Denver via Austin: The new-look Brothers O'Hair revive old music styles
I felt like I was joining Guns N' Roses and Axl kept trying to teach me 'Sweet Child of Mine,'" says Brothers O' Hair bassist Joe Mills, recalling the early days of his band. "I was like, 'Come on, man, it's Chinese Democracy time!'"
Although the group, fleshed out by drummer Jon Aisner, guitarist Andy Burrow and singer/guitarist/founding member Adam Anglin, share very little else in common with the jungle-welcoming Angelenos, Anglin, like Mr. Rose, found himself trying to re-form a project and a concept that he had started years before in another state.
The process of recruiting new members for his vision and then re-teaching old songs proved arduous for Anglin and the rest of his band, but the effort finally come to fruition with the completion of the outfit's first EP — and the continuation of a family tradition started long before Anglin was even born.
After wrapping his studies at Northwest Arkansas Community College, Anglin moved to Austin to play music. The frontman, who had been writing music for years, had never really been in a band before, but knew, stylistically, the type of music he was capable of creating. Conceptually, Anglin borrowed a tradition that had been in his family for years.
O'Hair is my mother's maiden name," he explains. "My grandpa's family clan was the Brothers O'Hair; it started with my great grandfather, Mickey. I wanted to present a revival of a certain time and pay tribute to my family."
Because of his family's pedigree, Anglin knew he wanted to start a group whose sound and image paid homage to his cherished ancestors, and he figured Austin was would be a good place for the band to flourish. Thanks to programs like the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and an overwhelming sense of support from fellow musicians, Anglin found it an ideal place to start his concept, and he quickly recruited musicians to play and record some of the songs he had written. In the process, he became infatuated with all that the city had to offer.
"I think Austin has created a community for musicians," he points out. "They have health care, and they're valued as a part of the community and economy. You had the mayor telling people to go to one show a month to help boost the economy."
Despite his love for the city and the acceptance he felt, Anglin only spent about four months playing music there before he made the decision to relocate to Denver in the summer of 2008, largely because his now-wife decided to attend grad school in Colorado. So in spite of the fact that he was finally putting together the project he'd been striving for, Anglin found himself picking up stakes and setting up shop in a new city, where he initially placed Brothers O' Hair on the back burner.
He wasn't as taken with Denver as he had been with Austin. "I think the biggest difference I found between the two is the community element in Austin," he notes. "In Austin, it didn't matter how tight we were or how good we were: We were just fish in the sea. Here, I think people look after their own band a lot more, which is sad, because no one is really going anywhere. I wish people would enjoy it more."
Eventually, as he became more comfortable with the city and decided Denver was as good a place as any to start the band again, he placed ads on Craigslist, offering up the demos he had recorded in Austin as incentive for people to get ahold of him. Burrow, Mills and Aisner, who had each moved to Denver from different cities with hopes of playing music, all responded to the ad because of a love for Brothers O' Hair's music. Each member has his own idea as to why Anglin chose them.
"Adam called me back out of desperation," Borrow jokes.
"It wasn't out of desperation at all," Anglin interjects. "Most people I tried out sucked, and I don't think we thought each other sucked."
The new-look Brothers O' Hair was ready and willing to learn the songs that Anglin had written, but finding a place to learn them wasn't always easy. Taking advantage of Aisner's being a student in the music program at the University of Denver, the group used to sneak into the music building late at night so they could practice, hauling all of their amps, drums and even a PA into the building after hours and then unloading after they were done so no one would know they had been there.
It was during these late-night sessions that the group woodshedded the old Brothers O'Hair songs. Slowly but surely, the members started writing new songs of their own, taking Anglin's original concept of the band and adding their own unique flavor of musicianship.
"It was huge for us to get away from those old tunes and start writing new music that we all helped bring to the table," Aisner recalls. "There was a feeling that the Austin songs we were playing really weren't our own. Everybody felt like they were playing in a cover band. There was something stale about the practices. It wasn't until we started playing new stuff that everything came together."
Aisner, armed with a jazz-drumming background, brought intuitiveness and timing, while Burrow's time playing math metal brought a darker and edgier tone to the music that wasn't there before. For his part, Mills, a guitarist-turned-bass player, claims to bring "height and sex appeal."
All of these new attributes — perhaps with the exception of Mills's contributions — can be heard on the Brothers' latest self-titled EP. Staying true to the group's thematic appeal, the five songs, steeped with a foreboding undertone and historical familiarity, tell the story of an unnamed protagonist leaving his former life, friends and family behind to start a new life.
"He leaves to shovel poop at a circus and work his way up to the point of walking on a high wire," Aisner explains.
The opening track, "Tonight," sets the tone for the adventure, as a driving beat and Anglin's wiry and desperate tone pushes the protagonist all the way to the closing track. "All Eyes" concludes with our unnamed hero finally setting foot on the elusive tightrope.
For four guys hailing from different parts of the country, the concept could serve as a microcosm; the completion of the group could be their metaphorical tightrope. Although the band agrees with this notion on some level, Burrow, who moved to Denver from Kansas, sees it as something more universal.
"I would hope," he declares, "that everyone has something that drives them to question everything else."
With an EP and a band that no longer just belongs to one man, the other three members of the Brothers O'Hair still attempt to pay homage to Anglin's ancestors every night on stage. They do this by adhering to a style of dress that the clan would have been proud to wear. "However accurate or inaccurate it is," says Anglin of his decision to dress the band in slacks, white T-shirts and suspenders when they play live — peasant chic, he calls it — "there is definitely a historic throwback that I'm trying to keep intact. For me, it's a revival of a certain time and a tribute to my family."
"I was viciously opposed to it at first," remembers Burrow. "In the past, the only question I had was, 'Which black T-shirt am I going to wear tonight?'" He eventually came around: "I justified it as we're putting on a show to support what we're creating; we're not creating something to support our show."
For Anglin, the concept of Brothers O' Hair is just as important as the music he creates. And he hopes to continue, no matter how many times it's re-created.
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