“A band so derivative they make The Twang sound like Godspeed You Black Emperor.”
“The self satisfied grin he pulls after making the joke is one of the most punchable expressions I’ve ever seen on a face.”
“Music has no future if these shower of pricks are to go by.”
When lead singer Lee Newell declared them to be “the future of music” at their first show at the Flowerpot last year, Brother became the whipping boy of the DiS forum and have remained permanently arse-red-raw from incessant verbal licks ever since.
Signing to Geffen for rumoured vast sums of cash last year when record sales were yet again at an all time low and quickly going on to be the NME’s latest grinning poster boys, Brother were never going to have it easy. Then there was the music an infantile rehash of Britpop through rose-tinted glasses. ‘New Year’s Day’, the first track to surface online had them posturing in front of a union jack with two naked girls as half-baked twanged riffs and nonsensical lyrics (“I’m feeling like killer whale, let me free or I will bite your head off”) played out.
It’s all seemed like déjà vu, going back to 1995, when the Gallaghers and Albarn ruled the airwaves and the music industry and printed press sailed high on the crest of the spray. It’s like the industry in an act of desperation has resuscitated the rotting coke-riddled corpse of Britpop with the breath of four lads from Slough in a naïve attempt to nostalgically relive their heyday and most importantly boost sales and with us as the unwitting spectators.
So, with a ‘kick me’ sign firmly attached to their backs and the release of their debut album Famous First Words just around the corner, it was time to blow off the dust of DiSband: a feature that in the past has given bands more or less universally hated on the site a chance to answer back. Hadouken, The Hives and most notably The Horrors all had their say, so why not let Brother (now Viva Brother) give us their side of the story?
Meeting in a proper geezer pub in central London where Sky Sports is jammed on the mounted wide-screen TV, the jukebox doesn’t go beyond 1998 and the clientele don’t have an XY chromosome between them; the setting seems somewhat contrived to bolster the bands laddish credentials. However when Lee Newell, arriving late with Lennon glasses in hand, walks in he looks more like a sheepish 23 year old caught by his mum with a packet of her Marlboro lights than his jaw-jutting print counterpart.
Explaining to him what the drill is for the interview, he is (and remains) polite and cordial, saying “I think it’s quite nice of you doing that. I’m quite thankful” before adding a comical “do your worst!”
DiS: Have you ever been into forums and read what people have written about you?
Lee (Leonard) Newell: I did at the start; I don’t now because it does nothing for the soul. I’ve seen what they write and you see the fan letters in NME, or non-fan letters, so you know I’m fully aware how loathed I am.
DiS: Do you ever reply?
LN: Never. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a forum, the only time I’ve ever looked is on a website where you have comments beneath it. Occasionally, one of my best friend’s Dan he’s always like: “have you seen this one?” He sends me a link and I’m like, “for fuck sake!” Not really, I don’t tend to get involved; Josh is more into all that; he loves a stat and he’s a worrier. But, you know you’ve got to laugh it off, you have to.
DiS: On Twitter, do you ever tweet people back or retweet what they’ve said?
LN: Yeah, all the time.
DiS: Yeah, I noticed that you’re really active on your Twitter account.
LN: Yeah, we have to as we’re not on the radio; all of us constantly have to be on the internet and showing that we care because we do care. I feel like anyone that believes in us, we owe it to them. And so, yeah when someone comes with a scary comment I’ll reply; I’m not just going to bend over and get fucked.
DiS: Your quotes in the press don’t help you and can be seen as intentionally being controversial to get attention, especially when people like Noel Gallagher have done it to great effect in the past.
LN: Yeah, I think at the start of the band, at the very start, sort of because we were being touted as these lager lout lads by the industry. I think I sort did become that character almost as a parody of myself, an exaggerated version of myself, because it was a knee-jerked defence mechanism, you know? But, not to say that those comments were unfounded, they certainly came from a real place, but I think maybe I should’ve just had my guard up a little bit more.
DiS: Watching your video interviews a lot the things you say seem quite tongue-in-cheek compared to in print when it comes across as arrogant. Do you say these things with humour or do you actually mean it?
LN: I do do it with humour; I do mean some of it. Obviously, you don’t get the nuances you would reading it, which I’m aware of now. My big mouth, my big fucking stupid mouth, was a lot of the reasons why we were so looked at the start, you see it’s a double-edge sword with people saying it’ll be the death of us, but I’d rather it would be.
DiS; Do you do it because there’s not enough bands at the moment that say what they think? Like in the past there was Noel Gallagher, Nicky Wire…
LN: Nicky Wire’s great. Morrissey.
DiS: Is that your reason for doing it or is it just how you are as a person?
LN: I said I wanted to start a band that I would buy and I would listen to, so in a way I am or we are a band that we want. But, I think people sometimes think about it too much; all this mind-mapping: “where’s this come from? Is this genuine?” Really, we started this band to be band and write songs that we like and we do love our songs I’ve said it a hundred times. Maybe there’s not as much to it as you think.
DiS: Before Viva Brother you were in Kill The Arcade (the track 'Navigators Start Navigating' is above) and Wolf I Am. How can you go from being in emo-hardcore bands to making songs that are essentially Britpop circa 95. What prompted the change in direction?
LN: Well, when I was in Kill The Arcade I listened to different music; not all of it was bad we wrote some good songs and we did release an album and then I changed and I stopped liking the clothes I was wearing and I started to listen to songs that came from a different time.
DiS: But, what prompted that? Was it about someone you met? What was the trigger?
LN: There was another member in the band, I can’t really say too much about him and I’ve never talked about him before; he was originally in Brother as well and he was also in Kill The Arcade and Wolf Am I. We were like best friends for like ten years and we grew further and further apart and when Brother started kicking off, we kicked him out. It was sort of me and him that started listening to Blur.
I tell you what it was actually and I don’t care if this is cool or not, but we started going to a club night called I <3 90s at Islington Academy and we went there a couple of years ago and we were like: “God, do you remember this song? This is fucking amazing”. And, something like Warren G would come on or something ridiculous and it’s like: “this is such a tune, I’d love to write something like this”. So, we did and then just started snowballing into this whole huge, I don’t know what the fuck it is anymore.
DiS: But, do you appreciate that some people see you as a careerist band? To be in Kill The Arcade and do a whole album based on that sound and to then do a complete 360.
LN: We didn’t do a 360. I can see why people think that.
DiS: Did you do it to be more successful?
LN: It’s funny when people say that, because when we first came out surely our music was the most uncoolest fucking music ever? We never called it Britpop, we never called it that ourselves, it sounds a bit like it but not that much.
DiS: Really? I’ve had your album through and as someone who really likes Blur, it is quite heavily influenced by them and it’s produced by Stephen Street.
LN: Ok, fair enough. I think we’re careerist in the sense that we do want a career and we do want to do it on our own terms.
DiS: Don’t you think it all got turned around quite quickly? You played your first gig a year ago, got front cover of the NME and signed to Geffen. It all seems like a suspiciously smooth ride compared to bands who have worked at it for years before getting signed.
LN: Ok, yeah in these other bands I was in I was touring the UK for five, six years. I was driving up to Glasgow to play to no-one and because the songs changed we didn’t change and we still lived those experiences. We put our fucking work in, trust me.
DiS: So, you feel you’ve paid your dues.
LN: Massively. You know, the people that are fucked off at us because we got signed quickly, are the people that haven’t got the bollocks to admit that they’re wrong: “we’ve been playing these songs for years.” Maybe your songs aren’t good, maybe no-one wants to fucking hear them.
DiS: The album itself is coming out in August. When you played the Flowerpot last year you were quoted as saying that you were “the future of music”. Do you regret saying that?
DiS: Do you still believe it?
LN: I don’t know if I believed it at the start.
DiS: Why did you say it then?
LN: Because you’re still talking about it now.
DiS: Why do you see ‘Famous First Words’ as the future of music?
LN: I could be technical?
DiS: Well, I was just getting into bands when Britpop came around and so for me the album seems like something that’s been done before. What can you bring to the table? What’s new about it?
LN: I tell you why, because when we first started this band we were in our own minds trying to recreate a time like Britpop; you know we’re not trying to recreate it by any means we weren’t around to live it first-hand and because of that we created this magical era in our heads that never really existed that we based Brother on. Everything’s better in hindsight and I’m sure this magical era wasn’t that great; there were a couple of good bands.
DiS: What appeals to you about it?
LN: I don’t know. It was the last sort of mini-movement we had, so it just felt the most close to me. It just felt exciting and stuff, like the Brit Awards.
DiS: When it was Blur v Oasis in ’95 you were 7 or 8?
LN: Yeah, but how old were you when the Beatles came out? Minus? It doesn’t mean that I can’t fucking appreciate it?
DiS: A lot of the criticism that’s been aimed is not directly about you, but more about journalists reliving their youth through you. Do you worried about being a puppet for people like the NME?
LN: We are. We are a puppet. They’re pushing us around and trying to mould us and we’re getting continually fucked-off by it as we want to be respected. As much as people can dislike our songs you have to admit that they’re well written songs, whether they’ve been done before, whatever, to us they haven’t, so it’s exciting and like I said very romantic. I don’t care what some fucker journalist writes
DiS: The NME has a history of hyping new bands only to knock them down, like with Terris. Do you know who Terris are?
LN: I don’t remember.
DiS: Look them up. Now with the NME you can tell when they’re doing a big marketing push towards certain bands: there’s you, the Vaccines and Tribes. I think now people see it as more contrived than when it happened during Britpop.
LN: Well, yeah, they’ve already turned their back on us already. You’ll see.
DiS: There was a quote where you criticised the Drums and specifically American bands. Considering Kill The Arcade and Wolf I Am were particularly influenced by American bands like The Used, why are you anti-American bands?
LN: We’re not anti-American bands; there are some popular bands in America that we don’t like. I don’t know because I’ve not taken notice of late, but I’ve just found it very safe and very by the book and happily suck dick to get where they want to go. I’ve seen it first hand as we’re over there all the time.
DiS: You worked with Stephen Street for the album. Did you pick him as a producer because of Blur?
LN: Well, he picked us. He heard us on the radio. That period was amazing, that whole scramble, wicked. He invited us round and we had a pint and he was like, “Do you wanna do the album?” And, we were like: “Yeah”. Stephen’s like a friend now, he’s honestly so nice. He’s done things that he regrets, but I think we remember him for all of the good things; that’s the good thing about being a producer is you do a couple of great albums and you’re remembered for that and do whatever you want over that.
DiS: Whereas you’re tied to your record contract that only nowadays gives you one chance.
LN: Around the time Mona got signed…
DiS: I forgot about Mona. What’s happened to them?
LN: Exactly. You’ve forgotten about them. Around the time we got signed, they got signed and the Vaccines got signed we actually signed a two album deal, so we’ve actually got another album in us, thank god. Because, once this is out people have already made-up their minds about how it will sound whether they listen to it, take it for what it is or listen to it with these preconceptions they’re going to review it based on that. Next album will give us a chance to be honest.
DiS: What do you want to do on the next album? Will it be different from ‘Famous First Words?
LN: It’s going to be the opposite.
DiS: To me, Famous First Words lyrically has very little substance.
LN: There is on some songs.
DiS: At the moment lyrically bands are more introspective and abstract whereas you’ve come out with a songs like Darling Buds Of May, which is titled after the 90s drama.
LN: I think you’re looking way too much into it.
DiS: So, is it that as a band you just want people to have fun to your music and to be seen as a pop band?
LN: No, I mean I want people to have fun to it. But, you know we’re conflicting in that sense that one day we want to be this and another day we want to be that, but really when we sit back and when we’re hungover and having fun that’s when we know what we want.
DiS: Whose career as a band do you admire?
LN: Stone Roses always fascinate me.
DiS: Then you’d be two albums done and out.
LN: That would be perfect. Or the Smiths, they did four albums, actually they were done after their third but still released the fourth. I want people to read back at Wikipedia one day and start with the first chapter and be like: “fucking hell, they are audacious bastards”. I don’t think about it too much.
DiS: I think because you’ve got a lot of media interest behind you it does gets people’s backs up.
LN: It’s not directly our fault, we talk shit and maybe I should shut my mouth sometimes.
DiS: Like, the videos on NME where you’ve got your hands behind your back like a proto Liam Gallagher.
LN: Yeah, that’s true. I don’t help myself, but it is fun. There is one video where we went to Loftus Road and I do cringe as I don’t see us when I watch that video as people , which is annoying as how can I be angry for people not liking us when we’re not even ourselves? But, it has come from a real place, the confidence - the word swagger makes my cock shrink, I hate it.
DiS: So, you don’t like Cher Lloyd ‘Swagger Jagger’?
LN: I do like Cher Lloyd. She’s great. She looks like a preying mantis on a comedown, have you noticed that? There’s the headline.
We were sort of made into these characters and our PR play on them as well. Come on, we do want to be a credible band and in our heads we are a credible band, we will be, we will write an album one day that universally people like. Mark my words. For the moment, we expect what’s coming: we get some good reviews and we get some scathing reviews, courtesy of the Quietus.
DiS: Yeah, they wrote a 1,100 word feature about you.
LN: Thank you!
DiS: They said: “Brother clearly value neither intellectualism nor art or ingenuity”. How do you feel about that?
LN: All I want to say is: “I’m going to LA tomorrow”. Did you see that piece about us that they wrote about us changing our name? We apparently changed our name because Viva is vegetarianism, but the funny thing is I am actually a vegetarian and part of that is because of Morrissey and that kind of proves them wrong.
DiS: Why did you choose Viva when you had to changed your name?
LN: It was something people posted on our Facebook and at a couple of shows it’s been chanted when we went onstage. That’s really it; it means long live. See, that’s intellectual Mr Quietus.
DiS: You’ve talked about Morrissey a lot, how does that tie-in to your music? I can’t see any evidence of it on your debut.
LN: No, it doesn’t. It will on the second album, we weren’t ready to go down that route yet.
DiS: One thing you do have is a common affection for the union jack: you’ve been pictured with it and it’s the original video for, New Year’s Day.
LN: That’s a dogshit one, that’s not us. We just did a video for this song ‘Time Machine’ it’s so good, it’s completely what we’re about, us having a laugh but it looks good and sounds really good. This next chapter this whole Viva bollocks it might actually be the rebirth of us, a phase two, we know what all this shit is about now so we know how to deal with it.
DiS: And finally, what’s the most decadent moment you’ve done since being in the band?
LN: Other than a pint of London Pride at the Stag? I tell you what, we went to this club The Box in New York and it’s a £2000 table and we saw a full-grown transvestite stick a wine bottle up his arse.
Famous First Words is released on Monday via Geffen Records.