July 26, 2012


Fuse Q&A: JEFF the Brotherhood Talk Breaking Jack White's Amp, Drunk Karaoke

Jordi Vidal
Jordi Vidal

In that fuzz-rock sweet spot where garage meets psych meets punk meets Zeppelin, you can find brothers Jake and Jamin Orral crafting mind-melting rock as JEFF the Brotherhood. Although they've been together for 10 years and have seven albums to their name, they just started gathering national attention within the last couple years. But thanks to a deal inked between the Nashville label they run and Warner Bros., not to mention their excellent 2012 album Hypnotic Nights (produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach), that's probably going to change.

On the day of their record release, I sat down with JEFF the Brotherhood and talked about the benefits of a major label, meeting Insane Clown Posse (thanks to a bizarre ICP/Mozart/Jack White collaboration) and why they would never want to be as big as the Black Keys.

So I hear you guys went out for karaoke late last night. How are you feeling?

Jake: I really feel like sh*t. Also, we started drinking at 11am.

Jamin: I did a song which I didn’t think I knew, but I ended up actually knowing the whole song. It was [Monica & Brandy's] “The Boy Is Mine.”

You're on your seventh album, but a lot of outlets still refer to you as a new band. Does that get annoying?

Jamin: A lot of people call [Hypnotic Nights] our first album. It’s kind of cool because people keep talking about us and giving us new chances.

Jake: We have people who have liked us for ten years who don’t like this album. I’ve read a couple negative reviews of the record and they were both people comparing it to our previous records, saying it wasn’t as good.

That's strange. It's not radically different from anything you've done before.

Jamin: Yeah, it’s not that different.

I love that you covered that Black Sabbath ballad "Changes" on your album. What brought you guys to that song?

Jake: I just had the idea to do it and we did it and it sounded good so we threw it on there. I think it thematically works with the record. It’s a strange song.

Jamin: Jake kind of did that one while me and Dan [Auerbach] went to lunch and we came back and it was pretty much done.

Jake: You were gone for an hour and a half. You get lunch in Nashville, you have to drive to the place and it takes a long time.

Hypnotic Nights marks the first time you've produced one of your albums with someone else. Were you nervous sharing control with Dan Auerbach?

Jake: Yeah. The main thing was, we were nervous about was whether we’d be able to work with him. You don’t want to get yourself into a situation where you have to worry about him talking over your opinion, like, if his opinion is so overbearing. But Dan was not like that at all; he was hilarious to work with.

This is also the first album to come out since you joined forces with Warner Bros. Were you reticent to work with a major label?

Jamin: Totally.

Jake: It took us a year and a half to get the deal we have. It’s very complicated. The lawyer said it was the longest deal he’d ever seen.

How has working with a major changed things?

Jamin: There are a lot more people involved. It’s not just us: There’s like 30 people behind us. It makes it more complicated getting stuff like artwork done.

Jake: It’s a lot more official. You can’t just put whatever on the record cover: It has to be licensed properly. Other than that it’s made everything definitely better.

In "Country Life" you sing, "I want a dog and I want a gun." Are you actually interested in hunting?

Jake: I’m interested in hunting [smiles wryly]. I'm an aspiring hunter.

Jamin: I like shooting guns, but I don’t like shooting at things. It’s fun. I bought a raffle ticket for a gun the other day. I don’t know if I’m going to win. There’s a place you can shoot at clay pigeons close to my house.

You've been together a decade. Which one of you suggested you start a band?

Jake: I don’t remember.

Jamin: I don’t either.

Jake: We grew up out in the country. Not a lot of other kids around, so you spend a lot of time jamming and hitting trees with sticks. There was 500 acres behind us of unused land to explore. We started playing music together when we were kids and we started the band when I was 14 [and Jamin was 12].

When did you realize this was a career and not a hobby?

Jamin: When we made [our fifth album] Heavy Days [in 2009]. That was when we were like, “Let’s try to make this a career.” That wasn’t when we realized it was. It took a few more years after that to really make it a career.

Did Heavy Days feel like a turning point?

Jake: Yeah, it was more focused. We took all the songs that were more out there and weird and put them on this album called Rafiki’s Vision that came out around the same time. So there was a separation between our weird crazy stuff and our pop songs.

You have that absolutely bizarre collaboration produced by Jack White; that Mozart song "Leck Mich Im Arsch" as performed by Insane Clown Posse. How in hell did that come about?

Jamin: It wasn’t really our collaboration, we were just the backup musicians for Jack White, and Insane Clown Posse. We thought it would be a good story and a fun thing for a day.

What were ICP like?

Jake: Really nice dudes.

Jamin: Just normal dudes, they were really nice and excited. It was there first time working with a live band.

Did they wear the makeup?

Jake: No. They got wives and kids and stuff. They don’t wear the makeup.

Jamin: Shaggy has two twin teenage sons.

Jake: I thought it was daughters.

Jamin: I’m pretty sure it was sons. He just told me that, “I have f**king twins and they’re 14.” [Jake laughs]

How did you meet Jack White in the first place?

Jake: There are only a couple indie labels in Nashville. He runs one of them and we run one of them. It’s a small town.

Jamin: Our friends are a lot of people who work there. I met him a long time ago. We played a show at Third Man and he decided to record it and put it out. And from then on, we did the thing with ICP and the 7".

Jake: I played on the solo album.

What songs?

Jake: I don’t remember. I don’t own a copy of it, they haven’t sent me one yet.

Jamin: I think you’re on one song and then on the b-side to the newest single, I guess.

Jake: Yeah, it was great. Jack’s hilarious; he’s one of the funniest guys ever. I broke one of his amps first thing when I went upstairs.

Was he pissed?

Jake: No. He can afford to fix it [laughs] It was really awkward, showing up, like, “Hey Jack, what’s up?” Plug into this one?” Boom! “Sorry, man.”

Do you think there are any drawbacks being in a band with your brother?

Jake: You don’t get that camaraderie, like if it was just one of us and our best friend.

Jamin: Yeah.

Jake: It’s more like, we’re family. We have to be together all the time anyway.

Do you go out socially together?

Jamin: When we’re at home we don’t see each other. That’s just because we don’t need to [do so] to keep up our relationship. We’re brothers.

Jake: We could not see each other for twenty years and we’d still be brothers.

Jamin: We just hang out on the road.

Jake: Which is most of the time I guess.

Jamin: Yeah, I guess it is most of the time….

Any albums or artists you're excited about right now?

Jamin: I’ve been listening to wussy, quiet music. Like, Bill Callahan and Gregg Allman. I guess I listen to those two a lot.

Would you ever make wussy JEFF the Brotherhood songs?

Jamin: Yeah, we’ve been there.

Jake: No, we haven’t.

Jamin: [quickly amending his statement while smiling] No, we haven’t. It’s not possible. It would be called something else.

Jake: I’ve been listening to a lot of Aerosmith personally.

Jamin: Their first album, that sucks.

Jake: I love the first album.

Jamin: I hate that. "Dream On" is the only good song. Jake likes the whole thing.

Your dad writes music for a living as well. Was he an inspiration for you guys musically?

Jamin: [Our sound] definitely comes from the stuff he played us as kids, but I wouldn’t say I’m inspired by his musical career at all. Except for maybe recently. He kind of does whatever he wants. But his job doesn’t inspire me.

You made this album in a week. That's really fast.

Jamin: We’re used to really short studio trips, like two or three days.

Jake: All the albums in the late sixties and sh*t were just done in one day. Hard rock stuff in early seventies, one day. Just saying. Rehearse your parts. Go in and get it, that’s it.

Jamin: I like going in for a week though.

Jake: We don’t write in the studio.

Jamin: Yeah, that’s what a lot of bands do. I think it’s a horrible idea. It’s a waste of time and money.

Jake: And then don’t get to practice the songs you recorded. You record a song as you write in the studio and a month later you’re like, "Man, we recorded that so sh*tty. We play it so much cooler now."

Jamin: It gave us time to f**k around and think about it.

How do you write your stuff?

Jake: The riffs come from jamming. I usually write a loose song structure and then we’ll arrange it together. Then we write lyrics afterward.

Jamin: We have to make time; they don’t really just come to us.

Where do you see your career going in the next few years?

Jake: [laughing] I’d like to see a slow steady climb to the top. Then stop.

Jamin: We'd call it The Final Goodbye or something.

Jake: On our last album, the final album on our contract—we reach our peak. And then when we start coming down we just go do something else, f**k music.

Like what?

Jake: [smiling] Animals and guns.

Jamin: Hang out in the woods.

What if you became as big as the Black Keys?

Jamin: I think it would be annoying.

Jake: As long as you didn’t have to worry about people recognizing you all the time.

Jamin: I don’t think that band has that problem.

Jake: I've got a solution. I'll start wearing sequined dresses all the time, and then when I’m in my street clothes no one will know it’s me.

What would be "the peak" for you?

Jamin: The most money.

Jake: Playing the biggest venue in the world. 

Jamin: When we’re the biggest band in the world, we’ll just stop. Nah, I’m just kidding, I don’t want to be the biggest band in the world. But it would be funny if we didn’t have a choice. [Jake yawns]