I first heard the Brothers Steve on Big Stir Singles: The Third Wave, and liked their contributions "Angeline" and "Carolanne" a lot.
Then I heard their debut LP, #1, and found out that some of them had been a band called Tsar. I had heard one of Tsar's songs on the radio, “Kathy Fong Is The Bomb,” about a woman who starts teenage riots. It was a lot of fun to hear, as is the album.
The Brothers Steve are equally fun. Fans of Cheap Trick would like them, too.
Vocalist/guitarist Jeff Whalen and vocalist Os Tyler were kind enough to answer my questions.
Andrea Weiss: How did the band form?
Jeff Whalen: We all went to UC Santa Barbara together, and back then, you’d just form a band in the afternoon and then play a backyard party that night. That’s just how it was done. We’d been in any number of groups formed this way, made up of any number of combinations of our members. And by “members,” I mean us as people.
And we’ve kind of been playing together ever since. After college, me and Jeff Solomon and Coulter were in Tsar together; Dylan Champion is a close co-voyager of life and musical collaborator of mine; and Os and I have been writing songs together pretty much this whole time. So when we got asked to play a party, we fairly jumped at the chance, and then we had such a good time rehearsing and playing, we decided to record an album.
AW: What are your influences?
JW: I dunno! I’d say Monkees, Wings, Guided By Voices, Nilsson, MC5, a little Blue Oyster Cult, maybe?
Os Tyler: And not enough can be said about TV advertisement jingles, especially ads that were meant to play between Saturday morning cartoons. And Saturday morning cartoons! Pop culture in general. There’s a lot of crossover between visual input and musical output, if you ask me. The spinning and winning, the ducking and diving, the whole cultural cacophony swirls around and contributes to any artist endeavor--if music is that, and perhaps it is. A great deal of influence is what gets sent your way throughout the day: thunderous bass trap music coming from the car next to you, the soundtrack playing at the supermarket while you’re shopping, listening to Tears for Fears for the two hundredth time while you’re searching the shelves for crackers. I primarily listen to Classical music whenever I have the opportunity to pick the music I’m listening to, specifically because it doesn’t feel like an influence. It doesn’t compete with the songs in my head.
Oh, and lately I’ve been thinking about the Traveling Wilburys a bit.
AW: I’ve heard Tsar. Good band. How do you feel The Brothers Steve differs from them?
JW: Thank you! I’d say they share some significant turf, but that the Brothers Steve has more of a 60s thing? Meets a 90s thing? Tsar has more of a neon city racetrack kind of vibe, more of an ELO meets Generation X meets T. Rex type situation.
AW: A lot of your songs seem to be anthems. Did the songs just lend themselves to that?
JW: Sure! None of that is particularly intentional.
AW: Even the sad songs sound happy, which I like. Do you prefer one to the other?
OT: The Brothers Steve has a thread of vocal harmony running throughout, and I may be wrong, but I like to think that the human vocal melodies intertwining in harmony is something that adds to the sad songs sounding somewhat happy. I prefer happy songs, but there’s a tendency to write slower, sadder songs if I write alone. One of the benefits of writing songs together is they automatically tend to be more upbeat.
JW: I think I prefer happy songs overall, but rock and roll also needs that option of being devastating, or soul-baring, or soul-asundering, or whatever, if it needs to be. I don’t think it needs to be that way all the time, but it has to have that potentiality a-lurkin’.
AW: Guitar pop has changed so much since Tsar. Do you think the changes have been good or bad?
JW: Well, there’s lots of ways to look at it, but I’m gonna say that I think overall it’s better? I’m hopeful, anyway! I feel like anything could happen.
AW: Do you see yourselves as carrying guitar pop forward?
JW: Sure. Or backward. Or just ever-so-slightly to one side. I want to see what this band can do. I admire these guys so much and enjoy making music with them so much that I’m not really sure what the limit would be if we took the Brothers Steve out of its box and really let it bounce around the room.
OT: The evolution of music is such a beautifully cyclical thing. All these patterns weaving in and out, intertwining with technological momentum. There are plenty of tracks you hear every day that don’t have a single stringed instrument on them. But it ebbs and flows. And yeah, we’re waving the banner of guitar pop.
AW: What advice would you give a musician just starting out?
OT: Here’s some advice I’m giving myself: Do what you love. Every day. You could try to work real hard and get rich so you have enough time to make music and have fun, but time moves fast like a dream you can’t quite remember. Every minute you’re streaming something or thumbing through social media is a minute that you aren’t really enjoying. Don’t give that time away and don’t let them steal it from you.
JW: Rehearse. Try hard and have a good time. Do things that make you happy you did them. Your work is the only thing you have in life--the only thing you can rely on, the only thing that will last forever--so focus on the work. You want to be able to look back and say “Fuck yeah, brah.”