Brother and Bones performed at Sin City on February 25th, and captivated the audience with an astonishing live set.
I’d be happier describing Brother and Bones as a group of artists rather than just as musicians. Supported by the wonderfully bizarre Weird Naked Indian and the always-excellent Paddy Kelly; the London-based band walk on to the stage, greet the typically noisy crowd of Sin City, and strike up the first song.
Their music is powerful, ferocious, and brings to mind images of sparse landscapes and ancient, forgotten civilisations, with beautifully-crafted lyrics, superb harmonies, and each band member seeming to know their respective instruments as well as their own bodies. They stand out as a rare and original talent in an industry where it’s near-impossible to find anything new, and as a live act they rival even the most established of bands for the pure, instinctual energy and passion they bring to the stage.
The crowd push closer to the stage by the second, stamping their feet, throwing their hands in the air; making that tribal theme seem even more real. Brother and Bones perform as though they’re at a sold-out gig at Wembley Stadium rather than a small music venue in Swansea. From the stunning, mournful cries of “Gold and Silver” that quieten the entire room to the lively, foot-stomping “Hold Me Like The Sun”, they possess both the stage and the audience for the entire set and have everyone begging for more.
After the gig it takes some time to get the entire band together and away from their fans. I manage to catch two of them (James Willard: backing vocals/electric guitar- and Yiannis Sachinis: drums) and we sit at a table tucked away at the back of the main room. They introduce themselves to each other and check my name before Yiannis launches into a rant about his own. I spell it correctly out-loud and he gives me a high-five.
“That’s cool you can pronounce it as well,” he says. “I’ll tell people my name’s Yiannis and they’ll go ‘Alex?’ and I’ll say ‘Yiannis’ and they go ‘Dennis?’ and I say ‘YIANNIS’ and they go ‘Janice?’ and I’ll go ‘fucking John then’. That’s what it means in English but you know… it’s still annoying.”
They’re trying to grill me for details about the time their lead singer Rich [Thomas] was in Swansea supporting Ben Howard and ended up at a rather messy after-party when we’re joined by Si Robinson (backing vocals/bass) and Rob Howell Sprent (drums/percussion). Si makes a noise of protest when Yiannis tries to take his beer, before apologising to me for ‘making profanities’.
I tell them they’d be the only interviewees not to swear and they take this as a challenge, trying to work out what words they can use. They say James is from Essex which (according to them) means that half his vocabulary is made up of swear words. James corrects this and tells me he’s actually from Dartford, after which I’m given a geography lesson (despite living about half an hour away from that very place) on the proximity of Dartford to Essex.
“You could pretty much throw a stone across the river and hit Essex from James’ house,” says Si.
“I’d love to see you try,” James snorts.
“The thing is when people say ‘oh you’re from Essex’ James says ‘oh no, I’m Dickensian’,” Yiannis grins.
“I said that once,” James protests, and just as I think they’re going to start debating about TOWIE, Rich (vocals/acoustic guitar) joins the group.
“I was telling her about the aftermath at the last gig you did here,” Yiannis grins, and Rich winces.
“Yeah… shit,” he says, obviously not enjoying the memory of the hangover he had after that night.
I ask them about the tour, which has been on-and-off since Rich ended up with tonsillitis and the band had to cancel a couple of the shows.
“This weekend’s been great though,” he says. “Tonight in Swansea was really good and we did London yesterday which is kind of our hometown. It’s hard to top that- you’ve always got to prove yourself in London, no matter how many times you play there or how many people turn up to your gigs. We normally get more excited than nervous but we were a bit nervous yesterday.
“And coming here tonight… I mean Swansea’s not the biggest place we’ve performed at but we had a great crowd and everyone was going… maybe even more nuts than last night.”
“It’s nice to go to new places and see the reaction,” Yiannis adds.
I ask them what they think of Swansea.
“It’s a pretty good atmosphere because you won the rugby,” says James. “I think if it had gone the other way it might have sucked.”
“They probably would have thrown stuff at you instead,” I agree.
“It was getting a bit rowdy outside,” he tells me. “We ended up going back into our dressing room and had a couple of quiet drinks instead.”
“You quickly become aware that you’re very English,” says Si.
“We were in the music shop earlier though,” Yiannis says. “And we were about 12 up or something and we were going ‘yeah it’s fine, we’ll win’, and then we got back and the sound engineer was like ‘yeah we won’ and we actually thought ‘brilliant! Maybe more people will come to our gig!’”
Being in Swansea, it was likely that Wind Street would crop up somewhere in the conversation. The guys mention a street they walked down earlier in the day and having to dodge the areas dotted across the pavement covered in vomit. I confirm that this is Wind Street.
“It was like playing a really nasty game of hopscotch,” Yiannis says.
They want suggestions for where to go out after everything’s packed up. Being more of a Sin Savers/Face Off/Tooters/OMG girl myself, I find it hard to think of really good places they could go to, but they seem content enough to just see what happens.
“It was quite funny earlier,” Yiannis says suddenly, turning to speak to James. “This little guy walked past and he kind of looked like the mini version of you, and as he walked past I looked at him and went ‘Justin!’ And he looked back and was like ‘yeaaah!’”
“For anyone who doesn’t know,” Si says, “James has a Justin Bieber haircut. So we call him Justin.”
James pouts. “I’m older than him and I’ve had it for longer!”
“He’s changed it now,” I say, trying to help him out.
“We should probably move on,” Yiannis grins, seeing James glare at him.
The band are already well-known for being hard to compare with other musicians so I ask them the desert island disc question- in my view this is a better way of asking about influences- and the answers are always much more interesting.
“That’s a cool question,” Yiannis nods.
James goes first. “I actually made this decision years ago- mine’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik [Red Hot Chili Peppers] even though I’m not massively into funk and that- that album… I love the production, the drums, everything. And you get value for money, there are about 17 tracks on that album.”
“If I was on a desert island…” Yiannis begins thoughtfully. “I’d assume it was going to be quite… hot. I’d probably pick someone like Bob Marley.”
He tells me his favourite song is Buffalo Soldier and Rob laughs. Apparently they were singing it in the dressing room before the gig.
“We got to this ‘harmony’ and we were just completely off pitch and we were like ‘yeah… drummers’,” Yiannis says grinning.
Rich hovers between a Dylan album (Desire) and Solid Air by John Martyn, and Si (despite suggestions of Charlie Parker from his bandmates) picks another Rick Rubin-produced album: De-Loused in the Comatorium by the Mars Volta.
“Because not only is the production ace, it has a story through it, the lyrics are amazing, and the drumming and the bass and everything is brilliant,” he says.
“Their album artwork is always pretty awesome as well,” I say.
“What album would YOU take?” Yiannis asks me, and they all watch me expectantly.
“Rihanna,” James suggests. “‘Only Girl in the World’.”
“That’s quite insulting,” I mutter.
“That was my second choice,” Yiannis says, managing to keep a straight face for half a second.
I deliberate for a bit and eventually (and tactfully) suggest their new EP ‘Skin’.
Everyone turns to Rob, who’s been sitting near the edge of the table very quietly for most of the interview. He debates between Lady Zeppelin and Green Day as Yiannis talks about picking coconuts on his desert island.
On the ‘Crew’ section of the Brother and Bones site it reads:
“We are more than lucky that, beyond the five members on stage, Brother & Bones has a touring crew that is equally a part of everything we’re about. We have grown up together, grown together, and now we travel together to keep things moving forward.”
“Yeah, that’s been there basically from the beginning,” Rich says when I ask him about it. “They were there on scene and we always knew it was a collective thing- the group and how it functions… more so than just a bunch of musicians.”
Yiannis nods in agreement. “If there’s a photographer and a videographer and whoever else working with us along the way then they’re just as important as we are. They make Brother and Bones what it is.”
I get the signal from their manager that we have to wrap things up and find that it’s a struggle to sound sincere when I wish them good luck. Not because I’m a horrible person, but because they don’t actually need any. These guys deserve success and they’re doing exactly what they need to do to get there. It’s just a matter of time before those who haven’t heard them realise exactly what they’ve been missing out on.
The EP (Skin) is comprised of five tracks recorded in March 2011 in a converted farmhouse surrounded by barren Cornish countryside. All songs apart from Dirt In The Ground [Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan] are penned by Rich Thomas. In the band’s own words, it’s simply intended to be a documentation: “to capture the real essence of the Brother and Bones live sound”.
The live sound is definitely there- Thomas’ raw, gruff vocals, the acoustic and electric guitars, bass, pounding drums and percussion all make sure of that. You can hear the emptiness; the pure soul in each song. Skin And Bone in particular is haunting, disturbingly so, and their cover of Dirt In The Ground is exquisite; recalling Waits’ funeral-dirge style and those wonderfully creeping notes in the background.
Check out some of the band’s music on Youtube. Their latest EP ‘Skin’ is available online on Amazon and iTunes.
Gold and Silver
Hold Me Like The Sun
(Just Another) Man In Need