3 members of TSAR have formed The BROTHERS STEVE, a glammy powerpop band with strong 60s influences and great vocal harmonies. They tell us about the band, the recording of the album, their favourite records and much more !
How did you get the idea of starting The BROTHERS STEVE?
Jeff Whalen: We all knew each other from our schoolboy days at UC Santa Barbara, home of the Avo Taco, which was this amazing taco at this place called Freebird’s. Somebody told me that they don’t make it anymore.
Os Tyler: Yeah, I actually went to Freebird’s a little while back and ordered an Avo Taco and the guy behind the counter’s eyes lit up like a fond distant memory was washing over him and he said, “Wow, it’s like you just came in from outer space.”
JW: I miss the Avo Taco. Anyway, but yeah, last summer some friends were throwing a party and they needed a band, so we said let’s do it! The Brothers Steve!
OT: Yeah, it was that or hire a choir of rubber chickens.
Did you get to find the good line-up easily?
JW: Sure! It was automatic. I love these guys. And playing with them is a major gas. It’s just super-gassy. I mean, we’ve been super-good friends since college—Jeff and Coulter and I are in Tsar, Dylan is like my bro life-partner, and Os is my favorite guy to write songs with, out of anybody on the planet.
OT: Ah, man, that’s too kind. Truth is I probably never would have written song one if it wasn’t for Jeff. I was walking past a window one day and this guy says, “Hey Os, you wanna hear the song we just wrote and recorded?” Turns out it was Jeff Whalen and Jeff Solomon, recording right out of their living room. It was an epiphany moment for me. It was honestly the first time that I realized that people write songs. They don’t magically materialize, people write them. And, well, I’m a people, so why not give it a try.
JW: My grandma had a dog who thought he was a people.
How did you write the songs? Did you have them before the band got together?
JW: When Os and I write together, mostly I come up with a chord progression and then Os starts riffing on some words and then we bang around some chorus ideas and then maybe get some lunch. Os and I have pretty much been writing together this whole time. We’ve always wanted to put out the songs on some kind of album-type band-situation-type thing, but we’ve been unable to, for whatever reason. Mostly I think because, left to our own devices, we just keep recording and re-recording and thinking about it and talking about it and never finishing anything. We have a buncha-buncha songs, so this is cool to be in the Brothers Steve and be able to play and sing them in a thing where we have to finish it or people will get mad at us.
Can you tell us about the recording of the album?
JW: We tried to record it really fast—like three or four days—mostly to keep Os and me from recording more and more vocals and dragging the process on, potentially for years. So we finished tracking, and what we had was cool, for sure. But it wasn’t done-done—the band had a couple pick-up things we needed to do to finish up, maybe another day or two, max. So, secretly, Os and I took the sessions to his house and recorded more and more vocals without telling anyone. I remember feeling kind of anxious about it, like everybody’s gonna be pissed that we got all overdubby on it. But we did our level best to do it with … you know, alacrity. We got Dylan in on it, to sing more, too, which was great, because I love how we sound, the three of us together. In the end, I’d say we only dragged the process on an extra month or two.
There’s a lot of vocal harmonies on the album. Is this something you miss in modern music?
JW: I think I do, now that you mention it. I’ve been listening to a lot of sunshine pop these days, from the late 60’s/early 70’s, and it’s clear that big harmonies and lots of singing was so important to those guys.
OT: I generally love music of all types but I feel like any song can be enhanced and uplifted by adding human vocal harmonies. There’s no way to replicate an individual human voice, and mixing two or three of them together in harmony gives you this compounded unique-tacity that’s megaliftic.
JW: Well said. This is why it takes us years to finish a demo.
What is « Beat Generation Poet Turned Assassin » about?
OT: “Beat Generation Poet” is a biographical sketch of a young man named Bociferous Dillard. Dillard was a little younger than Burroughs and a little older than Ginsberg. He was a cutting edge poet, early to the beat generation scene, and initial assessments suggested he would embody a cultural milestone, and that his poetry would be remembered for eternity.
However, as the now-known voices of establishment Beat Gen society redefined and pushed the movement in the direction that it ultimately embraced, the early critical acclaim of Dillard’s groundbreaking stylistic finesse degenerated to critical disparagement, leading Dillard to utter disillusion and despair.
In his mid-twenties, Dillard began hiring himself out as a contracted killer. Known to have assassinated at least seven men, he would never write another word until his death at age 27. He died beside his last victim, banking mogul Victor Lanchot. Bociferous Dillard’s dying words, scrawled in blue ink on a two-dollar bill: “Your words, not mine.”
JW: I didn’t know any of that.
The 60s and indie influences are obvious, but since you also play in TSAR, we can hear a few similarities in the glammier songs like « We Got The Hits », « Carolanne » or even « She » do you think some of these songs could have been released by TSAR?
JW: “We Got the Hits” could be Tsar-ified for sure. “Carolanne” could probably be on a later Tsar album? Like one in an alternate timeline, maybe? An alternate timeline in which the four members simultaneously released solo records, a la KISS? And the posters all fit together? And there was only like three or four good songs on all the albums put together?
Have The BROTHERS STEVE played a lot of shows so far?
JW: No! We played that party and then we played our album release party for International Pop Overthrow a couple months ago, and then a show last night in Burbank.
OT: We are excited to play more as the anticipation takes us!
Is there any new L.A. Bands you feel close to musicwise?
JW: We’re friends with Punch Punch Kick—they played the International Pop Overthrow show with us—and they’re amazing. Super hooky.
OT: I personally love United Ghosts. There are no pure parallel lines between us, but I just dig their thing. They just had a sweet summertime European tour. They’re worth checking out!
5 of your favourite albums and a few words about them.
JW: Right now I’m listening to Begin by the Millennium at least once or twice a day. People told me it was supposed to be so good, but the first few times I listened to it, I wasn’t all that knocked out. I had the CD in my stereo for a while and I’d let it play kind of randomly while not really paying attention and then all of a sudden one day it kicked in. Now I think it’s brilliant! Kind of like the Association meets Nilsson meets Paul Williams or something. Kind of like if Olivia Tremor Control was a polished sunshine pop band. Or like an easy-listening MGMT. Lots of vocal harmonies on that one.
OT: It’s a smooth sailing groove.
JW: Also, check out the New Directions album by Gary Lewis and the Playboys. You can kind of guarantee that any album called New Directions is going to be terrible, but it’s actually great. It came out after all his hits, but I’d argue it’s his best album. That is, if I could ever find anybody who wanted to argue “best Gary Lewis albums” with me. I’m sure they’re out there. The record’s full of these weirdly manipulative songs about a lonely guy trying to get girls to pay attention to him. Solid record. Gary Lewis is super underrated, I think. And there’s something about his singing style—if you can call it that—that makes me feel 90’s-y. Does anyone out there know what I’m talking about? That kind of, I-know-I-can’t-really-sing-but-really-the-jokes-on-you-because-I’m-not-really-trying-although-I-really-am type of singing from the 90’s?
OT: I do!
JW: I’ve also been jamming Too Fast For Love by Motley Crue. Shout at the Devil‘s got some great songs on it, but Too Fast For Love is their masterpiece. But how must it feel to be in this huge, internationally famous band that’s been around for decades and know that the best thing you ever did, by far, was essentially your demo tape? Must make you feel like S.E. Hinton or something, writing The Outsiders when she was in high school. If you hit your peak right out of the box—or before you’re even out of the box—what do you do the rest of your life? Just Harper-Lee that shit? Who knows? Great album, though. And check this out! I never noticed—ever!—that the album cover photo is a blowup of Vince Neil’s crotch from the full length picture of him on the back cover. Does everybody know that except me? Have I just been walking around, talking to people, living my life and I’m the only one who didn’t know that? I had always assumed it was a planned crotch shot, an intentional takeoff on Sticky Fingers, right? I just noticed this like two weeks ago.
OK, that’s three. Uh, four, let’s say the Xanadu soundtrack. I’ve always been an ELO-side guy, but lately I’ve been more into the Olivia Newton-John side. Her voice in that period has a kind of fragile clarity I’m digging. The song “Dancin’”—the duet with the guy from the Tubes—is so ridiculous. It’s almost like an experiment in ridiculousness. Her innocence and his over-the-top, fake-confident lasciviousness, with the 40’s-music-meets-fake-hard-rock medley. So charming, despite its obvious effort to be charming.
Os, you got a fifth?
OT: Well yeah, here’s a top 5 album: OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Funky, groovy, funny, groomy. Such great stuff.
JW: Totally. Os, have you ever considered “Hey Ya!” as a glam song?
OT: Not really. And another fun weird one while I’m thinking on it, The Flaming Lips’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Feel good, swim and sway, fully instrumented tunes with plenty of echo-y, glorious harmony vocals.
What’s coming next for The BROTHERS STEVE and TSAR
JW: The Brothers Steve have a Christmas single coming out on Big Stir records in November, which I’m mega-double jazzed about since I love Christmas music. Christmas music is the Beatles of music, if you know what I mean.
JW: And then another full-length record, I’d say. Right?
OT: If the planets align, I would love that!
JW: As for Tsar … I dunno! We talk about it, dream about it. Just waiting for the right moment, you know, globally or whatever.