Brawlers on Taking Drugs, Being Sexy and Political Economics
We're backstage at 2000 Trees and Brawlers seem very much at home. Swigging a bottle of Fireball and joking around with friends, the purveyors of "simple hooks, honest lyrics and self-deprecating drinking songs" don’t seem at all fazed about playing the Main Stage later, which is an impressive booking considering they’ve only been a band since 2013, and two years ago were on the far smaller Axiom. Lead singer Harry Johns confesses the show is “a big deal,” but says the band won’t adapt their show for the bigger stage. "I don't think people want or expect that from us,” he explains. “What I love about this band is the simplicity and the honesty. So to then have dragons come out of the PA and lasers everywhere would seem counter-productive to what we're trying to put across. We haven’t got scrims and fucking fireworks going off, but I like to think that even if we were headlining Glastonbury we wouldn't do that. We wouldn't need it, that's not the point of what we're about. We'll just try to play our best, have a good time and unify everyone, like we do for our smaller shows. Just like, get a collective of people to have a good time and forget about all the bullshit."
The confidence is justified given that Brawlers have just released what is probably the best work of their career in The Black EP. Not much has changed compared to their debut EP, I’m A Worthless Piece Of Shit, and album, Romantic Errors of Our Youth, but the band seem more focused. They’ve really isolated what makes Brawlers great, the catchy licks, sing-a-long hooks and lyrics that stick in your head for days, and zeroed in on it. In my 1pm beer and rum drunk state, my articulation of it is ‘like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia or The U.S. Office season 3, not much has changed but it just works’.
"I was like twenty six when I wrote those first songs,” says Harry of their developing sound. “You go through these new different experiences and you garner new things to write songs about. And we've played like fucking 600 shows. So the more you do anything, the better at it you get. It became really prevalent to us before we wrote this new EP that we felt like we'd found what the point of our band was."
"Since Pert joined we've also made writing a bit more of a joint effort,” he adds. “The songs still start in my bedroom with an acoustic guitar, but I guess its way more of a group effort now. That change of sound does come from everyone being a bit more involved in songwriting, but at the same time that couldn't have come from us all being a bit more on the same page this year than we have been in previous years. It's not just me that feels like I know where this band’s going, we all feel collectively like we know what the message is we're trying to put out.”
Brawlers hail from Leeds and are part of a thriving Northern punk scene, with bands like Nai Harvest, Martha and Bear Trade. “I honestly feel now in my life that it's nature nurture,” suggests Harry about how the scene has impacted them. “If you're born into a city with loads of great bands and venues, that doesn't give you a leg up that much more or less than not being. It's helpful for those things to be around, but just because we live in Leeds and the Brunel's there, and the Belgrave's there, and The Cockpit used to be there, we haven't really played those places very much. There is undoubtedly a lot of good stuff coming out of the North right now, as there is the East and the West, but I just think now people are a bit more interested in the alternative to going to clubs and listening to dance music. And that's cool, it's just not my jam, but I just think people's riff radars are on a high alert at the moment, people are just ready for some good live music because you can't download it, you can't fake it. If you're shit you are shit and you don't get a chance."
"It doesn't matter where you come from,” adds Pert, the bands drummer. “If you're good you're just going to be good and then it'll come from there. It doesn't matter if you come from a city or a town or a village."
Given 2000 Trees took place just a few weeks after the biggest political fuck up in living memory, one questions I was keen to ask each band what their perspective on the shit sandwich was. Given their biggest hook is “I just want to have a good time, I just want to take drugs and be sexy,” I was actually a little surprised by just how much detail the Brawlers boys went into.
"If you're in a band who is smaller than Coldplay, and you want to someday aspire to the idea of playing anywhere other than England and you voted out, then you're a fucking retard,” says Harry. “It's going to take years for everything to fall into place, but it's going to make everything much harder. Some of our best memories as a band have been from playing abroad, so we've just got to strive to keep that alive. We don't make any money from this band, we do it for the love of it. You have to maintain that as the nucleus of what you're in a band for.
"And you've got to look at the big picture. Look at Soundwave Festival in Australia, which is cancelled. Bigger-ish bands will have their whole year based around going to Australia at this point of the year for Soundwave Festival, which now they don't have. So you get an amount of bands that don't go to Soundwave and will replace that with another tour of America, and 36 bands all make that decision, because this one festival doesn't exist anymore. Then all of a sudden you've got this overpopulation of shows happening in America, and thus, and this isn't my opinion, this is the truth, because overall tickets in America have dropped by like 45%. And that's exactly what's going to happen, because all of the bands in England who rely upon that one or two times a year European run, which just costs all of a sudden so much more money and bullshit, their agent just says 'well if you're not going to go to Europe this year you need to do three weeks in England doing the smaller towns'. Then everyone's doing that and you have this overpopulation of shows in England and everyone loses."
“When Soundwave first got cancelled loads of bigger bands put packages together and went to Australia as they had their visas sorted anyway,” adds Pert. “Then the over-saturation of that summer meant hardly any tickets got sold, because instead of spending 80 dollars and going to see 60 bands, you've got 40 dollars per three band show, so no one did anything. And then the next year no-one’s going to bother touring Australia because all the Australian people are fed up of seeing Australian bands and they can't afford to go anywhere else.
“That's exactly what's going to happen in England,” Harry rounds off. “Fucking 17 year old Sally from fucking Preston High School has only got £35 a week to spend on shit, and she's fed up of seeing fucking Brawlers and Trashboat and fucking Xcerts every five minutes because we can only play in England because it's the only revenue we can make.”
Given the band are clearly passionate about the issue, but refrain being this openly political in their music, for the last question I want to know if there is a certain political philosophy to Brawlers.
"I think Brawlers go beyond politics and just nail it down to one sentence,” replies Pert. “Which is 'just don't be dick'. If everyone's not a dick, then everyone would get on.”