywhere. It's fun, but me and Jamin only play shows in Nashville like once every six months just for fun. You don't make more money playing in your hometown and the same people is all you're gonna see over and over and over. You gotta get out.  If you really want to do it as a career, you have to be in it 100%.  Technically, it's the second-hardest business to be in aside from being like, an actor.  So it's pretty much not gonna happen that you're gonna be successful at being a band. I guess that would be my advice. That's my advice to my roommates. I tell them, "Just realize that it's not going to happen. Then you won't beat yourself up over it when it doesn't."  It's an awful thing to say, but really, 99.9% of bands aren't going to make it. But then again, it's totally about what you're trying to do. For me and Jamin, when we quit our jobs and all that shit, we weren't trying to get signed to a major label. We were just trying to do it in a way where we could pay our $250-a-month rent at home and be able to afford beer. And that was great for awhile, then when Warner Brothers was like, "We can also offer you a crazy amount of money if you sign a six album deal with us." That's when you have to change your attitude as well.  Like, this band is going to have to make some sacrifices.  You can't treat it like a garage band anymore. You can't treat it like it can do whatever it wants all the time, you actually have to work now to make this band your career.  You have to think about it as a job. And there's a lot more work involved when you sign to a major label and there's a much higher level of professionalism expected of you. You have to hire a manager and you have to hire a business manager to take care of your taxes and all that shit. And everything becomes more expensive.  We're making less money now than we were when we were touring out of a minivan with no booking agent because we didn't have so many expenses. But the hope is that we get to make maybe three of those six albums before we get dropped.

CM: You're playing Coachella and Bonnaroo this year, right?

JAKE: Yeah.

CM: Is that something you haven't done before or?

JAKE: We did Bonnaroo two years ago.

CM: Was that a good experience? Cause I know lots of bands don't like playing SXSW. Is it different with these other festivals? Can you enjoy them more?

JAKE: Well, SXSW is all music business people. So you're playing for press and record label people and photographers, and it's like the worst audience ever, you know? It's like a meat market the whole time and you're playing like four shows a day and blahblahblah. Other festivals are much better because they're more about the artists and they give you a dressing room and whatever. There's actually an audience there of normal people -- music fans there to see you. I still hate doing them because the whole outdoor music thing -- I don't like it because I don't think rock music sounds good outdoors. I think it just sounds like shit. *laughs*And it's not the right atmosphere - to be like out in the sun in the middle of the day playing a rock 'n roll show. It just doesn't make any sense to me. I guess because we grew up playing in fuckin' basements for 20 people.

CM: That makes sense.  I understand.  Because as a fan, you go to rock 'n roll shows -- especially those outdoor ones -- half the time you can't afford the tickets up front so you're paying $50 instead of $100 to sit on a lawn somewhere. And you're looking at a video screen and you can't really hear that well.

JAKE: Yeah. 'Cause it sounds like shit. That's why I don't like festivals. Because it's totally not about the music. You don't go to them if you're really looking forward to seeing a band. Unless it's the only time they're ever playing, I guess. I feel like it's more about the party and getting fucked up in a giant sea of strangers. With like $600 bottles of water or whatever. It sounds like a nightmare. But luckily, Bonnaroo is only 40 minutes from my house so I can just drive down, play the show, and then go home.

CM: Nice. Lucky. Coachella's a different story. There you're playing for like movie stars 'n stuff.

JAKE: I don't know about that! We'll see. I've never been.

CM: What can we expect to see and hear when you come to Cincinnati? What would you tell people who have never seen you before?

JAKE: Well, we're doing the second half of the show with an expanded lineup. It's very exciting for us because we've been playing as a two-piece for over ten years and it's really getting kinda boring. So we decided to cut the crap! *laughs* We're doing the first part of the show as this super, super fast-paced energetic punk show like we used to do in basements back in the day.  Playing a lot of old songs and stuff. And then we're doing the second half of the show playing a lot of new songs with a full band and some material from old records that we've never been able to play live because there's too much stuff on it. So it's the best of both worlds.

CM: That's awesome. Who are the other band members you're bringing along?

JAKE: My friend Carl is playing second guitar and our friend Christine is playing keyboard and synthesizer.

CM: Are you going to be doing that at your festival shows this year too?

JAKE: Yeah, we're doing it at Coachella, Bonnaroo, and pretty much everything else we're doing this year -- except Australia.  I don't think anyone's ready to double their budgets yet for plane tickets and stuff. We'll do one more tour there on the cheap and see if we blow up or not I guess.

CM: How much different are the crowds in Australia than the US? Huge differences or not so much?

JAKE: Um, it's kind of like the US in that everywhere you go it's a different crowd. Every region of the States is a different crowd and every region of Australia's a different crowd. But it's much more similar than anywhere in Europe. Australia is awesome.  It's our favorite place to tour besides the US.

CM: What other countries have you been in besides Australia?

JAKE: Canada. *laughs* We did a fly-in to Moscow once for Vice. We flew Nashville-New York-London-Moscow, played the show the next day then flew back the next morning. That was a crazy fucking audience. Those guys are insane! Um, we did New Zealand and I don't think they like us very much.  Some of the shows are good, but all the reviews we've ever gotten of our records in New Zealand have all been negative. *laughs* But I think they'll come around. It's pretty funny because we always get these great, amazing reviews in Australia, but New Zealand's are like, "Ugh, it's been done! It's really childish and repetitive blahblahblah." And we're just like, "Dude, it's fuckin' rock music! What the fuck did you expect?" But whatever.  Of course it's fuckin' childish and repetitive!  That's what rock and roll is! You talk about cars and girls!

CM: Right. It's there to make you have a good time, not to be the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings.

JAKE: Yeah! Oh man.  That's good. *laughs*

CM: One last question. What is your favorite show day adult beverage?

JAKE: know, if I'm going to drink one thing all day before a show? Budweiser in a bottle. It probably makes up 80% of what I drink at all in life.  I'm drinking one right now in fact.

CM: Cheers! Is there anything else you want to add?

JAKE: Who's the local band on the bill? Oh yeah, Tweens!

CM: Do you know them or you've just listened to them?

JAKE: They're friends of friends. It's this great thing - we always get to take one of our friends' bands on tour. Like we're taking Cy Barkley and the Way Outsiders on all those dates, who are fuckin' incredible. And then we get to pick a local band in each city to bring the kids out, you know? The ones who haven't heard about us. And Tweens are one of the ones I'm most excited about.

CM: Awesome! Well thanks for your time.

JAKE: No problem! Don't smash any kids' dreams with all that bullshit I said about not being in the music business.

CM: No, I won't!  I'll make sure they know...

JAKE: ...that I said it. *laughs*

CM: *laughing* Yeah, you said it, but you've done it so it's possible!

JAKE: You have to give your life to rock 'n roll if you even want a chance. You can't work a second job because it doesn't work. I mean, I slept in a van for fuckin' 11 months, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And it wasn't that bad. It was actually really fun.

CM: Awesome. Well we're stoked to see you guys. 

JAKE: Cool. We'll see you soon!