“Are you American?” Sam Endicott asked me with furrowed brows as we engaged in our obligatory pre-interview chit chat.
You can’t blame The Bravery’s charismatic frontman for trying. Perhaps he thought a compatriot would ask fewer invasive questions about his highly publicised feud with The Killers‘ Brandon Flowers.
After all, the British press has delighted in the colourful war of words between the two bands which, despite being allegedly manufactured, has nevertheless been entertaining for all involved.
Brandon accuses Sam of stealing their sound, Sam disses Brandon’s hair, and before you know it, no one can remember why they were fighting in the first place.
Fortunately, I am not American. musicOMH caught up with Sam and keyboardist John Conway to discuss their sophomore album, Chicken McNuggets, and yes, Sam Endicott and Brandon Flowers in a steel cage death match.
After their meteoric rise over two years ago, life has treated The Bravery well. The synth-rock quintet travelled for 18 months before knuckling down to record their sophomore album. The band’s latest effort, entitled The Sun and the Moon, is markedly different from their dancefloor-filling debut. Was this an attempt to escape the new wave revivalist bubble before its imminent burst?
“The first album was recorded in our apartment when we were a brand new band no one had ever heard of,” explained John. “Then we went off to play in all these different countries and grew really tight as a unit, developing a much more organic vibe in the process. So we went into the studio to reinforce this by experimenting with new sounds and textures. It’s not just guitars and synths on this new album. We used a lot of vintage equipment and ethnic instruments, and there’s also a lot more singing from everyone in the band. And there’s even waltzy stuff. Oh, and a string section too.”
Sam was quick to interject, emphasising that despite all the ambitious experimentation, the Bravery ultimately still sound like no one but themselves.
“There are obviously less synths on this album, but the dance beats are still there. I agree that the market was very saturated for a while, with many bands playing synths. I still love them and it’s not like I’m sick of them, but the reality is that you can’t stand out just because you have them. That’s why this album has a slightly more acoustic sound.”
The new album was produced by Brendan O’Brien, who has worked with everyone from Stone Temple Pilots to Bob Dylan. Was it difficult to move from their New York basement, where they assumed complete creative control, to the studios in Atlanta, where O’Brien’s creative vision had to be incorporated into the product?
“It was definitely a little tricky at first, but in the end it all worked out great,” admitted Sam. “Recording the album in Atlanta gave us a chance to experiment with all these instruments which we couldn’t get our hands on or couldn’t afford when we recorded our debut, so no complaints there.”
This more evolved sound is demonstrable by the first single, Time Won’t Let Me Go, which John describes as a more “thoughtful, retrospective and nostalgic song”. The music video features Guinness World Record Holder Brian Berg, who holds the record for the World’s Tallest House of Cards. Which band member was most likely to hold a world record, and for what?
“It’s funny you should ask that. Before we went on tour with Depeche Mode, we knew we were going to have a lot of downtime, so our bassist Mike and I decided to try to get our names in The Guinness Book of World Records,” noted John. “We got a copy, leafed through it, and found out that most things had already been done. We tried to break the ‘number of marshmallows you could catch in your mouth from across the room’ record. I mean realistically speaking, we’re not going to win longest fingernails or world’s fattest man, so maybe we’ll break the marshmallows one someday. Or we might go for the ‘drinking the most Yoo-hoos in a row’ record.”
“I once won a Chicken McNuggets eating contest, and I thought maybe I could pursue that professionally,” boasted Sam with his typical frontman flair. “It was just some local competition, but I managed to eat like 40 nuggets, which was quite intense. After that experience, Chicken McNuggets have become my addiction. It’s like they’re in my bloodstream.”
One record the guys could stake a claim to is their precocious use of the internet as a marketing tool before their peers. Aside from their MySpace page, the band’s official forums contain an interactive Q&A section, where they are deluged with prom invitations and marriage proposals.
“The internet was such a big deal for us when we started,” John acknowledged. “We put our music online, people started to downloading it, and DJs started playing it. We’re still big proponents of using the internet to communicate with our fans. We’ve been asked pretty much everything in the Q&A section, barring things like ‘Will you date my mom?’”
“So far as we know, we were the first band ever on MySpace,” boasted Sam. “I can’t prove that, but when we signed on we couldn’t find another band on it. There were no ‘Music Profiles’ when we signed on. So yeah, we were there first.”
Despite these brazen words, Sam acknowledges that as a band which still has so much to prove, touring with Depeche Mode was a humbling experience.
“We toured with them for a couple months in Eastern Europe. They’re Gods over there. We watched their shows every night and were amazed by how many of their songs we actually knew. I mean, at the time we didn’t know the names to some of these songs, but they were instantly recognisable within seconds. They’ve been consistently good for so long and built up such an amazing catalogue. It’s definitely something we’re striving for.”
Speaking of touring, London has been a second home to the guys over the last couple of years. It was in the UK where The Bravery’s debut album charted in the top 5. Two years later, London remains one of their favourite cities to perform in, despite the relatively unforgiving crowds.
“Big cities are always different,” observed Sam. “I would say that London crowds are similar to New York and LA crowds, and everywhere else is different. In big cities, there are a lot more people who are savvy, or who think they’re savvy. We’ll see tons of people taking notes, or standing with their arms folded while staring at your foot pedals and scrutinising your every move. There are fewer people who are completely wasted and just there to have a good time. Not that it’s bad or anything, just different.”
The discussion on touring reminded me of an article I had read where Sam remarked that The Bravery’s groupies were more ‘intellectual’ and ‘classy’ than the rest, despite the fact that one of them once wanted to snort cocaine off a bandmember’s shoes. What kind of crazy antics do they get up to on the road?
“We’re crazy,” joked John. “Yahtzee, Sodoku, you don’t even know what we’re going to do.”
The evasive answer inspired the hard-hitting questions. I turned to a bug-eyed Sam and asked him what the deal was with Brandon Flowers. Apparently, they’ve settled their differences and the feud is now over, so we should all just move on and listen to the music. However, I mentioned that our readers were imaginative people, and asked him to predict who would win in a hypothetical no-holds-barred steel cage match. Should I be putting my money on Brandon “The Killer” Flowers or “The Fearless” Sam Endicott?
“Uhh… I am going to plead the Fifth Amendment on that one,” uttered Sam as he turned to a member of his entourage. “Is that okay?”
“Mutual destruction!” shouted John enthusiastically.
“Actually, our drummer is really into UFC,” remarked Sam. “You know, the Ultimate Fighting Championship stuff. He is thinking about training for it during our next tour.”
More diversionary tactics. I turned to Sam once again and commented that since The Killers drew first blood, it was only fair for The Bravery to be given an opportunity to shake things up. Was there anyone they would like to start a feud with?
“How funny would it be if we said ‘Yeah, we hate this band and they suck,’” noted Sam. “But I think I’m going to stay out of it and pick two other bands who I might want to see feud. I don’t know, maybe two girl bands. Like The Supremes versus Spice Girls. Girl bands wrestling in hot oil or something…”
The guys have high hopes for their new album and do not fear a sophomore slump. Sam remarked on the clich that a musician had their whole life to write the first album and six months to write the second. Having taken all the time they needed to record this album, the band has a newfound sense of perspective. Feud or no feud, The Bravery are more determined than ever to not just replicate the success of their acclaimed debut, but to rise above it, spreading tact and diplomacy along the way.