Brand New are one of the most successful cult bands in contemporary rock. The Long Island band started as an angst-ridden melodic pop punk effort, with 2001's debut release Your Favorite Weapon beaming with tracks about young love and feuds with hometown rivals Taking Back Sunday. They've since developed into perhaps one of the most intricate and hard-hitting bands in this genre, moving away from the pop in favour of an ambient hostility that stretched across their later releases, 2003's gold-certified Deja Entendu and 2006's The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me.
They've just released their fourth studio album Daisy, an album that finds the band branching out and exploring another new musical avenue. Vocalist and guitarist Jesse Lacey waves much of the songwriting duties he's become known for, allowing guitarist Vincent Accardi to move in. Joined by bassist Garrett Tierney, drummer Brian Lane, and guitarist/keyboardist Derrick Sherman, Brand New took a rare moment to tell Exclaim! about their new album, the dark themes and what they hope to add to their already impressive list of accomplishments. With an almost entirely sold-out North American tour scheduled to kick off October 1, it's no surprise the band has a lot to talk about.
The album begins with a recording of the hymn "On Life's Highway." Why did you choose this and what relevance does it have to the album in particular?
Lacey: A lot of things extra that we include on records like artwork and things like that, it kind of more chose us. I bought some tapes online from an estate sale and they had a bunch of old sermons on them and that song was just on there. It wasn't like we went looking for the song, but it turned out to be a song I remembered from when I was younger, growing up in church and stuff. Not just the song itself, but the way it sounded was really fitting to a lot of the things on the record, so we just decided to include it.
Did you edit it at all or is it presented as you found it?
Lacey: It's pretty much as is. What's there is there. There's not much thought behind things like that. There's no great story to it or anything, some things just interest us and we like the idea or the sound of it and that's all the reason we need to ever do something. Sometimes we don't even need that. Sometimes we just do stuff to do it. I wish there was a greater motive behind it, but most of the nine years of our band has been kind of let's do this and that's what happens. That's the culmination of the record there.
I understand there's a shift in the dynamic of this album, with Vinnie taking over a lot of the reigns in writing the lyrics. What happened here?
Lacey: Everyone has always had the opportunity to write anything that anyone wants in the band, it's just when we started this record Vinnie came with so much already. It had nothing to do with me; it had everything to do with Vin. He just came with everything completed already and it was so good we were all really excited as a band to follow his lead.
Accardi: A lot of times when we have breaks on tour, I continue to go into our friend Mike [Sapone]'s studio and work out anything I have. When we started the record, I kind of had more material than we usually start with when going in to write a record, which was good because we wound up with a shortage at some point. Things just kind of spilled over as they did and turned into us working on everything together and filling in the weeks. I don't think there was ever a point where I raised my hand and said I want to do this now; I think it's my turn.
Lacey: You probably just noticed me being lazier about things.
Accardi: A little bit.
Lacey: Instead of stopping at the point he usually did when he was writing a song to let us put whatever we're supposed to put on it, he just took it further than he normally does. Instead of taking it 50 percent, he did it 75 or 80 or 100 percent.
Often when bands switch lead writers you can tell, but this record sounds organic throughout and stays true to the sound. You can't really tell there are different lyricists. Did you alter them in the studio, or did it just work as is?
Lacey: I think the funniest thing I've seen in the past two weeks in the small amount I've looked at people's reactions at least to this part of the record, is everyone thinks they know what Vin wrote or what I wrote or what Brian wrote. Everyone who thinks they can tell who wrote what, pretty much across the board everyone's been wrong. That's not something I'm even conscious of. For the most part, I've lost track of what I wrote or what Vinnie's wrote because it was such a collaborative effort with the band. Vin might write a drum part or Brian might write a guitar part or whatever. We're not really keeping tabs of how much everyone has at stake on each song. Everyone's doing everything they can to get the song finished. It's funny that no one really has any idea.
The album is fresh, having just come out on the 22nd, but the reactions I've been reading have been really black and white. Some people are really digging it and other fans are sounding disappointed. How are you reacting to this negativity?
Lacey: I think the word is polarizing. People are either loving it or hating it. I think more and more as the band went on, we were always more pleased with a reaction like that because it is an extreme influence you're having on people. We'd almost rather be putting out music people either love or hate rather than something mediocre that everyone either kind of likes or kind of doesn't like. There's no real use to us at this point of being middle of the road and safe. That seems kind of boring to us now, but we knew. There was a lot on the record that even to us we weren't sure about it, so we knew people would react negatively towards it. But at the same time, we knew we were being ourselves and doing something we loved so inevitably we were going to find people who loved it as well.
This has happened with your previous releases too where no one knows what to think, but eventually everyone comes around and collectively welcomes it into their hearts.
Lacey: We have good fans that way where they do give the records a chance over time. We are asking a lot of them sometimes when we put a new record out and that's great that we have that. Again at the same time, we're not really worried or scared of losing fans because we know we've put out records people love and just because we put another record out they don't really understand or want to like, it's not going to stop them from listening to whatever record they do enjoy by us, so why not try to find something different about yourself and make new music and make a new sound.
Production-wise, you guys tried to do it more independently, but you worked with Mike Sapone, the same producer/co-producer that you've always worked with, so what was different this time?
Lacey: Every other record that we ended up working with Mike on, we always worked with someone beforehand. We tried to access all of the funds and resources of our record label [Interscope], which is one of the largest record labels in America, it was always "let's try to work with a producer" because that's just traditionally what a band does. We already have this relationship with Mike, he's our friend and our engineer and our producer and he helps us in way more ways than that, but those things always ended up weird and we always ended up back in our town in that basement recording things when we wanted and when we wrote. With this record there was no thought of trying that first, it was just beginning to end we were going to go there and do everything our way and finish everything out way.
Lane: The only real difference too is we could go home after we recorded. We had like a 9 to 5 job, we'd go record and if we didn't have anything we'd go home, so that was cool.
How long did it take?
Lacey: A year and a half. It's never a year every day, we'll go spurts of two months where we're working five days a week then we won't be there for three weeks at all. Mike will be working on something else. He has as much at stake with the music as we do; he's as invested in it as we are, sometimes more. I mean that's the ridiculous way we work sometimes. It takes us that long to write something and listen to it and hate it and work on it again, but that allows us to take all our money and instead of investing it in six weeks in LA, we can take it and spend it as we will over whatever course of time. At the same time, we also don't have to put our lives on hold to record this record. It's a part of our everyday. I imagine that's probably how we'll do things from now on.
What is the story behind the child speaking on the title track, "Daisy"?
Lacey: Mike recorded it. We'll come into the studio and Mike will have put something like that on one of our songs. Sometimes I'll come in and Vin has done something like that, but in this case it was Mike and we thought it was great and didn't ask many questions about it. It is as mysterious to me as it is to you.
On this album thematically there seems to be references to things like darkness and nature, but there seems to be an absence of love. Marriage is brought up a lot, but not really in a positive way. Was there any consciousness to this?
Lacey: A lot of that stuff really isn't conscious. Sometimes, especially on this record, after it was complete I realized how many times something repeats itself. I read a review the other day and someone was talking about the idea of a forest coming up. I was like what is he talking about, but it comes up like 12 times and there's a forest on the cover. All those things happen in an unconscious way. We don't really pick something and follow it through the record, but it is interesting how it kind of just comes out of us. You kind of realize it afterwards, so it is a bit of a revelation to us. The meaning of it is a completely different story and often times it escapes us. I wouldn't really be able to tell you why that idea, the idea of a forest or the absence of love. That's scary to say that, to be like why is it dark? Why aren't we talking about happier things? The only thing I can really comment on that about is I think we find playing music with those themes or playing music that comes from a certain place in us to be more interesting to us. That is kind of what the band has turned into. We don't necessarily have to be those kind of people and we don't necessarily have to think those things that are on the record that often in our day to day life, but when we do get together to write a song that's just where we go to. That's what comes up. It is a lot of times just a very small part that goes on in any one of our heads, it's just that small part takes over everything and becomes the music.
How are you guys feeling right now at this stage in your career and what do you hope to accomplish with this record? What goals do you have at this stage in your careers?
Lane: I think we've all become very comfortable with where we've gotten in our career. As long as people are still coming to shows, that's what matters. We hope to sell some records, but if we don't and people are still coming to shows then we're very happy. I don't think any of us have any more special goals we need to hit. We've all been very satisfied with what we've been given. I think whatever happens with us, we'll be happy.
Lacey: The monetary or the success ideas that surround people in a band or a band and their career, most of those things we've already hit whatever goal we might have had or hit goals we may not have had in the first place. We've put records out, we've been on the radio, we've found that we can make a living doing this. We signed to a major record label, we've played really big festivals and venues and all of that stuff. There's nothing like that we could probably write down and say I still want to do this or that. The focus has become on what we can do with each other playing music. Everything left that we want to do has to do with ideas that we have as being a band of friends. This record was a really good time; we had a great time recording it. The goal to me now is what can I do still with this? What songs can I write? What albums can I make? How can we take all the stuff that we've done to make the band what we are, now how can we tend it and maintain it and create new things. Like I said, all the other stuff we've already done and it never really gave me as much fulfilment at least to me as making a good album or playing a show and having a good time, coming off and feeling like I did something good and something constructive for the hour or two hours. There's a lot of wish-wash that comes in being in a band. Having your picture taken and being in a magazine, even having a record label, it doesn't really have anything to do with actually making something. At the end of the day if you've only immersed yourself in those things you don't really feel accomplished as opposed to just writing a song. That just came out of me, I just made that up out of nowhere and it's always going to be something, it's always going to be a song. Whether I'm the only person who knows it or a million people know it, I made something and put it out into the world. That kind of sounds like a precious sentiment, but it's true.