Your Brand New Favourite Band
"Hey, we’re Brand New, we’re from New York"
26/2/04 by *End Is Forever*
It takes shy-looking Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey three full songs to pluck up the courage to approach the microphone between numbers; it’s difficult to believe that this is the same man who conducted the crowd in unison from the very first note in a way even Dashboard Confessional could only dream about. It’s something Lacey and his bandmates – guitarist Vin Accardi, bassist Garrett Tierney and drummer Brian Lane – have become accustomed to over months of touring since the release of second album Deja Entendu. Tonight, they’re at the Cockpit in Leeds for the third date of a sold-out two-week UK tour.
Rewind a couple of hours, and the slightly-awkward-but-immense stage persona has morphed into an altogether more laid-back and talkative model. There are rumours on the grapevine that he isn’t the world’s easiest person to talk to, but there’s no sign of that at all; Lacey is chatty and unfailingly polite in the extreme. The cavernous rooms backstage at the Cockpit resemble more of a Soviet-bloc-era run down apartment (well, the dulcet tones of support act Straylight Run in the background singing randomly-selected Saves The Day songs in mocking falsetto excepted) than part of a popular music venue in the centre of Leeds, but Lacey – no stranger to lyrics about the downsides of touring ("Won't see home till spring / I would kill for the Atlantic / but I am paid to make girls panic while I sing") - seems genuinely happy to be here:
"It’s absolutely living the dream", he says. "It’s something that you never, ever think would happen in life. Especially lately, just because we’ve been going so many places [and] the shows have been so excellent. It never feels like a job, not at all."
Brand New have travelled an exceptionally long way in a very short time. When the band last hit these shores (supporting Finch last March) the merch stall at those shows was just about the only place in the entire country where fans could pick up their records; Lacey seems refreshingly unperturbed by the fact that, mere months later, they’re playing to full audiences every single week:
"This has never been something where we were consciously like, "alright, let’s get to the point where we can go to England", or "let’s get to the point where we can put out a record on a major label"", he confides. "It was always just "let’s do what we would be doing anyway". You know, we’re songwriters – I write songs and play them, and whether I’m doing it in my house with my guitar, or on stage in front of a bunch of people, it always feel natural. The fact that it’s gotten to this point feels pretty strange to all of us, and we’re just riding it out. I know none of us are too set on it lasting forever."
The band are rising high in the States on the back of a second wave of post-punk revival – the same phenomenon that turned bands like Jimmy Eat World from underground heroes into mainstream superstars. Lacey looks back with a wry smile:
"The first record we were stuck in this underground Long Island "scene" or hardcore scene, that’s where we grew up and where we met each other. For a while it was really small, so that’s special, but as soon as it exploded, and everyone’s doing it, it just becomes a mainstream staple"
Listen to Brand New’s two full releases, and it’s not difficult to realise just how different the albums are ("You listen to the first one, and I can’t even believe that it’s us", laughs Lacey); Your Favourite Weapon a straightforward teenage pop-punk effort, but Deja Entendu abandons almost all those notions to encompass a far wider range of influences:
"Since [the first album] we’ve learned to appreciate everything we were listening to before that, be it music I got for my sister like the Cure and the Smiths, Depeche Mode, bands my parents listened to like Elvis Costello, Springsteen, the Beatles… all of these bands have some very particular in common, and that’s really good songs. There’s a lot of things a band can do to get noticed, but the best thing is just to write a good tune that’s going to be remembered."
It’s quite clear that Lacey places a great deal of stock in the notion of growing and evolving as a band ("I think one of the best things about our band right now [is] that we have the ability to adapt") but – perhaps down to the inevitable friction and fall-outs within a tight-knit music scene – he is not afraid to air a few harsh words about those who follow a more generic formula:
"You say "I’m gonna write a song about a girl" but if you have 300,000 songs about that then it waters down and becomes very weak – that’s what’s happened to popular music, especially in the States right now. The worst part is [that] no-one is actually singing about anything special because they’re all singing about the same thing, they’re not even trying to do it in any creative way. Writing a song about something like that isn’t wrong – I think it’s very right in a lot of ways – but it’s only right if it’s sincere. I think some people take that and ruin it."
Brand New’s end of the post-punk market is often referred to – justifiably or not ("I don’t know what it is either", quips Lacey dryly) - as "emo", but it seems to be something which the band are trying – subtly - to disassociate themselves from:
"I think in a public sense we’re trying to dig our way out of that hole. It [emo] has become a negative term, it’s become like a "grunge", and look what happened to that word. There’s a lot of bands that… when these kids grow up, they’ll remember the songs but they’re not going to remember the band. I think we want to be remembered as a band"