The Bravery respond to charges that they're calculated new-wave clones
When it comes to getting respect in the music biz, the Bravery rank somewhere between the reunited Backstreet Boys and the latest Hollywood actor-turned-rock star. Whether it's being labeled as Petri-dish-manufactured Island Records commodities or Killers wannabes taking advantage of the new new-wave movement, they just can't get anyone except the British to applaud what they're doing. That's not to say the Bravery aren't selling albums, because they are. It's just that no one likes being a punch line, even if they're a lucrative punch line. Except maybe Will Smith, who doesn't seem to care one way or the other.
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"When we got signed to Island, we'd already recorded the album," says keyboardist John Conway of the Bravery's eponymous debut. "A lot of it was actually recorded a year before we had a record deal" - back in 2003 - "and that's what we ended up putting out." The Killers' Hot Fuss, on the other hand, was released in June 2004; hence, the Bravery's claim of complete ignorance of what Brandon Flowers and company were up to has some merit. If you can believe Conway and his co-conspirators, the coincidence of sonic output has more to do with natural musical evolution than anything else. "I think starting even a few years before `us`, music was changing a lot. Not necessarily just with new wave. I think people are just doing a lot more creative things with rock 'n' roll. There's definitely a lot more dance influence on rock music."
It's true, too. The hyper-adrenalized rock bubble that dominated the late 1990s has finally burst, and out of it has emerged this post-millennial modern rock that now dominates the airwaves - that is, when hip-hop isn't dominating. With their synth-driven guitar rock and creative debt to Duran Duran, the Cure, and Depeche Mode worn, ahem, bravely on their sleeves, and a frontman in Sam Endicott who packs all the cocksure swagger of Jagger, the Bravery are at the forefront of this movement. Even if no one is taking them all that seriously.
Formed in New York in early 2003, the five-piece outfit played their first show at Brooklyn's Stinger Club soon after and quickly became the city's summer "it" band, which led to a residency at Arlene's Grocery and the deal with Island. But that's just the beginning of the Bravery. Endicott's ego and faux-hawk haircuts might fill whole rooms, but critics are quick to bring him down to size by pointing out that in his pre-Bravery days, he fronted the ska band Skabba the Hut. They have a point. Come on, Skabba the Hut?
Conway's origins are much less mockable, having come from musical parents that encouraged all their children to take up instruments. "I started out on the violin when I was like, 5 and went through a bunch of instruments until I started playing the saxophone," he says. "I got my first guitar when I was in sixth grade, for my birthday. That's when I really started getting into rock 'n' roll."
When it came to college, Conway enrolled at Vassar, proudly coeducational since 1969 and home to a student body of approximately 2,400. It was there that he met and graduated with Endicott. When it's pointed out that approximately 80 percent of the liberal-arts college's graduates go on to pursue advanced study, Conway paraphrases Mark Twain: "I'm not going to let further study get in the way of my education."
What about the beef with the Killers, which gets so much press? It's not exactly unfounded either, with Brandon Flowers calling the Bravery second-rate wannabes and saying, "We were here before `the Bravery` and helped pave a way for them, so...`they` should appreciate that we are here." Bravery guitarist Michael Zakarin responded with, "If you have seen them live, they are incredibly boring. You remember what they used to look like? Then people started comparing them to us and suddenly they got a stylist." In one of the more interesting reviews of the Bravery's album, Entertainment Weekly unintentionally called the band's lead singer Flowers rather than Endicott.
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"That pisses us off actually. It's silly," says Conway of what he sees as a media-fueled feud. "We can't figure out why anyone would care about it because we don't and I'm sure they don't either." So will there be any parking-lot throwdowns any time soon? "I don't know about that. We're pretty busy."
Conway continues: "I think to a lot of the mainstream public, it looks like we came from nowhere. Before we got any exposure, we'd already done everything ourselves but on a really small scale. We had an album we did ourselves. We had all our artwork done. `With Island`, it just kind of blew up really fast and I think that makes the population suspicious. All you can do is outgrow it."
Conway contends that the Bravery's music benefits from an unorthodox recording style that renders studios and producers superfluous. "We did the first album on I-MAX and now we have laptops because we're on tour," he says. "We just record in hotel rooms and the back of our tour bus. It gives us a lot of time to mess around with arrangements and kind of let our songs develop naturally instead of worrying about paying for a studio. I think once we decide we have enough songs, we'll throw them together and call it an album."
They better hurry, because the Killers are said to be on the brink of releasing another album, and beating Flowers and his dandies to the punch might help to steal some of the thunder Flowers wielded with Thor-like precision this year. The goal, of course, will be to set themselves apart, to prove that even if they're part of a derivative movement, they're movement leaders and not Johnny-come-latelies. •
By Cole Haddon