BROTHER steers crowd to the Coach House
By Naughty Mickie
Photos by Keith Durflinger
Ever since I heard the first strains of BROTHER's CD "This Way Up," I've been hooked. Self-described as "Aussie Mongrel Rock," the group combines rock guitar riffs and drum beats with didgeridoo and bagpipes for a unique sound. It may seem an odd mix, but for this band it is a voyage of self-discovery that they share with the world.
BROTHER consists of Hamish Richardson, vocals, didgeridoo, bagpipes and guitars, Angus Richardson, vocals, bass and bagpipes, Roel Kuiper, vocals and drums, and Rick Kurek, vocals and guitars.
Obviously, I was excited when I learned that the band was going to play at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, California. I even ditched my usual Friday night dance class to make the hour and a half trek. And I wasn't disappointed. The venue was packed to the rafters with a crowd anxiously awaiting the headliner.
Several other bands took their turns on stage. Although I can't say anything really negative about them, I found them less than memorable. One group served up a puree of folk rock covers that were better suited for a park festival than a club. The audience was gracious, yet remained reserved, that is, until BROTHER took the stage. The venue sparked to life with many in the crowd coming to their feet, pretty girls taking the "groupie spot" dancing by the side of the stage and an overwhelming applause after each tune.
BROTHER gave the audience an extra long set with a range of songs, including the crowd favorite "The Crow" and a royal double bagpipe send-off of "Amazing Grace." But it was the band that was really amazing, they easily reproduced what was offered on their recordings and more. Great to listen to and easy on the eyes, they have what it takes to make it big.
A few days after the show, I had an opportunity to speak with Hamish Richardson and Rick Kurek about where they've been and where Brother is going.
Richardson explained that the band has been playing dates across the United States, in cities such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. When we spoke, they were in Las Vegas, but not to perform.
"The Vegas trip is actually just to meet a Broadway producer who saw what we did in L.A. at the Starlight and called us to Vegas to talk about working up a Broadway show. It's kind of a bit of a research trip," Richardson said. "We don't know where it's going to leave, but we're all here.''
I asked him about Brother's "new" guitarist, Kurek, who has actually been with the group for a year now.
"It's like the band we always wanted,'' replied Richardson. "Our music's constantly evolving.''
He explained that they are preparing to go back into the studio to work on a new release.
"Rick brings something new to the music, a new style to it and it's taking us somewhere else. Just his energy on stage is great. That means we can take the visual show to a higher level as well," continued Richardson. "We have a great connection between the four of us. It's something you can search a long time for, so when you find it, you don't want to let it go."
BROTHER was originally formed in Australia and now all the members but Hamish live in Los Angeles. He keeps his roots in his motherland, but finds himself in the states quite often. This lifestyle gives Richardson a unique perspective on the two continents. I suggested that perhaps Americans are more rushed than Australians.
"On the surface they're very similar cultures, but America's a very wide land and everywhere we go we meet different kinds of cultures of people," said Richardson. "Certain areas may be a bit more harried than Australia. I think overall, we're maybe a little more laid back, not so quite work-orientated; success-orientated. It's amazing here, a country the same size of Australia, yet everywhere you go you are in a different culture. It's always an adventure over here, that's for sure.''
At the Coach House, one of my friends whined when she noticed Hamish wearing what appeared to be a wedding ring. I decided to find out about it.
"Didn't you notice I was wearing lot of rings?'' Richardson laughed. "I do have two small children, daughters. They're wonderful. I keep them hidden in the background even though they do come on the road with us. We want them to be normal and not to feel like they're being watched.''
His family enjoys traveling, but it's the time together that is most important. I started to ask Richardson about his downtime, but realized that most of it is devoted to his children.
"There is no downtime or it's all downtime, that's a good way to look at it. We are very busy," he said, telling me how they try to make the most of it wherever they are.
We returned to talking about their upcoming studio time.
"We're going start recording the first real BROTHER album,'' said Richardson. "We want to really change, put ourselves in to writing situations, new instruments, maybe baritone guitar, different tunes on the bass, maybe some electronica. We want to explore areas we haven't tapped into that much. But we are what we are. We have the essence of what the BROTHER sound is, we want to take that and we want to twist it. We just want to step out of the box, out of the comfort zone really."
The group is not necessarily looking for a bigger label, yet they realize the importance of gaining attention.
"We've been very comfortable with the indie path we have chosen and we've been in almost every state in America, we've come through many albums. Probably the next step or challenge for us. I don't know that starting with a major label would really be the right thing, working with the higher powers of the labels. We're just sort of leaving that up in the air now.'' Richardson goes on, "You want to make it palatable to the masses because when you're different one of the hard things is, if you're too different, it makes it too hard for people to swallow. We definitely want to reach a wider audience, but not lose what makes us individual or gives us an individual sound. The evolution has just been great, we're very comfortable with the way it's been taking.''
BROTHER is not only seeking to please the masses, they also spend time to help others. Hamish is diabetic and does speaking engagements and leads "Didge Jams" on the road. The Didge Jams are workshops where people can learn how to make and play simple didgeridoos. The band works with local hardware stores that donate PVC pipe and charge workshop attendees $10. The money goes to research for juvenile diabetes. Check the Brother Web site to find out when Didge Jam is coming to your town.
Next, I spoke with Kurek, beginning with how he enjoyed playing in BROTHER.
"It's been quite an experience, definitely," Kurek said. "A lot has been changing actually. Playing with bagpipes, didge on a regular basis, just the fact that the instrumentation is always a challenge, 'How are we going to make this work? How are we going to make it fresh?' What do we got to do to reinvent it without making it passé or cliché or old or boring to us.''
Kurek, the youngest of five children, was born and raised in Chicago and has been playing guitar since he was around eight years old. Several members of his family are also musical, his brother first shared the love of the guitar with him, his mother played piano and his grandfather played accordion.
"There was no question, it was my calling,'' said Kurek of his strong attraction to guitar. "When I was real young, my mother signed me up for lessons at the Folk School of Music, so I learned a little bit about folk music and storytelling. So really truly I've been exposed to so many different styles it really comes through now that I'm able to process it.''
Kurek's teacher also prompted him to go to the blues festivals downtown. And, like many musicians, Kurek played in a lot of different bands growing up. I asked him if his experience has helped give him more emotion in his playing.
"I don't know if my background gives me more emotion, but my background gives me more colors on my palette. I think emotion is not something you learn, it's something you achieve," said Kurek. "What can I say? I just feel it.''
He attended Roosevelt University in Chicago on a scholarship and earned a degree in jazz performance. But Kurek is quick to point out that one's education continues long after schooling.
"It's really not so much what I've learned, it's what I'm learning, that's what's important to me right now," Kurek said. "I'm grateful to have a background, an education, technique, but it's like I know a lot of great players who just can't really seem to play the right note, they play a lot of them, but not necessarily the right ones as far as I'm concerned. For me it's a challenge to play a little bit less, not think about the book so much, but more to think about what I truly absolutely want to hear. If I can't sing it, I don't want to play it; if I can't hum it, I don't want to play it.''
He sounds similar to bluesman Doug MacLeod, who I interviewed not too long ago. When I mentioned this, Kurek immediately recognized who I was talking about and we discussed the importance of MacLeod's saying, "Don't play a note you don't believe."
So, is everything written for the upcoming album?
"We have a bunch of stuff on the table," said Kurek. "We'll have to sift through it, develop some of it, put it in the oven and see what rises."
Before parting, I learn that Kurek enjoys hiking in Mount Baldy, close to Upland, California.
"That's my little getaway spot," he confides.
He avoids the Hollywood club scene, unless he's playing out and points out one more thing worth mentioning.
"My dry sense of humor, possibly," Kurek offers.
Did I mention that he has an incredibly sexy, husky voice? Rick, you can call me anytime-- I'll get out my hiking boots and my Doug MacLeod CD and be right over!
Find out more about BROTHER at www.brotherrock.com
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