Middle brothers have a tough lot. The oldest brother gets the freedom and individuality. The youngest brother gets the attention and parental care. The middle brother gets whatever’s left.
But the main difference between middle brothers and the band Middle Brother is that you can’t help but pay attention to the latter.
Born as a collaboration between Matt Vasquez from Delta Spirit, Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes and John McCauley from Deer Tick—Middle Brother constantly switches family roles. On one song off their self-titled debut album, Vasquez leads with his rough and soulful voice. Goldsmith showcases his direct, powerful vocals on the next track, and then McCauley enters with his patented reedy melodies. But whoever takes the leading role, the others’ remain conspicuous, creating an engaging bout of search-and-discovery for their influences.
And just like brothers, the members of Middle Brother have taught each other a great deal. During the writing and recording process Vasquez says they learned everything from “songwriting decisions, lyric decisions, arrangement decisions, [to] how to track a vocal.”
They also have mutual admiration for each other’s talents. “I think Taylor and I were just so impressed with John, especially his ability to come in and just nail a vocal… His ability, you just wouldn’t think it. He joke-sings a lot. He has one of those voices where you don’t think he’s gonna nail it, and he nails it every time. Timing, pitch, everything.” And regarding Taylor, “It’s like ‘You want a guitar part? Okay.’ Or piano part, and it’s there, and it’s awesome, and you’re like ‘Whoa, one-taker.”
Vasquez’ voice lifts enthusiastically when discussing the project, an experience he describes as “really crazy, really fun…. There was no overthought in it, just kind of real, real fast… Everything that we did and all the arrangements were the first inclination toward the song.”
Those songs on Middle Brother range from alt-country rockers (“Me, Me, Me”) to subdued acoustic ballads (“Daydreaming”) with precise fingerpicking and country-tinged electric guitars supporting McCauley’s emotive vocals.
While more traditional rock songs surface occasionally, much of Middle Brother is packed with slow-turning balladry. “When you write a rock ’n’ roll song, or anything upbeat, [there’s] a certain sarcasm you can write with,” Vasquez says. “And it’s really fun, but to get a point across with an upbeat song, it’s super tough.”
Whether addressing romanticized notions of lost love in “Million Dollar Bill” to a citywide dedication in a cover of The Replacement’s “Portland,” the lyrics stand out clearly, unperturbed by crashing guitars or heavy-hitting drums. Of course, rockers like “Me, Me, Me,” which Vasquez claims is his favorite song to play on tour, keep you from relaxing or reminiscing too deeply. It’s packed with high-octane guitars, rapid piano work and each member’s penchant for clever lyrical turns of phrase (“If he lies in your bed / and puts lies in your head / … I guess it’s me, me, me”).
But this blend of musicianship might just be a one-time thing. “Right now, the future looks bleak,” Vasquez says. The band chose their name because that’s how the project feels as a whole; Middle Brother sits on the side. “Each of our respective bands have people we’ve gone with on tour and gotten to this point with. This thing is just a fun excuse to get together. If we can keep doing it, I hope we can.”
When asked if the members will appear on each others’ forthcoming records, Vasquez gives a coy, “That’s none of your business.” So for now, just enjoy Middle Brother as it currently stands. You may not get another chance.