Nashville’s Anti-Poets
An Interview with JEFF The Brotherhood

Words by Alex Napoliello — Nashville, TN

Better known for its roots in country and jazz music, Nashville was never much of a rock n roll city. Over the past couple years, though, it appears as if the city has gone through a metamorphosis, attracting the likes of Jack White, the Black Keys, and the Kings of Leon. The mainstream shift down south is so pertinent, it prompted Rolling Stone to name Nashville as 2011’s ‘best music scene’. With all the hoopla surrounding the big names that now live there, it’s easy to overlook the local scenesters that have been fighting the good fight for years now. Enter JEFF The Brotherhood.

Brothers Jake (guitar/vox) and Jamin (drums) Orrall, a garage rock duo, have been a staple act in the Nashville music scene since the turn of the century. Sons of successful producer/singer/songwriter Robert Ellis Orrall, JEFF The Brotherhood released their first album, I Like You (2001), at the tail end of their high school years and have been going strong ever since. Even as teenagers, the Orrall brothers understood the importance of having a do-it-yourself mentality in the music business.

“The reason we started our own label was cause there wasn’t anyone else who was going to put our music out”,says Jake Orrall rather bluntly. “The reason we keep doing it is because it’s worked out for us so far.”

Jake and Jamin released all five of their studio albums on their own label Infinity Cat Records. Their latest record, We Are The Champions (2011), was also released via Warner Bros. Records – a huge milestone for a band that’s surely paid their dues.

Over the years, JEFF The Brotherhood have toured relentlessly (over 230 shows this year alone) and have played just about anywhere. Last year, due to a cancellation at a show in Ithaca, New York, Jake and Jamin found themselves playing a New Brunswick basement.

Though JEFF now has a record deal with Warner Bros. Records, it doesn’t change the touring landscape all that much.

“I think what happens when you start from scratch like we did — and we’ve been touring for a long time at a lot of different levels — I think your standard, what’s easy for you, kind of changes gradually with how the shows are going”, offers Orrall.

The more noticeable change of having a major record label onboard is in the studio and on the business end. Their latest album was recorded by Roger Moutenot (Yo La Tengo, Sleater Kinney, Velvet Underground). The deal with Warner also helps take the load off their back when it comes to distribution and promotion.

When asked if there was any backlash following the signing to a major label, Jake Orrall replies, “No, not at all – I think that time has passed. People realize that the music business has changed quite a bit since major labels had a bad stigma, and now they’re just trying to make it as much as the indie labels — just on a bigger scale.”

“Actually, all that deal [with Warner Bros.] does is give us access to all the resources as a major label – decades and decades of experience with putting records out. So now, when we go there and go to the promotions department and say, ‘hey, we want to do this contest’, they’re like, ‘sweet, let’s set it up.’ Whereas before it was like, we got the records pressed but now we have to tour all the time, so we can’t really be doing that (laughs). Basically, it gives us the ability to reach a much wider audience”, he adds.

We Are The Champions incorporates all the things that attracts fans to pile in whatever venue to see them – songs that are centered around partying and having a good time.

“We’re not really much for poetry”, Orrall says about JEFF’s songwriting. “We’re more about having fun. I don’t really care about lyrics, honestly. Its rock n roll, ya know.”

The lyrics from the first track off their latest record, ‘Hey Friend’, starts with the words “I’ve been thinking about your mom/you can tell me if it’s really wrong.” The following lyrics are all catchy rhymes about every member of their friend’s family.

We Are The Champions is full of tracks that are about not taking life too seriously – ‘Bummer’, ‘Cool Out’, ‘Shredder’, and ‘Mellow Out’. JEFF’s tongue-in-cheek style of song writing often draws comparisons to Weezer, but musically, they’re heavier and more guitar-driven.

This simple, stripped-down style of music is nothing new. Jake and Jamin are the latest duo in a growing pool of music minimalists led by the White Stripes, the Black Keys and Matt and Kim.

Jake Orrall concludes, “If we have two people anything extra is going to take away from the simplicity of it. We’re just trying to keep it straight ahead heavy.” | Nashville