Best of What's Next: Jeff The Brotherhood

Music Features Jeff The Brotherhood
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Best of What's Next: Jeff The Brotherhood

There’s no one named Jeff in Jeff The Brotherhood, just Jake and Jamin Orrall, two brothers who’ve been playing music together in some form since childhood. They’re 24 and 21 years old, respectively; they own their own label (Infinity Cat), make their own videos and are mainstays in small venues of their hometown of Nashville (where they both, separately, had stints in Be Your Own Pet). But the Orralls are fast outgrowing the house parties they cut their teeth playing. Their 2009 album Heavy Days, with tracks like the tight and hooky “Bone Jam” and the fuzzily romantic “The Tropics,” has drawn in more fans than ever, and a proper booking-and-publicity machine has them on the road for much of the spring. Paste recently caught up with Jake while he was grilling in his Nashville backyard to talk about making music in Nashville, guitar solos in women’s restrooms and the importance of snacks.

Paste: When did you guys get started with Jeff?
Jake Orrall: Truthfully, this is the first band we were in. It started when I was 11 and Jamin was 9. After our third album, we changed it to Jeff The Brotherhood [so] you could search it more easily online.

Paste: After all that time, and as brothers, do you find your roles in the band come pretty naturally by now?
Orrall: The roles are actually a lot easier—definitely easier than they’d be if we weren’t brothers. We’re really no-bullshit, because we’re brothers. I’m all about over the top, to the extreme; he’s all about minimalism and simplicity. We balance. ... I hope these sausages cook. And this grill’s not very hot. I hope they cook. We’re having hamburgers, with cheese, and brats with sauerkraut, and mustard. And beer. Jamin’s not here, just me and my friends.

Paste: Sounds awesome. Do you two live together?
Orrall: No. Actually, we both moved out of places last March. I just moved into a place yesterday, actually. I’m living in Nashville, with two guys from [Infinity Cat label-mate] Natural Child. Jamin’s getting a place next month. Before that we were just couch-surfing.

Paste: What was it like coming up in the Nashville music scene? It’s been getting more attention lately, especially with Jack White opening Third Man Studios. Has the scene changed, or are people outside Nashville just finally figuring it out?
Orrall: There’s always been a really, really great scene, I think—because growing up in Nashville, you’ve got such a sense of the business being evil, the commerce part—that no one wants to take part in. I think now, me and my friends are just starting to realize you can make a living.

Paste: Does it feel different playing now there?
Orrall: We just have much cooler jobs now. [Laughs] It used to be we worked at like, Kroger, and then played at bands. Now we have a “serious” band and “fuck around” bands.

Paste: Do you play in the side bands together?
Orrall: Not really. Jamin plays in a punk band, Da Crumbs. I play in a metal band and, like, a cock-rocky hard rock band, Saigon Baby—but we’re also called Wizardz, with a z—with guys from Natural Child and Pujol. And Shredders, a metal band.

Paste: Do you find these side gigs inform Jeff?
Orrall: Not really. It’s just everything we know we’re not gonna do in Jeff the Brotherhood. Like, we’ll write a song like, “Oh, this definitely can’t be a Jeff the Brotherhood song, but it’d be a good Shredders song.” Nothing goes to waste. [Off the phone: How the sausages doing?]

Paste: You’ve been described as having a “play anywhere” mentality. How’d that come to be?
Orrall: For the first four and a half years, we booked ourselves, and it was tough. We’d plan a two-month tour, and it’s unbelievably hard to get a show at a legit venue if you’re a band no one’s ever heard of. We played house shows—parties, like, “Mom, can we have this band play, please?” We just started trying to find cool kids in these towns. We don’t care, we just want to play. Now, we have a booking agent. We just send him a list of where we want to play and with what bands, and he picks it up and does a fucking awesome job. ... We played in a girl’s barn in Massachusetts. On the roof of a warehouse in Brooklyn. Dirt-floor basements, high schools. We’ll be playing on a boat soon—I’ve always wanted to play on a raft in, like, a pond. That’d be cool. But, nothing too weird. We haven’t played in like a dentist office or anything.

Paste: Along the way, your live shows have gotten a ton of buzz—Brooklyn Vegan called one of your shows “one of the rockin-est, most fun shows I’ve seen this year.” How do you approach gigs?
Orrall: Well, Besides loading and unloading the van, it’s our only form of exercise. It’s a creative outlet. We just try to put as much energy into it as possible, and just try to do things that really engage the audience. ... I try to look everyone in the audience in the eye at some point. Then they can’t ignore you. I got a 50-foot guitar cord so I could, like, go to the women’s bathroom and play a guitar solo.

Paste: You played a solo in the women’s bathroom?
Orrall: Yeah.

Paste: How’d that go over?
Orrall: There wasn’t anyone in there—it’s a new idea. I’ll get on the bar and stuff, go outside. We have a fog machine—if you’re playing a show in a 300-person venue to 15 people, the fog machine really enhances the awkwardness of that situation. For a while we had inflated neon aliens.

Paste: Yeah, aliens seem to be a common motif for you guys…
Orrall: We’d send them out into the crowd to surf. We ordered them from China. Just now got some back. We just try to make it fun for everybody. We don’t want it to just be a band and audience. [Checking on the food] Nachos! This is like a food fest. We’re making plans to start doing keg parties to pay our rent, which would be really fun. Charge $3, play shows.

Paste: You’ve been getting bigger attention and playing bigger shows. Do you think having done so much yourselves from the beginning makes it all less overwhelming?
Orrall: Heavy Days is the first record we’ve had distributed nationally, with a publicist working for us, a booking agent, etc. We’ve started to build followings that really feel like we’re playing to our hometown. It’s just really awesome. We’d always just tour in the summer. We tour constantly now, so we’re never not back to a major city for like six weeks. People just keep coming and bringing their friends. ... It’s nice because it wasn’t like “Bam, now our lives our completely different!” It’s been a really gradual progression, touring, putting out records. I guess it feels like the logical next step.

Paste: What places feel like home? I got the impression listening to Heavy Days that you guys could be a Brooklyn band.
Orrall: Brooklyn definitely feels like home. We have so many friends in Brooklyn. I don’t think I could ever live there, though. I grew up in the country—it’s too intense. We grill out every day. I can’t wrap my head around not being able to do that. [Crunching, eating sounds] We have a pretty intense connection to Chicago. Jamin went to school there, and I moved there to keep playing with him. Also, Carbondale, Ill., little college town. It’s a lot of fun there. New Brunswick, N.J.—I think I have more friends there than I do in Nashville. It’s awesome.

Paste: Between all the cooking happening now and the constant food photos on the band’s blog, it seems like you guys are really into snacks.
Orrall: Ah yes, snacks! Well, we tour all the time. You just gotta have snacks to keep you going. I guess we just really, really like food. Nashville is a really, really, really great food city. I mean, who doesn’t love snacks, really? [Pause] Oh, that’s a really burnt brat. That looks good.

Paste: All right, before you eat, what’s going on next?
Orrall: We’ve got a split 7-inch with Ty Segall, [who’s] on Goner Records. We’re writing a new album, doing a little tour with Heavy Cream, who’s also on our label—they’re awesome, you should check them out. We’re just gonna keep touring, keep making albums. Keep trying to keep paying rent. We’re going to tour Europe soon—we just got an international booking agent. We’ve got a single out with Beggars’ Too Pure Singles Club.

Paste: Where in Europe are you heading?
Orrall: We’re trying to get our record out over there. Probably a UK-only thing for like two weeks, then a full-on European tour after that. Hopefully after that, we’ll go to Japan! That’s our main thing. It’s just awesome there. It’s unbelievable. Have you ever been there? It’s like another world.

[Homepage photo by Jackie Roman. Main photo by Bekah Cope.]