Asbury Park-based alternative rock duo Brick + Mortar have been getting into some good habits as of late. The band just performed in Austin, TX at SXSW, has a tour with Morning Parade slated, as well as a stop for a Bonnaroo set along the way. In more local events, the guys will be playing New Jersey’s own Skate And Surf Festival in their hometown later this week. Amidst their tedious tour cycle, Brick + Mortar, who are currently signed to Island Def Jam Records, have a full-length debut on the label coming to listeners June 17.
Brick + Mortar have made a name for themselves in the underground local circuit with their EP Bangs, but with their rapidly expanding notoriety, have gone above and beyond expectations. The music of Brandon Asraf and John Tacon has been featured on the soundtracks of television shows as well as on MTVu countdowns. While opportunity continually knocks at Brick + Mortar’s door, vocalist Brandon Asraf took a moment to converse with me about the specifics of what exactly is going down for these Jersey natives. Here’s what he had to say:
You recently debuted a video for your track “Locked In A Cage.” Does the creative direction that you went in with the video have anything to do with the lyrical content of the song?
The video idea itself was thought up by our two good friends. It wasn’t like I ever came to them and said this is what the song is about, but ironically enough, it is kind of about that. I probably don’t believe in myself as much as I do believe in myself. I kind of have a bit of a problem with ruining my own life, I guess. Not ruining it, but sabotaging myself in a way. I feel like I maybe have some issues that are abnormal that I deal with mentally.
So, it kind of does hit home because the song is basically about being trapped in your own bullshit. It’s about physically feeling like you can’t change. Feeling like even when you did change time comes around and shows you that you’re still the same. It’s kind of about that everybody has their own brand of crazy. Everybody can show somebody else something positive about their own brand of crazy.
I don’t think human beings were meant to live in houses and take over the entire world and build cities and do all of that stuff because we’re all animals. How many people are happy every day? Not many and if they are they’re probably crazy.
We’re getting cerebral here.
Ah, yeah (laughs).
Although you have performed locally before, the Skate And Surf Festival will be a great opportunity to perform for your hometown on a larger scale. How did you guys get involved with this festival?
We ended up doing Skate And Surf because the guy running it had done a bunch of stuff concert-wise—he already had given us a couple shows in the past—so he kind of knew who we were for a while. Billy [O’Brien], who is part of our management team, is friends with him, so that’s how we got Surf And Skate because we had done a lot of local shows that did well, so he decided that he should put us on. Totally awesome, totally excited about it. It’s awesome that it is in Asbury now, because I literally can just wake up and go.
A consistent quality that I noticed throughout Bangs is that although it can be melodically erratic at times, you guys have managed to maintain a groove that remains vivid throughout. Musically, what theme were you aiming to create with this EP?
None (laughs). Absolutely none, absolutely none. We’re not even that developed as songwriters. We’re just average people who are learning to write songs and trying to write the best songs that we can and trying to make them the way that we want to hear them. In general, I love and respect music. I learned to play it and I learned to appreciate it. Growing up, I wasn’t a huge music nerd. I wasn’t, like, listening to album after album. I didn’t have big opinions on who was the best and all that.
When we started writing songs, it was all just to see if we could do it. We never really had highly respected bands that we would want to be. We were kind of like an island. We just made what we made because it felt good. Then we looked back and realized, “Oh, all of these things have a certain feel to them.” I think the reason that they sound like that is because of how we learned to write songs, which was not by sitting down and playing chord progressions, but singing the parts and then making something on the piano or bass or whatever, and then we’d put a beat on it. That was the general way that we learned how to do it in the beginning before we worked with anybody at all. I think doing it that way makes it to where the way we write stuff is always kind of focused on the groove, just because that’s how we learned how to do it.
What is great about that is the process was allowed to be fairly organic.
Yeah. Like, my friends used to make fun of me—my one friend all of the time—because I really never listened to anything. Now, I listen to all kinds of stuff, but then there was a very small group of things that I listened to. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t listen to anything, it was that as part of my day, I didn’t happen to listen to music. I would play it; I would just play it because it felt good. Now, I listen to music as someone who makes it, so it’s different.
It’s like you’re dissecting it, almost.
Yes, I’m dissecting it, almost. So, that whole period of time when I was younger where I would have just listened to music and zoned out to it, I never fucking had that. I wish that someone had told me to do that, but no one did. But, I didn’t.
Well, you have the rest of your life to make up for that.
The ironic part is like, if you never sat down and watched a bunch of movies, then started making movies, then when you watched movies again, you kind of knew how they were all made. It’s still awesome, I still love hearing it. We basically wrote songs without knowing about songwriting and now we are learning it. We are pretty practical people so we know that if we take away certain variables when we are making something, then it will force us to be weirder.
Weird is good.
Yeah, weird is good in today’s day and age (laughs).
What artists have you listened to in recent days that made you want to better yourself as a musician?
I mean, every time that I hear a really great song, it makes me want to write a really, really great song. I feel like every time Beck comes out with something new there’s always one or two really, really great songs, if not more. He’s really, really great.
I think Kendrick Lamar’s shit is great, Schoolboy Q… I just think that whoever is producing that is great. A lot of hip-hop has great song structure to it sometimes. That is because there is like, four or five producers on it. I dig that aspect too, though. I think a lot of bands maybe don’t. Like, I would love to make a super song with five people. If they were all awesome and they were all down to argue with me about it when we were making it—if it wasn’t like it has to be a pacifying environment, if we could just make whatever we want, argue, then come out with something that everybody is happy with—I would love that.
Maybe that could be a long-term goal.
Yeah, that could be a long-term goal. That would have to be one of those things where you have a dream team of everybody that you like. Like, what everybody is bringing to the table is awesome. And then I’d get to make the song really fucking G. That’s what I’d want to do if I did it. Super gangster (laughs).
Brick + Mortar will play the Skate And Surf Festival in Asbury Park on May 17, The Studio At Webster Hall in NYC on May 20, and Underground Arts in Philadelphia on May 23. For more information, go to brmr.net.