Jeff the Brotherhood is actually a band made up of brothers. The Orrall brothers in Jake and Jamin, with no Jeff’s involved. We recently caught a performance of them in Seattle with Third Man label mates The Greenhornes at The Crocodile Café. About a week later, we caught up with lead singer/guitar player Jake as he, his brother Jamin and a friend were enjoying a day off while touring, sitting on a dock at a lake in Topeka, Kansas fishing. Well, until his cell phone rang with us on the other line.
The interview was amusing as Jake would often interrupt as he was talking to the others about baiting his line or the sizes of fish they were catching. His mind seems to change quickly and often. Many times he would say phrases like “It’s kind of like….well, I don’t know” and then shift gears into a completely different thought. He would also start to talk about how he doesn’t like something, then eventually have you believing that he does like it by the end of the sentence. But the guy is the lead singer/songwriter/guitarist for a duo band, and he only uses three guitar strings and records his albums in days flat. He has to make quick decisions and often change his mind and go into another direction of focus. He probably doesn’t get a day off from that.
Jeff the Brotherhood will release a new album We Are the Champions on June 21st. Listen to tracks off of the new album as you read this interview.
Randomville: When you guys were here in Seattle, it was Craig’s (Fox from The Greenhornes) birthday. So what did you guys do?
Listen to “Hey Friend”: [audio:http://randomville.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/01-Hey-Friend.mp3|titles=Hey Friend]
Jake Orrell: Um, I don’t really remember much. Craig was kind of doing his own thing and I think they couldn’t find him for a while. (Laughs) But it was all good.
Rv: How do you feel about that Seattle show?
JO: I didn’t really like the venue.
Rv: Really? Why not?
JO: It was just one of those venues where it was too professional. Kind of like, like the Olive Garden of venues. It’s like the crew had ear pieces, it had a tall stage and a beer is seven dollars or something. I don’t know. It was an alright place. We played this place in Seattle a couple of times across the street from Neumo’s…
Rv: The Comet?
JO: Yeah, The Comet. That place is a little more our style. [Editor’s note: The Comet in Seattle is a dive bar. Actually, so is The Comet in Cincinnati for that matter.]
Rv: In Seattle, you started off the show playing down in the crowd. Do you have gimmicks that you try to do to get the attention of the crowd?
JO: Well, we’re not the type of band to just stand there on stage and play. We like to have fun. I wouldn’t say we’re gimmicky, but we just try to get the fans engaged in the show.
Rv: Do you only play with three guitar strings? (Jake gets distracted by pedestrians playing music nearby.)
JO: Yes, I do. Hey, what band is that? (Long pause). Ah, that’s Nickelback. That’s bad ass. Yeah, we’re in Topeka, Kansas. Anyway, I have a backup guitar in case a string breaks. But I’ve been playing like this for about seven years. It forces you to be more creative and to come up with more ideas.
Rv: You recorded an album an album in three days. Later, do you look back and wish you could change things about albums when you record them quickly?
JO: Yeah, and it usually takes about six months to get over that. For us it always seems like we don’t have time to take longer than that in recording.
Rv: With you guys just being a duo, were bands like The Black Keys or The White Stripes an inspiration to you at all?
JO: No, not at all. They’re like blues bands. The two piece thing came from us living out in the country and not having anyone else to play with. I didn’t really know about those two bands until they blew up.
Rv: Why do you guys choose to live in Nashville?
JO: Well we grew up near here in Tennessee, so I guess it’s just close to home for us. I do like Portland, but it’s just too far away from family and the East Coast. We like Chicago too. I really liked Melbourne, Australia also.
Rv: You actually used to live in Washington state.
JO: Yeah, I went to Evergreen College for two years, then I quit.
Listen to “Ripper”: [audio:http://randomville.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/06-Ripper.mp3|titles=Ripper]
Rv: How long ago were you there?
JO: From 2004 to 2006.
Rv: Why did you quit?
JO: I was just becoming too busy with music and began to realize that’s what I wanted to do. Plus, living in Olympia we went something like 90 days without seeing the sun.
Rv: (Sarcastically) Welcome to winter in the Pacific Northwest!
JO: Yeah, fuck that! I’ll stay in Nashville (laughs).
Rv: What about being a foreign exchange student in Iceland?
JO: Oh yeah, well that was really dark too.
Rv: Musicians like Bjork and Sigur Ros are from there. Did you delve into any new kinds of music while there?
JO: We lived in a pretty small town there and there was only one band in our town, a cover band. The only music they played was like Nirvana, Metallica and Pantera. So I got up with them and played those covers and a little bit of originals too.
Rv: So you guys once had a bus that was ran off of used fryer oil?
JO: (Laughs) Yeah, that thing was a pain in the ass. We did a two month tour on it and then the transmission blew out. We had bought this school bus in Ohio for $1,200. We had it converted but it was a pain because it needed constant maintenance and we were on the road, trying to tour. It always needed an endless supply of filters. You have to go into restaurants and ask for their used oil.
Rv: I’m just picturing these long haired guys walking into a restaurant, asking for the used cooking oil.
JO: People were usually interested, but yeah, it was an odd scene. That was back when gas first shot up really high in price and we were mostly doing house shows, so we knew we had to come up with something to get by. But we ended up losing a bunch of money anyway.
Rv: On a recent blog post, you had pictures and comments about Sylvie Vartan. How the hell do you know who she is?
JO: I don’t remember, I’ve just always had a crush on her. I really got into that shit for a while. Are you a fan?
Rv: No, I’ve never heard of her before.
JO: Ah, she’s dope.
Listen to “Health and Strength”: [audio:http://randomville.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/10-Health-and-Strength.mp3|titles=Health and Strength]
Rv: Maybe you should talk Third Man into tracking her down, maybe reviving her career. If she’s still alive.
JO: I don’t think she is. Actually I think she is [Editor’s note: She is still alive. She is 66]. But she was pretty huge in the 60s. She’s a babe.
Rv: Are you guys playing any festivals this summer?
JO: We’re playing Bonnaroo, which is pretty cool because it’s like right down the street pretty much. Actually, I don’t know if we’re playing any other festivals.
Rv: Are you guys coming back to Seattle for Bumbershoot in September?
JO: No, we’re actually going to take a little time off. But I think we will be back there in October.
Rv: Maybe back to The Comet this time?
JO: Hopefully we’ll be too big for The Comet next time! (Laughs).
Rv: What else do you want to do after music, maybe 20 or 30 years from now? Do you just want to settle down, and maybe own a farm?
JO: Yeah, I want to build a home, maybe along a river. You hit the nail on the head. Hopefully I’ll make enough money doing this that I can sit around for the rest of my life.
Rv: Yes, but with all of the touring and music that you’ve done, do you think you could actually just sit around and not do anything? Do you feel like you would ever miss the road?
JO: Yeah, but I think the road is always there though.