Q&A: JEFF The Brotherhood On Getting Dropped By Warner Bros. And Their Severely Stoned, Next Level Wasted On The Dream
This week Nashville fuzz-rockers JEFF The Brotherhood announced that they’ve been dropped by Warner Bros. and will be releasing the upcoming Wasted On The Dream on their own independent label, Infinity Cat. They followed that news with “Black Cherry Pie,” a righteous beast of a rock song featuring dense grunge guitars, swaggering Bonham drums, trippy prog-rock synthesizers, and a flute solo by Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson himself. The whole record is like that, a bold convergence of rock ‘n’ roll history that sounds like a million bucks and hits like a million bucks in quarters. I called JEFF’s Jake Orrall to talk about the label situation and the new LP as well as his work on Colleen Green’s I Want To Grow Up.
STEREOGUM: You seemed pretty stoked about getting out of the Warner Bros. deal.
JAKE ORRALL: Yeah, it was kind of weird timing, though, because usually they’ll drop bands after the album doesn’t sell a ton of copies, or before they start making an album that’s gonna cost them tens of thousands of dollars. But this one, they dropped us right in the middle of the roll-out. All of a sudden we heard from the music video director, who was supposed to do the video for the first single, that the video budget had been canceled. And we were like, “What?” So I immediately emailed our people at Warner Bros., and I was like, “Are we getting dropped?” and they were like, “No, no, no.” And then like three weeks later, yeah, we were dropped.
STEREOGUM: So the video thing tipped you off, but before the video thing, you had no inkling?
ORRALL: There was always the thought that that could happen at any moment, but we were pretty sure. I mean, we had a release date, they had already sold over 300 pre-orders on our website. So it was a little out of the blue. But when it happened, we were like, OK, that explains why everyone’s been unresponsive for the last month.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, that is pretty inconvenient timing.
ORRALL: That’s OK. We worked our deal out beforehand so that if this would happen it would be a quick switchover back to Infinity Cat, so we’re covered. We already had a record.
STEREOGUM: In the statement you said you’ve been “dropped from the clutches of the demented vulture that is Warner Bros.” What previous problems did you have?
ORRALL: This is the funny thing — it’s like, it was a great opportunity to be able to make two records with them, with the amount of money we had to work with to make a record. They financed two very, very expensive records for us, that we’ll never have to pay back, but pretty much from the start, it was apparent that you had to play this game where if you wanted to do something you had to make them feel like it’s their idea or it wasn’t going to happen. And then you kind of slowly pick up on, like, what people at Warner Bros. do to tip you off that you basically just have to do this certain one thing. It’s like, “oh, we don’t want to do that, but we sort of have to do that,” you know? Like, whenever you’re going to go on a late-night TV show they’re going to pick what song you’re going to play. Then you’re kind of, like, “OK, well, I’m signed to a major label. I signed to a major label for a reason. They should know what song is best to play on the late-night show.”
ORRALL: But it really didn’t start happening until our record was done. It’s been done since April of last year. And they pushed the release date back to the fall, and in the fall they were like, “We really want to wait until next year because we want to push this record far. It’s got four radio singles on it, it’s going to be a huge record, blah, blah blah.” We were like, “all right, fine, we need to do something.” Because we had to tour. We hadn’t toured for a year and we had just been spending our savings just living, trying to stay afloat while we made this record. So then they were like, “All right, here’s so-and-so amount of money, go in the studio and record an EP of covers.” We said, “OK, we can do that.” We got off the road, went into the studio, and recorded this EP. And then we booked a whole US tour and someone misfiled paperwork or something. They never really explained it to us, but they were like, “We’re really sorry but we’re not going to be able to get new records until this date,” and the date was the last day of the tour that we had just booked to support this EP. We were like, “OK, wait a minute, I’ve been running a record label. If you give me the masters, I can get the records pressed before the tour. Like, I can definitely do that. If you guys can’t get that done for us, then I don’t know what we’re doing here. It’s like, this makes no sense. You guys are our record label, you’re supposed to be able to press records for people. That’s kind of like your main job.” That was last fall, and at that point we were kind of just like, ah, man what’s happening here? Because at the same time, the major label industry is crumbling now. It has been for years. They’re just trying to figure out — they’re constantly firing people and hiring new, young kids and trying to figure out some way that works. There were a lot of people that were really great to us and really believed in the project and helped us out a lot, but ultimately the intra-label communication and the communication with us was totally fucked, and it kept getting worse and worse. It was a headache for a long time. So it was relieving when they were finally like, “You guys have been dropped, sorry.” We were like, “Uh, sweet.” We were in Mexico too, like just hanging out, so it’s a good place to hear the news.
STEREOGUM: So when did you actually find out?
ORRALL: The day we got to Mexico. Three weeks ago. And then, we didn’t want to announce it or say anything until we had all the contracts signed, the exit agreement, and had everything all worked out with Infinity Cat and had a plan. We got a lot of questions at the time that we just kind of ignored, just knowing that we had to get everything figured out before we said anything because we didn’t want to jeopardize getting our record back and all that stuff.
STEREOGUM: It must be nice that you have a label and have the infrastructure in place to make a pretty smooth transition.
ORRALL: It’s great. That’s the thing with so many bands that release stuff on major labels. It’ll be their first album on a major, and they’ll have no audience, and the only thing they have to rely on is the major label’s ability to push them forward and get them in front of people. But we’ve been playing in this band for over a decade and released eight albums already. We’ve been slowly collecting this fan base that isn’t going anywhere. We didn’t need Warner Bros. when we signed with them in the first place, so we don’t need them now, which really makes the difference. We’re going to sell a lot more records on Infinity Cat than we ever would have on Warner Bros., too, because we can make them cheaper.
STEREOGUM: Because you don’t have to support all this extra infrastructure.
ORRALL: Right, we can get things done faster and do whatever we want. And a lot of people have been asking, “Why did you sign with Warner Bros. in the first place?” And to that I would say, “to make two really, really expensive records.” We’ll just say there was a lot of good things that came out of it, financially and otherwise. We’re leaving the label without any debt or anything, so it’s all good. I just wish this record could have come out last summer. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: You said it was done in April…
ORRALL: Yeah, but most bands that get dropped from major labels, their records never come out and then the band breaks up. So we’re doing fine. And if they wouldn’t have given it back, we would’ve just re-recorded it and put it out anyway.
STEREOGUM: Sure, although it’s a good thing you got these recordings back because they’re very impressive. Is it fair to call it the most ambitious record that you guys have made?
ORRALL: Absolutely, and we put, by far, the most work into it. There’s a lot of things about it that we tried to take to the next level.
STEREOGUM: You got flute action from Jethro Tull.
ORRALL: We just asked [Ian Anderson] out of the blue. We emailed them like, “Would you consider playing flute on this?” and his son emails us back and is like, “Ian leaves for tour in a week, he’s in rehearsals but I’ll play it for him, and if he likes it he’ll do it.” And he fucking did it! He turned it around in like a couple days and just sent it back to us. And we were like, awesome. And they didn’t charge us, either. His son’s like, “When Ian likes the song, he just does these things, he didn’t charge for this.”
STEREOGUM: That song is just so humongous and there’s so much going on in it. It’s like grunge and synth and flute. Even lyrically, too, it’s quite a statement song.
ORRALL: The lyrics are inspired by me getting really stoned and watching Princess Mononoke. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: I have to imagine that “Cosmic Vision” is also inspired by getting stoned.
ORRALL: The whole album was a very stoned album. We smoked a lot of pot in the studio — constantly, basically. Which is interesting because it’s the first record that we did this way, just severely stoned the whole way through the writing process and the recording process. A lot of times I would get, like, a little too stoned, you know? And then just go in and play guitar parts because I would have to really focus and in order to keep from like freaking out. So there’s a lot of that on there. And then I stopped smoking weed after that record. [laughs] I kind of go back and forth.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting that that was such a big part of the creation process. I would imagine that the album that sounds the most sleek and professional and produced of all the records wouldn’t also be the most stoned of the records.
ORRALL: Isn’t that funny? It was that and Kalimotxo, which is like mixing red wine and Coca-Cola, half-and-half. It kind of keeps you awake. But you still kind of get drunk and it cuts the downness a little bit. It’s a good combo for recording.
STEREOGUM: I had a few Kalimotxos back when I was studying abroad in Spain, like 10 years ago. I haven’t thought about that forever.
ORRALL: Yeah, it’s totally like a Spanish thing, I guess, or like South American. It was good. We’d get one of those Bota Boxes and a bunch of Mexican Coke. Good to go.
STEREOGUM: How’d Bethany Cosentino end up guesting on “In My Dreams”? Did you write that with a duet in mind, or did you write it together?
ORRALL: I wrote it as a duet. My roommate sang on the demo. Warner Bros. was like, “Well we want to get someone who has a recognizable name.” We were like, “Well, Bethany will probably do it.” She’s a friend of ours from touring and stuff. So we asked her. She turned it around really quickly, and we were really pumped about it. And then we heard that she sang a song with Weezer and that that album came out after ours, but it was recorded before ours. And we were like, what the fuck? Did you hear about that?
STEREOGUM: Yeah, well I heard the song.
ORRALL: I haven’t heard it yet.
STEREOGUM: It’s like that Kanye song where he’s like, “I told Jay I did a song with Coldplay/ Next thing I know he got a song with Coldplay.”
ORRALL: It happens. Whatever, we love Weezer. Who can get mad at Weezer?
STEREOGUM: You got Alicia Bognanno from Bully on the album too, right?
ORRALL: She does back-ups but you can’t really hear them very much. That was a big argument I had with the producer. You know, when you work with a producer there’s always going to be arguments and ultimately, you can either say, “All right, on this argument I’m going to defer to you because you have 11 Grammys and I don’t have shit.” But on some arguments you have to be like, “All right, this is my fucking album, so stop.” And in this case we deferred to the producer, but I wanted those vocals to be a lot louder. You can barely hear them. But we’re about to take her out on tour. We’re taking Bully out on tour for this huge West Coast and Canada tour. We’re going to try and get her to sing that song with us, maybe.
STEREOGUM: What song is she on?
ORRALL: “Mystified Mind.” It’s very in the background. There’s another local thing on there, too. On “Coat Check Girl,” Cortney Tidwell does backup vocals on the whole song. Like really high backup vocals. [laughs] But you can hear it a little better. And then you get the guitar solo from two of the dudes from Diarrhea Planet. And we got a bunch of our friends to sing gang vocals on “Karaoke, TN,” and I’m probably forgetting someone.
STEREOGUM: Have you ever had that many guests on an album?
ORRALL: Not that many, but we always have a couple. Last one we had a local singer do some sick gospel wailing vocals. And we had a guy come down from Cincinnati and play saxophone. And then Dan did some background vocals with me, and then before that we had our friend Ryan play guitar on a couple songs. There’s always something that I can’t play. [laughs] I can’t play sitar. I’ve never tried, actually. Maybe I can. Who knows? I’m going to say I can play sitar, I just haven’t learned how yet.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, that seems right. So how did you end up working on Colleen Green’s album? Did she just ask you?
ORRALL: Yeah, she emailed me and ask me if I wanted to be her Rick Rubin. [laughs] I said of course, and then she slept on my couch for three weeks.
STEREOGUM: Did she give you any artistic direction? How did she describe what she wanted it to sound like?
ORRALL: I think we kind of already knew. When she sent me the demos I gave her a bunch of comments about what I heard happening with the songs. And she was basically like, “That’s exactly what I was thinking” on pretty much everything. We had a very similar vision, I think. I know she wanted to have a lot of my sort of grungy JEFF The Brotherhood big-guitar influence, you know? Her songs are so awesome, it would be hard to fuck them up. But I think we’re both really, really happy with it.
STEREOGUM: Is there anything I didn’t ask you about the record or the record deal that you wanted to mention?
ORRALL: I just asked how the pre-sales are selling yesterday and they said they have less than a hundred left, so I want to mention that. They’ll be gone very soon. Other than that we’re about to do a fuck ton of touring. Anyone who saw us on the last couple tours with the two guitars, bass and drums thing, like this is the same deal but we’re trying to take it to the next level in terms of production and stuff. I’m really excited about it. We’re trying to make all the tickets cheap. There’s more to look at. We’re trying to make it not just being four dudes on stage, make it more like a show. You know how you go to so many shows and you’re just like, “Oh, well yeah, that was that band playing live — pretty cool.” Well, we want to make every show like, “That was one of the best fucking shows I’ve ever seen.” That’s what we’re going for.
Wasted On The Dream is out 3/24 on Infinity Cat.