Brendan B Brown of Wheatus | Interview
After a chart-topping hit single all the way back in the year 2000 (you know the one we mean) Wheatus dropped off a lot of people’s radars. This was partly due to the subtle shift in musical direction the band took after their second album, and partly due to a series of difficulties they experienced with their record label, something which ultimately led to the band going down the independent route – letting fans pay what they wanted for downloading their albums.
But now Wheatus are back with a new album and a tour of Ireland and the UK (their first since 2005) which kicks off in Dublin on Tuesday, 10th September. Goldenplec spoke to frontman Brendan B. Brown to find out what Wheatus have been up to post Dirtbag, and where they are going next.
One of the things Brown is particularly keen to discuss is the band’s new record, ‘The Valentine LP’. “It’s a collection of post-apocalyptic love songs,” he explains. The songs are all set in New York City sometime after a cataclysmic collapse of society. But it isn’t so much a concept album as a conceptual setting. “I wanted to explore the idea of reconstituting society, fighting zombies, and trying to maintain some kind of romantic relationship at the same time. Is it possible to fall in love when you’re learning how to hunt in the canyons of New York?” Brown says.
This progressive direction owes a lot to the rock music of the 1970s, Brown explains. “I kinda tried to get it to sound the way that the Who sounded in the ‘70s. AC/DC and Rush too. The records that those guys made during the heyday of analogue recording are some of the best sounding records of all time.”
For Brown this is just further emphasis of the shift away from the kind of songs Wheatus recorded in the early ‘00s. “The second record we made [‘Hand over Your Loved Ones’] was a really glossy pop record that had a lot or radio friendly singles on it. After we had done that I felt like there wasn’t really a point to doing that again,” he says.
Was this change in direction motivated by the desire to prove that Wheatus are more than just that song? Brown seems very pragmatic about the bands place in pop culture.“That’s what you do as a musician; you try to get known for something. I mean if it turns out to be one song because people gravitate towards that one song, well that’s your good fortune. Who am I to say you should look into our other stuff. I mean, sure, do that if you feel like it, but I’m happy to have people attracted to us in any way.”
The song Teenage Dirtbag has also made a return to popularity among a younger fan base, courtesy of a cover version by One Direction. As pleased as Brown is about this, he’s quick to remind us that this is actually the fifth time Teenage Dirtbag has made a return to the UK charts. “This year, 2013, it went into the iTunes top 40. 2012 it went into the BBC official top 40. It did the same in 2011 and in 2010. It’s like we sent the Terminator into the future to clear the way for us or something. We love playing the song. And it represents us as a band, so we feel good about it.”
For a lot of fans heading along to the Dublin show, Teenage Dirtbag has a certain nostalgia value, reminiscent of a certain distinct period in time. This kind of affinity for the song is nothing new to Brown.“I’ve heard that a lot. It’s just in everybody’s brain somehow, for better worse. I think it’s better, but I’m biased.” In fact he has a story to go with it. “A guy we work with now, he isn’t in the band but he’s part of our infrastructure, I’m not going to say who, he lost his virginity to it when he was in school. And now he works with us!”
There is also the added element of the younger generation of fans, who have connected with Wheatus by route of One Direction and social networking. This is something Brown is very aware of. “They are really enthusiastic kids. Because they’re all like what, 13, 14, 15? Their Twitter lives are very important to them, and now I’m there to talk to as well. It just kind of explodes. Every morning I wake up and there are all these questions about this song or that, and I have to get into this discussion.”
And when it comes to connecting with fans, Brown is in no doubt that “it’s definitely better than it used to be, where you’re hoping that the radio guy liked your single and all that stuff.” All of this points to a band dedicated to continuing down the route of independent releasing, small-scale touring, and maintaining a tight connection with their fan base. When asked if he‘d ever go back to a major label contract, Brown answers that, “it would have to be such a ridiculously one-sided deal that I don’t know why they would do it. Besides, it’s not necessary anymore.”
The last question we put to Brown is one that has dogged him for his whole career, what does the middle initial B. stand for? He laughs before answering, “Beyoncé.”
Wheatus play the Village on Tuesday 10th September.