By Caleb Oldham
Bands come in all shapes and sizes. Some bands are essentially the backing of one singer-songwriter. Some bands center around a duo. Some feature a duo, a genius who doesn’t get heard enough, and Ringo. But whether its one of the 30 guys in Arcade Fire hitting his helmet with a drum stick, or Ringo, there usually tends to be “filler.”
Partly due to the nature of a three piece act, partly due to their distinct, yet equally magnetic personalities, but most likely due to the fact that they’ve been living together for over a year, The Britanys feel like a band in the truest sense of the word. Each instrument seems to have its version of the "fast dirty rock" story they're telling. The dynamics are there: manic drummer (Steele Kratt), stoic bassist (Gabe Schulman), and charismatic frontman. The music is tight, and the early 2000’s rock revival vibe is omnipresent.
You could compare the Britanys to the Strokes (both started out as young NYC bands playing a modern take on good ‘ole rock n’ roll), but Lucas’ voice is more of a biting Billy Corgan whine than a Julian Casablancas moan. And while the Strokes or the Libertines might drunkenly stumble around, the Britanys come at you head on with full force.
I had the extreme pleasure of hanging out with the Britanys for a night. We talked about their beef with the Wiggles, playing live, and the definition of Pop music among other things.
Caleb: Everyone I know who’s met you guys seems intent on destroying your reputation as rock stars. The adjective that comes up most often is “sweet” as in “The Britanys are the sweetest guys ever.” Is there anything you want to say to try and redeem yourselves?
Lucas: Fuck you mother fuckers I’ll fucking kill you! Come at me!
Steele: Fuck the police.
Gabe: Disregard females.
Lucas: That’s what I have to say.
C: There aren’t any feuds you want to start? Because I could facilitate that.
S: Who should we start a feud with?
G: We’ve got a feud with DMX. And we’ve got beef with the Wiggles.
L: Fuck Jack and Eliza. Just kidding, they're the nicest.
S: Yeah they’re the nicest.
C: You guys are recording something this year right?
L: We’re doing a single next week. And a music video probably in April. We’re also hopefully going to be doing a demo a month, but we'll mostly be releasing them on DVD.
L: Yeah our whole thing is DVDs now, we’ll be giving them out at shows and they’ll have a music video and pictures and the demo on it.
C: I kind of get an “angry young man vibe” from most of your songs, are you guys angry about anything in particular?
S: I always find time to be angry about something.
L: The fucking M train.
S: Just New York pisses me off, it’s too expensive, it’s too watered down.
G: Just society in general.
L: I think a lot of our songs are getting… I hate to use the word “mature” ..
G: Like less shitty maybe?
L: Growing. I feel like in the beginning we were just trying out a lot different things and I feel like it keeps getting more refined.
C: Are you guys taking it in any particular direction?
G: I think we’re just getting a better idea of our aesthetic, what works and what doesn’t.
S: I don’t want to use the word “poppy” because poppy is a bad word, but I think that our songs are more polished, more well structured. I’d say we’re getting close to 60% polished rock songs and 40% dirty fast rock songs.
L: I think that came a lot with playing live and seeing what people react to. That helped form the songs we write. Louis CK method of seeing which jokes bombed.
S: We could play you some new stuff in a bit.
C: I would love that
L: The new stuff is getting very British rock. We’ve been listening to a lot of Blur, the Libertines, Oasis.
S: Catchy with a jagged edge. A lot of indie music is “smooth” and we’re all aggressive players.
C: What was the last playlist you made?
L: Let’s see (looks through ipod) Coldplay?
S: Nickleback, Creed, Click 5…you know.. My most recent playlist is a driving playlist called Fudger - it’s all psychedelic. We got some Byrds, 13th floor elevators, the Zombies, stuff like that.
L: I have yet to make a playlist. I feel like I come to albums late, I just listened to Disgraceland the Orwells album. I was listening to Foxygen’s most recent album today.
S: Oh, I hate Foxygen.
L: I was listening to it on the train, I just couldn’t get into it.
S: My thing is, if you listen to every single song that they put it out, it’s just a collage of the past. There’s no originality to it, and it’s funny because so many music critics are up their ass. They’re like “It borrows from a lot of great stuff, it’s really good!” And then you look at a review of Temples and they’ll write “These guys are the most unimaginative..” But they’re great! Sure they take inspiration from psychadelic music, but it’s their own thing entirely. All bands are influenced but generally you can’t take a specific song and say “Oh that’s Sgt. Peppers” or, “Hey that’s Village Green Preservation Society” and with Foxygen I feel like that’s the case.
C: What’s your guys’ favorite part about performing?
G: Easily the babes.
L: Or the brews. I love playing live. I mean it depends on the show, we’ve definitely played to crowds of five people who were completely indifferent to us.
G: It’s the most tangible way to share your work with people because you’re right in front of them. Even showing someone a recording is just not the same.
S: The reason I like playing live is because it’s like “game time” in a way. I grew up playing sports competitively and something about being on stage and having the pressure of not fucking up. Even when you’re playing with your friends and it’s like your team, there’s something about having people watch you and you just get in the zone. I forget about everything else when I’m in it.
L: It’s definitely like a drug.
S: I think the best moment in my life would be playing a show, just seeing so many people you don’t know, a sea of human beings, and just rocking it. It’s kind of corny but I would watch Oasis videos as a senior in high school, and I’m not a huge Oasis fan - I’m more of a Blur guy - but anyway, they were playing "Don’t Look Back in Anger" to this huge crowd and for the chorus they put the mic on the crowd and it’s just a stadium of 50-60,000 people all singing the words, and it just makes you so emotional, you want to cry because its like “Wow, this is a work that someone made and it’s touching all of these people, and they’re all here to listen to you, and you don’t know a single one of them, but they all know you.” That would be the best moment of my life. That or having a kid I guess…on stage.
C: Final question - how would you define “pop” music.
G: I think it’s pretty simple. It’s just “popular” music, and it’s the state of popular music that turns people away from that label. Because the Beatles were pop music, Mozart was pop music at one point, Duke Ellington was pop music, and none of those are bad artists, it’s just the dominance of marketing culture, and how that’s taken precedence over the intrinsic value of the music in the 21st century. I think that’s why people tend to shy away from “pop” music now, even though it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
L: The sad thing is that somewhere down the line someone came up with a formula for pop music. When the Beatles were popular music that was them writing the songs, that was them performing their own genius. Now you look at pop music, you look at Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber, and they’re not writing their own songs. It definitely comes in waves, but there was that transition when someone came up with that formula for popular music and effectively cookie cuttered it, put the stamp on it, and said this is who we’re going to get, it’s like an advertisement.
S: I feel like that’s always been like that though. Even though in the 60’s when the Beatles were the pop gods who defined the genre, there were still top 40’s bubblegum shit.
G: Like the Monkees?
S: Not even the Monkees, just bad music.
G: Yeah, but that’s just like throwaway stuff, like there’ve been plenty of throwaway films.
S: What I’m saying is that that stuff has always been around.
G: That’s not specific to pop music, there are throwaways in non popular music as well.
L: Then you get those bands who come along and break through that. Pop music doesn’t have to be bad, it can appeal to a lot of people and still be really good. The sad thing is that I feel like the majority of people just eat what’s given to them.
S: I mean that’s just the way history is. What defines pop music is what’s relatable to a large mass of people. Like Oasis got popular because people heard it and had some sort of emotional connection with it, versus, I don’t know some atonal jazz or crazy prog rock - one is an esoteric thing, and the other is something that people can latch on to, and that’s how I would define something as “pop”. You hear it, and you’re like “oh okay I can relate to this on a surface level.” The reason the top 40 is so crappy right now because it’s marketed to kids who are 13 and 14 and when you’re young all you want to do is fit in, and what’s thrown at you is Taylor Swift, and all this shit, and you’re just gonna get what’s available because you want to seem cool on the surface level, but it’s not very meaningful stuff. Modern music just relies on marketing a lot.
G: You can have stuff that’s accessible to a lot of people and be really good, as well as stuff that’s just shallow and really catchy but just throwaway. That’s why you can have good pop music, and you can also have shitty pop music, and the same principle applies to stuff that isn’t pop music.
S: If we fast forwarded 50 years I bet 75% of the people that are famous now will not be remembered. The things that stand out, like all the stuff from the 60’s that we still listen to just have strong content. The label of pop is just what people take to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to stick around.
L: There’s always that band that just breaks the mold, every decade, you can look at the timeline.
S: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pop music, it’s all opinion based. People make it too much of a taboo to be like “ew that’s pop we don’t listen to that” It’s like “if it sucks just don’t listen to it” It’s all the kids in Youtube comments like “Bieber? What happened to the good stuff? I was born in the wrong generation! The Beatles should rule the world, I don’t wanna live on this planet!” just listen to something else. Pop music is just something teenagers listen to, and as you grow up you define your tastes. A lot of adults just figure out what they like and stick to it.
I hope I don’t figure out what I like and stick to it, but I do hope that in reading this, you’ve figured out that you like the Britanys. They’ll be playing alongside No Shoes, Orca Minor, Drug Pizza and Neoseeker in a free Rare Candy showcase February 28th.