JEFF the Brotherhood We Are the Champions
Published Jun 21, 2011After toiling away for a number of years, Jake and Jamin Orrall turned many heads with 2009's Heavy Days and its mix of Nirvana-esque power chord riffing and psychedelic garage rock. Parts of We Are the Champions follows in the go-for-broke spirit of the Nashville duo's last effort while adding new dimensions to the band's sonic palate. There were hints of this on "Bummer," from their split seven inch with Best Coast, which found the brothers slowing things down to achieve a heavier sound reminiscent of Weezer's Blue Album. "Endless Fire" takes the comparison even further, with Jake and Jamin aping the twin vocal approach Rivers Cuomo and Matt Sharp used to great effect on Weezer's first two records, singing over keyboards and even a sitar. Of course, anyone who has seen the band live over the past year-and-a-half can tell that these guys love to rip it up and there's still plenty of that here. "Stays Up Late" and the aptly named "Shredder" pick up where Heavy Days left off, even if, at times, the songs lack the breezy feel of that album's best tracks. Matching the ferocity of their last album, We Are the Champions manages to push forward without losing the band's hazy, lo-fi charm.
When was the record recorded?
Guitarist Jake Orrall: We did two songs at one session ["Bummer" and "Mellow Out"] and then a couple months later we did the rest of them.
Did you record "Bummer" and "Mellow Out" with the intention of putting them on the record?
Yeah, we thought we were going to re-record them, but we ran out of time. We only had three days.
You recorded the whole album in three days?
Except for those two songs, and there was some stuff that we didn't end up using; we'll see where they end up.
Do you normally go into the studio with the idea that what gets recorded will be one coherent album?
Yeah. During the time we recorded the album we were touring most of the time, by a pretty good margin. We recorded it last year and we did 260 shows last year so we had to be very, very specific about when we were going to record and when we were going to mix, because we were home for so little time.
Was the album written on tour?
Is that how you normally write?
No, but we had no choice for the last couple albums.
Does it change the kind of songs you write?
I don't think so.
Many of the song on We are the Champions are slower and heavier. Was that something you were trying to achieve?
It kind of happened that way.
A bunch of reviews have compared it to Weezer's Blue Album.
Yeah. I've read a lot of those ― a lot of them.
Are you and Jamin fans?
Absolutely. That's a huge, huge album for me.
Is there anything particular about it or was it just the time in your life that you discovered it?
I think it was just the timing; I was 11 when I became aware of it. Those are pretty formative years: 11, 12 and 13.
Has their influence come out on your past albums?
I think so, in some ways. Definitely not so obviously, I guess; it's not necessarily just that album though. Smashing Pumpkins are my favourite band. Veruca Sault and Nirvana were huge for me. I started listening to that stuff again a year ago, just really getting back into that era of my life, because I found all my CDs from middle school.
Had they been in storage somewhere?
What made you pull them out?
I moved into a place. I didn't really live anywhere for a long time so I just had my shit in storage for a couple years, living on couches.
But you've settled into a place now.
Yeah, we run our record label [Infinity Cat] out of a house and I live in the house.
Many people heard about you guys through your live show. Was there any pressure to capture that element on this record?
We try to keep our live shows and our record really separate. We have such an intense live show that we don't usually try and emulate that on record. Most people that try and have that same live experience listening to the record fail at it. We just try and have the best live show we can have and make the best record we can make.
Was there a pressure in knowing that more people would be listening this time?
I definitely wanted to make it better than the last record, but I think we got better as a band.
Do you think you succeeded in that goal?
Yeah, absolutely. The songs are better, the recording's better.
You've added a lot of sounds too ― there are sitar and keyboards.
Yeah, our buddy Ryan plays sitar. We had a friend who plays sitar and we were making an album and we thought we'd take advantage of that.
Did you want to expand your sound?
Not live, just on record. If we just played the songs through like we do live it wouldn't be as interesting. And [if we replicated the record] live there wouldn't be kids jumping off of the stage, you'd just be sitting there listening to it. When we record we try and put stuff that will make it as attention grabbing of a listening experience as it would be live. But live it would be really difficult to incorporate anything else because there's only two of us. So we might as well keep it simple so we can rock harder.
You've always taken a very DIY approach to your career ― starting your label, producing your records, shooting low budget videos ― where does that attitude come from?
Growing up in Nashville, it wasn't like anyone was going to do that for you. The punk scene was pretty small, pretty underground. Watching kids come through who had obviously dropped out of school and quit their jobs and who were just doing it, that was a pretty big inspiration. No one else is going to do it for you and you can either keep playing local shows once a week or you do some shit.
Did you find it difficult to break out of Nashville and tour?
Yeah, it was horrible. The first four-and-a-half years that we toured it was just trying to find someone interested in having us play in their parents' garage. We can deal with anything; we just want to play in your town. At that time it was all through MySpace. Everything that we did to book a tour was through MySpace. 2006, '07, '08 was all MySpace. We'd find a band that seemed like they'd be pretty cool in the town we were trying to do the show in and then negotiate a show swap, where you book them a show and they book you a show in their town. We did that for four-and-a-half years, then we got a booking agent and told him to put us on the road all the time. It was really hard; we weren't making any money. You'd make 50 bucks if you were lucky, which would be just enough to get to the next town. But mostly it was spending your money or whatever people would donate. And we'd have to find people's couches to crash on. It was really hard, but it was really fun.
Is that how you developed your live show?
Yeah, just playing every night for a long, long time.
What turned the tide for you? You mentioned getting a booking agent.
When we put out Heavy Days, we really went for it. We both quit our jobs and moved out of our places and lived in the van for 13 months. Then we got a booking agent and started to make a bit more money.
You recently played a gig in Moscow for Vice Magazine. What was that like?
It's totally different. We did a Europe tour in the spring and most cities, no one knew who we were. In Moscow, we played with two Russian bands and we were the headliner ― no one gave them the time of day and when we went on people lost their shit for the whole show. And no one even knew who we were. They could care less. We were just some rock band from America that flew all the way out there for one show. They were really appreciative; it was cool. (Infinity Cat)