April 08, 2002

Interview: The Burden Brothers

It seems as if the 1990s are littered with the ashes and the failed dreams of many an alt-rocker. Many a musician from this era certainly must have moments of wondering "what could have happened if only..." Others, however, were quite lucky to have a shining moment in the sun. Sure, the moment was lasting, but the moment was, indeed, theirs. The Toadies, led by Todd Lewis, were such a band. When they released their debut album, Rubberneck, they scored an almost-instant radio hit with "Possom Kingdom." Then, after extensive touring...nothing. It would be nearly seven years before they released their follow-up album, the crunchy, punch-out-the-lights Hell Below/Stars Above. Like many a band from the early 90s, this album was neglected by their label, and the band would subsequently break up shortly after its delivery.

But that's the past. Todd Lewis has joined forces with Taz Bentley, former drummer for the Reverend Horton Heat, another band who encountered difficulty during their stint on a major label. Instead of looking back, Lewis and Bentley are plowing ahead, and this time, they are sailing their own ship, and charting their own destiny--without that annoying middle-man, the record label. Their music, however, is a blistering, enjoyable, hard-hitting rock and roll affair, prompting the listener to prop up their ears, and making them anxious to hear what they will do next.

You fellows don't care much for the music industry, do you? It seems like the motivating factor behind Burden Brothers is "do everything just the opposite of how we did it before."

Taz Bentley: I guess you could look at it that way. I just feel that for now we aren't in the hunt to get a big deal. We both have bad taste in our mouths from our respective past label(s). But to say the industry is bad in general wouldn't be fair. Most fans of music never totaly get to hear what the artist wants them to, the lablel is more involved in the process than most people think. We just want to get music to the fans without the months of red tape involved when dealing with a lable. For us it also helps to be able to make any call without having to jeopardize the integrity of the rock jamz by answering to a label.

Todd Lewis: I wouldn't say we're doing everything "just the opposite of how we did it before," but damned close. I just want to be more in control of the whole thing. I want the songwriting pressure to be the right kind of pressure-doing what we feel is good without input from someone who controls our careers. No matter what their intentions are, when an outside party has the power to green-light or stifle a band it fucks with the program. I want to be able to fuck with my own program.

From your previous experiences, do you think that everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, or that the labels, for all their good intentions, couldn't see or understand what your bands were wanting to do? Do you feel that since you had a hit very early on in your recording career, that you weren't allowed the opportunity to grow and mature as a recording act?

Todd: Based on my previous experiences, everything that can go wrong will, and not just in "the biz." The issue is "how do we deal with this, will the label support us now, how do we convince them it was a fluke?" There is so much pressure on a major label that any bump in the road gets blown out of proportion, just as any small success. As far as "growing and maturing" goes, that's a luxury of multi-platinum acts, as far as I can tell.

Taz: For me, they weren't prepared for how headstrong we were. We built our band from nothing to something without any outside help. We were basically an "in-house" organization. When we started doing things the way we were accustomed to doing without stopping along the way to wait for the label to catch up, it started a rip that over time did grow to a tear. I feel like they ment well but tried to jump on our success instead of utilize their talents to take it to the next level. As I'm sure you know, there really is some play involved when dealing with any relationship. And when you team an artist who wants to freely express themselves with an investor who feels that by funding a project automatically allows them some say in the outcome. Then what usually happens, but alot of head butting. And for the second part of the question, well I never had a hit.......Dammit.

Are you enjoying being totally hands-on with your music now?

Taz: Like a breath of fresh air, I feel like a little girl.....who drinks a lot of beer and works for a living.

Todd: Yep. Being hands on is a lot more work, but we have a great team working with us at Last Beat. It's not like we have to do everything.

Burden Brothers, from what I've gathered, is the two of you with a rotating cast of musicians. Do you want to avoid creating a defined band, with each member playing their part, considering how things happened with the Toadies?

Todd: Right now the plan for Burden Brothers is to keep the lineup fluid. We want to be able to stretch out in any direction we feel like. We're having a great time with different musicians creating sounds unique to each session. We may change our plan eventually, who knows. That's the beauty of our situation: keep growing and writing and see what happens.

Taz: Yepper.

There's a very raw, live feel to your most recent recordings, and both of you come from very active touring pasts. Are you anxious to hit the road?

Todd: We just did our first "official" show at last week's South by Southwest and loved it. I can't wait to get back out on the road, and I know Taz feels the same. Both of us are very different people than we were when our bands were touring like mad, so we have a different view of homelife and family and such. I hope we'll be able to plan tours that will allow us to "do the rock" as well as see our wives, kids, friends, dogs, etc.

Taz: Playing live has alwayes been the reason for me. So yes I'm anxious to start gigging but will ease into it seeing as we have stuff at home that we didn't use to have, like kids and mortgages and herds of Bison.

Do you think that the internet is playing, or will play, a major role in the growth of the band?

Taz: I still think we'll have to get out there and promote it live, but yes we will utilize the net as much as possible.

Todd: The internet is just about our only connection to the fans right now, and seems to be working pretty well. Along with occasional touring, it's the key to our master plan.

Since Austin gets all of the attention when it comes to Texas music, do you think that this lack of attention helps Dallas area bands to flourish and work harder?

Taz: Good question......I think that if you are willing to give it all you've got, then you pretty much have a chance no matter where you live.

Todd: Austin has a great music scene, and I guess Dallas does get overlooked. Kinda hard to say, since I'm in the middle of it. Whatever the reason, D has some amazing talent. Pinkston, Baboon, Deathray Davies, DARYL...can't think of all the great bands...

Dallas seems to be heading towards another renaissance of music, much like the early 1990s. What advice do you have for the young musicians out there, just now coming up, who might not know what they're doing?

Todd: I'm in a good mood right now, so my advice to upcoming bands would be to play live a lot, go in the studio whenever you can afford it, stop calling it "practice" and start going to "rehearsal", give away lots of free tapes/cds and don't expect to make one red cent. If I would have answered these questions yesterday, I would have skipped right to the end of that list and added "don't quit your day job. This business is ugly and cut-throat. It will beat your ass and make you cry. It will kill your trust in your fellow man. Stay in school. Read a book. Get a haircut."

Taz: Enjoy the beers, eat three times a day, and never trust whitey!

Thanks, guys!

---Joseph Kyle

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