Exposure: Our Brother The Native
Creating the similar sort of freak-folk that has allowed Fat Cat labelmates Animal Collective to take over the American underground music scene, Our Brother The Native distort pop to its extremes. Counting Frightened Rabbit amongst their biggest fans, it's a formula that's worked, with previously unrelated sounds taken from their natural home and placed alongside each other in twisted but compelling ways. Still only in their very 20s, they've been learning each instrument and piece of electronic equipment for years, matching their talent with the natural creativity and curiosity of youth. The List spoke to main vocalist/sampler/guitarist/sax/most things, Josh Bertram.
What's the story behind the band? How did you all get together?
Well I met my former band mate John-Michael in high school, and we were good friends for a while before we started making music. He was in a bunch of local bands prior to us, so I used to go to his shows and would be really excited about what he was doing. But those bands slowly began to defuse and fizzle out, and I had been telling him I wanted to make music that was a bit more unconventional than what he had been doing in the past, so that really sparked the idea to collaborate. Chaz (vocals, guitar, banjo) was added later on; he put out the first release by Our Brother The Native on his D.I.Y record label he was running at the time. We had become good friends over the course of that first release, talking on the phone and emailing constantly. He was really supportive and stoked on the music we were making and wanted to be a part of it, so we decided to add him to the band and make it a long distance collaborative project, which was alright at the time because John-Michael and I weren’t playing shows, we were strictly more of a recording project.
What was the impetus for getting into music? Was it always a part of your lives?
Yeah I must say music is very much in my blood, my mother is singer and music teacher, her and my dad used to sing duets all the time at weddings and at their church. But music was never pushed on me as a kid, so I didn’t start playing music until I was about 14 when I bought a guitar and started learning Nirvana covers and started getting piano lessons from my mom. But definitely the biggest inspiration to start making my own music was after I saw an Oh Boy! Oh Boy! Commander show and totally blew my mind. It was this one man mind-fuck of a band with this genius by the name of Joe Akers doing everything. He kind of took me under his wing and introduced me to a lot of experimental music. You can check out what he is doing now here www.myspace.com/creepycrawlmusic
Your sound is definitely a hard one to pigeonhole as any one genre or mood. What's the process behind creating your music?
The process ends up changing from record to record and from song to song. I am always learning and progressing things at a rate I can’t seem to keep up with. But basically my motto is: anything goes. I love all music and to try and throw all these wonderful ideas and sounds and tones of each genre into an interesting mix is much more exciting to me than sticking with one style, even it that means failing sometimes at what I create. But sometimes these Frankensteins of world music that I build turn out to be very beautiful. I really don’t like staying comfortable with a formula for too long; I like to keep making things fresh for me. So that might mean buying a new instrument to learn or forcing myself to work out the arrangements of a song all on one instrument before recording it and adding all the textures. I also tend to search for samples that are inspiring that might spark an idea for a song.
It's not the sort of music that fits neatly into the mainstream either. What sort of audience are you looking for?
I guess the audience that tends to like and understand what is going on are people who are into deep listening and like to dissect our songs for the many details that are crammed into them. I mean, I would hope one day the music I make can hit a wider audience, because that to me is a new interesting challenge. To add to the music creating process a new set of rules like, 'hey, will my Grandmother like this song?' is kind of a whole new way of looking at the pieces I am working on. Good 'mainstream' pop music isn’t easy for me to make, it’s not quite how my mind works, but you will hear on the next record that I am working on right now, striving very much for something more coherent. The beats are made up of weird sounds and strange instruments, but they are catchy and digestible. And the melodies are more in the forefront and not subdued by washes of noise and atmospheric tones. I have made a lot of noisy songs for the past couple years and now I feel more like trying my hand at easy listening - ha ha.
Your first recordings were done sending each other work over the internet whilst living in different parts of the US. How did that affect the final outcome?
I think it made the songs very sporadic and all over the place on 'Tooth and Claw'. But it is interesting to go back and listen to it now and hear the naivety of it all, and it is kind of cute in a way, like a child making its first baby steps, but it definitely hindered the songs from having a solid core when all these random layers are getting dropped on one another.
How else has technology affected you as a band?
Technology is a big part of this band for the main reason that I have a hard time finding a bunch of musicians to play all the instruments that are on the recordings. So live, you will see me with a big table full of electronics trying to recreate the wall of sound that is on the records. I take samples of all the instruments that are on the recordings and piece them together and build them up in the live setting. But my goal this year is to get a little brass quartet to play on our songs at our local shows, so i'm working on getting that together.
You're on Fat Cat, a record with a bit of love in Scotland, with Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks on its bill. How are you finding the label to work with?
They are amazing, seriously the nicest bunch of people I have ever met! They are so hard working and determined and encourage and nurture all these artists to make them better. I mean, I owe everything to them and I can’t wait to someday give back them as much as they have given to us. Good people tend to work with good people, all the bands that I have met that we share the label with are just top notch human beings, honestly I am so grateful to be apart of this big eclectic family!
You're touring Europe very soon. How are you feeling about it? Trepidation or excitement?
Oh I am very excited this time. It will be our third adventure across the ocean and I feel much more comfortable. I always worry about taking my equipment over in the plane though, that always freaks me out.
What's the nicest thing anyone's said about your work?
This is a hard question. What comes to mind first is all the bands I have met over the years that I look up to, and them telling us they liked our records is surreal. For instance, on this last tour with Frightened Rabbit, Scott told me he sampled a bit of 'Sacred Psalms' and my heart just about burst! I love what they do and to be even a tiny bit of their next masterpiece is such a compliment. I love those guys and can’t wait to see them again in October. But I must say when my best friend Joe, who I have looked up to for years and inspired me to start making music, told me that I am making some of his favourite music, and that 'Sacred Psalms' was one of his favourite records, it was like having your hero give you approval. And that to me has been the nicest thing anyone's said.
Our Brother The Native play Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh on Oct 27, and Captain's Rest, Glasgow on Oct 28.