Interview: JEFF The Brotherhood's Jake Orrall on Leather Pants, the Nashville Scene, and Almost Breaking His Neck
Bekah Cope Jamin and Jake
With their savage follicles and beer-soaked, bruised take on punk, Nashville's JEFF The Brotherhood seem like the type of boys that would steal both your whiskey and your sister's virtue, and still earn a standing invitation to play your basement. But this might be an unfair assumption, because 23-year-old guitarist/singer Jake Orrall and his 21-year-old brother/drummer Jamin have been hardworking family businessmen for the better part of the decade. Both Orralls did time in dearly-missed Nashville sensations Be Your Own Pet (Jake left before the first album was released and Jamin before the second; everyone's still cool though). But JEFF has been their main passion; they had already recorded several (currently unavailable) albums before the release of their most recent collection/national debut Heavy Days, which is available via the family label, Infinity Cat. We caught with Jake before he left to tour with JEFF superfan Ted Leo, and he was happy to pontificate upon the practicalities of leather pants, the Nashville scene, and the chances of the Brotherhood adding a sister.
Let's start at the beginning. How long have you and your brother been playing together?
Uhm, in this particular band, since 2001. Our first album came out in 2002.
2002? That's weird, because all the publicity material makes it seem like you guys are a new band. I had no idea you'd been around that long.
Yeah, it's actually our sixth album, Heavy Days.
But this is the first one that's getting a national push.
Yeah, it's the first one that's had distribution or any kind of publicity.
Do you feel like a new band, or do you think of yourselves as veterans at this point?
Well, that's hard to say. I think we're trying to do something completely different now from what we've ever done. So in that respect we're a new band. We're a new band to the idea of trying to, you know, make a career out of it.
So, before it was just something you guys did between jobs or school?
Yeah, we toured every summer, and that was basically it until last year.
What made you decide to try to make a go at making this a living rather than just a hobby?
Uhm, well we started doing...when we made our new album we both thought it was really good, and thought that more people deserved to hear, I guess, or would like to hear it, and we were both in the position at the same time to move out of our places, and we had just gotten a really good deal on a van. I guess everything kind of came together at the same time. We were both unhappy with our jobs and stuff, so it was like "Shit, let's just go for it."
Where were you guys working?
I was working at a used bookstore, and ...actually Jamin still works at a bike shop sometimes, when he's in town.
Were you guys nervous to quit your jobs and make a go for it? And how has it been going?
We were pretty nervous about it. It's been weird to not have a place to live. We moved out in March, so that's been kind of weird. It's very unstable. But it's been going really good. We've managed to keep our heads above water. Make repairs on the van and stuff without having to borrow money.
Back when you guys were kids, who started playing instruments first, you or your brother?
We both kind of did at the same time. It was the same band, really, but it was under a couple of different names. Jamin originally played bass, and I think I started on the drums.
As soon as you started playing together, did you just assume you'd be in a band?
Well, we grew up in the country, outside of Nashville, and there really wasn't any other kids around, so it was pretty much just us and our little sister, but she was too young. We were like a little bit closer in age and, I don't know, I guess we have that brotherly connection. We pretty much did everything together.
How about your sister? Does she play any instruments?
Nope, not yet. We told her if she ever learns bass really well then she can join the band eventually. It can be a full sibling outfit.
As far as the brother relationship goes, would you say you're combative like Oasis or really peaceful and collaborative like, say, The National?
We're not really competitive at all. We work together on everything, and write all the songs all together. We don't ever practice. We come home from tour, and we'll be home for a week and a half and we'll have one writing session and just try to come up with a couple of new songs to play on tour. We've outlined our responsibilities in the band, so it's all very peaceful.
So no backstage fisticuffs?
No, no. It does get a little hairy when we don't have anyone on tour with us to roadie or sell merch and it's just us, that gets a little intense. Brotherly bickering and such, so we usually try and bring someone with us, that way neither of us can really get into it, because it's embarrassing, I guess.
Speaking of home, what was the rock scene in Nashville like, growing up? Because people think of Nashville as just country music, but there's been some cool rock bands from the area also.
Our first band that we really tried to do something with was when I was in tenth grade, and I guess Jamin was in the eighth grade and we had one other kid, who was in seventh grade, and that was a punk band called The Sex. We made a couple albums. At that time, basically, all we knew was the punk scene in Nashville, the underground punk and hardcore scene. That was our world. Later in high school, we started breaking into the noise scene when we started doing JEFF The Brotherhood, it was kind of more of a noisy band. The country thing has always been really separate from anything that we've ever been involved with. It's a very different thing, country artists moving to Nashville and playing at all the honky-tonks every night and trying to get picked up by RCA or Sony or whatever. For us, we were in bands because that was what we did to pass time.
Do you find yourself having to explain to a lot of people all the time that there's more to Nashville than just country?
Yeah, a lot of people do ask us if people ride horses and wear cowboy hats and stuff. We usually just try and keep that myth alive, really, rather than explain it to people.
Speaking of family, your dad, Robert Orrall is a songwriter, and he also owns your record label, Infinity Cat.
Me and Jamin and my dad and our manager (Holland Nix), we all own it together. Me and Jamin started it, originally, when I was in tenth grade. And I was an exchange student my senior year while Jamin was getting it with Be Your Own Pet, and that's when my dad took over a lot of the business parts of the label, because when Be Your Own Pet started we actually had a reason to really buckle down and try to make it more than just a hobby. Which, unfortunately, it really still is. But that's how he got involved. And Holland, our manager, got involved when me and Jamin just started hardcore touring and hired a publicist and got a booking agent and all that stuff.
When I was in high school I played video games and read comic books. When you were in high school you were in a bunch of bands and recorded a million albums and toured. Where did you get this motivation?
I don't know. It's funny, because there wasn't a lot of people doing that sort of thing. A lot of people were playing in bands, but there wasn't anybody trying to press records or book tours or anything. Our dad had done it. He was in this awesome new wave band in the '80s and toured constantly and stuff, I think hearing stories about that was really exciting.