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The best kept secret in music

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IN MY ROOM

When Derek Richey first assembled a group of musicians to record under the moniker Brando in 1997, lo-fi was the operating principle in the indie
scene. Everyone and his brother was grabbing a four-track and emulating Lou Barlow or Robert Pollard; bedroom recordings were as common as half-eaten cheese sandwiches under dorm-room beds. But, as with most things in the biz, the fad passed, and bands that had been adamantly lo-fi started saving up for that professional-quality recording.

Not Brando. Richey’s band—guitarist Kenny Childers (Mysteries Of Life),
guitarist Tony Whitlock, bassist Josh Bennett and drummer Daniel Tauw—has remained loyal to its original four-track aesthetic. 943 Recluse
(Recordhead/Mr. Whiggs), Brando’s fifth album, was recorded entirely on four-track in Richey’s basement at 943 Jackson St., Bloomington, Ind.
“[Recording on a four-track] is not something we do because we have to,” says Richey. “We have access to a studio, but I haven’t quite found my rhythm there. I like recording when I want to, at my leisure. The band comes over, we lay down foundation tracks and then they leave. I sit around and let the songs sink in. I need that to build context.”

Most of the tracks on 943 Recluse are coated with what sounds like unlimited overdubs: Three or four guitar parts dart and weave around one another, and Richey’s moony vocals come in thick blasts of harmony. (“My voice is a mutt,” he admits.) It’s the nerdiness of Pavement, the dreamy abstraction of the Flaming Lips and the angst of Sebadoh all muddled into one. The telltale sign of Brando’s homemade recording is a distinct muffle that hangs over the record. Every tone is just a shade lower than you might expect. For example, if you adjust your graphic equalizer perfectly for the rocking chords of “Flamethrowerz” (which is eerily reminiscent of Bryan Adams’ “Run To You”), you’ll have to turn it down when you put on another CD. The slow-dance beat of “Abby Laine” sounds retro to its core, as if it was transported in a time machine from 1950. On a low-quality stereo with shredded speakers, the twangy vocals of “Lemon-Lime” get lost in a gust of guitar haze.

In a way, 943 Recluse is reminiscent of classic analog rock ‘n’ roll
recordings. It stands to reason Richey often finds himself calling for a
return to good, old-fashioned songwriting (and recording) values.
“If you listen to some of the old recordings from the Motown era, how much better would they really sound using a 64-track digital recorder?” asks Richey. “Of course, it can’t sound like mud, but how well does an album have to be ‘produced’ to have an impact? When does songwriting and risk take precedent? When does not having the proper equipment reduce the effect of a powerful bass line? I won’t pretend to know the answer, but somewhere along the line, if you plan to write a powerful song, it can’t sound like a third-generation phone-message-machine recording.”
- tizzy archer


Brando started out in the early ‘90s in Bloomington, IN. The line-up has gone through many changes, the one constant being songwriter Derek Richey. On Brando’s fourth full-length release 943 Recluse, Richey sings and plays most of the instruments, joined on some tracks by Kenny Childers (guitar), Josh Bennett (bass), Dan Solero (drums and guitar), Daniel Touw (drums) and Tony Whitlock (guitar). 943 Recluse is a step back from the full-blown psychedelic Britpop production of the two previous albums The Headless Horseman Is A Preacher and Single Crown Postcard. The minimal yet inventive homemade style of the Instantly Spaceships EP collection is revived here, with the added benefit of Derek Richey’s maturity as an experienced producer. The arrangements have been simplified but this is not a lo-fi album.

The song titles are thrown randomly at odd angles across the back tray card of 943 Recluse ? 16 listed tracks plus two more mentioned only inside the cover. To make things more obtuse yet at the same time more integrated, the lyrics of some songs allude to the titles and themes of other songs on the CD. This makes it hard to keep track of the individual songs but helps to build the album’s character quite dramatically. The opening song "Brooklyn" has a Pavement-like intro and vocals that have the lonesome twang of Built To Spill’s Doug Martsch. The gentle verse is pounded away by a heavy guitar and bass interlude that could be from the loudest of Motorpsycho’s progressive excursions. "Flamethrowerz" and "Seamstress At Night" make a case for a dormant connection between lo-fi master Bob Pollard and the more experimental (less overly commercial) side of Blur. "Weave In Your Hair" is more easy-going indie pop along the lines of a chill-out song by Stephen Malkmus or The Minders. "Abby Laine" combines a "This Boy" triplet ‘50s ballad rhythm with a more modern Britpop sweep. "Goblin Market" and "Guarded Thieves" bring up the Built To Spill comparison again, the latter also tapping the spirit of Nirvana’s "Something In The Way". "Natural" is a particularly compelling track suggesting an old friend as new lover dynamic as Derek Richey speaks with off-handed precisely-informed intimacy. "Seine To The Rhine" is probably the most complicated song on the album, alternating between quiet, sketched verses and breaks, and a ripping Bowie/Stones anthem of a chorus. "Designed For Operations" has a subtle melancholy similar to label mate Tobin Sprout’s solo albums. Other highlights include the persistent rock of "Short Wave" and the following ballads "The Verse Begins To Float" and "Planes By Delta" (rhymed with "cards she dealt ya"). A reworking of "Virtuous", a song originally on the bonus EP included with Single Crown Postcard, is also very nice. "Nothing Doing" has the ethereal gravity of the Dipsomaniacs’ Oyvind Holm channeling John Lennon. The comparisons to other artists are just for descriptive purposes; the music here is absolutely Derek Richey’s own sound.

Brando plays a style that manages to aptly reference most of the best indie styles of recent times while adding a dose of ‘70s rock dreaming. Derek Richey’s vivid, personal songwriting makes this already cool music meaningful. 943 Recluse offers Brando’s strongest collection of songs so far and conveys the band’s personality with eloquence. If you haven’t heard Brando yet, I would recommend starting with the new album and then working your way back to through the earlier releases to see how Derek Richey and company arrived at their current peak. Start your explorations at http://lunamusic.net/brando/.

Review © 2004 by Nick Bensen
- free city media / nick benson


Brando's Derek Richey has never been coy about his affection for '90s indie rock champs Pavement, but he has over the last couple of albums moved towards more sonically advanced, subdued performances and production, making such comparisons less blatant, if not less relevant. 943 Recluse, however, sees him returning to the early cassette-days of the band, again recording on a 4-track, self-constrained from the endless possibilities of a proper studio. And while this is most likely a temporary move, for now it feels just right.

Brando may emulate the sounds of early '90s indie rock, but that hardly implies that they're one-minded disciples to it. Over the years, Richey has carved out a unique voice and tone, and due to the stripped-down nature of the album, his songwriting is more in focus here than on recent albums. Songs like the stumbling "Seine to the Rhine," the careful "Planes by Delta" and the magnificent opening track "Brooklyn" show that Richey delivers the goods even in this new setting, displaying his intense vocal performance, the band's minimalist but complex delivery and the unique tightness of the band. Even the two (listed) bonus tracks are brilliant, making another case for these guys' impressive productivity and their sheer breadth and scope.

Sure, they sound more like Pavement fans than they have in years, but they sound like fans doing something creative and affectionate, making music that will last on its own terms. For those unfamiliar with the band, this is probably the best place to get started, as the music is more immediately moving than on previous albums. Judging by advance press, Brando may finally be getting the break they deserve this time around. If that happens, it's a good thing it'll happen with this album. Another great disc from one of the best US indie rock bands today.
- stein haukland


Beautiful, at times ethereal, and at other times raging, off-kilter guitar rock. These days, Brando, who formed in 1991 in Bloomington, Indiana and went through many, many personnel changes, now consists of vocalist/guitarist Derek Richey, who writes all the songs, and an ever-expanding group of musicians he works with when recording. On the 16-song 943 Recluse things get raw and rowdy with "Seine to the Rhine," indie pop-like during "Abby Laine" and just plain amazing on "Designed for Operations," a song with one of those choruses that makes you feel like you've reached Nirvana when it kicks in. This is "indie rock" (a sound, not just a way to describe corporate-free music) the way Pavement's crooked rain, crooked rain, GBV's Bee Thousand and Death Cab for Cutie's The Photo Album are indie rock. Mysterious and absorbing. - Michael Goldberg


When you hail from the Midwest, write pop songs full of melodic and lyric quirks, and intermittently take off into flights of lo-fi basement psychedelia, it's hard to avoid comparisons to Dayton, OH's favorite '60s-smitten sons, Guided by Voices. Infrequently does it follow that you actually deserve to be included in such esteemed company. Brando, however, is one of the few such deserving bands, having, over the course of a decade and five indie label releases, worked its way into the headiest pop atmosphere. The sixth release from the combo, 943 Recluse, noticeably scales back on some of the sonic complexities of Single Crown Postcard and Headless Horseman Is a Preacher. Leader Derek Richey intentionally set out to record music that recalled the stripped-down four-track recordings of the band's early days. No doubt the sound is rawer and starker; but the more elemental approach could never conceal a set of melodies as scintillating as the ones Richey wrote for the occasion. And songs like the swooning "Abby Laine," with its three-note guitar line, the buoyant, hazy "Natural Is Natural," rocking "Seine to the Rhine," unnervingly surreal "The Verse Begins to Float," and the Shudder to Think-like art rock of "Seamstress at Night" are as fantastic as any Brando has recorded, with another half-dozen trailing not far behind. A few of the tunes fall flat — with 18 tracks (two of them hidden), that's to be expected — but on the whole, this is among the band's strongest efforts. - Stanton Swihart


The Bloomington, Indiana band Brando (essentially Derek Richey's one-man show) trip through the universe with spacey rock that's got a thick, bluesy cloud hanging over it (fitting for a group once on a label called Smokeylung). Their latest album 943 Recluse manages to cut through that cloud and maintain it at the same time. The songs here are heady and dreamy like before, but they have a sonic clarity that's immediately gripping. That gives these songs an immediacy and intimacy missing from Brando's previous releases, even while the songs are as mysterious as ever, with lyrics that walk the line between meaning and confusion and a tendency to take off in unexpected directions. Sometimes, though, that direction is towards what's soft and lovely, as on "Abby Laine," which sounds like a prom night slow dance but is still as bizarre as they come. Sometimes it seems like Brando are single-handedly creating a new form of classic rock - combining blues rock, psychedelic rock and more straightforward power chords but then making them all sound alien. But here that isn't even the whole story, as pop melody isn't that far out of reach. There's something comforting about 943 Recluse's songs, but the more you get wrapped up in it the more it has the capacity to freak you out. Brando = Halloween (or Halloween) + UFOs + time machines + love letters + a pillow for you to dream upon. You could rewrite that equation til infinity and it wouldn't be quite right, but Brando would still be a great band. - Dave Heaton


Each Brando release seems to rewrite the textbook on how to beautifully create intentionally lo-fi home recordings. Experimenting with hard panning of instruments, delay, keyboards, and unusual effects reminiscent of that used in the 1950s, the quirkiness of Brando's sound marries the quaintness of lo-fi with smart and sometimes experimental song writing. Somewhat more aggressive than their Single Crown Postcard release, 943 Recluse will be sure to please dedicated Brando fans as well as pick up some new ones.

If you were to peel away the many layers of Brando's songs, you would mostly find basic pop songs. Some of which sound like music emitting from Timothy Leary's head during a trip teetering on bad with a mix of garage rock-Seine to the Rhine for example. This is juxtaposed by the 90-second song Designed for Operations, which is a straight forward and somewhat softer emotionally restrained song with one the best chorus parts to grace this album.

943 Recluse begins with a standard Brando introduction with Richie's strong vocal melody atop a delicate-sounding guitar and drum line. The song quickly transitions with a Slint-like break merged with a Led Zepellin-esque guitar and bass run. It's very tastefully pulled off while still retaining Brando's originality.

Track 3, Weave in Your Hair, is another great track that has a bouncy and solid CCR-like rhythm. The vocal melody is pleasingly predictable and comes with a nice countermelody via keyboard. Richie's tone and style sounds like a more mature and less abrasive Mac McCaughan of Superchunk fame.

One thing about Dereck Richey's vocal melodies that stands out is that they could be sung acapella and still stand as complete songs. This is part of Brando's charm. While the background music can be somewhat chaotic and noisy, Richie's voice seems to calm it down and hold the song together.

Departing from the more upbeat tone familiar to Brando, Goblin Market takes a much darker and serious tone. This song would be perfect in a grainy black and white movie situated in a medieval town next to a Brooke. And it contains some of the best mood-fitting lines from the album:

And passively you accept the fruit that untangles your legs
From vegetable oils and roots, to the goblins who beg
The classical strings have been played

Lemon-Lime is a sing songy tune with a somewhat abrasive change that is hauntingly reminiscent of the Doors. Shortwave follows with three Sonic Youth sounding guitar lines that intertwine like two snakes caught in a rake. The Verse Begins to Float begins with a simple acoustic guitar line but is abruptly distracted by the accompanying drums and percussion. Initially it seems to ruin the song until about 43 seconds into the song where the chorus comes in with a thick bedding of piano, multiple vocals harmonies, and bass. From there on out the song flows well and transitions smoothly into Planes by Delta, which reminds me of an early Broadcast song with a discordant keyboard chorus and heavily reverberated vocal line.

The pick of the litter on this album is the 60s-sounding acoustic-based Virtuous. Everything about this song is perfect-the lo-fi sound, the simple guitar chords, the carrying vocal melody, and restrained drumming. The only fault of this song is that it's not long enough and forces you to keep pressing the back button every two minutes and fourty-nine seconds. This also would have been a good place to end the album as the following tracks pale in comparison.

Overall this is a great album, but there is almost too much material. Brando has perfected composing with homemade sonics whilst retaining a professional and unique sound. The artwork is tastefully composed and fits the music well. If you're a fan of The Clientele, Sonic Youth, and Pink Floyd, pick up this album. You can find it at any Luna Music store.
- tony reitz


In the beginning, Brando was a band. Then, after a series of starts and stops, it became mostly Derek Richey and Josh Seib. Now Richey has hooked up with many of his "original" mates (and, of course, newer compatriot Seib) and made the "band" a sorta full-time thing.

While I thought the recording-geek phase of the band was pretty cool, this new band phase is much more satisfying. These songs still sound a lot like some sort of one-man-band effort, but the band really fleshes out the sound. It's a trippy thing; the excessive idiosyncrasy is still present, but a lot of people are working hard to make it sing.

And, like many obsessive bands, these boys do remind me a bit of the Lips. Of the 1980s. Without so much distortion. But with all the loopy inspiration and manic, introverted energy.

The songs just keep lurching along. There are moments when I wonder if Brando can actually make it to the end of the song. I love that sort of tension. It really makes listening to an album that much more intense. And, by the way, Brando always finishes what it begins...in the most pleasing manner possible.

- Jon Worley


It wouldn’t be difficult to draw comparisons between Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard and Brando head Derek Richey. Both are amazingly productive; both have traditionally eschewed high-fi production for a more lo-fi, organic sound; and both draw heavily from the pop music of the 60s. But Brando takes a different approach from Guided By Voices ? although the band would likely appeal to GBV’s fans ? both in Richey’s unique vocals and the low-key, psychedelic approach.

After 10 years and a host of releases, Brando is going back to the band’s original approach. After last year’s Single Crown Postcard showed a more textured, dense approach, 943 Recluse is back to basics, taking a simpler and more traditional recording path with a 4-track and fewer overdubs. More similar to the band’s The Headless Horseman is a Preacher, this album relishes in simple and strong guitar riffs, big, often booming rhythm, and Richey’s high-pitched, psychedelic-sounding vocals.

The album opens with the sometimes bombastic "Brooklyn" and runs the gambit from the psychedelic guitar scrawls of “Flamethrowerz” through the dreamy, almost ballad-like pop of “Abby Laine” (perhaps giving a hint of this band’s biggest influences?) to the thick, guitar-driven energy of “Goblin Market," Weave in Your Hair” is a light, playful pop song that Elephant 6 similarities, while the head-bobbing “Natural is Natural” takes a deceptively laid-back pace, in stark contrast to the distorted guitars and voice to the bigger rock sound of “Seine to the Rhine.” “Designed for Operations” and the thick guitar on “Shortwave” are very Guided By Voices in nature, and “Lemon-Lime” is a playful romp, even with a lighthearted “woo!” Perhaps the most psychedelic is the oddly soothing “Planes By Delta,” and without being psychedelic, “Nothing Doing” is the prettiest and gentlest song here.

I’ve said before that Brando’s albums really take a lot of listens to fully appreciate, unlike some of the more purely pop work of other like-minded bands. That’s because Richey’s voice takes a little getting used to, and the lo-fi sound hides impressive production work that really shines on repeated ? and loud ? listens with headphones. Like the best pop and psychedelic bands of old, this is a headphone album from start to finish.

After 10 years, Brando can do just about anything Richey and Co. want. Like Guided By Voices, Brando can throw out the lo-fi approach and layer on guitars and keys and vocals for a bigger studio effort or return to the simpler pop feel of the band’s early days. Either way, you’re guaranteed of getting strong, catchy, and unique pop songs that are retro minded and filled with little psychedelic flourishes. 943 Recluse is no exception, as the band has created another strong pop album.
- Jeff Marsh


Derek Richey, the stubble-faced leader of indie-rock heroes Brando, takes a hit off a cigarette as he tries to explain his songwriting method. “In the songs, I cover it all up with this analyzation of others: how shallow they are, how corrupt they are; how self-involved they are, but it’s just a cover for my own insecurities, probably,” he says.

“If you want me to be honest, I’m angry because I just don’t feel like I deserve to be unsatisfied. I’m sad because I think I have things to offer, but I haven’t found the one person I’m compatible with ... I’m cynical because I think this will go on forever. But that’s life, really. These are things a lot of people can relate to, I think, but I would never cry about any of these things through a whole song. That would be whiney melodrama. I’m more interested in taking snapshots of life and its passengers.”

For more than a decade, and so many personnel changes that it’s hard to tally them all, Brando’s music has gone through plenty of stylistic transformations and attitudinal shifts. The one constant theme has been a keen observational eye for the untidy nature of human relationships.

They’re not simple observations, or even observations that make sense, but they’re bird’s-eye views of how people interact with each other.

“I drag everything into the songs,” Richey says. “Situations that may or may not have happened in snapshots that might represent amorousness, jealousy, disappointment, self-righteousness. The songs are just full of these snapshots. My brain works in snapshots. So do the songs. If you put all the snapshots together, you can make sense of the songs. But none of the lyrics tell a seamless, heart-on-sleeve tale. There is emotion there, but it’s buried in the images.

“It’s not my role, I don’t think, to try to serenade someone or something. I figure this is my trip, and I’m going to tell it like I see it. Life isn’t like some seamless emotional blathering, one melodramatic blurb after another; so why should music always have to be so melodramatic? Why does every song have to feature ‘me’ or ‘I’? There can be a lot more drama in ‘you’ or ‘they’ as well. And you can tell a story with stills and snapshots. Thankfully, songs don’t have to run like some never-ending movie scene.”

Directed by Kurosawa
If the music of Brando were compared to a movie, it wouldn’t be a film starring its recently deceased iconic namesake. It wouldn’t be a Hollywood blockbuster project full of explosions and chases.

If the multilayered, dense, pop music of Brando was made into a movie, it would be directed by Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese master responsible for Rashomon, the classic study of ambiguity and the philosophy of truth.

Just as the film presents simultaneous and differing viewpoints of the same events without drawing any conclusions, Brando’s music is equally inscrutable. A listener can read into it what he or she chooses without having any certainty that their analysis is correct.

Critics nationwide — who have been more receptive to Brando’s music than their local counterparts — have created dozens of theories about “the Brando sound.”

At various times in the band’s existence, they’ve been compared to Guided By Voices, the Beatles, Pavement, David Bowie, Blur, Built To Spill, Galaxie 500 and late-period John Lennon.

Just about the only things all those artists have in common is a devotion to unraveling the Gordian knots of truth and an equal devotion to the structure of classic pop music.

On their fourth, and latest, album, 943 Recluse, the group somehow cobbles together a dizzying array of musical styles and lyrical themes. Self-referential and ambivalent throughout, it represents a bold new step for the band, away from its overtly psychedelic material and their indie-pop sound of the 1990s.

“Seine to the Rhine” is full of bombast and energy, while “Seamstress At Night” and “Brooklyn” adopt a more traditional pop sensibility. Elsewhere, there are ballads, understated rockers and songs that encompass all of those categories.
In short, while it’s somewhat different than their 2001 classic The Headless Horseman Is a Preacher, the same off-kilter aesthetic permeates both.

The success of Headless Horseman, which received ecstatic reviews from the indie-rock press upon its release, has become somewhat of an albatross for the band, Richey admits.

“I don’t think I’ll ever live Headless down,” he says. “There are lo-fi lovers out there who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread and have downplayed everything else I’ve done — said it didn’t live up to Headless and showed no progress. Recluse, in some very minor ways, was an attempt to get back to the more ‘off the cuff’ implications of Headless that [2002’s] Single Crown Postcard completely abandoned. So, Recluse doesn’t eclipse Headless, but I do think the next one will.”

The next album, which will have an accompanying DVD, is called The Strangler and is set for release th - steve hammer, nuvo newsweekly cover story


Discography

the adder (various works 1994-1997)
-- smokeylung 2000

peacocks on linen (various works 1997-1999)
-- smokeylung 2000

the headless horseman is a preacher
-- smokeylung 2001

the headless horseman is a preacher
-- talitres (europe) 2001

single crown postcard
-- recordhead / whiggs 2002

instantly spaceships / every 16 year old girls guide to brando (double ep)
-- smokeylung 2002

943 recluse
-- recordhead / whiggs 2004

the strangler
--COMING SOON!

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

The band was originally formed in 1991 in the basement of some house on South Walnut Street in Bloomington, IN.

Since then its been recording songs & making records nearly non-stop.

Brando is highly influenced by melody, harmony, & rhythm....and the reviews reflect that.