Brand New Sin -- rockin' a town near you
By Naughty Mickie
Photos by Dan Quinajon
They say you can never go home again, but when I spoke with Joe Altier, lead singer for Brand New Sin, I found myself longing for the snow encrusted streets and the warm smells of the corner vendors of my college-home city, Syracuse, New York. Altier and his bandmates, guitarist/vocalist Slider, guitarists Kris Wiechmann and Ken Dunham, bassist Chuck Kahl and drummer Mike Rafferty, are all Syracuse boyz. They're New York tough and don't mince words or worry about breaking hearts, and their music follows suit.
I reveal to Altier that I was an Orangeman (I have a degree in English from Syracuse University) and that I lived off-campus in Manlius, a small suburb of Syracuse.
"We're all from Syracuse,'' Altier says. "My guitar player, Slider, he grew up in Manlius.''
"Oooh, a townie," I tease and ask him if my favorite club, Lost Horizon, is still standing.
"It's still our home, that's where we held our CD release party,'' Altier laughs. "My parents went there when they were kids. I think it was called the Yellow Balloon at that time. It's been there forever.''
Altier explains that the venue is planning renovations, "The renovations they did a couple of years ago was called 'painting over the dirt.' They didn't clean the walls, they got white paint and painted over what was there. But it is what it is and that's what it is.''
Reminiscing aside, I get to the heart of the matter and ask how Brand New Sin began.
"The basic core of the group, the three guitar players, Chris, Kenny, Slider, and Chuck, have been playing together for four years previous to me and Mike, the drummer joining the band," says Altier. "They were in a band called God Below which was more or less metal, hard-core, not like a lot of screaming, a lot of metal, not straight up hard-core, but you could hear where they wanted to go. They were pretty decent and across the Northeast they made a name for themselves. But when labels came around and started to look at them, they said, 'We really like what you're doing,' but they heard the potential of what the band could become. And that's what eventually turned into this.
"They made the decision to try to go in a different direction," Altier continues. "The singer was not a singer, so they had to make the decision to part ways, 'we want to try something different.' And the drummer, they had problems with him in the past any ways. They scooped up a new drummer which was actually a guy that was filling in from time to time in the other band."
(Stickman Rafferty turned 21 this past June and the other band members are pushing 30. But the drummer comes with the experience of having been in bands since he was 14.)
"Then the search began for me, which was tough because I guess they went through 16 or 17 guys and eventually got to me. It was a really really tough search for them to find something that was going to be the sound of what would become Brand new Sin," Altier says. "I was in Baltimore at the time, I was getting ready to move back home. I had moved out there with my wife, we lived down there for two years and we decided to come back home. And a friend of mine was mutual friends with them said, 'They need a singer, you're the guy.' I'm like, 'I don't know if I can, I can't scream and do all that.' 'Well, they want to go into a different direction.' So I come home, September 11 happens the day after I'm home. I get the demo tape the day after that, a week after that I walked in and, as they say, the rest is history.''
Altier has been in several groups, "But I've never had a band of my own. I guess I was waiting for the right one and this happened to be it.'' He rolls straight into an explanation of BNS' sound, "None of us are really into the newer style of metal, the rap metal or the what they call the 'new metal.' None of us are really into that. We all grew up in the '80s listening to Poison and Ratt and Kiss, go back even more to Lynard Skynard, Allman Brothers and stuff like that. We've got that southern type of feel in some of our music. We weren't really influenced by like Korn or anything like that, that was kind of past the fact. We were already in and out of college when that came about. That's where our sound pretty much comes from. We to say it's like if Metallica and Lynard Skynard got together and had a love child it would be Brand New Sin.''
Altier seemed to know he was destined for a career in music.
"I've sang and played piano since the age of five," he says. "This wasn't a big surprise to people who knew me my whole life, they always knew that I would end up in a band somehow. I've gone to open mic nights and friends of mine in bands have said, 'Why don't you come up and sing a couple songs?'''
Altier attended St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, playing football while earning a degree in history. He originally planned to become a history teacher. This is not another "dumb" band, in fact, Kahl has a degree in political science and Slide has a degree in psychology.
"We're not these kids that sat at home and didn't do anything with our lives, we wanted to be something," says Altier. "But we are what we are and we can't help it.''
I wonder if the group's education comes into play when writing material.
"A lot of bands say that they write stuff that's meaningful and stuff like that, but a lot of our lyrics, it doesn't sound like we're," Altier pauses to collect his thoughts. "I'm not trying to put down other bands, but there's actually coherence to a lot of those lyrics, they make sense. We're telling stories behind that and educated things on our views of all of our lives. Basically what we write about is life and what we know. It's not like we see something on TV and try to get into that person's head and write about it. We get inside what we know and what we've experienced as people and that's where we write from.''
"Slider and I share the lyrical duties," Altier adds. "Him and I have connected since day one on what we do. I bring an idea to him and we sit down and he adds to it. Or he brings an idea to me and we sit down and add to it. We work really well together.''
"When I came into the band there were eight songs written. We ended up using five of those eight songs that were there and then we ended up writing a couple more," Altier goes on. "But with the time constraints that we hit, by the time I got in in September and Now or Never Records came to us, they were already interested, already, before I got in and they just wanted to see what was about, so they came up and the first week of October we went right into the studio. They paid for us to go into the studio and get a demo done. And they came up and they heard what we were doing and they're like, 'Let's do it. I know what you guys got, let's get it done by the end of January.' I'm like, 'Let's go.' We only had two songs completed at that time, when they said all right let's do it. So we're like, 'Holy shit. We've got to sit down and write a lot of stuff.'"
"In a way I'm kind of glad it worked out because I think we wrote some really good songs in a very short period of time, which goes to show us what kind of potential that we have and when we sit down and actually write our next album, which we're already five or six songs into," Altier laughs, "Which is crazy because everybody's like, 'You guys will be touring on this album for a year or two before you can get back into the studio again.' But we just keep writing.''
For their current self-titled release, the three guitar players wrote the songs and Altier and Slider added the lyrics. Although Altier didn't have much musical involvement, other than lyrics, on the album, he is already planning to do more on their next recording. And songwriting is becoming even more of a group effort.
"Everyone we have is capable of writing songs," says Altier. "No one can take total 100 percent credit for anything in this band because we do it all as a group. We all shape the songs in some way or form, even if it's just a couple notes here and there, but everybody gets credit for it. That's the way we are.''
I know that in the early days of a band, the players usually have to keep day jobs, so I ask Altier if this is so for BNS.
"We all were working day jobs, all of us,'' replies Altier. "My day job, up until we started at the beginning of March, I was a bank teller. I had a tie on every day and dealing with lots of money. I mean I have a goatee, I've got earrings and tattoos, but if you saw me at the bank, I was the perfect little guy.''
The other band members are working in jobs that they've been in for six or seven years, such as warehouse work, and one of the guitar players works at a music store.
"The reason that I was in that is I knew it was something I could get away from once something started happening," adds Altier.
The members are "regular joes," three of them own their own homes, Altier and Wiechmann are both married and Wiechmann and his wife have a child.
Altier has accolades for his own wife, "She's wonderful, I couldn't ask for a better person. She knew the day she met me what I am and what I was going to become.''
He is hoping that he can make enough money so the couple can retire early and enjoy their time together.
Wiechmann's other half has also stood by him. She saw him through his stint with the band Earth Crisis, which recorded several albums on Victory Records, and their relationship obviously worked, as she married him.
"We have a good support system at home with our families, they all support what we do," says Altier.
When he's not working or busy with the band, Altier spends time with his wife and their friends.
"Being in Syracuse, it's a big city, but it's small enough where everybody knows everybody," says Altier. "All the bands in Syracuse have a little niche, we all know each other, we've all played with each other and played in each other's bands. We hang out with our friends.''
Altier also loves getting outside, in the summer he goes out on Lake Oneida or Lake Ontario on his friend's pontoon or ski boat and in the winter, he snowmobiles with his father-in-law.
"We can't help it but we end up playing when we get together, cover tunes or whatever," adds Altier. "We can't stay away from music, no matter what. Even if we want time off away from each other, we can't help it.''
You would think that the guys in BNS would want a break from music, as while recording the album, they worked their regular jobs six days a week and were in the studio every day.
Now living on the other side of the country, I want to get Altier's East Coast perspective of the music scene.
"I think there's not enough rock and roll any more," says Altier. "I think that there's a big void. Talking with a lot of people, I hear our style of music and it's not that it's too different that people are like where does it fit in? You still have the metal out there, there's the sort of new metal and rap metal and the hard-core scene. You have your boy bands and your R&B and your hip hop. And in the middle of all of it, where everything started from, is rock and roll and a lot of people are like, 'You guys are helping to bring the scene back that's been nonexistent for a couple of years.'
"Pearl Jam and stuff like that, they called it grunge, but at the heart of it, it was really rock and roll. Bands like Tesla got classified into big hair bands, but what they were was rock and roll," Altier continues. "And I don't think there's enough now. If you hear the album, there's guitar solos on there; some more harmonies. Nobody plays guitar solos, it's like a one note or a sample. Not to knock the guys that are out there, there are some very talented musicians, but try to play your instrument a little bit more, do it, you have it in there. That's the one thing that people will come up to us after our shows, 'The guitar solos, the guitar sounds, this driving rock and roll, we miss it.'
"There are a few bands out there doing it, like Down and Black Label Society," Altier goes on. "We're big into those bands. If there are any bands out there that we are influenced by, it would be those guys. But all those guys that are in those bands have been around a long time doing it. We're just hoping to bring a fresh breath back into rock and roll.''
"There's a lot of familiarity in our music that anybody can find something in it," Altier says about BNS being compared to a wide variety of bands. "For you to be an original, totally 100 percent, band nowadays is impossible and if you think you are, you're full of shit. 'Cause unless you're doing something that's so off the wall you can't even listen to it, that's pretty much it. But we're just rock and roll, we love what we do.''
So, are these Syracuse boyz Web-friendly?
"I have two views on the Internet," states Altier. "My gut feeling is I think it's great, I think it does wonders for bands that would have never never ever gotten anywhere. You can do something in the garage and put it on the Internet and it can be heard by millions and billions of people. It does get your name out. We've created kind of a buzz back home and everywhere we've gone with our site and our Now or Never site.''
Altier and I discuss the dismal all-too-popular occurrence of "trash talk'' on bulletin boards and also about music piracy. He doesn't feel as strongly as Metallica, but points out that stealing music hurts the bands because it doesn't support them. Altier also explains that the sound quality of pirated copies isn't as good as an "original" recording and you don't get the artwork either.
This leads to us reminiscing about records (remember those big vinyl discs that came in cardboard wrappers) and their terrific covers. Altier says he that he actually reads album covers or J-cards all the way through, every person in every thank you, and so on.
BNS is anxious to get back in the studio, but they are aware that they need to spend time on the road promoting themselves and their release. Altier reminds me that Metallica got where they are by touring.
"Your album will be your album, but what makes your band, and what has always made it for me, is going to see them live, making that connection with the band, making that connection with the fans that you cannot make and never make on any recording,'' says Altier.
Touring is where BNS is quite successful. They have toured with Prong, Chimera and Motorhead (who Altier calls "the original metal band").
Altier and I discuss the ages of audiences at different concerts. He feels that the younger kids, ages 14-15, don't hear as much familiarity in BNS' music, as opposed to older crowds and that they tend to listen to a different style of rock. But when it comes to crossing the generational gap, Altier says Ozz Fest is one of the best events because it connects old and new bands and, by seeing both, you can see how influences have evolved.
"It all comes back to Black Sabbath,'' Altier states.
I ask the wordy vocalist if there was anything else that we should talk about.
Altier laughs, "I could sit here and talk your ear off all day."
Hearing his answer, I have to smile because I could listen to him all day-- he's just so full of energy and so down-to-earth. Unfortunately, I have a deadline to meet.
To get more on Brand New Sin, visit www.brandnewsin.com or www.noworneverrecords.com
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