Poised to Conquer: JEFF the Brotherhood, July 27 at RIBCO Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 18 July 2012 09:05

Triple Play

Over the course of a week, from July 21 to July 27, RIBCO will offer an impressive array of acts: half of The Sea & Cake on Saturday, the national-pastime-themed supergroup The Baseball Project on Thursday, and the up-and-coming garage-rock duo JEFF the Brotherhood on Friday.

An interview with The Sea & Cake’s Sam Prekop can be found here, and an interview with JEFF the Brotherhood’s Jake Orrall is below.

The Baseball Project. Photo by Michael E. Anderson.We interviewed The Baseball Project’s Scott McCaughey last year, and that article can be found at RCReader.com/y/baseballproject. In addition to McCaughey – known for the Young Fresh Fellows and the Minus 5 – the band includes Steve Wynn (of Dream Syndicate and Gutterball), Peter Buck (of R.E.M.), and Linda Pitmon (who has regularly worked with Wynn).

As we wrote last year, songwriters McCaughey and Wynn help the band transcend gimmickry: “The songs don’t settle for easy recitations of historical highlights. Some are pure celebrations – such as the punky ‘Ichiro Goes to the Moon’ – that exude a love of the game through their understanding of it. But most of the songs are more complicated.”

More information and tickets for all these concerts are available at RIBCO.com.


JEFF the Brotherhood. Photo by Jo McCaughey.

Jake Orrall said that major labels these days wouldn’t put out something like Hypnotic Nights, the just-released album from JEFF the Brotherhood.

They might have in 1994, he said in a phone interview last week, in advance of his band’s July 27 show at RIBCO. And if that seems an odd date to choose, consider that was the year DGC released Weezer’s self-titled debut, popularly known as the Blue Album.

You’ll have no difficulty making the stylistic link between the two records, both packed with candied rock hooks, punkish drive, infectious melodies, and gleefully arrested development. As Stereogum casually put it: “Whenever people say to me, ‘Man, I miss Blue Album-era Weezer,’ I reply, ‘Then why the hell aren’t you listening to JEFF The Brotherhood already?’” To which the A.V. Club added (discussing JEFF’s 2011 album): “They’ve sidestepped Rivers Cuomo and created the album he’s no longer interested in making.”

The irony is that Hypnotic Nights was released by Warner Bros.

But don’t consider that fact a lucky break for the brothers Orrall, Jake (on guitars and vocals) and Jamin (on drums). And don’t fear for their sanity or bank accounts – another band sure to get chewed up in the major-label machinery. Despite their youth (Jake is 26 and Jamin 24), they’re hardly green: The band has been around since 2001, Hypnotic Nights is their seventh record, and the previous six were released by the family-owned Infinity Cat Recordings.

And their father, singer/songwriter Robert Ellis Orrall, is a country-music veteran who could offer his kids plenty of cautionary tales. But he didn’t, Jake said: “He knows that we won’t listen to him.” Yet the Orrall children saw enough Nashville ugliness that they deliberately kept things small – basement tours and self-released recordings.

“Running an indie label I’ve always thought of as an opportunity – having not known how to run a major label – to be able to sort of reinvent how record labels run,” Jake said. “We never really saw any use for a major label.”

That’s different now, though, and shrewd bands hold the power, he said: “The music business has changed so much, especially major labels, which are now just desperately trying to find a way to stay afloat. That presents a lot of opportunities for bands who know how to play their cards right. ... The major label for us is a solution. It’s really allowed us to do a lot of things that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do, and reach a lot more people.”

So JEFF the Brotherhood was able to retain creative control, and got much of what it wanted after a year and a half of contract negotiations with Warner Bros., which also distributed last year’s triumphantly titled We Are the Champions. For a band whose music is this dumb (in the best sense), the Orralls look pretty damned smart.

As for Hypnotic Nights, co-produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, there are hints of ambition, balls, stupidity, cheekiness, or some combination of the four – and not always encouraging. You’ll hear horns (“Country Life”) and what sounds like a sitar (“Mystic Portal II”) and what sounds like a harpsichord (“Wood Ox”), and the record closes with a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Changes” with only Moog synthesizer and vocals – a bizarre choice in both song and treatment. (Jake admitted it’s “the most corny song you could pick,” with its painfully direct lyrics.)

Fret not, though. If you aren’t charmed by the summery, bright warmth of the guitar-rock-anthem openers “Country Life” (“I want a place where I can smoke meats”) and “Sixpack” (“Let’s load the car up / I got a bag of ice / I got a six-pack / And I don’t wanna go back”), you probably find Weezer juvenile and simple – true enough, but beside the point. “Hypnotic Mind” adds a touch of metal riffage to the pop – a sensibility that’s developed in the closing explosion of “Hypnotic Winter” and the sludgy vibe of “Dark Energy,” a key difference from early Weezer.

Jake said the instrumental flourishes were the band’s ideas, and Auerbach helped them polish the ear candy – from the vocals to the melodies. “Dan’s role was more helping us make sure the songs were not just making sense to us ... ,” he said. “He’s been very successful with his band because he knows how to write songs in a way where they’re accessible to a much wider audience.” He helped refine the songs that “get in people’s ears” and “made sense to the masses. Or tried to, at least.”

That speaks to the band’s commercial goals: JEFF the Brotherhood believes it can build a large audience, and Warner Bros. is a tool to achieve that.

If there’s a downside to being on a major label now, Jake said, it’s finding time to write new material. JEFF the Brotherhood has never been much for practicing, but the schedule is getting even more crowded.

“We write when we rehearse, which is very, very rarely – especially right now,” he said. “We don’t have a practice space. We tour so much that we know all of our songs. And we’re brothers, so we kind of get enough of each other on the road.”

JEFF the Brotherhood will perform on Friday, July 27, at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue in Rock Island). The 7:30 p.m. all-ages show also features Juiceboxx and Healing Power. Advance tickets (RIBCO.com) are $10, and admission at the door is $12.

For more information on JEFF the Brotherhood, visit JEFFTheBrotherhood.com.