Since Brothers in Stereo decided to disband in 2006, we have been approached numerous times by people asking if we are getting back together or recording a new album. We always give tentative, vague responses such as “maybe” or “hopefully,” and we cite life circumstances as the reason we haven’t done it yet. But the truth is that for a long time Andrew and I just couldn’t get along in a band. Fortunately, this has changed due to a number of factors, and our goal this year is to release a new recording. This decision to work together again is a long-time coming, and it was not made lightly or overnight. Brothers in Stereo has a history of personal turmoil, and it’s taken a long time for us to come to terms with it.
Brother acts have been plagued with this curse for ages. The Everly Brothers have traveled separately and used separate dressing rooms for decades; The Kinks’ brotherly brawls have become a part of rock music lore; and the Gallagher brothers are notorious for their inability to function together musically for any prolonged period of time. It seems as if the harmonious element of the music can’t successfully translate into positive personal relations when it comes to brothers. The simplest explanation for this phenomenon is that brothers, unlike those not related to one another, bring to the table a plethora of family history and childhood rivalry that manifests itself when spurred on by the already existing pressure to succeed and perform well under the scrutiny of the public and the press. It’s probably the same with sisters, although it doesn’t seem as prevalent.
Granted, we never experienced any kind of big success. We did tour Atlantic Canada and Ontario repeatedly, and we had distribution through the burgeoning MapleMusic/Universal label. But we stopped just on the cusp of securing a major booking agent and possible other breaks. Therefore, the pressure we experienced while playing music was often created from within and connected to a deep desire to break the impenetrable wall of true commercial success. We prided ourselves on not “buying into” the larger commercial aspects of popular music; yet that’s exactly what we were pursuing. Much like Hey Rosetta!, the Dardanelles, and the Once are doing now, all our efforts were focused on succeeding on as big a scale as we could possibly achieve. Unfortunately, this potential larger success was abbreviated by the volatile “brother” dynamic. You could perhaps say that the entity of Brothers in Stereo was brought down by the virus of sibling rivalry.
Andrew and I found ourselves in similar life circumstances in 2003. I was 32 and had spent about 10-12 years slogging it out in the bars of St. John’s, Halifax, Toronto and Charlottetown, doggedly pursing a solo career that had gone nowhere. I had recorded a solo album in 1997 that received great reviews but tanked commercially. Andrew, at 28, had been plugging in a few years on the circuits of Halifax and Moncton as rhythm guitarist and songwriter in various outfits. Not seeing any fruit from his labours, he had recently moved back to St. John’s where he jumped into the fickle and oppressive George Street solo circuit.
In January of 2003 we were in the same studio making solo albums. We happened to be using the exact same musicians, engineers, and producers. Paul “Boomer” Stamp was playing drums on both albums, and singer/songwriter Barry Canning was producing vocals for both of us as well. Andrew even had me playing guitar on his stuff. Therefore, both sessions were yielding very similar sonic results. After a few months of this ridiculous game, I called Andrew one day and suggested we put this thing together. He agreed, and without talking about any particulars we went and got photos done for the album artwork.
Andrew came up with the band name in photographer Chris Smith’s house on Gower Street one cold March afternoon. As Smith uploaded the photos to his computer that he had just taken in a parking garage underneath the KFC on Duckworth Street, he asked us, “What’s the band name?” After a few minutes of deliberation, Andrew randomly blurted out “Brothers in Stereo.” I liked it, voiced my assent, and Smith typed it into the photo file on his computer. These are the photos you see on the back and inside covers of our debut (and only) album. The album cover features a photo of an old mic that’s in a glass case at VOWR studios. Andrew had taken Smith over to the station to get some pics of these mics, and this particular mic looked like a canon. We liked it and decided to put it on the front. Smith added a greenish background in Photoshop to enhance the image.
In early June we released the CD at Club One. It was our first show, and we managed to fill the place. I do believe that people are drawn to family acts, and many I assume were simply curious to see and hear this new brother band. This initial local success was a springboard to success across the island and into Atlantic Canada where we were on the radar of the music business and radio. Q104 in Halifax added our first single “The Worst Crowd” to heavy rotation, and this helped quite a bit to garner a buzz which resulted in several ECMA nominations in 2004 and one in 2005 for our video which featured the band on top of a double-decker bus driving around downtown St. John’s. Newfoundland TV station NTV played this video in heavy rotation for years, which resulted in people referring to us in gas stations and restaurants as “Hey, it’s the b’ys on the bus!”
While things were relatively peaceful for the Atlantic portion of the touring, skies turned stormy when we started to take on Ontario. It was our Russian winter, so to speak. The reality was we were dirt poor. Well, I was making money with my side project The 8-Track Favourites, but Brothers in Stereo as a unit were generating zero funds. Our ever-patient manager Bob Hallett was fronting us plane tickets and hotel rooms, which we’d pay back by doing a show in St. John’s after the tour. Our travels through Ontario were punctuated by shouting matches, uncomfortable silences, drunken sprees, hungover depression, and a lot of near-empty venues during shows. I will let you in on a dirty little secret of touring. When a band in its early stages says they’re “on tour,” it generally means they are in the hole, sharing a hotel room with three or four other band members, narrowly escaping death on slippery winter roads, eating crap food, and playing to no one in dingy bars. There is no glamor, only struggle. This was Brothers in Stereo between 2003-2006.
Of course this kind of low morale was extremely depressing for me because I’d already had a decade of this degrading existence punched in. To escape this life, I had enrolled at university when Brothers formed; but I had put it on hold due to the demanding nature of touring. On top of this, I was not only lead guitarist and co-lead singer; I was also road manager, driver, and all around maintenance man for Brothers in Stereo. While everyone else was getting drunk or recovering from a hangover, I was either on the phone dealing with business or out trying to find a P.A. system for the next gig. It was gruelling. To add to the madness, Andrew and I had disintegrated by now to either shouting matches or the silent treatment. Our drummer, cousin Barry LeDrew, tried to act as moderator, but the temporary periods of peace just wouldn’t endure. After a few times touring Ontario, we’d all had enough. The last time we flew home from an Ontario tour, Andrew took a separate flight. The writing was on the wall.
In February of 2005 my son Maxwell was born. Around the same time. Andrew was recording his debut solo album. This combination of events was enough of an excuse to start dissolving – at least temporarily – Brothers in Stereo as an active recording and touring unit. We had recorded about 7-8 songs in demo format in 2004, but they lay gathering dust as we all went our separate ways. The reality of all this was that Andrew and I could simply not function together peacefully within a musical setting. As brothers we continued to get along as a family. We always had managed to do this – even in the darkest days of the band.
Throughout the last seven years or so, Brothers in Stereo performed a few times upon request in St. John’s, with no plan to record a new album or reform as a permanent entity. During this interim I finished my degrees at MUN and started teaching there, while Andrew started full-time as a letter carrier with Canada Post. Barry also finished a diploma and started working in internet communications. This turn of events seemed to solidify the idea of Brothers in Stereo not ever reforming as a serious unit.
Ironically, all of our pursuits outside music gave us a much-needed mental break from the pressures of the music business while giving us time to grow personally. Last year we went into the studio with two new members: guitarist Chad Murphy and bassist Andrew Boulos. Chad and Andrew are musicians in the their mid-20s who play with an authority well beyond their years. We recorded four new Brothers in Stereo songs, and along with a few previously-recorded songs we plan to release a new album this year. Aptly, it’s been exactly a decade since we first formed. Everyone has grown up and we’ve learned not to take it all so seriously – most of all Andrew and me, who desperately needed to come to a peaceful solution to the antagonistic vibe we created for so long on stage during the Brother’s heyday.
In the past few months we’ve played the K-Rock Christmas party and opened for New York singer/songwriter Willie Nile. This Saturday night at the Rockhouse on George Street we are doing our first full-length show in years, celebrating our tenth anniversary and the start of a new era for Brothers in Stereo. Watch for our new release coming out soon.