When I found out I was going to talk to Brandon Asraf, bassist and vocalist for Jersey-based duo Brick + Mortar, I turned to the all-knowing Internet to do some pre-interview research. Some of the things I discovered? We have one mutual friend on Facebook, he’s done a few interviews for The Aquarian in the past and his father is a blood diamond smuggler.
I was faced with a dilemma—after all, what didn’t Google already know about this guy? What didn’t The Aquarian already know about this band?
But throughout the course of our conversation, Asraf shared plenty of new information with me regarding his favorite films, the craziest Snapchats he and drummer/sampler John Tacon—Brick + Mortar’s other half—have ever received and the low-down on the cover art for the band’s latest album, Dropped.
Hi! How are you?
Tired as f**k (laughs).
Alright, I got you. I’m going to jump right into it. I want to know what’s with the plus sign in Brick + Mortar.
Well, originally [John and I] did it because aesthetically we thought it was better. And we thought it was something you don’t see a lot, so we wanted to have that. And all my friends do graphic design and…they were all like, “[The] plus sign is so much better!”
In hindsight, it kind of sucks because the Internet doesn’t, like, register that. So when you put a plus sign in, you can’t really search it…Our artistic nature was really not good for computer algorithms.
Next thing I want to know—you have a lot of band social media accounts. Are you very interactive with your fans?
Oh yeah. I’m probably interactive to an unhealthy degree. I’m always favoriting or writing back. I think it’s part of your job being in a band. I also like connecting with people. I like the whole cyber experience. Some people don’t like that, but I guess I’m a weirdo. I’m not good at making friendships or dating girls, so I guess I’m better at social media. Like [I’m an] introverted extrovert.
So do you think the fan interaction at this level has changed your band experience?
Completely. We were totally f****d before we got dropped by a major label, and if we didn’t have the relationships that we had with our fans, we wouldn’t even be here right now. So I know for a fact that this is one of the factors that makes the band who we are.
Did you get on a new label?
Um, no, not really. We just found a label that would put out our EP after we got dropped. I went out, talked to some people and was charming enough to get them to invest in what I was doing. My brother actually gave me the idea. He’s a filmmaker and he said, “Why don’t you just f******g raise the money like you would on a movie and do it yourself?” So that’s what I did.
It took like a year to get [the album] back [from the former label]. That why it’s called Dropped. We got dropped f****n’ hard, like they weren’t even talking to us. Like I only got them to call me back because they forgot to give me a contract to sign for a cover song I sang on and then they sold it to a movie preview and hit me up about eight months later after ignoring giving us our songs back and they said, “Brandon, would you kindly sign this?” and I was like, “Would you guys kindly f**k off? Because I want my songs back.” So [John and I] negotiated with them to get our songs back.
So anyway, back to social media.
I saw you guys have a Snapchat. What are the weirdest snaps you’ve received?
One time somebody snapped me a picture of their friend passed out and I felt so bad because someone had put shit on his face, so I don’t know if it was fake shit or human shit or dog shit or what, but that’s probably one of the weirdest things ever snapped. I replied back, “Is this real?” and they refused to tell me if it was or not, so it was very disturbing. Other things—all kinds of gross sexual things—but mostly being gross, not even in a sexy way, just f*****g with you.
I mostly use Snapchat to talk to people. You get some weird stuff sometimes. The best thing ever was I got free pizzas once. I was like, “I’m so broke, I wish I could get a pizza right now,” and all the people were like, “I’ll buy you pizza.” And then they bought pizza over the Internet and sent it to my house. I went from no pizzas to three pizzas!
How did they know your address?
I let them have it! Yeah, if you’re buying me pizza you can totally have my address, whatever.
So I’m going to ask you about the music video for your single “Train.” Where did the idea come from and why did you choose to recreate the movies that you did?
Well I had this friend who worked for Nylon originally. That’s where I met her, when I was first promoting all my own stuff. And her name was Caitlin Smith and I met her like four years ago and we stayed friends. I didn’t even know she made music videos or wanted to do that, and I reached out to her when I got all the money invested into the EP and I said, “Do you know anybody who can do PR? Do you know anybody I can hire?” and she was trying to hook me up with that and I sent her the music. And she said, “Are you trying to make music videos for any of these songs?” and I was like, “Yeah. I’m trying to do one for every song if I can.” And she says, “I think I have a great idea for a video for ‘Train.’”
I was a little bit nervous because I am like a dude…and everything I like is darker. So it’s kind of like, should I do a music video like this? But then when she did it I was like, whoa, this is so good. It was really Caitlin who came up with the idea for it and knew it was going to be good. So I can’t take any credit for that, but I do relate because the song is a love song and it’s about wanting to meet somebody that makes you want to disappear with them.
Are you used to writing love songs or is this your first foray?
I’ve only written two. The first one was an apology, which was followed immediately by my girlfriend of six years stealing my $2,000 in rent, my dog and cat and moving in with another guy in Philadelphia. That was the song “Hollow Tune.” And then “Train” was a song I wrote that was about someone I had never met yet. I usually sing about my life, but I guess love hasn’t been the main point of my life too much.
Well, my family is kind of different. We’re weirdos, we’re weird people. We’re always talking about philosophical things and whatnot, so…
That’s what Thanksgiving is, philosophical debates?
A little bit. My sister’s an artist, my brother’s a filmmaker. There’s six of us, but those are the two I’m really close with. We all live in Asbury. And yeah, I’ll go over to my brother’s house and he’ll show me a cut of his new movie, and we’ll talk about how we interpret it and what it means, and that’s a typical conversation in my family. Or with my sister—she’s a metalworker—so she’ll be like, “This is how I feel about this piece.” I guess we’re very artsy and lame in that way.
I’ve read in previous interviews that you like film a lot. So what are some of your top films?
Fight Club, for sure. Big Trouble In Little China, Chinatown, anything Quentin Tarantino pretty much. I also love terrible movies, like I’ll watch the shittiest movies ever seen just ’cause I like to make fun of them. I love all the new HBO shows actually. I’m big on TV shows, cable TV shows now. And all ’80s movies and ’90s movies. The Machinist, that’s a good one. And I also like Batman movies—Batman, The Dark Knight, not BatmanReturns though. That movie sucks.
If you weren’t part of Brick + Mortar, do you think you’d be involved in film in any way?
I guess I would. I’m like that guy who always has an idea. I’m always like, “Wouldn’t it be great if this happened? What if we did this, what if we did that?” So I mean, I would love to be part of a movie one day, but I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’m one of those people who has no experience with something and I will just try it. That’s the way my family is. Even talking to my brother, we talk about one day doing it together, so I think that will be possible.
So I want to go back to Dropped and talk about the album cover. I was like, what is this, do you really like cake or what? How’d you get the inspiration for that?
[John and I] decided to be transparent with our fans on why we took so long and we decided to do something that was a commentary on the situation. So it’s like celebrating being completely f****d. You know what I mean? It’s like celebrating being dropped, celebrating something terrible that happened. So we thought, why don’t we have this cake and have it mangled to shit, like we’re having some super sad party? Celebrating losing is the kind of thematic thing in that, that’s why it’s like a f****d-up cake and all that with the letters in it.
I didn’t want to put out an album and give it a title and be like we planned it, blah blah blah. I just wanted to be like, hey, this is what we have now because we were totally in a bad position and I wanted to transfer that to the people who listen to us.
Some songs like “Hollow Tune” and “Staying Gold” are really hard-hitting. Was it difficult to write songs like that because of the material that they deal with?
It was a little difficult, but I tell people if I don’t feel embarrassed a little about what I’m singing, it’s probably not very good. So I think that’s important, I think you should feel strange, because if you don’t feel anything it’s like you don’t care about what you’re saying.
“Staying Gold” was really personal because it was kind of about faith, and that’s something I’ve always since I was little struggled with understanding. And I wanted to express that in a way that wasn’t going to be offensive but still make people think. That was harder because my view when I was a little kid was ridiculous, like if there is a God, then he’s a big f*****g jerk and I don’t want to be his friend. That was my vibe when I was young not because of my plight, but other people that I would see who had it worse than me.
As I got older, I realized it doesn’t matter what you believe in as long as you believe in something. Because when you have nothing to believe in, life sucks. Like I think faith is important, I don’t think religion is important. Even if it’s The Avengers or whatever the f**k you want to believe in, as long as you believe in something. That’s part of life. Can’t go through life believing in nothing at all.
Going back to sound: Do any Jersey artists inspire you or your sound?
Not so much sound-wise, but The Front Bottoms inspire me because for one thing, I know them, and they’re really, really hardworking and they care about their fans. We’re totally different kinds of bands, but I respect the shit out of them. What they’re doing is really important and I think they’re really deserving. I don’t think you always meet bands that appreciate their success or work as hard as they do.
Jersey is a very food-oriented state, so what’s the first Jersey-only meal you’re going to eat when you get back from tour?
You know what it’s going to be? A f*****g pizza. You always think you’re going to get something different, and you get in Jersey and you’re like why don’t you get a pizza? Because all other pizzas suck.
Brick + Mortar’s album Dropped dropped July 17. You can catch the band on tour Aug. 14 at The Barbary in Philly and at The Studio At Webster Hall Aug. 15 in NYC. For more information, go to brmr.net and facebook.com/brickandmortarofficial.