Brick and Mortar are a drum and bass duo from New Jersey, but they don’t play traditional drum ‘n bass. It’s simply their instruments of choice. Singer and bassist Brandon Asraf and drummer John Tacon have just released the best debut album I have heard in the past ten years. It’s my pick for album of the year in 2013 and if this band is not a household name, or topping every hipster’s playlist in the near future, then I am sorry to say that the entire music industry is broken.
Imagine that Adele had a secret love child with Hot Hot Heat that was raised by a band of storytelling gypsies. The songwriting is brilliant, the subject matter is riveting, and the musicianship is stellar. This is the type of band that comes along once every decade or so if we are lucky. I love this record so much that I reached out and requested an interview with these guys to learn more about them, and I had some questions around their mysterious songs and videos.
What you are about to read is a conversation that I had with a band that I think is going to be the biggest breakout success story of the year in 2014. The answers are honest, revealing, and quite surprising from a band that is on a “major label” and getting ready to hit the road for their first U.S. tour. Read the interview, then go buy the record. You will not be disappointed.
Hailing from New Jersey have you ever seen Jon Bon Jovi or the Boss around town?
Brandon: I work at the movies part-time, and after we got back from Lollapalooza, I was back at work and Bruce Springsteen came in and I sold him some water and Popcorn. I of course told him I was in a band; he was really nice. I never thought I would meet Bruce Springsteen while serving up popcorn, but I did. I’ve never come across Jon Bon though. I always come across a dude that I think it’s him because of the hair, but then they turn around and it’s just a housewife.
You guys call him Jon Bon in Jersey?
Brandon: No one really talks about him up here, so we don’t have to call him anything.
The sound you guys have is so unique, how would you describe it?
Brandon: People ask “What type of music are you” and I say, “Well he plays the bass, and he plays the drums, so we get called a drum and bass duo.” We really just aim to create something that makes us feel something. We never really think about genres, we just didn’t know enough historically to be the music buff or music nerd that could say, this is this and that’s that. This is rock n roll, this is hip-hop. The whole genre thing has always fucked us.
John: Even to this day it can be difficult for us to find a band to tour with that fits with us. We’re a weirdo band.
How was Lollapalooza this year?
Brandon: We played after a Canadian, teenage, Asian, HipHop Rapper named Deep Grind at Lollapalooza, he was the best.
Was there a bidding war over the band with the labels?
John: The days of the bidding wars are over. We chose this one because they seemed like the ones who wanted it the most.
Are you guys going to quit your day jobs with the tour coming up?
Brandon: We’re just hoping that they won’t notice that we left.
John: I have it set up so that I can work extra hours and still get paid on the road. I have a cool boss so he works it out. But my goal is to not dump garbage and cut weeds
Brandon: It’s not like we live with our parents or anything, we just have bills to pay. I don’t really know how other bands do it.
Do you guys consider yourselves and “indie” rock band?
Brandon: We get labeled as an indie band, but we never really felt like an indie band. We play shows, make money, try to make ends meet, and write songs, that’s where we’re at. Everything we did before this we did ourselves to the fullest. Even now we still do a lot ourselves but, I guess the real answer is, we don’t know. If they keep us on the road then I guess we won’t be back.
The Video for your song “Bangs” looks like something out of Fight Club.
Brandon: Most people now are pretty accepting of violence.
What’s the story there?
Brandon: The song is about not ever facing the fact that there’s no possible way that you can do what you want to do or achieve what you want to achieve. It correlates to the way my father was. He was an international criminal and ran a diamond smuggling operation. When he came to America he couldn’t even read or write. He basically invented his own systems of ordering and running businesses, not knowing what he was doing, but just hustling and not giving a fuck whether he was going to make it or not. He was making things happen instead of just accepting that you can’t do them. My dad might be a criminal, but he had a really good work ethic.
Our friends were making this treatment for a video and they really wanted to do it to that song. The video was perfect because it reflects the sort of lifestyle my father had, the message of the song, and what I learned from him as a child about how to be in America.
And the song “Heatstroke?” There are some really interesting lyrics there.
Brandon: It’s about a lot of the people who I met who were in bands just for the blowjobs and free drugs. I thought people got into this because they wanted to leave their mark on the world, evolve music, and try something new. I felt like there was a fair amount of wealthy people who put together bands. It’s easy for them to go out and play every night because there are no repercussions, they don’t have to worry about their electric being turned off or fucking their life up. It’s much different from doing music and taking these risks purely because you have something to say.
I think it really comes from dealing with people who had opportunities squandered them away because they didn’t know how lucky they were.
Are you guys fans of vinyl and is your record coming out on vinyl?
Brandon: I love vinyl and have a lot of records at the house. We would love for our record to come out on vinyl I just don’t think it’s going to right away.
First record you ever bought?
John: Silverchair, Frogstomp.
Brandon: I never really bought records, but when I was young I made up a fake name and did the Columbia House thing. I got Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle, a bunch of other Hip-Hop, and Green Day’s Dookie. I really only listened to Snoop, Green Day, 2 Pac, and I think a Biggie CD.
First show you ever went to?
John: Bruce Springsteen in 1999.
Is it a requirement that if you live in Jersey that you have to see the Boss?
John: No, ha ha. My aunt was a fanatic.
Brandon: My first concert wasn’t very cool at all. John took me to Ozzfest and I saw a band called Primer 55 and they were terrible. But, they had a really trendy song at the time with a cool groove and after that I was like, I gotta play the bass!
The Clash vs. The Sex Pistols?
John: The Sex Pistols because I heard the guitar player saw our video and likes our song.
Brandon: I am going to go with the Clash because I haven’t really listened to a lot of the Sex Pistols. My roommate though listens to both and he also says The Clash—we had this conversation in my apartment the other day. I like the Clash because they did some amazing genre bending things.
Brick + Mortar are on tour now with Anthony Green and their brilliant debut album Bangs is available now.