It’s been a long time coming but the debut album from the rock quintet Brother & Bones is finally out. The self-titled album was released ahead of the band’s ‘Omaha’ Tour that will visit cities across the UK and Europe this autumn.
Anna Ridley caught up with James Willard, the guitarist from Brother & Bones, to chat about their first album, the ‘Omaha’ 2015 tour, and recording in one of the world’s most famous studios with renowned producer Billy Bush.
Congratulations on the album release, how does it feel to have it out there?
Yeah it’s good. It’s a weight off the shoulders. We’ve been wanting to get it out for so long but with timing, and the festival season, we just didn’t want to release it at the wrong time. So, all of us are chomping at the bit and keen to get out on the road and starting touring. Now the album’s out we can all relax a little, enjoy it and celebrate it. It’s been a bit of a secret for the last year because we recorded it in July 2014 and we’ve been wanting to shout about it since then, but we needed to get a plan together first.
We kept getting asked “when’s it out?” but we didn’t have a release date then. So, it’s a massive relief and we’ve already started working on the second album, which is also exciting.
What’s the feedback been like for your first album?
It’s been great. Some people said it sounded a bit American but we expected that because we recorded with an American producer (Billy Bush) in an American studio. Many of our fans who have been following and supporting us for a long time are in the same mind-set as we are; relieved that it’s out.
The idea behind this record was to tell the band’s story up until now. We didn’t want to start completely afresh, so it ended our story to date and then had a little injection of some new songs.
You recorded your album at East West Studios in Los Angeles, where world-class artists such as Frank Sinatra, Rage Against the Machine and The Rolling Stones recorded, how was that?
It was amazing, a bit of a dream come true. It’s not the kind of place we expected to get to without being at stadium level, and the bands and artists who have recorded there are the ones we looked up to when we first started playing, like Rage Against the Machine, the Beach Boys, and the Chili Peppers.
We recorded in Studio 2 at EastWest Studios- the big one. Rage Against the Machine and the Chili Peppers got to record in there, so there’s so much history in the place.
We only had 10 days to record the record so there wasn’t much time to soak it all up. We just got our heads down, cracked on and took full advantage of it. In hindsight, I wish we’d had a little more time to take step back and realise where we were. But it’s definitely a big ol’ tick on the bucket list.
Did you manage to get some downtime in America?
Yeah we did, I wouldn’t call it downtime though – we partied a lot. We timed it by complete fluke and it was the only time when Billy was available. It happened to be 4th July when we were there and the guys in the studio said we should head down to Newport Beach where it all kicks off. We drove down there and Rich has a mate who lives there with a place right on the beach, so we were fully involved in beer pong, American flags and “USA, USA”!
The day after that, we took a little trip up to Vegas and did the “Vegas Experience” for a couple of nights, which was great.
Have you got any plans to go back to the U.S?
We’d love to. We’d go in a heartbeat. It’s just getting the five of us out there, the equipment, and the visa process. It’s so expensive, so until we get some money coming we’ll have to put our second trip on hold for a little while. But, we would go back, LA really suited us. Historically, we’ve always toured through the winter, so it was great to be together, playing music and be scorching hot. Normally we’re freezing our arses off in the van with woolly hats on!
Your album has some new songs, how difficult was it to choose the final list?
We put a tour together last March before we actually recorded the album and we used that to play songs and try them out with the audiences, so it was just a case of trial and error. It also helped when we supported Temperance Movement. We had a lot of pressure taken off us by being a support act, and when you’re playing to a crowd that’s not yours, you get the most honest response. It was the perfect testing ground for new tunes and to see how quickly the audience responds. We also took out a little sound recorder with us and recorded every set and listened back to make tweaks and see what needed working on. We just put a lot of work and some old fashioned elbow grease into it.
There was a collection of songs that started to sound like the progression of Brother and Bones and were still in keeping with what we had been doing, but also felt like they had a different direction too. ‘Save Your Prayers’ is a song that came about a couple of years ago, but because it’s quite moving and quite dark, we felt people wouldn’t necessarily get it until they’d heard a recording of it. So, we thought we’d get it recorded first, let people hear it, and then it would translate better on stage.
So, your Omaha tour kicks off next Friday, are you ready for two months on the road?
Yeah we’re ready. We’re itching to get back out on the road and two months will be a doddle really. It’s just nice to get out there, play music and hang out again. We have some completely new dates in Europe like Prague and Vienna which we’re looking forward to, so hopefully we can light a few fires elsewhere.
When we’re on the road, we’re influenced by the same music, inspired by the same places and experiences, and we live in each other’s pockets, so we are always coming up with new material. When we’ve been apart having a break, it’s been more like business-orientated calls –it’s so grown up! We just want to drink wine all night and listen to old records!
On tour, Yiannis has got a drum kit on his iPad that we plug it into a stereo and we have a mini practice room in the back of the van. There are a bunch of tunes that came together for the album in the back of the van, which is great.
You have a big following in The Netherlands, is this a special place for you to play? Does the crowd differ at all?
Yeah, we love it there. All of us had been to Holland prior to touring, it’s a great place. They’re really cool people. They’re so honest and they’re not fazed by fashion and trend. They’re not waiting for people to tell them who to listen to. A friend will say “hey you should listen to this band”, so they do and if they like it, they buy the EPs, wear the T-shirts, and come to all of the gigs. It’s really refreshing to see. Our fans in the UK aren’t much different, to be fair, but it seems to have kicked off more in the Netherlands.
You’re heading back to Cornwall this month for a gig, where two of you are from, how much has Cornwall inspired your music and do you feel a special connection when playing to a home crowd?
Yeah, definitely. I’m not from Cornwall but it has felt like a home from home. Every time we’ve come down it’s been related to something really positive. In the early days, we recorded the first EP down there. When we come down we try to stay an extra day or two and make the most of it.
Playing to a home crowd is brilliant. As we walk around, it seems that everyone knows Rich, and we’re always bumping into people we know.
With any home crowd there seems to be a little more pressure with family and friends there. Sometimes, that nervous energy can make a show and there’s an explosion that you can’t control, which always seems to happen when playing in Cornwall.
Once we all walk on stage, especially for Rich, we feel we can all relax because the crowd are on the same level and everyone’s on his side.
I don’t think we’d ever not come back to gig in Cornwall. It’s where the band started really. It’s always going to be a special place. The band and even our artwork on the album cover has always had a lot to do with that rural part of the world, with the landscapes, sea, and animals, etc. – the boys are just hippies really!
One of the things we all love is when we’re travelling down to Cornwall and we reach the point when the signal just drops out and we’re like “Cool, that’s the last time we’re going to hear from someone for a week”. It’s nice to have a technology detox, it puts you in a better headspace.
The ‘Ohama’ video was filmed on the beach in Carbis Bay. We had to rent the beach out and it was our biggest production to date. We had a horse running down the beach, and a lot of nature and ocean shots.
What’s next for the band after the tour?
Without digging myself a hole here, we’ve said to ourselves that now the first album is out we want to try and aim for a new one every year. After having a bit of time off recently, we’re all just dying to write and play. We’ve been throwing ideas around and all of us at our individual homes have studio set-ups so we can put ideas across. We’re hoping to have half a record put together by Christmas. We just want to keep playing shows and see where it takes us.
For Brother & Bones tour details and more about the new album click here.