by Nancy Dunham
Photography by Josh DeHonney
Detestable? Brutally honest? However you classify the no-holds-barred comments by Leonard “Lee” Newell, front man of English quartet Brother, there’s no denying he’s shaking up fans.
It’s not that he didn’t know that his comments to NME and Q magazines – like saying Mumford & Sons is “paint by numbers folk” and likening Florence Welch’s look to Marilyn Manson in latex – were provocative; it’s just that there’s more to Brother than that. And you’ll hear it in their debut album, Famous First Words, set for a summer release. That’s when Lee says you’ll understand the reason for his attitude.
“We’re not afraid to say that we’re fans of our own band. We’re good. That’s the point. I think people get the wrong end of the stick sometimes and they think we’re horrible people. We’re not. We’re actually pretty nice,” he says. “But we just happen to think that our band is really good and there aren’t many other good ones out there at the moment.”
Lee’s confidence extends to the band’s DIY beginning. The group, consisting of Newell, Josh Ward, Samuel Jackson and Frank Colucci, was a means of escape for the working-class guys, who spent their days doing the 9-to-5 thing and their nights drinking and playing in bands around their hometown. Days blurred together and there seemed like no way out.
Take Newell. He had “loads of jobs,” including inputting data for the Yellow Pages and working as a game tester for Microsoft. “Uh, yeah,” he says, sighing. “It sounds fun, but it is not fun. It is very repetitive. I was losing my mind. I swear I was hallucinating in the toilet, like ‘What is going on!’ I don’t even like video games. Nobody seemed to have a sense of humor. It was just a shame, but I’m glad I did it [or] I wouldn’t be here talking to you now if I didn’t do that.”
Although many people say such tedious work kills their creativity, Lee and his band mates had the opposite experience. But it didn’t come without its tests. “It was hard – really, really hard,” he says. “It took a lot of bravery.” But not a lot of time. The band put its songs online in August 2010 and was signed to a label by October. “It was mad,” he reflects. “We were like, ‘Fuck, our plan worked.’” So what’s the secret? His motto: think great, be great and keep true to yourself. “People come up with suggestions. Like, we’re offered lots of money to be the face of clothing brands and we’re like, ‘No, we don’t want to do that.’ In that respect we are fairly old-fashioned. We write songs that are traditionally put together. We aren’t a new [style] band. We don’t listen to new bands.”
Instead, Brother based their sound on “old style” music – think the Smiths and Morrissey. “I certainly see some of his qualities in me,” says Lee. “I’m not comparing myself to Morrissey! Subconsciously, though, he certainly influenced our sound.”
There’s no need to wonder if Morrissey would be pleased by his influence on Brother. “We did get an email the other day from Morrissey saying, ‘I love your band!’ We said, ‘Ok. This is it! Our wishes are running out!’” he exclaimed. “This is ridiculous. It’s mad.”