Brendan Brown, American vocalist and guitarist with rock band Wheatus, chats with Kevin Cooper about their new single Tipsy, their seventh studio album, his musical inspirations and his current tour of the UK.

Brendan Brown is an American vocalist and guitarist with the rock band Wheatus. He is the only remaining founding member of the group which he formed in 1995 with his brother Peter Brown.

While in Wheatus, Brown had two hits which included 2000 single Teenage Dirtbag, which appeared in the film, Loser, and a cover of Erasure’s A Little Respect. Having toured with Busted in 2016 on their Pigs Can Fly Tour, he followed on with a 48 date European with Wheatus. He is currently working on Wheatus’ seventh album.

Whilst on tour of the UK he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Brendan how are you today?

I’m very well thanks Kevin how are you doing?

Life is all good at the moment and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No problem man, thanks for your interest in what we are up to.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life is good (laughter) I am in the back of a cab driving through Liverpool at the moment which is one of my favourite cities here in the UK. We are heading over to an industrial estate where the tour bus is parked up. So that is what we are doing this morning, we are just getting ready to go.

You formed Wheatus back in 1995 and you are now the only original member. How does that make you feel?

To be honest with you it really doesn’t feel all that different today as it did back in 1995. In my eyes I was only ever the original member. The first album Wheatus, I wrote and recorded all the parts for it with a drum machine and a bass guitar on a four track tape recorder in my living room at my apartment in Queens, New York from 1995 to the end of 1996. After that I started playing shows with some of the people who I had worked with in other bands but even back then there was some coming and going with the members of the band; sometimes getting it right, sometimes getting it wrong. Then my brother Peter (McCarrick Brown) wound up being the only guy who hung around for the first three albums.

But then he got married, had kids in New Jersey and all that kind of stuff so he left the professional musician life. So as you can see it really isn’t such a big difference for me; for me Wheatus has always been a bit of a solitary adventure but not when we are out on the road. Matthew Milligan, our bass player has been with me now for around twelve years so we now have the longest serving line-up of the band at the moment. It’s just the way that the thing goes really, I have good relationships with the people who left the band all but one and that is saying a lot because there are at least twenty-four ex members of Wheatus (laughter). It’s a revolving door, as I have called it in the past.

Back in 1995 could you ever envisage that you would still be writing and recording as Wheatus some twenty-two years later?

That I wasn’t sure about (laughter). I knew that I wanted to do it myself but I didn’t know if the name Wheatus would be viable or not some twenty-two years later. Having said that, we are heading off to Australia later this year; we have already played three months on the road in the States, and we are about to play a couple of months here in the UK and over in Europe, so I think that this year will see our highest number of shows since way back in 2003. It’s crazy.

How are things going with the new studio album?

Things are going very well although we keep having to pause it because of all of these live runs. We have about five songs that have their basic tracks finished just waiting for me to lay the vocals on them. We have managed to put out a single from the album called Tipsy which can be found on Spotify, iTunes music and what not (laughter). We spent most of the summer last year recording most of these tracks and we really did find it challenging and quite heavy. To be honest it has been laborious to get that right. We are not using many of the new school tricks that are available; we are recording the album naturally without the use of auto tune or anything like that. We are actually recording the album in an analogue state and I am pleased to say that it is going well.

Do you have a release date for the album in mind?

Yes I do. I hope to have the album finished by Christmas this year but to be honest I am not sure that I will be able to achieve that, but that’s the goal.

Will you be releasing the album on vinyl?

Yes of course, there is always vinyl.

That’s good to hear. Will you also be following the current trend and put the album out on cassette?

(Hysterical laughter) most people can’t even get their hands on a working cassette player, they really are hard to find (laughter). All of those old 80s units broke down.

As did the tapes when you took them from the car to the house (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s right you found yourself being followed by thirty feet of cassette tape.

I recently asked the guys from Feeder if their latest album, which they have released on cassette tape, came with a pencil.

(Hysterical laughter) you see, I know what that means (laughter). There were tapes that I had where you could tell if it was wound properly to your favourite song by how much tape was on one side versus how much was on the other (laughter).

I have to ask you, Teenage Dirtbag, do you think that there is anybody left in the world who doesn’t know the song?

Oh I don’t know. I certainly hope that there is someone on a mountain in Tennessee who hasn’t heard it yet (laughter). But you would certainly think so looking at who has just become the American President (laughter). I really do hope that the song is not becoming stuck in its generation. I hope that it survives through to be relatable to others. I think that it has, at least I like to think it has. I don’t have much of a soft spot for nostalgia myself but I do hope that if the song is going to be rehashed for everybody I hope that they get it the way that they need to and not because an older version is being forced upon them.

Having said that when you wrote and recorded the song did you feel that you had something special?

What I will say is that I knew that it was a strong narrative and I knew that it was a good hook. But when you say that something is special, it must have been because here we are talking about the song today as it approaches its twentieth anniversary. I had no idea that would happen. From my experiences in the music industry I knew that it took a lot more than luck to get to this point where we are having this kind of conversation. So I knew that it was a strong one but I didn’t take anything for granted.

Last year you supported Busted on their Pigs Can Fly reunion tour. How was that?

Oh man, that was a dream come true. James (Elliot Bourne) and I have been talking about doing that tour since we first met back in 2005. It has been a long, long conversation that finally came to be real. We were treated very well by the band and their crew and that is something that you never get used to. It was really nice to be out on the road with friends doing something on that scale.

On the subject of tours you are about to undertake a massive tour of the UK. Is it still thirty two shows in thirty nine days?

Yes we are and yes that’s us (laughter). We will play anywhere; we just love doing that. I love to have the reputation of being the band that goes to every little nook and cranny everywhere we can. We keep finding ourselves in these little places and that is important to me. I adopted that approach to touring after I saw an interview with Malcolm Young from AC/DC. Malcolm said that he had got nothing to worry about as he would always have clubs to play. I feel like that as well. Let’s just keep going; give me another gig (laughter).

Does touring still excite you?

For me touring is the best thing in the world. Touring is everything that I prepare for during the year. I absolutely love being out there on the road. I build all of our rigging myself making sure that everything is lashed down with Velcro, properly padded and is going to work and last for the next twenty years (laughter). Those are the things that I think about all of the time.

You will be here in Nottingham at Rock City on Sunday 21st May, what can we expect?

We will be playing two of the new songs off the forthcoming studio album plus we have added an acoustic set which sort of acts as an intermission. In all honesty the show is pretty long, we play for nearly two hours these days and it’s nonstop, it gets pretty sweaty, up-tempo and fun. The other thing that we enjoy doing is dismantling figuratively the barrier between the audience and ourselves. We have this idea about the crowd always picking the set list that they want so we stick to that stubbornly. It always seems to work out and is a good set list for us to play live.

After a hectic tour schedule just how does Brendan Brown wind down?

You will find this funny but the time and place where I relax the most is when I am on the tour bus. When I find myself at home with no tour to look forward to I get quite anti. If I am recording then I will get into that but if there is nothing to do I really can’t stand it. Its makes me pretty jittery. Relaxation for me on the bus is all about me watching this one particular movie. I don’t know why I find it so soothing but it’s the Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. That movie always seems to be on the movie hard drive in the lounge of all of the English tour buses (laughter). Matthew (Milligan) our bass player is merciless, he makes fun of me about it all the time. But I have watched that film now about thirty times (laughter).

Are you continually writing or do you take a break from it?

I’m pretty much writing all the time, although it goes in phases. I tend to do most of my writing in the winter when the snow is piled up in New York and everyone is stuck in at home. That is when I try to do most of my writing. For me it is always a kind of discovery process and it is a good way for me to do it because I know that I won’t be disturbed. The mail man is not going to come knocking.

Who has musically inspired you?

Oh man first and foremost it is always going to be AC/DC followed shortly after by Rush. For the long term I think that Rush has proven to be a bigger influence on our live touring. They know just how to get it right. In addition to that there are a whole host of songwriters that I am heavily influenced by, artists such as Willie Nelson always do it for me. Lately, I guess if there is anyone who has been inspiring me then the new Band Of Horses record is pretty great. There are a couple of songs on there that I keep listening to. Richard Ashcroft has always been a big inspiration to me also. His solo albums are the best of English music in my opinion. I could sit here all day and bore you senseless with all of the people who have inspired me and I’m pretty sure that you don’t want me to do that (laughter).

If I had to put you on the spot what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

(Laughter) oh man, it simply has to have been playing Teenage Dirtbag at Wembley with Busted and then again at the O2 on the same tour. We had another great show in Glasgow but at those two shows in London the crowd took over the song and there are twenty thousand people in there who all want the song so bad that they literally take it away from you. You are left feeling that wonderful powerful feeling of the benign dictatorship of the crowd and that is pretty special (laughter). Other than that we have had some moments along the way, one being the time that we opened up for the late James Brown in Belgium. We only played at CBGB once but it was pretty special as we were the direct support for Joey Ramone and Ronnie Spector. So as you can see over the years we have had some classic encounters.

Are there any musical ambitions left for you to achieve?

Yes there are, in fact there are a few but the main thing at the moment is the challenge that you want to make a better record and then be better at playing it live. The new record feels to me like the first time that we have every arrived anywhere. Everything else has always felt like it has been a prototypical process trying to figure something out that is new. And now we are finally at a point where we know all of that stuff and we are employing it. So things are now starting to come together in a more confident way. The risks that we are taking are bigger but we are meeting them head on with the new album. It’s a nice feeling to finally be in a place where you are beginning to learn how to use your craft. Don’t get me wrong there are still plenty of mistakes and they are all part of the journey as well (laughter). Ambition wise, I just feel that I want to make a better record and be a better band whenever we are playing it.

Testing your memory what was the first record that you bought?

(Laughter) I didn’t buy it I actually won it in a Candy Drive back in the spring of 1984. I won two albums, one was Synchronicity by The Police and the other was Thriller by Michael Jackson.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

Oh boy, that was when I was seven years old and I saw Sha Na Na performing live at The Radio City Music Hall. However, the first band that I saw live without my parents was AC/DC at Madison Square Garden and I was thirteen years old. It was on their Blow Up Your Video tour in December 1987.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh man, I cry all the time whenever I am watching a movie or listening to songs (laughter). I was recently watching Iron Maiden’s Flight 666 documentary and there was a kid in the audience holding a drumstick from a show that they had played in Brazil. There was this kid who had caught a drumstick and I just lost it, I absolutely lost it.

On that note Brendan let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You take care and I hope to see you here in Nottingham.

No worries Kevin thanks for your time and thanks for paying attention to us, I really do appreciate that. Bye for now.