Brother ‘O Brother is a garage rock, blues, and gospel infused duo straight out of Indianapolis. Two years ago guitarist Chris Banta and drummer Warner Swopes met and formed Brother ‘O Brother by pure chance. Coming from different musical backgrounds they have combined their styles into one funky band.
Recently playing a benefit for Tunes for Tools at the Hoosier Dome, Chris and Warner preach the message of love and brotherhood to each person their music reaches. Touring as far as Wisconsin, Brother ‘O Brother wants to positively impact the lives’ of others.
With the release of Brother ‘O Brother’s latest record, Show Pony, they‘re currently putting on a new show to give the Indy music scene a life changing experience.
When and how did you two form the band?
C: I started this band, or at least the early portions of it with a good friend and had started putting bits of music together. I had the idea of how I wanted this project to go. I had a drummer for a second; we hadn’t had any shows yet. We were just making noise, trying to figure out what we were going to do and his business, and getting married blew up so he couldn’t do it. Warren is the department manager at Lowes, I was going into Lowes and I was getting some rope to stretch like for running and he ended up coming by and I was like, hey, you look familiar and we both had been in mediocre, crappy bands before. They were fun; they were good ways to learn the good things to do and the bad things to do. But he was like I play drums and I play guitar and I actually have this new thing that I’m doing. Do you want to try it out and see what happens and he was like sure and that was it. Just super random, off chance, and it’s been super cool in developing a really awesome friendship and it just warms my heart to talk about it.
Why did you name the band Brother ‘O Brother?
W: We really like the idea of loving on people and relationships you build from being an entertainer. We really like the concept of a brotherhood or just treating everyone like they’re your brother and we threw around like fifty names. Somewhere this message still exists in Internet land where we were just kind of shooting them back and forth. Some of them were real dumb. I come up with names for stuff sometimes they’re stupid and cheesy puns. Sometimes they’re really good and I threw out like ten in a row and one of them was Brother ‘O Brother and Chris was like hold up, let's go back to that one. And we revisited it and it just really fit what we were wanting to do and we stuck with it. Then when we became a two-piece. It kind of becomes a weird thing when people sometimes think that were actually brothers but that’s cool.
You want to form relationships with people through your music. How do you think your band has impacted someone’s life?
C: Music is served as a way to be an extension of a greater calling. It’s been cool to share our passions. Using music as a format to get to know people and build relationships and try to encourage people. It really has worked as an extension of a higher calling to love on people and truly be about it. A lot of our music is rooted in our faith but we’re trying to make sure it’s a message that anyone can agree with. There are so many different faiths in the world that you should be able to hold a conversation with somebody and I think music is something that, because we’re humans we value music so much and what is put into it. And because it’s something everyone of every culture listens to. One really cool story, we have a friend, who is a really cool friend now. He was in a real dark place in his life and we met him at a show. We were just talking to him. He came to us after a show and was like, you guys are effing awesome and stuff like that. He was like man, my company is having this big Christmas party and there’s going to be hookers there and open bar, it’s going to be wild man I can’t wait. I want you guys to play and we were like just get in contact with us, we will talk about it. Well girls need to keep their clothes on and men shouldn’t throw money at them to take it off. You know, start a conversation. Instead of just being like turds or we were blowing some dude off like oh, we would never!! We just said keep in contact and he ended up actually being really sick in the hospital and we were still able to keep in contact with him and build a relationship with him. And through our music and friendship we’ve been really lucky that he’s been someone that we got to be a big part for him when he credits his life turning around. Those are the kinds of things where I’m like, I want more of that. I think that’s a true determiner of success for something in life.
W: And it continues to be so because today he sent me a text message this morning. It was really encouraging and just telling me that he was praying for me and my family and was just telling us to have a good day and it’s just really encouraging to hear from someone who otherwise I would have never met. But through this band and the music that were playing we were able to touch his life and he continues to be a really good source of encouragement for us too.
Which musicians do you get influences from?
W: I really like Rickie Mazzotta from MeWithoutYou. He’s one of my favorite drummers of all time. He does these things that I would have never thought of on drums. Because their music is just so different too that he has a lot of freedom to do those things. But he’s one who, whenever I’m stuck in a rut and I’m trying to figure out a drum beat for something, I’ll go listen to some MeWithoutYou and it just opens up my mind a lot as far as what you can do with drums. Going back to what I listened to growing up, my dad was really into Fleetwood Mac. Mick Fleetwood is an incredible drummer who is one of those drummers that keep it simple but in being simple he creates these really driving drums that you can enjoy and part of that is what I have to do with a two-piece.
C: For me it was a combination of three things like from a musical standpoint. When I was sixteen I saw The Black Keys for the first time. They were playing at Indy jazz Fest during the middle of the day, a super random place for them to be and I was like whoa, that’s the type of sound I want out of my guitar. Then Hendrix’s style of blues, just how fuzzy it was. I love the way he went about it and from an entertainment standpoint one of my favorite influences is James Brown. I love his stage presence and I feel like a lot of the genre is kind of lacking that. Its more about looking cool and I’m like, what looks cool is seeing someone look ridiculous and very entertaining and take chances at shows. Those are the things that make me want to watch.
In your own words, what is the sound of Brother ‘O Brother?
C: Mix of garage rock, blues and gospel. Especially a lot of what we’re trying to do is incorporate the 40’s and 50’s style of gospel. The call and response that you hear in really old blues. When you hear that stuff it’s just seems authentic. The garage and blues part is pretty self explanatory as far as just mixing really heavy big drums and just real fuzzy guitars. Just trying to make all of those things exist. Its funny though, how our musical taste are both pretty different but I think it works out well.
How do you feel while performing your own work to a crowd?
W: It’s absolutely the thing I look forward to. Studio time is fun, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy myself. But for me it’s all about that human connection. It doesn’t matter if its five people or five hundred people, they get the same show and it’s going to be one of the main things I rate a good show on. Do we have a real intentional encounter with someone at the show? And that’s real important for me as far as whether or not it’s a successful show. Its not about numbers, it’s about the quality of the relationships.
What do you enjoy most about the Indianapolis music scene? What do you least enjoy?
W: It’s not cutthroat. Its very community, like a family. You’re never trying to compete with each other. I don’t know of any bands that are out to get each other and that’s not always the case in a lot of place. It’s competitive and people aren’t looking out for each other but in Indianapolis I think it’s a lot different.
C: I think it’s been, as a band, part of it for me coming from the athletics side in my brain I’m trying to compete with myself or like with other bands in a healthy way. When I show up somewhere I want to be the best band there. But no one is ever trying to do something that is counter productive or doesn’t help promote other bands and I’m always impressed. Everybody is nice to everybody and if there is anyone that has success, they are happy for your success.
What are some perks, as well as disadvantages, you have while working in a duo?
W: Perks, gas. We save a lot of money on gas driving a Kia Soul everywhere we go.
C: That’s huge, we make money just by driving one car and it has allowed us to play shows out of state that I think most people would never think to do financially. I know because of this we can do it and there’s just two of us.
W: The scheduling is real easy too. You’re not trying to get with sixth people and see if they can make it for a show. One of us texts the other and says, hey can you make it for this date, and we say yep and then it’s done.
C: I think there’s times in your brain where you want to add more things to a song like, Id love to have some backing keys here with me and things like that but with any band, your advantages and disadvantages are what you determine them to be. From a promo standpoint, with two people you have to really rely on other people be behind you and helping you. When you have a five or six person band it’s more people to push it out there.
What is your most memorable moment at a show?
C: So when we were in Wisconsin doing Mile of Music for four nights and three days, we played for no less than 200 to 250 people for every show. Pretty much everywhere we played was at capacity and we had eight appearances in three days. There was place called The Bar.
W: The crowd was really interactive and they had this sign that said it’s a small room, take it easy on the drums and the crowd was super crazy after the first song so I held the sign up and I was like, this sign tells me to take it easy, does everyone want me to take it easy and the whole crowd is screaming no, and is booing so I wrote sorry on the sign and just played really heavy. And it was cool because that whole crowd was very interactive to everything we did and at the end of the show it was just like, the roar of the crowd was deafening. Everyone was really into it and that was really cool for me because I don’t think I’ve experienced that.
C: For me, when we were up there the very first show went very well. We were getting ready to play and there was only like ten people then I go down stairs to get a coke and I come back up and it was packed. It just set the bar for the whole weekend and the amount of people who kept coming to see us. By the time we got to our last show it was one of the bigger places we played and there were people out the door.
W: A lot of people we recognized from shows before.
C: Just the whole weekend people were like, you’re so and so and it was a feeling like, it was flattering and a lot of fun to have that experience.
How do you prepare for a show besides practicing your music? Do you have any quirks you do before a show?
C: We’re going to let the world in on a big bad secret.
W: We don’t practice very much. It’s bad but we play so many shows.
C: Mainly our practice is to write new music. You know what the songs are, you’ve got a drum set at home, I’ve got a guitar at home.
W: If something does go a little wonky at a show it’s way easier to cover it up we can just roll with it. One thing we do to prepare for shows…
C: We’ve got the demandments. Now Hulk Hogan, recently made some bad comments that make me hurt on the inside but he used to have the demandments.
W: He used to tell kids to pray, train and eat your vitamins. And we do that. Not to any extent of athleticism but we’ll stretch and do a couple push ups. The vitamin part of it is we stick to a strict regimen of water an hour before and after the shows and then we also pray with each other and try to stay encouraging. Those are the best shows. It sounds so silly because it’s three simple things that don’t take a lot of time but it puts us in a right mindset for what were about to do.
You recently played a benefit show at the Hoosier Dome for Tunes for Tools. What does the non-profit mean to you?
C: I worked for nonprofits forever. Right now is probably the first time I haven’t worked for one since I was 15. I worked for the Y at a long time then in a more professional role at other ones and I was like Tunes for Tools seem pretty cool. I think of kids, just like me and Warner were, especially if there’s some kid that is really talented, eighteen or twenty and you can tell they have some real talent and you’re like hey, if I could put a great guitar in your hands I think your sound would be that much greater. Or if someone has a great eye for photography but using a disposable camera and you’re like hey, let me help you out. So when they asked it was a pretty big no brainer to do it.
C: We’re always trying to think of ways to donate our time or abilities. We don’t want to be encouraging people to live one way and acting in another. I think we need a lot more of those kinds of things so we’re all about it.
How did you decide what kind of merch to sell and how do you think it impacts the look of Brother ‘O Brother?
C: It says a lot about your band. I’m a huge record collector and with our style of music there is a big market for vinyl. I’ve learned that your merch says a lot about your band the moment you walk into a door. Our very first show we had our EP, a shirt and some mason Jars that had digital downloads so you’re already starting off with three different things. It takes some initial investments and that’s part of it but over time, if things go well you should get a return on your investment and now we’ve been blessed.
W: We have several different vinyl out now.
C: Four shirts, and were also trying to have stuff that’s unique so at certain shows we will make ten or twelve screen print posters that are unique to that show and it gives people a way to hold onto the experience of that show and just from a collectors standpoint. We like those things that are DIY that we have to put our time in and we enjoy those things. We screen printed a lot of our jackets so they will match each piece of vinyl and we sent some of the transfer screens out to people and signed them and they thought it was so cool. We would never get to have that experience if we didn’t go about our merch in that way.
What future goals do you have for Brother ‘O Brother? Is there a special venue or event that you’d like to play at?
W: For me locally, our goals throughout this whole time have grown with the success that we’ve had. I always really wanted to play The Vogue and now we’ve played there several times and then I really wanted to play Old National and now its like, I really want to play Klipsch! But I’m always open to anywhere new. Sometimes we play at venues we don’t know anything about and that’s because it’s a new area. I think for me, its always getting bigger. With the success you can’t be complacent with where you’re at so it’s always growing.
C: Id really like to play The Majestic in Detroit. At a personal standpoint because of all the bands that have been there but really we just want to keep playing out of state as much as possible and we’re lucky to have done that a bit already and other than Klipsch as far as Indiana goes, keep doing what we’re doing, keep playing out of state and the rest will take care of itself.
Brother ‘O Brother has two albums out and an EP. Are you working on your third full-length album?
W: Yes and no. We’re always writing but the way vinyl works takes a lot of time for the product to come out. The album that just came out in July, we’ve had it done since last December. For almost a year now we’ve had it finished but it’s only been out for two and a half months. We’d really be doing it a disservice if we put out another album in sixth months so we’re trying to find creative ways around that. We’re trying to partner with some other bands to do a series of seven-inch singles that will come out over the course of the next year. But we will always keep writing cause that keeps you sharp.
C: Right, that way you don’t get burnt out of playing and people don’t see the same show over and over. And I think that’s real important especially locally. People have got to see something new. Especially a returning fan. If they know what your set order is, then you’re doing it wrong.
Want to check out the band at a local venue?
Brother ‘O Brother will be playing at the Hoosier Dome on Oct. 10th with Diarrhea Planet. They will also be playing a Halloween show on Oct. 31st at the Grove Haus.
Check out Brother 'O Brother on the web: