The Ordinary (but Really Good) Band with the Exotic Story: Brett Newski & the Corruption, May 28 at Rozz-Tox Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Monday, 20 May 2013 05:33

Brett Newski & the Corruption. Photo by Sweet Chucky B.

Brett Newski & the Corruption bills itself as “a band from Saigon, Vietnam,” but before you imagine some sort of Eastern-Western mash-up, know that Newski comes from the exotic environs of ... Milwaukee.

It’s true that the band lived and recorded its album Tiny Victories in Saigon, and that Newski and his collaborators are an international cast – albeit entirely from North America and Europe. But when the band plays Rozz-Tox on May 28, don’t expect any divergence from poppy Western guitar rock. Outside of lyrics based on travels and life abroad, the influence of southeast Asia, Newski said in a phone interview last week, is limited to the invigorating hullabaloo of the city.

“It’s indie rock,” Newski said. “We’re not rocking any sitars or anything. But the energy that the city brings that we’re constantly surrounded with I thought translated well into the energy of the album.”

Saigon, he said, is “so dense. Everyone rides around on a motorbike. The weather’s almost always nice there. It’s the freedom that you have to be able to just hop on your little bike and get anywhere in the city within 10, 15 minutes. There’s always things right up in your face – bikes riding down the wrong side of the road, people cooking on every street corner, mechanics fixing bikes. If you get on the outskirts of town, you’ll even see six-, seven-year-old kids with a big stick just herding these giant water buffalo.”

Quoting a friend, he said: “Going to southeast Asia is just like going to Mars. As far away from Western society as you can get. Completely warped odyssey.”

In its modest, unassuming manner, Tiny Victories is just about perfect – a front-to-back-solid collection of sterling songs for which comparisons to other bands are difficult ... largely because there’s nothing particularly distinctive about them beyond being good. As faint as the praise seems (but is not), the defining characteristic of the album is its consistency.

Each song has something special going on, whether it’s clever wordplay that’s fun (“Last night I slept inside the oven / Waiting for you to turn me on”) or strangely obtuse (“It’s kinda cathartic when you get brokenhearted”); effective use of unusual guitar tone (the solo of “Wet Pavement”); or simply polished songcraft with an emphasis on strong melody, hooks, and choruses.

Yet even songs this good are helped by a compelling backstory, and Newski’s provides a good hook to draw people in.

Frustrated with the job market in the United States, he bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok and eventually settled in Saigon, where he met his bandmates. In 2011, as a virtual unknown, he did a solo tour of southeast Asia for six months. In 2012, he toured South Africa. The “Homeless in Narnia” section of the band’s Web site (CorruptionMusic.com) includes harrowing tales from Columbia (“If anyone comes through that window, I’ll smash ’em in the face with this Bible”) and the Philippines (“Please don’t shiv me”).

I asked Newski whether these incidents made him want to curtail his unconventional travels. “I almost feel a little high off experiences like that,” he said. “Even just thinking about some of that crazy stuff gets me pumped to go out and try to do more missions and find more weird corners of the globe.”

But for now, he said, the band is focusing on promoting Tiny Victories in the most mundane of places for an indie-rock band – the United States. “We’re being more strategic about it,” he said. “You can only play so many shows for like 10 people before you want to step it up a notch.”

Brett Newski & the Corruption will perform on Tuesday, May 28, at Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue, Rock Island; RozzTox.com). The 8 p.m. show also includes Break Up Art and Tambourine. Admission is $5.

For more information on Brett Newski & the Corruption, visit CorruptionMusic.com or BrettNewski.com.