I'm going to make a quick hypothesis here," says Jeff Wiant. "One of us is going to die on stage tonight. This is not a large stage."
Or a stage at all, really. It's just after 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday at Surfside 7 in Fort Collins, and the Brotherhood of Dae Han is the last band of the evening. Wiant, the frontman, and his bandmates are crammed into a corner just to the right of the front door, standing shoulder to shoulder before several dozen enthusiastic, underage hometown fans. While many acts might feel constrained in such a confined space, this emerging metal-core outfit rocks out with complete and total abandon.
But then, having lived together for more than three years in a house meant for three people, these five guys -- Wiant, guitarists/vocalists Joey Barba and Justin Greenhouse, bassist Chris Reeves and drummer Brett Mays -- are used to functioning in cramped quarters. When they first moved in, the idea was to pool their resources so that they could lighten each other's load and focus their energies on songwriting.
The Brotherhood of Dae Han
CD-release show, with Letters From the Front and In Case You're Curious, 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 27, Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street, $8, all ages, 1-866-468-7621.
"We thought that if we got jobs, that we would be loaded and we could do whatever we wanted," Wiant confesses. "Meanwhile, we all have jobs and we're broke; we have a song about how broke we are. So that didn't really work out, but it kind of put a new seriousness on the band, kind of took us to the next level in our heads, as far as making us realize this is truly what we want to do with our lives."
Not that Barba and Mays needed any added encouragement. Childhood friends from Virginia, the two had long before discovered their life's mission. "My sister used to show me Guns N' Roses tapes and Metallica tapes, and I would just listen to that stuff," Barba recounts. "And one day, I came up to Brett and this other kid, and I was just like, 'Dude, let's start a band.' Literally, I was like, 'Brett, you'll play drums; I'll play guitar, and let's just start a band.' And we did. I went out and bought a shitty fifteen-watt Crate amp and a Series 10 guitar."
Barba and Mays played together all through middle school and high school. And as the two musicians progressed, they developed an undeniable fraternal bond. "We've always clicked really easily together, writing and playing," Mays points out. "We didn't even need words. He would want something from me, or I would want something from him, and we wouldn't even have to talk about it."
Those telepathic abilities were put on hold for a few years while Barba and Mays attended college in South Florida -- the former at Lynn University, the latter at the University of Miami -- and then Barba left school for Colorado, where he befriended Wiant and Reeves and eventually became the second guitarist in their band, 12 a.m. Mays, meanwhile, stayed behind and finished his degree. After college, he went to Los Angeles to do an internship at Universal, a position he soon opted out of in favor of returning to Virginia to rekindle a long-term relationship. On his way back to the East Coast, he stopped briefly in Fort Collins to visit Barba.
Meanwhile, Barba and Wiant had become friends with Greenhouse, whom they'd met through a low-budget horror movie he'd helped write. The two had responded to a casting call and wound up landing roles in the film. "I remember it so well," says Wiant. "The movie was about a boy band that gets stranded in the woods -- I know, really creative idea, right? I remember hearing the music for it. Me and Joe looked at each other and were like, 'We can totally write better stuff than this.'"
Ironically, Greenhouse had also written the music for the soundtrack. Nonetheless, once they discovered he was a Coheed and Cambria fan, Barba and Wiant began jamming with him. It immediately became clear that Greenhouse and Barba had really great chemistry. The timing couldn't have been better.
When Mays arrived, the five musicians hastily demoed the first batch of songs that Barba and Greenhouse had written. Those recordings led to long-distance collaborations on four more tunes once Mays got back home.
"Me and Justin would cut scratch tracks and e-mail them to Brett," Barba recounts. "The songs weren't super-complex, but they were definitely technical. I remember being on the phone with him for hours, being like, 'No. No. That part's like, dun-duh-bap-bap-bap-dun, duh-do-bap-bap-bap,' working out these drumbeats over the phone."
"I'd write 'em with my mouth," Mays adds. "And he'd be like, 'That's going to work.'"
Mays would then head over to Barba's cousin's makeshift home studio in Virginia to record the drum parts over the existing scratch guitar tracks, then e-mail the results to Fort Collins. The new songs were good enough to push Wiant, Reeves and Barba to start planning 12 a.m.'s ultimate demise.
"It's not that the songs we wrote were that amazing," Wiant insists now. "We just kind of saw where it could go. We felt like we could do so much more with a new band."
Once 12 a.m. was toe-tagged, Greenhouse signed on for the new project, and Barba and Wiant started lobbying Mays to move to Fort Collins to keep time for the Greenhouse Effect, as their new group was then known. Although they'd auditioned several other drummers, they kept coming back to Mays. Eventually, the two wore him down, and by January 2006, the band had a new drummer and a new moniker, which was inspired by an especially saccharine scene from a 1989 flick staring Eric Roberts and James Earl Jones titled the Best of the Best.
"We own a bunch of martial-arts movies," Greenhouse explains. "We love watching them. That's what we used to do, like old Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. We own something like 22 of them, and we own all four of the Best of the Best. So one day I pitched the idea of calling our band 'Dae Han.' I was like, 'You know what, man, we're all here living together in the same house, which kind of represents brotherhood. And Dae Han, in the movie, completely represents brotherhood. We'll be like the Brotherhood of Dae Han.'"
A month later, the Brotherhood of Dae Han debuted in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Three weeks after that, it played in front of a capacity crowd at the Starlight in Fort Collins. And last May, the quintet began work on a full-length album at its home studio. But in July, when it came time to finalize the recordings, the musicians suffered a major setback. An unexpected power surge occurred at the Blasting Room, where they were set to mix and master, causing them to lose nearly all of the sessions.
The loss was particularly ill-timed and profound: The band had just been granted a slot on the Ernie Ball Stage at the Denver stop of the Vans Warped Tour and was counting on having the disc done in time to offer it to prospective fans. With little recourse, the Brotherhood rushed to record another song, "We Don't Go to Anything," which it pressed alongside "Bury Me," the only cut it was able to salvage from the summer session. The act recorded two more songs in August before finally holing up in the studio from December through February to finish work on For the Glory of Olde Virginia, its outstanding debut.
"It sounds killer for a free recording," Barba asserts. "We owe a lot of that to Jason Livermore at the Blasting Room."
Perhaps. But the act, led by Greenhouse, who handled the bulk of the engineering, must have presented Livermore with some pretty immaculate recordings -- because as proficient as Livermore might be, you can't make chicken soup from chicken poop. And he was working with some stellar songs from the start: With a prog-heavy, melodic sound that owes as much to metal-core as it does to hardcore, the Brotherhood of Dae Han plays progressive music that manages to be both interesting and surprisingly accessible.
"I really don't like to call us math rock," says Barba, "but a lot of stuff involves counting. We just write technical parts, parts that we like as musicians. But it's always tasteful."
The act not only plays with surgical precision, but exercises moderation to a pleasing degree. The twin guitar attack throughout Virginia, on songs like "Bury Me," "We Don't Go to Anything" and "Don't Worry, They're Only Dead," is shred-o-riffic without being ostentatious. And the ratio of mellifluous three-part harmonies to tonsil-scalding, vein-popping screams is perfectly calibrated to augment Wiant's burnished tenor and vibrant melodies.
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With such high-caliber musicianship and material, the Brotherhood of Dae Han is among the most exciting new acts to emerge this year, one that seems poised for greatness.
"When Brett and I were in seventh grade we recorded a demo on a boombox," Barba confesses, "and we're like, 'Dude, this is it. We're on our way.' We shook hands and he packed up his drum set. We were so happy about that back then. We have so many more reasons to be happy about that now. We're not only writing better music, we're getting to play it for people who want to hear it. It's amazing.
"Like tonight," he continues. "It was a small show, but to have that many kids actually like you that much is really cool. I feel so blessed. I mean, I want more, but I couldn't ask for anything more."