Interview with Jake Orrall of JEFF the Brotherhood
Posted on August 20, 2012 - by Scott Sugarman
Sad about summer winding down? Put on JEFF the Brotherhood's latest album, 'Hypnotic Nights,' and all your cares will be melted away by a haze of fuzzy guitar licks and songs about rooms that are "So so so so so so so so so so so so so so so hot." Although the Brotherhood is only a duo, made up of real-life brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall, their simple exuberance, a stripped down drum set, and a three-string guitar are all they need to crank out huge yet accessible riffage. At the same time, the saxophone-tinged balladry of "Region of Fire" and a synthed-out pseudogospel cover of Black Sabbath's "Changes" prove that the Orralls are no strangers to experimental subtleties.
As the band was making the trek to Chicago before their Lollapalooza appearance, Jake was kind enough to chat with us over the phone. Head below to read what he had to say about the making of 'Hypnotic Nights,' touring as a two-piece, and the band's independent label, Infinity Cat.
How's it going?
Okay, it's pretty good. How's it going with you?
I'm pretty good; thanks for asking. So the big news is that you guys are about to play at Lollapalooza this weekend, right?
We are heading to Lollapalooza, yes.
Are you looking forward to that?
It's going to be cool to play the festival, but festivals are weird things. It's a weird way to hear music, I think.
Have you played a lot of them before?
Could you elaborate a little more on why it's strange?
Well, it's outside, so it's not going to sound good, and everyone seems to be milling around. It's not really a rock show setting.
Yeah. I guess there's a lot of people at festivals who just go to the festival because it's a big thing, and they don't really have any particular bands in mind to see, other than the headliners.
Yeah, which is cool for them, but for us, it's like, "Uh..."
Yeah, that must get frustrating.
But tonight, we're playing a club show in Chicago, so that will be really good.
So are you guys still touring as just the two of you?
Yeah. It's all we can afford right now.
On the new record, 'Hypnotic Nights,' you have all these other instruments in the songs. Are you integrating any of those into your live show at all, or are the songs kind of stripped down?
No, it's just guitar and drums. Every record we've done has synthesizer and stuff on it. It's just to make it more interesting, since you're not seeing a live show — just something to keep people engaged.
So are you reinterpreting the songs?
No, we're doing them just guitar and drums.
Going along with that, in a video that you were in earlier this year, you said, "One of my big problems with two-piece bands is that they always try to do too much with two people." How does that mindset fit in with the new record, considering those extra instruments?
Well, making a record is really different than playing a live show. I was referring to the live show. Even bands that have five people in them still might use a string section, and it doesn't mean that they're going to bring a string section on tour.
Yeah, they have it all prerecorded.
It's just funny when you have two people, and they're trying to play keyboards and guitar at the same time, and they've got the laptop and blah blah blah. It's like, "Get another person on stage."
Yeah, that's kind of weird.
So much can go wrong.
Biting off more than you can chew. What was it like working with Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys on this record?
It was fun. We're buddies, so we just kind of laughed a lot and made a lot of jokes. It was our first time co-producing a record, so we were a little nervous about fighting over stuff, but it was fine. It was fun.
That's cool. Were a lot of the extra layers to the arrangements his idea, or did you both come up with that?
Not really. It was mostly our stuff. We had our stuff mostly done before we went into the studio, so we knew what was going to be on them. It was more about getting good vocal takes and picking out the right fuzz pedals.
What inspired you guys to flesh out your sound a little bit more?
We had more money, so we were able to hire people. We also had more time to work in the studio. We've always made our records with whatever time off someone has to work in the studio — a few days or something. Since we were making this record for Warner Brothers, we had all the time we needed and money. It still only took about a week. All of the rest of our records still have other stuff on them, not just guitar and drums. Maybe there's a little bit more; I don't know. I mean, I can't play saxophone.
[laughs] Had to bring someone else in.
We had to hire a saxophone player. We couldn't have done that on our last album because we just didn't have the money.
So is this the sound you've always been going for?
I like to think of it as just the next logical step in our evolution.
So it's not a peak or anything.
Oh God, I hope not. I hope it's not a peak.
[laughs] That would be bad.
I mean, the record's pretty good. We just tour too much.
What do you mean, you tour too much?
To be able to really take the time to make a record. The record's not what makes you money. The touring — that's what makes you money. To live off of it, you have to tour all the time, and then you don't have time to practice or any of that.
But next time, we should be able to take more time to make a better record.
I think this one's already pretty good. [laughs] I don't know how it would get better — I mean, I could see how it could get better, but I think it's a great record.
I'm glad you like it.
Everyone seems to mention Weezer when they talk about your sound, but who else has influenced you? I feel like every single review is just Weezer, Weezer, Weezer all the time, but I think there is a pretty big difference between you and them, obviously.
I think that's one thing that makes sense, and then everyone just goes with it, which is fine. I do love Weezer.
Yeah? So it's not inaccurate.
Oh no. I grew up listening to that shit.
Who else do you like to listen to?
A little bit of everything. We have very flexible taste. Pretty much everything.
Going off of that, what inspired you to cover Black Sabbath's "Changes" on this one? Are you a big fan of them?
Oh yeah, of course. It was just an idea that got into my head — to do an all-synthesizer version of "Changes" and put it on the record. I thought it would be cool.
So it was very clearly going to be that song — you weren't just thinking of doing any random Black Sabbath song?
No, no. That's the only Black Sabbath song that I think we could ever cover.
[laughs] I feel like you guys could do one of the heavier ones.
It wouldn't be interesting. I don't think anyone ever has and anyone ever will. That stuff's too [unique] in the production and the way the individual musicians played their instruments. That's just untouchable. Unless you're going to do an all-synthesizer version. That's fine.
[laughs] Do an all-synthesizer version of "War Pigs." That would sound pretty good.
That would be kind of cool. Someone could do a whole album of that.
[laughs] That could be your next record. As far as the lyrics go, do you and Jamin write them together?
No, I usually write them.
Okay. So what typically inspires you for that?
My biggest inspiration for writing lyrics is that feeling of wanting to get a song finished. That's about as much thought as I put into it.
[laughs] Is that the last part of the song always — the lyrics?
Sounds like a good time.
Yeah. I feel like the next step of our band is to get a songwriter involved that just writes all of our lyrics. I can just write the riffs and arrange cool songs, and then someone's like, "Here's the lyrics."
[laughs] Just hand it over to them.
I'm like, "Great." Yeah. Fuck it. I hate writing lyrics.
Does Jamin feel the same way about it?
I don't think he has any interest, really.
That's rough. You guys should flip a coin every time you have to do it from now on.
We're pretty lazy about songwriting. Everything else we work really hard at. Writing songs is like, "Eh, why do we have to write songs?"
Well, it's turned out good so far. Do you ever think you'll take the leap to adding a fourth string to your guitar?
I think that once we can tour as a three-piece or a four-piece, I'll probably just start playing a six-string. I don't know when that's going to be.
Why is that?
It's expensive. The idea of the three-string guitar is the philosophy of trying not to do too much with too few people. If you have all those high notes and high strings, it takes away from the heaviness and beefiness. If you have a bass player, that's being taken care of. I'm not going to play fancy solos and stuff.
Do you ever play around on a six-string guitar for fun?
Yeah, I play in other bands.
The three-string guitar is just for JEFF the Brotherhood because it's heavier.
Definitely. What tuning are you in, by the way?
It's just drop D.
It's pretty heavy. I thought it might be lower than that. I guess that works out well. What's your setup looking like these days? I read that you play through bass amps?
I play through a bass amp and a guitar amp. I've got a custom built cabinet made by Emperor in Chicago. It's a guitar 4x12 and a bass 4x12 and then a 1x18. I play through a Big Muff, and I play a custom built guitar made by Scale Model Guitars in Nashville.
Is that the clear, SG-style one?
That guitar's really cool. So you just went to them and asked them to make it for you?
No, actually. He came to me and was like, "I want to build you a guitar." We designed it together, and he gave me a discount. [laughs]
Yeah, I'm pretty psyched about it.
Nice. What's Infinity Cat up to these days, in general?
Same old shit. Putting out records.
Yeah? Just keeping it going?
Yeah. I just put out a seven-inch and two LPs in the last couple weeks. I've only got a few more things coming out this year. Then, we're slowing down for the winter.
It must be cool to be able to control the pace of it like that.
Yeah. I'm trying to start to because I've been trying to do way too much. I never have time, and I just stress myself out. There's just so many records I want to put out!
That's always a good thing. Better than no records that you want to put out.
Pick up JEFF the Brotherhood's new album, Hypnotic Nights.
For the band's upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.