Q: "Alice, where's your clothes?"
A: "They'll be sweet sheets around your eyes when the boars eat you alive!" The Blood Brothers, "Camouflage, Camouflage"
Contrary to the popular rock cliché, the Blood Brothers are exactly the kind of boys you want to bring home to your parents. "My girlfriend's parents heard my band and they weren't freaked out," explains bassist Morgan Henderson. "It kind of sounds like noise to them at first, but then I think they can slow down and hear things they might like about it. It's not so 'crazy,'" he adds, laughing.
However, Henderson and I aren't discussing his domestic life (which, according to that anecdote, sounds really great). No, instead we're talking about whether the same mainstream Americans who will pay nine dollars to see Jackass 2 are ready for the non-linear sonic madness the Blood Brothers revel in.
"I really think it breaks down to record labels and certain media outlets, like MTV, being ready," he explains. "Those organizations are the ones who take this entitlement of naming what people would like. I think we're kept out of that mix because they think, 'The Blood Brothers would be too hectic for people,' or their kids would automatically run out and start killing each other. It's all really absurd; of course people can handle it."
Originally formed in Seattle in 1997, the Blood Brothers which also features vocalists Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney, guitarist Cody Votolato and drummer Mark Gajadhar came up alongside acts like Pretty Girls Make Graves in the underground punk scene and released two full-lengths on Second Nature recordings before signing to ARTISTdirect for their 2001 major-label debut, Burn, Piano Island, Burn. A dissonant post-punk masterpiece, Piano Island introduced the Blood Brothers' distinctive sound (most notably Whitney and Blilie's shriek/scream vocals) to the mainstream, and was followed up in 2004 by their V2 debut, Crimes, as well as tours alongside Warped Tour mainstagers Coheed & Cambria and Against Me!
This month sees the release of the band's fifth full-length, Young Machetes, which was co-produced by John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Vaux) and Fugazi's Guy Picciotto. How did the group come to work with the latter? According to Henderson, Blilie's sister Hannah (who plays drums in the Gossip) met Picciotto while the Gossip were recording their last album, and he mentioned that he was a fan of the band. The Blood Brothers met him at a show in D.C. a few months later and "that's where the idea really solidified," Henderson explains. "It was kind of bizarre, really not to work with [Guy], but how it came together. I don't think I ever would have thought that would become a reality."
While it's difficult to speculate on how large of an influence Picciotto had on Young Machetes, to say the album is a departure for the band would be an understatement. "Spit Shine Your Black Clouds" features a waltzing organ, opens with the line, "You're walking through the forest where they feed the trees broken glass" and features the most memorable bridge of 2006; "Huge Gold AK-47" sports the same staccato guitars and spastic screaming the band has become known for, but the stellar production makes the instruments sound like they're jumping out of the speakers to strangle you; and "Camouflage, Camouflage" features upright bass, schizophrenic keyboards and an anthemic chorus that seems tailor-made for sing-alongs.
However, Henderson insists that the band's movement toward a less guitar-driven sound isn't a conscious idea.
"It's not so much about making a record that's well-rounded or something like that; this is just where we're at right now," Henderson explains, adding that the band's collective ADD most influenced the writing on Burn, Piano Island, Burn. "As bands go on, they have these certain types of songs they start to write, and sometimes they'll rewrite a song, and it's an improvement. I think you can see that analogy through the Blood Brothers' records; there are certain ideas or feelings that we revisit, but we're trying to do it better this time."
Apparently, their fans agree. So far the reaction to Young Machetes has been overwhelmingly positive and although the album leaked this summer, Henderson considers the fact that people are interested enough to download the album a blessing. "It's really easy for me to say, 'Oh, I don't want people to download our record' or something like that, but in reality I download records and swap MP3s with people all the time, so it'd be extremely hypocritical for me to demean people for doing the same thing," he explains.
"When I saw Crimes had leaked, I was really excited," he continues. "I looked at how many people were exchanging it and it wasn't a ton, but the fact is that people were attracted enough to our band to download it, and that's great. People say it really hurts the musicians, and in some sense I understand how that could happen for someone who's on Touch and Go or Suicide Squeeze who pay a 50/50 percentage on what they actually sell. But people seem to come to our shows instead, and that's actually where we make our living, so I can't take up big arms about that."
In the end, Henderson doesn't seem too concerned with album sales or demographics, which is refreshing in a day and age when musicians casually throw out terms such as "target demographic" as frequently as "chord progressions." Instead, Henderson seeks inspiration from other artists in unlikely places particularly those that do equally revelatory work in other media.
"I can't remember his name, but there's a Scottish guy I'm trying to think of who makes certain sculptures out of ice," Henderson says, when asked what inspires him on a daily basis. "He's freezing out there making these ice sculptures, and they'll crumble at the moment he's finishing, and he'll start over again. I find that inspiring because it just takes so much commitment to believe that much in what you're doing," he continues, pausing for a moment to collect his thoughts. "That's the sort of stuff I'm into."