Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Interview with Whatever Brains

Whatever Brains singing and stuff

The first Seven-Inch Record I ever bought was a Whatever Brains record.  I got it from Bull City Records and I dug it hard.  I've been a fan since, and have become an even bigger fan since they released a full-length record on Sorry State.  The Raleigh band has a totally unique sound unlike anything you have ever heard (I promise) and it's hard for me to define, but I can tell you that it's definitely rooted in Psychedelia, Rock, and Punk.  From there on, it's anyone's guess.  Fantastic band, though.  I barely got to see them one time at Troika last year, which unfortunately didn't happen this year.  I heard them blast through their last song of the night, which was "Goldwood" on their first full-length record.  "Bada badada badada" was stuck in my head for weeks after, and still often can be found there.

They released a fantastic Record Store Day 7" which has an outtake and a demo, as well as a Double Negative Cover and a Wall of Voodoo cover.  It definitely shows the Whatever Brains' diversity in their songwriting and performance capabilities.  I was really happy to get my hands on one.  You can stream it for free HERE and it's definitely worth a listen.  They are currently about to release their 2nd full-length which will once again be on Sorry State Records.  You out-of-staters can get it HERE if you don't have a local record shop which sells them.

They talk about an upcoming tour for 16 days that will even cover the Midwest and I'll be moving back to the CHI by then, so I'll be at whichever one is closest.  Also, this is their WEBSITE.

I basically wanted a t-shirt by them, but figured I should push my luck and ask for an interview, and luckily Rich and Will from the band were kind enough to give me some info, which is great.  They talk a lot about the band, where it came from, and what makes it tick.  I dig it like a spigot.

But they're better people than I am, so I'll let them speak.

Jordan:  When Did Whatever Brains form?  How did the process happen?

Rich:  The band started in Spring 2008. I was working on a batch of songs that didn't seem to fit the other band I was in at the time, Crossed Eyes. That band had a specific sound with similar chord structures in
each song, and I was ready to write songs outside of washy, minor-chord pop punk. Evan Williams and I had played as a two piece not too long before this, and I knew he was the only person who could help me realize what was in my head at the time. I brought the first group of songs to him, and we spent a lot of late nights at the practice space. Most of the time was spent drinking and talking about YouTube. Evan recorded three or four songs on his four track (some of which are on the Soft Dick City cassette). We liked how they sounded and decided to expand the band from there.

Will:  I think Evan and Rich had gotten together to start a metal band called Tight Dogs From The Future that eventually morphed into Whatever Brains somewhere in the Summer of 2008.  I was looking to move back to NC from Pittsburgh, PA  and asked all my friends on MySpace(whack) where I should move in NC.  Rich told me I should move to Raleigh and join his band Whatever Brains.  I hadn't really hung out with him in forever, but it was my only offer, and we'd played before in an improv doom/noise/Lightning-Bolt-ripoff band called XABBAX which was a good time, so I went for it.

Jordan:  You guys have been on a bunch of labels from Bull City Records to Sorry State Records.  What has it been like working with so many different people?

Whatever Brains LP 1 Cover
Rich: Bull City was an extremely natural way to start. Chaz Martenstein and I made quick friends when he opened his store in Durham in 2005. We talked about music extensively. Both being record store clerks and from Virginia, we had a good deal in common, and we also had a lot to share. Over the years, he's gotten me into so many awesome bands. I bought my first Oblivians and Spits records from him. Anyway, I think Chaz had been wanting to start a record label for a while, and it made sense for Whatever Brains to be his first release. I believe now, more than three years after its release, the first 7" has finally sold out. He probably still has a good deal of the second one. By the time we were ready to release a third 7", Chaz was still sitting on a many/most of our previous records, and it didn't seem fair to ask him to release another, so we roped some of my Virginia buddies into the mix. Funny / Not Funny was started by my friends Matt, Harper and Bengine in Harrisonburg. We were their second release, and they had no idea what they were getting in to. They still have hundreds of copies of the "Nesting" 7". Sorry, guys. They were also gracious enough to attempt a fourth 7" with us, but money fell short when it came time to send the record to the plant. That's where Daniel Lupton at Sorry State came into play. He'd released the Crossed Eyes 7" (of which he mistakenly took to a second pressing and is now selling for $1 in his distro) and had been a Whatever Brains fan from the start. I wasn't sure how he'd feel about the proposition to help with the "Rapper's Delight II" 7" since Sorry State had mostly released hardcore bands, but he was totally enthusiastic. He's been losing money on us ever since.

Will: It's all been pretty straight forward.  I think we have a big advantage because we never need/get a recording budget.  I went to school for audio engineering so I do that work and make the band buy me snacks/beers/microphones, etc.  Then all the labels have been cool about paying for mastering and giving us some free records.  Everybody at Bull City, Funny/Not Funny, Diggup Tapes, and Sorry State Records are all great dudes and we are eternally grateful that they have been kind/naive enough to sink money in our records.  
Sorry State Records LOGO

Jordan:  Do you find that there’s a big advantage of being part of such a diverse music scene as the triangle area?  How has that impacted your music?

Rich:  Sure. Instead of being the wussy band on the punk show, we can also be the dumb punk band on the indie rock show. But, it's been great. We all have history dabbling in different scenes, and the Triangle is a great place to do that. I can't think of a specific instance when it's impacted the music, though. It is what it is.

Jordan:  Have you always had the same line-up?  Have things moved around at all?

Rich:  The band started with me playing guitar singing and Evan playing drums and singing. Not long after that, we added William Evans to second guitar. I'd seen him play bass and keyboard in bands before, but never guitar. He's infinitely better than me. After that, we asked Vince Carmody to play bass. That lineup recorded the first two 7"s. Then we replaced Vince with my roommate and former bandmate Matt Watson, who had never played bass in a band before. We recorded the next two 7"s. We wanted to expand the sound around that time and had talked of adding a keyboard player/auxiliary musician. Young gun Hank Shore had been to a bunch of Brains shows and even messaged me for lyrics and tracklists and such. He was a bass clarinet player by trade, but we got him to play standup bass (along with clarinet) on the fourth 7". Then he joined full-time on keyboards. Since he'd never played keyboards in a band before, he used Evan's microKORG, which he still uses today. Matt uses Evan's bass. Will uses my guitar amp. Matt supplies the bass and keyboard amps. Recently, when Hank went to college, we decided to add Josh Lawson to another keyboard/auxiliary position. He is a pro musician and pro dude. We play as a five-piece most of the time now, but the band has six members.

Will: Rich and Evan started as a two piece in the summer of 2008.  I moved to Raleigh and joined in July/August '08 on guitar.  We quickly realized we need some low end so we asked Vince Carmody (of Strange, Legend of the Overfiend) to play bass.  April of 2009 Vince left and we got Matt Watson (of Street Sharks) to take his place.  At some point maybe in like Spring of 2010 we got (Enloe High School Senior and Eagle mascot) Hank Shore to come play bass clarinet and upright bass for our 4th 7" (Rapper's Delight Pt. II on F/NF, SSR) then he became our keyboard player.  When he left to go to college in Chicago this January we got our friend Josh Lawson (of ORDER) to start playing synth.  At Phuzzfest in Winston-Salem Hank was back in NC for spring break and joined us on bass clarinet.  I think he's moving back this summer and Josh is staying in so we'll be a 6-piece moving forward.  

Jordan:  Do you all have other side-projects at all?  What are your backgrounds in music like?

Rich: Will currently plays in Heads on Sticks, Evan plays in Black Zinfandel, I play in Infección and Josh and I play in Order. I'm probably forgetting something. We've all been in too many bands before now

Will:  I play guitar and keyboards in (Birds of Avalon bassist David Mueller's solo project) Heads on Sticks when we do live shows.  It works out because he'll do all the writing and recording himself then the live band just gets together to practice before shows.  That's been cool.  Also Evan, Matt and I (along with new Double Negative frontman/Atrophix drummer Cameron Craig) were in that band SHARDS.  As far as my background I've been playing music of some kind since 5th grade and have been playing shows since I was 14.  I played tuba in the high school band and have taken like a decade of music theory courses.  Also got my Bachelor's of Science in Music Technology from UNCA.
Frog Fractal Non-GIF

Jordan:  What sort of events and bands and ideologies influence your music?

Rich:  Punk and not punk

Jordan:  Is there a cohesive idea that makes Whatever Brains, politically, artistically or mentally?

Rich:  Don't be a dick. It sounds like an awful t-shirt slogan, but it's the most succinct way I can put it.

Will:  <insert animated Peace-Frog fractal .gif>

Jordan:  How do you think your lyrics impact your music?  A lot of them seem to be surreal portrait-stories.  How does that happen?

Rich:  A good chunk of the songs are about how people treat other people. You see such a depressing amount of religious and ignorance-based hatred growing up and living in the south that it would impossible for me to not touch on it heavily. There are definitely other subjects, though, but they are more of a case-by-case scenario. The new record has a song about how my girlfriend and I have a tough time keeping Betta fish alive and how we wanted a poodle named Frankie. Both LPs have had some sort of explanation for each song in the lyric sheet. And while there has been a lot of satire in past Brains lyrics, I'm trying to move away from that a bit. We'll see how it goes on the third LP.
The Brains Again

Jordan:  When did you decide to record a full-length album?

Rich:  When Whatever Brains started, we planned to record four three-song 7"s in a year and then work on an LP. It took much longer than that. But by the time the last 7" was finally released (September 2010, two years after our first show), we had a ton of material ready for a longer format. We recorded most of them, used some demos and pieced together the 17 tracks that make up the fist LP.

Will:  I think from the beginning we had always wanted to do 4 7"s before we put out a full record.  That Jay Reatard 7" singles series had come out and then was released all together.  It seemed like a good way to put out some music without committing to/having to write 12+ songs or having to wait that long.  After the 4th seven inch we planned to make a full length and so just gathered up all the new songs we had plus whatever old songs we wanted to do again and recorded those.  I think now we're planning on putting out four 12"s (our second one just dropped on SSR) then, I dunno, lazer discs?  4x4x12"s? Hypercubes?

Jordan:  How did you guys end up working with Sorry State Records?

Rich:  I think I first met Daniel when Direct Control (Sorry State's first release?) played the house Matt and I used to rent. Daniel later released a Crossed Eyes 7", which was Matt, myself and our other roommate, Dennis Duffy. Daniel was an absolute gentleman and scholar then, and he still is today.

Will: Daniel rules and has the best taste in weird/hardcore/punk music, runs an incredible label, is the pride of the triangle punk scene, a stand up dude and despite that likes our band.

Jordan:  What was it like putting something out for Record Store Day?  Seems like a big move for both SSR and the Whatever Brains.  How did you decide on the covers you did?  The Wall of Voodoo one is awesome!

Rich:  Daniel asked us if we wanted to do a Record Store Day record, and we said, "Yes." The tracks were gathered and/or recorded and mixed in a few days. It wasn't actually affiliated with THE Record Store Day, so nobody had to pay any money or jump through any hoops to get an official RSD seal of approval. The Double Negative cover was recorded at the same time we did the "Rapper's Delight II" 7". We learned that song because we thought it would be funny to play when we opened for them. Evan got me into Wall of Voodoo not too long ago. "Can't Make Love" sounded the most like Whatever Brains, and therefore the easiest one to learn. The "Shelves" demo samples a long and really intense drum track that Josh programmed for another, never finished, Double Negative cover years before he joined the band. The last track was a remix done by Waumiss for a pretty ridiculous remix download we put on Mediafire when the first LP was released. There are some cool rap and electronic remixes on that download, too.

Will:  Daniel decided he wanted to do a local (NC only + RVA) Record Store Day release and we've usually got a few odds and ends floating around, so he knew we could get it ready to send to the plant in a matter of days.

LP 2 Cover
Jordan:  What has the evolution of the band been like from when you put out your first 7” to the upcoming 2nd LP?

Rich:  It's always been very gradual. We've practiced twice a week since we became a four-piece in 2008, so we're constantly playing old songs while we're learning new ones. Will has recorded almost evertthing we've done from the first 7" to the second LP. Our friend Reverdy Francis Nicholson III tracked two songs on the "Saddle Up" 7", also. As for the music, whether it's fast or slow or good or terrible, it always ends up sounding like Whatever Brains.

Jordan:  How would you differentiate the 2nd LP from what you’ve done before?  Anything new to the table?

Rich:  The second LP is a little bit more "rock" sounding. The drums are bigger and better.

Will:  The second one was more focused from the start.  We knew we wanted to do full band versions of all the songs and kind of do a "rock" record, whereas the first LP was more of a collection of all the different sounds we'd tried out (regular full recordings/Rich's demos/this weird new wave electronic drum pad thing) plus songs that had been written farther apart and without a specific release in mind.  I think Rich wrote most of the 2nd one all in a row and with the idea of the next batch of songs being contenders for a full-length. 

Jordan:  What makes a good live show for the Whatever Brains?

Rich:  It seems obvious, but we're always better when we're having fun.

Will:  Free beer.  No serious injuries.

Jordan:  How do you decide when to tour?

Rich:  Matt, Will and Hank are/were in school. Summer is our best option for anything longer than a few days.

Will:  When school's out

Jordan:  Can we expect a US tour coming up at all?

Rich:  We're planning a 16-day tour starting in late July. We'll be playing some places we've played before, but we're trying to focus on places in the Midwest that we haven't been.

Will:  Yes.  July 27th-August 11th.  As far away as Minneapolis then back down the East Coast from Boston

Jordan:  Where does the band see itself going in the future?  Is there going to be a continuation of Whatever Brains?

Rich:  Writing, recording and playing as many shows as we can, which isn't nearly as many as most bands with the amount of records we have.

Will:  Jamming on stage at the Grammy's with Dave Grohl and Lil' Wayne.  I think as long as we don't lose too many members at once and Rich still can't stop writing songs we'll keep going.

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