Brothers Past passes through


Courtesy of Brothers Past

By Jessica Cabe

Electronic music has been influencing rock and roll for decades, creating new genres for fans of both styles.

Brothers Past, a recently-reunited band with a slew of festival slots lined up, is the product of this pairing. The careful song writing and memorable melodies of rock music blended with the danceable sounds of laptops and synths contribute to the band’s signature style.

Brothers Past will be bringing that style to DeKalb at 9 p.m. Friday at Otto’s Nightclub, 118 E. Lincoln Highway. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

Keyboardist Tom McKee was able to take a break from working to talk influences, new albums and life outside of the band.

NS: Have you ever been to DeKalb or played a show here? How did you end up getting a gig at Otto’s?

TM: I believe we played in DeKalb in 2004 or 2005, but it’s been a while and the exact date escapes me. I may be completely wrong on that however. Rick [Lowenberg, drummer] is actually amazing at remembering every venue we’ve ever played and what city it’s in. He can literally see a picture of us from 2002 and tell me the club, the city and something memorable about the show. But we are really looking forward to the show. We haven’t been to the Midwest much in the past few years, which is something we are looking forward to changing. We’re doing four nights on this run (Kalamazoo, DeKalb, Chicago, and Cleveland) and then we will be at Electric Forest in June and we will definitely look to be coming back this fall.

NS: I’ve seen a lot of critics online trying to put a finger on your style. Indie-electronic, dance, pop etc. have all come up, but how would you personally describe the style of your music?

TM: At the end of the day, we are a rock and roll band influenced by electronic music. We’ve been making music together for more than 10 years, so at different times that sentence has meant different things, because there are so many kinds of rock music and so many kinds of electronic music. But basically we write rock songs and we sort of dress them up in these little digital overcoats, and we play those songs with long interludes of dance music in between. It doesn’t really fit into a neat little box per se, so there’s no clever label you can put on it to make it easy to describe, but it works for us.

NS: You’ve earned comparisons to Phish, Radiohead, The Cure and even Pink Floyd. Would you say these bands influence you, and who else do you draw from for inspiration?

TM: I think that at this point it’s silly to talk about the bands who have influenced us. The reality is we have been influenced by so much music and some of it may come across in our sets and some not so much. We have covered Radiohead and the Cure and Pink Floyd, and anybody who takes an extended guitar solo these days gets compared to Phish. But yes I love all of those bands you mentioned, and I love about a million others. Personally these days I listen to a lot of the music coming out of Philly: Dr. Dog, Kurt Vile, War on Drugs. I also have been listening to a lot of Michael Jackson, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin lately, so who knows? But I am not looking for people to realize that when they hear Brothers Past. I want them to hear us and wonder where this music could have possibly come from.

NS: What is the status on the new album?

TM: The new album is called Everything Must Go 0111 and it’s a double album that comes out at the end of March. It’s 19 songs that have been written throughout our ten year history as a band. Some of them have been released digitally already through our website and some have not been heard yet. We have been working on this album basically for two years, and there are another 6-7 songs in various states of completion that I have been working on for the next record. Some of the guys haven’t even heard them yet because we have basically been so consumed with getting this project completed. We will be releasing the album and then playing some shows all over the country. Not really touring per se, but hitting the markets that we’ve traditionally played shows in over the years.

NS: You’ve played major festivals like Bonnaroo and SXSW. How does the festival experience compare to a smaller club show?

TM: This summer we will be at a lot of festivals, including Electric Forest in Rothbury, Mich. Festivals are usually a great hang and a chance to see some other bands out there doing their thing. You’re usually playing in front of a bigger audience and it’s a chance to make new fans. But there’s a trade off: less performance time and virtually no prep time on stage. Sometimes we are literally plugging our last piece of gear in as we are supposed to be starting. Literally we have played to some of our biggest audiences without a soundcheck or anything. It doesn’t always make for the best performance. But we do what we can to compensate and usually we get by okay.

NS: You took a year-long hiatus in 2008. What did you all do in the meantime and how do you think the hiatus affected the band? Are you all better for it?

TM: I don’t know if better is the right word, but we certainly all have much better personal relationships than we did then. I can tell you that we all enjoy playing in Brothers Past more now than we did then. We are all pretty much type A personalities, which means we like to be working towards a goal as opposed to spinning our wheels. And I think we all have things now that we can throw that intense energy into and let Brothers Past be something we can enjoy and have fun doing. Tommy [Hamilton, guitar] has the American Babies and Clay [Parnell, bassist] has Biodiesel and the majority of their creative energy goes into those projects. Rick is actually a lawyer now. He is a public defender in Philadelphia and I think he has actually gotten like one “not guilty” verdict so far. Most of his clients do time. And I run a School of Rock in Downingtown, PA just outside Philly. So we all have these enormous other projects in our life and it really does make BP a healthier work environment because we don’t have four people pushing constantly.

NS: What sets your live shows apart from other bands, and what can people expect from your show?

TM: They can usually expect two sets with a dance party vibe. What sets us apart? Well, we write songs for one thing. I guess our songwriting and singing is an acquired taste for some, but that has always been something we’ve worked to get better at. When we were 22-23 years old all of these electronic bands were starting out and a lot of them didn’t have songs. We really wanted that to not be the case for our band. I want people leaving a Brothers Past show humming the melody of one of the songs they heard that night. We play electronic music, and I get that that’s the reason some people come to our shows, but the songs are the reason we are still doing this ten years after we started.