Tonight, local indie pop outfit The Brother Whys is headlining at Canopy Club. Earlier this week, I met with Tom Riordan, lead singer of the quintet, to ask him a few questions shortly after he got off of work at the Illini Union ticket office. After discussing the abysmal ticket sales for Ain’t Misbehavin’ (starring Ruben Studdard), we talked about things more pertinent to the band.
After the jump, Riordan talks about stage diving, their techno remix and competing with the Wu Tang Clan.
Smile Politely: There’s something really familiar about your voice. Have you heard any comparisons?
Tom Riordan: You might have heard The Squares, a band I played in with a lot of the same members [as The Brother Whys]. We probably played only four of five shows in Champaign. We recorded a four song EP, but it didn’t last long in Champaign. It was more of a high school band that carried over.
SP: How long were The Squares going on?
TR: Since eighth grade I’ve been playing in bands with neighbors and friends from school. Our guitar player [Dan Blabas] and I have been playing together since our freshman year in high school. We’ve been in various punk bands and stuff. We became The Squares as 17 year olds — junior or senior year. It was a fun high school band playing for friends, and I then went to college. …
I remember going to see Headlights at Canopy Club my freshman year. I remember thinking, Wow, there’s an awesome venue on this campus. All of the sudden it became the Holy Grail to play Canopy Club. So we got The Squares back together, got into the studio and recorded an EP. But the music was still too high school for me. So we just said, let’s do a whole new thing. We got a couple new members and that was it.
SP: And that’s how Brother Whys came about?
SP: So it was you and the guitarist …
TR: Me, the guitarist, the bass player and the drummer from The Squares.
SP: And then you added two extra members?
TR: Yeah, we changed out our keyboard player and added my cousin Kelly on vocals.
SP: What’s the songwriting process like?
TR: I write all the songs up to a point. I’ll have structure, melody, lyrics, chords and some key parts for other people to play. But what’s been sweet and working out real well with the Brother Whys has been everyone contributes and changes stuff and tells me their opinions. Whereas in the past [it was] me telling people what to do. So there has been a lot better music that has come out of this.
SP: You had an album come out last year. How has that been received so far?
TR: Really well. One thing, I’m not sure if it’s good or bad, is that it’s been received really well across ages. My mom is always listening to it and giving it to her friends and stuff.
SP: Do they like it?
TR: Yeah, it’s cool. When we play in our hometown I get old teachers coming out to see us, I mean, it’s pretty poppy music. But uh, the album was awesome. It was a ton of fun to record. We recorded at Sentient Studio in Chicago. It was a blast.
SP: So where is your hometown?
TR: We’re all from the Southwest Surburbs, around Lemont. Right now, only two of us go to school here. Kelly goes to ISU. Our drummer is a senior in high school. On Wednesday we’re playing Canopy as you know. …
SP: Is your drummer making the trip?
TR: No, we’re having Jeff Wagner from Snowsera fill in. We’ve had to do stuff like that; it’s been a pain having people in different places. Our bass player lives in Lemont, so we’re going to need someone to fill in for him too. It’s always been a juggling act filling out the roster.
SP: How do you guys manage practice time?
TR: We practice an embarrassingly small amount. It’s funny when people come up to do us and say ‘Man you guys must jam all the time’ and we really don’t. When we get together to, we focus on writing songs. We’ll usually have one solid, long jam session before a show to work on the set, but other than that we just work on new songs. It has been kind of a pain, but we manage to work through it.
SP: So besides the Dec. 3 show, you also have a show Dec. 13 at Red Herring.
TR: Yeah, but check back on that closer to the date. There’s been some talk about moving it to Dec. 14.
SP: Yeah, you’ll have to compete with Wu Tang Clan on the 13th.
TR: I wasn’t aware of that. If I had known we probably wouldn’t have scheduled it that night since the crossover is so serious.
SP: How do you want to affect the audience when you play? You looking to get them to sing along?
TR: Some fist pumping, a little mosh pit action.
SP: Have you gotten some mosh pits going?
TR: We have. We play this place in Lemont called Stage 83. They usually get metal bands to play there and they have this ridiculously large stage. When we play there we can get a lot of hometown crowd, kids from local high schools coming out. For whatever reason, when you’re 17 years old you really feel the need to crowd surf. So we’ve had that happen many times.
SP: That must be a good feeling.
TR: I don’t know, kind of. When I go to a show, I don’t see a lot of bands that make people want to crowd surf. But if people want to do that, it’s cool.
SP: What are your future plans?
TR: We got recording time through Green Street Records. This year we get an EP. I think it’s 18 hours or 16 hours over two days. Whatever we can squeeze in there. Hopefully we’ll get three or four songs. Hopefully we’ll have a pool of eight or ten songs and take from that.
SP: Do you have a favorite album this year?
TR: The new Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s CDs [Animal! and Not Animal!]. … I’ve been super impressed. I actually think Not Animal! is probably better.
SP: Yeah, I’ve been thinking that too, Animal! is a little slow.
TR: I think it loses its focus. Our whole band has been into it; it’s our band’s CD of the year. … Our keyboard player has not though, [he’s] really into techno music.
SP: Are you going to try and fit that in anywhere?
TR: That’d be great. There’s actually a dance remix of one our songs on our Myspace.
SP: Did he make it?
TR: He did most of it. Me and our drummer helped him out a bit too. It’s pretty funny sounding.
SP: You should send it to the clubs around here.
See The Brother Whys tonight at Canopy Club. The show starts at 8 p.m. and is $7 at the door. Also playing is Lucky Mulholland.