nothing negative about it
Simply put, The Negatones is Jay (vocals/guitar/synthesizer) and Justin (vocals/bass/synthesizer) Braun, tag-team producers, (JSBX, Fiery Furnaces, Chuck D. etc.) brothers and purveyors of the art of genre-shattering. As first evidenced on 1994’s Snacktronica EP, one scrape below the surface reveals sublime musical orchestration that defies categorization and sweeps you off your feet while gently pummeling you with the head of a hammer. This year with brilliant displays of crushing rock juxtaposed with lilting guitar melodies and electronic snippets on their self-titled, premiere full-length album, the brothers Braun satiated the critics’ appetites. It sounds rather cut and dry on paper, but this kind of recognition didn’t just happen--especially in the vast, musical talent oasis known as New York City. It’s taken years of practice and networking for The Negatones to blossom from a mere vision or blip on the screen to the rip-roaring rocket of slap-in-the-face reality it is today. Not to mention a little help from above to bring two inherently different, yet star-crossed brothers back together after a period of mental and physical divergence. Despite a name that seems to suggest the opposite, the Braun brothers look to the future, new-found camaraderie in-tow with open minds and a positive outlook. Here they piece together how The Negatones came to be while sharing a bit of family dynamics.
Much like the childhood of any other brothers around the same age, the Brauns got along swimmingly “We shot low-budget, sci-fi adventure movies on a super-8 home movie camera and came up with our own world of stories and characters based on inter-dimensional beings with personality disorders” Justin reminisces. It seems likely then that this kindred innocence would serve as the platform for the Braun’s creative minds to focalize down the road, but not before their burgeoning friendship was stifled due to conventional growing pains, Justin explains “As we grew up, we went our separate ways and argued a lot--Jay was more on the fine arts scene, I was more academic.” Before long, the Braun brothers were back in the saddle, reliving their self-made silver-screen days and taking the first steps towards bringing The Negatones into existence. “Around high school and college, music was becoming important to both of us so we started to get close again, we started playing in bands together and that cemented things” Justin offers. “I went to college in New York and started playing in bands, Justin was pretty musically inclined so I'd always drag him down to the city from our parents' to fill-in where he was needed” Jay adds. Not long after Justin moved to New York for college, the two became involved in their own projects and some together--just as they are today. Jay recognizes this important step in how things evolved “It was a logical progression to start The Negatones; we wanted to do something that was ambitious and left-of-center and that didn't fit with the surf-rock of The Mooney Suzuki or Band of Susans, which we were both in at the time--though the earliest songs had a recognizable surf influence.”
As one might guess, being in a band with a sibling is different from collaborating with just anyone, but this has spun only beneficial results for the band as Jay expounds “It’s great to be in this band with Justin because I don't have to be afraid to bring an idea to him, I know he'll give it a chance and try to see what I see in it” “It’s like any band where close friends are involved--there's creative trust at work.” This aforementioned trust gives the band a head-start when it comes to creative process, but is certainly not the only leg-up they possess; after all, the Brauns are producers. “We started working on other people's music because we were working on our own recordings; what we do and who we are go hand-in-hand” “If people come looking for us there's a good chance they like or will like our band because that’s where we apply what we do first and foremost.” Jay explains. It’s no surprise at this juncture that after Justin or Jay comes up with a piece and it has been reshaped by the band, there’s another twist in the succession as Jay diplomatically points out “Everything may be up for grabs in the recording process if another cool idea comes our way or something isn't working or translating to tape well.”
Having been involved in music within New York’s city boundaries for close to ten years, the Braun brothers have seen it all and are not afraid to call a spade a spade, Jay explicates “Scenes come and go; we've always been peripheral--never part of a clique, have played on all sorts of bills and had friends in a variety of bands.” But in a city that recycles and discards bands like garbage, how does a band manage to remain intact, secretly under the radar, hoping to fly in for the kill? “I think the indie scene in NYC is a lot like high school: the cool kids run the show, and unless you're a cool kid, it’s hard to get anywhere” “That sort of structure doesn't encourage longevity, even if it produces something good; we've survived by not being trendy.” Jay intimates. At this point Jay rolls out the big guns “There are good bands out there, but I think the pool in New York is crowded with bands that aren't all that exceptional--its spread so thin it seems a lot of artists stand out for arbitrary reasons and bands that should be heard are pushed to the margins.” Justin sees things in a different light “Knowing the right people can get your band to stand out whether or not the music is actually deserving; perseverance can pay off, so can strategy” “Being choosey about the bills you play on and the energy you spend in promoting can make a very big difference.” Then he drives it home “For us I think we've only stood out because we do something unique and quality control is our top priority.” It’s clear the brothers Braun have a difference of opinion here, but it seems this hint of discord only pushes the band further as Justin explains “The competition is what it is and it only affects you if you decide to play along--we haven't made strong efforts to know the “right people” or create the “right sound”, we've just gone about doing what we do as best as we could, and for a long time people didn't seem to particularly care.” “A lot of our heroes were received the same way, but were persistent so we've tried to take a page from them.”
Though good fortune has certainly found the band easily, The Negatones has endured its share of hardship, Jay explains “A couple of times we got into sticky situations working with people who had no idea what we were about; there are cookie-cutter models of how rock music and the industry work that don't apply to all cases” “I think if you are stuck with anyone who insists there is only one way to go about things you’re in trouble.” Justin chimes in “One of these instances was getting signed to a start-up indie label--they didn't have their act together and instead of fixing the fundamental problems, they tried to coercively impose their vision on us and everybody around them by laying blame--needless to say, they left in frustration and so did we.” He was also kind enough to impart some advice on to aspiring musicians/producers “Get paid up front when you can.”
Just as the band had to escape the deadly blade of the knife of strife, doors have opened that once concealed blinding light and that the Braun brothers never would’ve imagined.
“The podcast play we've gotten has been incredible, I think that's the future for us” Jay offers. “The good press and top ten lists at the end of last year were great, more for me because cool writers whose taste we admire saw something good in us than the actual publicity we received” he explicates.
While they wait for future doors to open, the Braun brothers keep busy working on plenty of projects including their second album and playing with the likes of Adam Green (ex-Moldy Peaches) and Kapow (ex-Fiery Furnaces). Also, Jay tries to meet the much sought-after spring album-release deadline for his current production ventures, one of which features Russel Simmins (JSBX) and Dan the Automator (Handsome Boy Modeling School, Dr. Octagon). “I'm doing a lot of mixing, some beat cutting, writing, guitar and synth - basically I got called in as a finisher” “It’s a really cool, distorted guitar and beat-centered CD, like Warp Records crossed with Motor City” he explains.
As much as things change for the brothers, some remain the same: their disparate thinking drives The Negatones into success and they always make time for each other as Jay contends “We're busy with our own projects and lives but we always grab lunch together, get a lift when the other's driving or fill in for each other on sessions.” Appropriately, Justin concurs “We're usually the first to know when something big goes down in the other's life; I think at this point in our lives we're very close friends.” Music, family and independence--it sounds like a very fulfilling life; just don’t make Jay choose between being a musician or a producer “If you made me decide I'd say producer because I could still play instruments and make music under that title, is that cheating?”