The Blood Brothers: An Interview with Jordan Blilie

The Blood Brothers were one of those bands I had heard about from Dov at Wax Trax when looking for something more exciting as I was inundated at the time with too much mid-nineties ‘punk’ rock. I first listened to This Adultery Is Ripe and to be honest I didn’t get it at the time. Then March On Electric Children enticed me but I was into Botch and At the Drive In and completely obsessed with Dillinger Escape Plan’s Under the Running Board and Isis’ Celestial. However, The Blood Brothers released …Burn, Piano Island, Burn and it blew my fucking mind. This was about the same time I had started to really delve into the bands coming out of the Pacific Northwest but more importantly I was in the process of trying to find a sound that was unexpected, dangerous and not quite as literal in content as the most of the punk rock I had been listening to in 2003. BB’s whole aesthetic was fascinating. They chopped up their beats, screamed and caterwauled and riffed the shit out of about every band with ...Burn, Piano Island, Burn, their major label debut. Since then they have gone on to do a number of amazing things with a ton of amazing ‘art punk’ royalty in projects such as Neon Blond, Head Wound City, and Jaguar Love. Just wiki them and you’ll see how many little connections there are between the members and a dozen other amazing bands from the Pac West area. Here is an interview I did with Jordan while they were recording my favorite record of theirs, Crimes. This band is built to last. I hope they continue to make music on their own terms. I’ll keep buying it! – I lifted the photo below from Brooklyn Vegan.

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Formed in Seattle in the summer of ’97 by several close friends, The Blood Brothers were and have always been driven to push the boundaries of music. Their first record, released in 2000, was a shining introduction for a band that had no idea what genre boundaries were and crossed every single one without looking back. Wielding insane time signatures, jazz-like chord progressions and intense dual vocals (Jordan Blilie and Johnny Whitney), The Blood Brothers slowly began building up their sizable fan base the old-fashioned way-by going out and touring constantly.

Guitarist Cody Votolato got his start in indie powerhouse band Waxwing, while bassist Morgan Henderson honed his chops in the hard-core band Nineironspitfire. Jordan Blilie, vocalist for the band, began by playing clarinet in elementary and junior high school, and his mother is even a music teacher for K-12. Jordan says that school music “taught me real basics, like time signatures, notes and how to listen.”

Currently Jordan and crew are recording a new record in the Pacific Northwest in the ‘middle of nowhere’ with help from producer, John Goodmanson. It will be quite a change from their last record, Burn Piano Island, Burn, according to Jordan. Produced by Ross Robinson, Burn Piano Island, Burn, is a blistering example of what happens when rock goes math and gets produced by an industry eccentric. Their hot single, “Ambulance Vs. Ambulance,” is probably their most catchy tune on the record-blazing guitars, melodic screaming vocals and a disgustingly amazing beat make the song stand out as the most mainstream-friendly.

Jordan says, “The last record, I think we placed too great of an emphasis on the technical playing, almost thinking it out to a redundant point. We’d get bogged down with where to go with these extremely mathematical parts, and it didn’t translate well live-half the songs had too much going on. We couldn’t play them without having to concentrate heavily.

“On this next record, we all made a very conscious group decision to scale things down. We wanted it to be about playing and having a fun time, not thinking too much. This time around, the writing process took a lot looser of an approach. Sometimes we’d write two songs a day. In fact, we wrote double the amount of songs in a less amount of time. Working in the confines of hardcore and metal, our sound wasn’t coming though at all. With the new record it’s going to be different mostly because those genres don’t particularly interest us anymore. We’ve freed ourselves, and we’re a lot happier with the recording as well. It’s much looser and spontaneous. There’s a lot less editing of drum tracks. We didn’t scrutinize things for hours and scaled everything down.”

Adding, “It was great for the time. It’s now almost two years ago. Our tastes have changed. It was awesome, aggressive, and the sounds are amazing. It’s very chaotic, very all over the place, but some stuff on there we don’t want to repeat. We’re taking a less aggressive approach, trying to stay more rhythmically oriented; we want to be able to play without having to stand motionless. Not to slight what we did before, but we’ve just grown I guess.”

Dedication, foresight and perseverance are qualities that make The Blood Brothers such an amazing band. To be able to look back at a record and scrutinize something that was lauded by many as a breakthrough, critically acclaimed and nominated for dozens of year’s best lists, shows a depth of maturity and fluidity that translates well into everything The Blood Brothers do.

When it comes to longevity and creating music, Jordan says, “We’ve built our lives around it; we write and play together. When we’re not on tour we’re at home writing, and we don’t take that much time off from each other. It’s our entire lives, if we’re not doing that were listening to music. It’s a dominating force.”

In 2007, Johnny Whitney and Cody Votolato joined with Jay Clark (formerly of Pretty Girls Make Graves) to start Jaguar Love. To date, the band has only released a few tracks for streaming on their MySpace page. The tracks can also be purchased at the Crystal City Clothing website.

Minus the Bear

Another vault feature from 2004. This was before MTB became the underdog darlings they are today. I had been a huge fan of Botch and Sharks Keep Moving and when I first heard Highly Refined Pirates I was impressed. I remember Paul at Double Entendre in Denver not being too stoked with their blatant lyrical male chauvinism but being a fan of Bukowski I thought it was clever and mostly character driven. You should do yourself a favor and go and pick up Planet of Ice. It rules.

Minus the Bear hails from Seattle, WA, a place well known for its slew of innovative bands.  Not the kind of bands every grandmother and flannel shirt purchaser of the early nineties knows about though.  Bands of the North West coast like Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, Murder City Devils, Undertow (RIP), Pretty Girls Make Graves, Integrity (RIP) and many more notable bands that have scarred the underground, ripping open new wounds to let in the knife of creativity that so often stagnates in the emergency room hipness of New York City and Los Angeles.

Minus the Bear, a veritable host of past indie rock members from bands that had great influence like Sharks Keep Moving (Jake-Vocals, Guitar) and Botch (Dave-Guitar) and Kill Sadie (Erin-drums, Cory-bass).  Dave was a trombone player in the 6th grade and Jake was an avid fan of music from an early age, his influences were from his older brothers friends.

“I took lessons for about three months or so, but that was about it.  I never really learned how to sight read or anything.”  Dave says on his early years as a guitarist, prior to playing guitar in Botch when I caught up with the band at local San Diego live music hot spot, The Casbah.

Jake had a similar upbringing in the guitar world, “I started playing when I was about 12.  The lessons I took, I would just bring in some Metallica songs and the Teacher would just show me how to play the songs.”

Minus the Bear was started as a side project of all the members and initially was just an outlet and break from the other bands they were in though eventually it culminated in a fulltime band as the other bands dissolved.

Minus the Bear’s music is what the logical progression of musicians from former bands should be, progressive.  In that it’s not just a new name with the same sound, or some alliance of musicians that just want to redo what they had done in their former bands.  Relive their glory days so-to-speak. According to Dave, “it’s a different kind of energy (from Botch). You can still get the same kind of intensity out of it whether its playing and going ape sh*t like in Botch or if its playing in Minus the Bear where its more feeling.”

Don’t count Minus the Bear out from the 9-5 world.  While the young insta-punk bands get signed with major label contracts, cash advances and paid tours and merch, Minus the Bear continues to “keep it real” although, admittedly, they would like to see that aspect change.

“We’re trying to (transition) make this (band) a full time gig, but the level we are at isn’t such that, we can make it as a full time band,” says Dave.

As far as major label signing goes, Jake speculates, “Any deal with any label regardless if it’s an Indie or a Major, it just depends on the deal.  If the deal is good and the contract is good than we would consider that.  If we like the bands and music the label puts out then we would definitely consider it.”

Minus the Bear rock the Casbah in San Diego and continue on their West Coast Tour then finish and move on to play five dates in Japan.  Dave is one of the most amazing guitarists to see live and without the light show from the Botch days hindering the performance viewing, it’s worth a look.

Check them out at http://www.minusthebear.com