Photo Credit: Vulture Culture Photography
Sometimes a band’s sound gets inextricably linked to where they hail from, whether they wish it to or not. X made the soundtrack for any down-and-outer in Los Angeles county. Outkast is Atlanta to the core, and despite the fake English accent, the Ramones always sounded like you just crossed over the Queensboro Bridge. Bayonne, New Jersey has Crazy & The Brains. Music Matters Media sat down and spoke to Chris (vocals and lyrics), Ernest (guitar), and Zac (drums) about XXXTentacion, shrimp, and ’90s era pop-punk pits.
How did Crazy & The Brains come about?
Chris: The band started as my first experience writing and performing my own music. Before this, I was the bass player and rhythm guitar player in punk bands. The early shows were open mics and it was me, solo, singing, and playing acoustic guitar. I would show up to the clubs decently drunk and perform songs that were half written, half improvised.
Collectively, who were some bands that influenced your sound?
Chris: I grew up on ’90s-era punk and hip hop. This was and still is the blueprint. I’m obsessed with music and art to such an absurdly extreme extent that I take influence from everything I’m exposed to on a day-to-day basis. Bob Dylan, Ramones, Beastie Boys, and Santigold were big inspirations for me in my early stages of songwriting. The way Joe Strummer sings “Junco Partner” on the album Sandinista! is a significant influence on my approach to singing.
Zac: I’ve listened to a lot of Motown bands growing up: The Four Top, The Supremes, the Jackson 5. All that beat on the 1 influenced my playing, I found punk and pop punk later on. My first cd was Insomniac by Green Day, ’90s grunge is my go-to coffee shop soundtrack. These days I’m into prog and math rock, I listen to Animals and Leaders, Tricot, Chon, and Polyphia.
How important is New Jersey to your sound?
Chris: I love being from New Jersey and it absolutely had a massive influence on me as a human and as an artist, which I am so grateful for. I don’t know if the influence is as overtly obvious as it is for some other Jersey bands though. Some bands make where they are from their entire identity and I don’t think that’s the case for me. The influence is there maybe subliminally. I think of The Misfits, a band that could have only happened in New Jersey, but when you listen to them it’s not really about that. You take a mix of very crucial and valuable ingredients and blend them together and the finished product is something unique. We are a band. Not a “Jersey band.” However, people form their own opinions on that, especially after they hear my talking voice which might sound a bit like Joe Pesci.
How did your involvement with Pete from the Bouncing Souls come about?
Chris: To keep it 100% some band asked me to do a split with them and I said yes, we recorded songs for it and a dude from this band told me he thought the recording quality was trash. He then suggested I contact Pete from Bouncing Souls to record with him instead. I never even thought of something like this as an option. I grew up listening to Bouncing Souls. I’ve seen them live dozens of times in high school. They were always playing shows near us and I was always there. I kinda figured someone like Pete was too famous or busy to f*ck with a band like us at the time. Like Steve Albini or Rick Rubin or something you know? A friend of mine gave me Pete’s email and after one conversation I quickly realized how connected he remained to the punk scene. He is still out there going to punk shows and keeping his ear to the streets, super aware of new music that is popping off. I sent him some songs and he liked them. He said we remind him of the Bouncing Souls in the early days. From there forward it was on. We have been making records together ever since. I consider him a mentor and a great friend. Instead of doing that split, we kept those first songs we did with Pete and put them out as our own record, which became Into The Ugly.
The band lineup has changed a bit, how has that impacted your sound?
Ernest: When I joined, we definitely got a lot louder and more intense live. I think the old bassist tried to turn my amp down at the early shows. I came from the metal scene which is more macho and performative but also more timid than the punk scene. I joined a punk band because I wanted to be less technical, I wanted to play loud, fast, and spit in people’s faces. I would play through a big Marshall and everyone in the band hated it. I started playing with the band in 2015 and for a brief moment the xylophone player quit, I think he was drunk and kinda just bailed, but Chris took him back into the group under the agreement that there was a fifth member – a new guitar player, Chris wasn’t gonna play guitar live anymore. It was awkward at first – there was some animosity between Jeff and I. I’m pretty sure he viewed me as competition in the band but that’s okay because he left the band 6 years later. Now we have Ali on the keyboard and she shreds and is a total badass at performing, writing, and singing. We sound more mature and full these days, more like The Damned or Murder City Devils, and less Ramones although that influence is still there. What you see today is the evolution that took place over the course of many years and hundreds of shows.
Who do you enjoy playing with? Who would you want to appear on a Crazy bill who you haven’t played with yet, a band in existence currently or otherwise?
Ernest: My favorite shows have been the folk punk shows with Days n’ Daze, young kids who truly want to let loose. If I could play with anyone it would be XXXTentacion (RIP), City Morgue, and Ho99o9. They make crowds go off.
Zac: This band has played with some great acts. Negative Approach, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Charles Bradley etc. I’m coming up on a year with them now so I haven’t played with as many, but The Bouncing Souls was a huge bucket list band for me. I spent my teenage years with “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” in my CD player, so to play with them is wild. I’d love to share a bill with Goldfinger or Green Day. There’s this band out in Japan called Otoboke Beaver, they’re pretty new(ish) and it’s just insane punk music I can’t understand, but they’re so energetic. I’m a sucker for Japanese punk/pop, especially from like the ’80s and ’90s.
What was the first show each of you went to?
Chris: My first show was Blink-182. I think a lot of kids from my era probably say their first show was Blink-182. They were massive at the time. They played pop music but they had this connection to another hidden universe. Blink-182 was one of those main influences that guided me into the world of punk. I saw Blink-182 at a massive arena and the crowd was saturated with goofy tweens and dorky parents. I jumped in the mosh pit and got my face smashed up. My braces got stuck to my lips and my mouth was a bloody mess. Less than a year later I was at the warped tour seeing Bad Religion, The Casualties, and Rancid. I shaved my hair into a Mohawk and never looked back.
Zac: My first show was Blink-182 for the Take off your Pants and Jacket tour. I was… 10 years old? My brother took me and my sister and got me up to the front before the pit, it was crazy. I’ll never forget it.
Ernest: My first show was Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple, I think I was 12 or 13 years old.
I’m personally a fan of Crazy & The Brains cover art, how much thought do you put into your visuals? Do you collectively or individually have a favorite album cover or flier?
Zac: Chris usually paints something from his ever-flowing stream of consciousness and then I’ll get a random text of a cartoon head with gigantic teeth saying something like, “SHRIMP SUNRISE?!” After that, I’ll stamp my approval, and out it goes to the printing press where it gets digitized for the masses to consume. I just play drums.
Chris: Crazy & The Brains album art has always been an interpretation of a family photo album. The idea was to show the progression of people’s growth highlighting all the imperfections, awkwardness, and desperation. I like the new art for our single “East Side” a lot. The cover for Good Lord is also a favorite of mine.
Interview conducted by: Padraig Mara
Band Site: www.crazyandthebrains.net