There’s no sibling rivalry in indie folk-rock supergroup Middle Brother
Ego clashes and battles for control are inevitable in almost every band, but when you put three leaders of established acts together in one group, you’re just begging for trouble. Yet Middle Brother—the new band comprised of Matt Vasquez, Taylor Goldsmith and John J. McCauley III, frontmen for the indie folk-rock outfits Delta Spirit, Dawes and Deer Tick, respectively—seems to have avoided such pitfalls so far. According to Vasquez, the members of the group don’t mind taking turns hanging back, playing guitar and singing harmony.
“There’s zero ego when it comes to backing somebody up, because you believe in them, and you just want it to be as good as it can be,” the musician states. “We’re all fans of each other’s music so much. I love ‘Mom and Dad,’ I love ‘Daydreaming’ I love ‘Blood and Guts’—I begged Taylor to put ‘Blood and Guts’ on the record.”
Vasquez, a longtime friend of Goldsmith, joined Middle Brother after Deer Tick’s manager told him that said musician and McCauley had plans to make an album together. “Through just straight-up jealousy, I convinced them to let me get in on it,” he explains. The two musicians had been writing together for a couple of weeks when Vasquez flew to meet them. Having never met McCauley before, the vocalist/guitarist had no idea what to expect. “I kind of walked in here feeling like the middle brother,” he notes. “I’m actually the only real middle brother in the band, which is funny.”
Vasquez and company repaired to a backhouse studio where “the bar was always stocked.” The new bandmates cracked a few beers and recorded three songs that night. “That was pretty much the pace we worked at, and it just kept getting crazier and crazier,” Vasquez recalls. “We did four songs the night after that, and six the night after that. Next thing you know, the sun’s coming up, and we’re just wrapping up the session.” After a week, the group had 22 recorded tracks on its hands.
The atmosphere that permeated these sessions was very different than the one to which Vasquez was accustomed. “All of us have this kinetic feeling between our own respective bands, and when you step into a room with a bunch of different musicians, that kinetic feeling’s gone,” he says. “So you really have to use your ears and pay attention.” As an example, he cites the song “Million Dollar Bill,” whose vocals and guitars were recorded completely live. “We sat down without a click, and in 30 minutes, we learned the song. I had never heard that verse before—just sang it. We worked out those harmonies all live, just sitting in a room playing it.”
While working at such a fast clip can imbue one’s music with a pleasantly spontaneous quality, it can also leave some musicians wishing they could go back and redo certain passages. “My only standpoint on that is: Let sleeping dogs lie,” Vasquez offers. “The raw nature of it—it’s fun. When I listen to that record, I remember how much fun we had making it. And that’s the most important thing: When people listen to the record, they hear that the people doing it just did it for the pleasure of making the record.”
Vasquez is candid in comparing Middle Brother to its members’ various other projects. “Dawes on its own is better than Middle Brother, I think. And Deer Tick and Delta Spirit on its own—they’re all way better. But the songs are there, and it’s just fun. That’s what it is. Don’t expect anything other than a good time with people who respect and love each other’s music.”
Middle Brother plays at 8:30 p.m. Monday, April 4, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12. For more information, call 479-1854 or go to moesalley.com or folkyeah.com.