JEFF the Brotherhood: Interview

    There’s a lot of 2011 left, but it’s already turning out to be a good year for JEFF the Brotherhood. The duo, comprised of brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall, has been together and touring since 2001 and had a nationwide release in 2009 with Heavy Days, but the hype went into overdrive after the band did a live set at Jack White’s Third Man Records, was named one of Spin’s “must-hear acts” at SXSW, and received an endorsement from Jay-Z that people should “take a trip to Nashville to party with Jeff the Brotherhood.” And that was all before the release of We Are the Champions, the duo’s sixth album, with a sweetheart of a distribution deal from Warner Brothers records.


    We Are The Champions is a pretty audacious name for a record. What were you trying to convey?

    There were a lot of possible names, and we picked the one that looked the best. It also has to do with the fact that after we released Heavy Days, we went all in and basically lived in the van for two years. We toured everywhere, and with the release of this album we’re at a place where we can focus on playing and not have to worry about having other jobs. I guess we’re bragging a little.


    How has the band expanded its sound this time around?

    I think the recording is a lot better, and on the previous album I only had one guitar amp. This time around I had three, and I played through all of them simultaneously.


    Did you go in with a definite idea about the album, or did the record mostly evolve in the studio?

    Our albums usually come together in the studio. We’ve already played all of the songs live, and by the time we get into the studio we’re looking for what needs to be changed so that the song will hold somebody’s attention on a record. Listening to a song live is a multisensory experience, but we want the record to hold people’s attention the same way. You have to add little things to bridge the gap between the live and recorded performance.


    Do you think people might confuse small and simple?

    I don’t know. People call it minimal a lot. We write fairly complex songs- they’re more than just a verse and a chorus. I just think that there are very minimal bands whose whole purpose is to make minimal music. Take somebody like Young Marble Giants. They’re minimal. We’re not.


    Would you ever consider adding a member?

    Yeah, if we wanted to add a member, I don’t see why not.  We’ve talked about doing an album with a bass player, but the two-instrument configuration is our normal. It’s basically whatever we want at this point, which is pretty nice. Adding a member would really mess up the deal we have going, though. We have this great conversion van, and now we’re able to bring someone with us to sell merch and stuff. If we added a member, we’d have to get a bigger van. Then we wouldn’t make as much money. Then I wouldn’t have to use so many amps, though, and that would be cool.


    You have a distribution deal with Warner Bros. on this record. Did that affect the recording process at all? Were there notes?

    No, we had the record done when they asked to distribute it. We’d already pressed it.  Warner Brothers really likes our band. They had been in contact a couple of times about working with us, so we put together our list of terms. We weren’t looking for a record deal at all, but we figured if we could get them to do this, this, this, and this and leave the other stuff alone, if they’d give us complete creative control and let the album come out on Infinity Cat- then fuck, why not? We pitched it to them, and they went for it. We are very excited.


    Did you have any discussions before you went through with it?

    We negotiated it for about a year. We weren’t going to do anything unless it was absolutely perfect. We prepared to walk if every little detail didn’t come down to our specifications- because in the end, we didn’t really need it. We were doing fine on our own.


    Does it worry you that you’ve become a member of the Warner Brothers machine?

    I would still consider us totally independent; it’s just that we have access to a lot more tools to get our music into people’s hands.


    Do you think this going to help launch your band to another level?

    Absolutely. I’d like to be able to play really big shows with really big bands and put out records that hundreds of thousands of people hear. We’ll see how it goes. I’d also like to put some money away and that kind of good shit.


    Is there a band whose career you consider a model for your own?

    I don’t know. I think the thing I like about us as a band is that we’ve been at it so long, and that has given us time to slowly build our fan base. It’s been eight years. A lot of bands might start out strong, sign a big contract, and then disappear. We’ve been self-sustaining and successful on our own. I guess I’d like to keep following that path instead of trying to get that major label deal. Most bands who get that deal have been together for about a year and a half and have a certain sound that’s in the moment. All the label reps are shitting themselves trying to find bands that have the sound, because that’s who everybody is signing. We try to stay away from that whole scene, honestly.


    A lot of the praise for your band mentions other bands that you sound like. Do you consider that a left-handed compliment?

    No, not at all. We’ve been compared a lot to Weezer’s blue album lately, and that album meant so much to me- it’s so huge, one of my favorite albums- that I’m stoked people would make that connection. I’ve always wanted to write songs like that; I don’t think my songs are anywhere near that, but it’s nice to be compared. There’s not a lot of originality in music these days. All you can really do is piece together different influences and styles and come up with something unique. I think we do a pretty good job of that. The only thing that annoys me is when people make stupid comparisons, when they say we sound like Black Keys or White Stripes because there are two people in the band. We’re not like those bands at all- they’re both blues-based, and we have very few, if any, blues influences in our songs at all. I think there’s one bluesy riff on our entire album. That annoys me, but other than that I don’t mind. I actually like when someone says we obviously must listen to this, this, this and this, and they’re all bands I’ve never heard of.


    What band has influenced you that you haven’t seen in the press yet?

    People are getting a lot of them. When we’re writing songs, we definitely think about doing this band mixed with this and this other one. We might say we’re going to do Ramones with Hawkwind and some Judas Priest break in there or something. People pick up on that stuff. I think it’s weird that no one has said Smashing Pumpkins, because that’s been one of my biggest influences- Billy Corgan is my guitar hero. No one’s ever mentioned them.


    Not a lot people talk about Corgan when they make lists of guitar heroes.

    He’s just an incredible soloist. His guitar solos are so amazing. Him and Randy Holden, who was in Blue Cheer for a minute, are basically the biggest influences to my guitar playing. Maybe one day.