Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Brooklyn What: Genre Hopping Goodness.

Greetings Internetz! The CMJ Music Marathon is only a few weeks away, and we're happy to be bringing you two showcases this year! Our second showcase of the festival at Matchless on Saturday 10/19 features The Brooklyn What, a hard drinking, hard rocking, high energy crowd pleasing, just downright fun band. I had the privilege to sit down with Jamie Frey, the group's lead singer. Here's the transcript:

Hearts Bleed Radio: For starters, can you give me a little background on The Brooklyn What, who were the founding members? How did you meet?

Jamie: The Brooklyn What was founded by myself, Evan O'Donnell, John-Severin Napolillo, Billy Cohen, Douglas Carey and our friend Z-Pac who was briefly our drummer. Pac was my friend from Junior High School, but the rest of the band met at Edward R. Murrow High School, where the lot of us played music together. I played with a few of the guys in my first band, The Jesus Fish Evolution, who were kind of a whacked out version of 90's alternative rock band, but we all were jamming and collaborating by the end of high school. John, Evan and Billy all went away to school, whereas I stayed in Brooklyn, and was writing songs for what I thought was would be a solo record, but when I got a group together to play the tunes over a break from school, simply for want of playing a gig again, we decided to become a band. By our second gig (outside of my parent's basement), Jesse Katz had joined, a schoolmate of Billy's, and we haven't had another drummer since.

HBR: What's it like growing up in Brooklyn, and seeing all these kids move here to play music and be in bands?

Jamie: It has definitely been a confusing experience, and I've had all kinds of feelings about it. Upon starting The Brooklyn What, we played our first gig as the only band on the bill... we did not know any other bands. Our early material, specifically, has a great deal of reaction and bile towards gentrification, and gentrifiers. The initial Williamsburg scene was something we felt entirely left out of, the first song on our first record is "I Don't Wanna Go To Williamsburg." Since then, we've discovered many like minded bands, musicians and audience members, some native of Brooklyn and some not. However, even today, I can't entirely shake that weirdness, of being unusual in my home borough for growing up here. It's still weird to hear the attachment of "Brooklyn band" to people I know are profoundly not from here. I still feel like there's this other scene, in the rest of Brooklyn, someday waiting to burst, from spots most people have not even seen, because they're "too far out."

Roof band fears no one!

HBR: There must be some satisfaction in the fact that people see Brooklyn as like, something other than a dingy little offshoot of Manhattan, right? Despite how annoying the "Brooklyn-Chic" crowd can be, at least people are acknowledging this place.

Jamie: Yeah... it definitely is a mixed feeling. I am very proud that there are some legitimately really great bands coming out of the area, and that there are great shows and whatnot to do on the weekends. I used to love Manhattan, I spent my weekends as a kid ESCAPING Brooklyn to the Village and LES, which seemed like where "counter-culture' actually lived. Now, I almost never play shows in Manhattan or go see a band there. I don't really consider it a win, maybe a convenience? Brooklyn is a great place, I loved growing up here. The "chic" part doesn't extend to a great deal of the borough. I had never even been to Bushwick until I was in college, and I was fucking terrified to walk down the street. My neighborhood that I live in, and grew up in, isn't chic yet... but it probably will be someday. I know my neighborhood is great, people are now learning this for the first time. I'm from Kensington, which is a small neighborhood not far from Prospect Park... used to be a complete mystery to most.
I like to call it "the belt" of Brooklyn, sits in between the Park Slope type stuff and legit South Brooklyn.

HBR: Should we start a rock club down there?

Jamie: Yes, if you hire me as your booker. It probably isn't a terrible idea, believe me I've thought of it. Earlier this year, I thought of the of renting out the basement of The Temple, where I went to pre-school on Church Ave. and putting on all-ages DIY shows. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) I am broke.

HBR: Maybe we could throw something... it can't be that much, right?

Jamie: There used to be a Temple basement in Bensonhurst where there were really popular DIY shows, bands like Leftover Crack would play. I'm not sure... it could be worth investigating. I noticed people going all the way out to Rockaway to that club Ripper's to see So So Glos and The Beets... so it wouldn't be that wacky.

HBR: Yeah, but Rippers is like, you're on the beach, it's like California out there.

Jamie: Yeah this would be like going back to the suburbs for an evening... which could be a thrill for some.

HBR: Or torture...

Jamie: Depends. I love the suburbs, cause I'm not from there. Kensington is a little suburban, but many many ethnicities.

HBR: When I listen to The Brooklyn What, I hear like, Indie, Punk, kinda this old bar rock band buried in there somewhere, and like, a kinda 70's songsmanship ala Elvis Costello or Big Star (the first post Beatles generation of songwriters). I was wondering what percentage punk do you consider yourself? I would guess 40%

Jamie: I'd say 40% on some days and 60% on other days... I definitely have loved punk for some time, as have the other guys in the band. We started the band a little more sloppy, aggressive and reactionary... we felt like a punk band for sure. We have it in our veins, no doubt, but our unwillingness to stick to genres and whatnot make us anomalous to "punk" audiences. However, sometimes where we're kind of freaking people out, I feel a little more punk. We played a show recently at a Ping Pong club owned by Susan Sarandon, frequented by a kind of "Gossip Girl" looking crowd, and sort of scared these kids away, so my instinct was to get a little baiting onstage and said "Congratulations! You are watching the least punk show we've played in our career thus far."

HBR: Least punk, but still punk enough!

Jamie: I have a pretty strong distaste for the conformed sound and look "punk" circuit that exists today, at least in terms of our music, but definitely identify kind of with that 80's wave of bands in the wake of punk, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, The Minutemen... who took the punk feeling and mixed with various types of musicality and songwriting ideas.

HBR: Right. Modern hardcore can be such a narrow genre, from the sound of the music, down to the uniform.

Jamie: Yeah... I mean, I can get down with all kinds of music. I'm listening to Chet Baker right now and the band as a whole has a pretty insane breadth in terms of musical taste... what we all generally appreciate is musicians who are being sincere and honest, with a high premium on being yourself and doing your own thing.

HBR: Something that I always thought was wonderful about Indie was that you were really allowed to have songs that were uptempo and abrasive, and others that were soft and pretty, and like, noise/screaming too, and like... you could do anything...

Jamie: Totally. We used to have this feeling about indie being kind of a dirty word, when they started selling all those Arcade Fire and Death Cab For Cutie records, but as I get older I realize indie is the realm where we can do a jazz tune, a hardcore song and some Sonic Youth type guitar epics on the same record. There are so many tired circuits and genre walls to hit out there... as a band we have plenty to say and that tradition is the best shot you have to be able to... even if you freak people out!

Jamie wails away at the Bowery crowd.

HBR: Do you feel like your music is accessible?

Jamie: Jeez... that is a hard thing to say objectively. Some of our songs, to me, are pop songs and should be absorbed as such... some of them are not as much, and my voice or some of the more chaotic elements may scare somebody away. I don't think we have that... people hear it right away and understand whats going on and nod their head passively kind of thing... that another band might. However, I've been pleasantly surprised of the diverse bunch of people in terms of age, background and taste in music, able to appreciate our records and show. Look, I know I don't have the Mr. Nice Guy voice that people just like right away, and we don't really stick to one sound or concept, but I think in the grand scheme of things, looking at y'know Black Dice and Wolf Eyes etc., we're a pretty fucking poppy band. I love The Beach Boys.

HBR: Do you have any advice for the CMJ festival goer?

Jamie: I don't know all the line-ups yet, so I don't know what are the must sees, aside from the two totally excellent bills we're on. I would say my best advice would be to enjoy what my life is like... getting drunk in a bar and watching a bunch of bands in Brooklyn...

  And that's exactly what we'll be doing! CMJ Music Marathon runs from October 15th till the 19th, and there is A METRIC SHIT TON of shows. So come on down to the city and check out ours:

Showcase #1 and Showcase #2

Like The Brooklyn What on Facebook ---> here.

Listen to The Brooklyn What ---> here.

And like Hearts Bleed Radio on Facebook ---> here.

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