Jordan Blilie should feel honored. According to a hyperventilating bit of overseas press, his band, the Blood Brothers, is at the vanguard of a new heavy-music movement called Screamo. “We abhor it,” says Blilie, one-half of the Seattle quintet’s two-man vox engine, in regard to the buzzword. “We’ve been seeing bands we’ve loved who screamed, forever — and for someone to just now catch up to it and call it this really obvious thing is just so ridiculous.” Johnny Whitney, the other singer, concurs: “It’s not like I go, ‘Oh my god, Jordan’s screaming.’ I don’t think what we’re doing is all that heavy, either. We’re actually pretty campy.”
Funny Whitney should say campy. More than a few eyebrows have arched at the pair’s onstage hip gyrations and near-choreographed sashaying, which recall Jagger/Iggy/Morrison at their most possessed. “In Houston,” Blilie says, “the crowd passed up a note that said, ‘You suck,’ and the word gay was underlined twice. I guess we’re too flamboyant or wear too-tight clothing.” Whitney’s just as shocked at certain audience behavior. “It’s a bit weird to go to a so-called punk show and get booed for speaking out against the war. But I was really proud of Cody [Votolato, the guitarist], going off about how it was really disgusting what we were doing to the Iraqi people. Music’s not all entertainment, it has to have something behind it.” “But the people who do that stuff to us regret it,” Blilie slyly adds. “We will completely humiliate the shit out of them.”
The Brothers’ alleged swishiness and peacenik sentiments are wildly incongruous with the music they make. Pop in either March On Electric Children or the new Burn Piano Island, Burn, and the initial blast is so abrasive it’s almost repellent. Get beyond that, though, and you’ll start to notice the spritzing of electronics, the convoluted bass lines that fall off the map, then snap back into the pocket, the guitars and drums banging until they become mantras, and how Whitney/Blilie’s unhinged shrieks are actually playful call-and-response overlaps of soul-drenched vibrato — all of it ratcheted up to grindcore velocity. “I basically think it takes, like, 10 times listening to our CD from beginning to end to get it,” says Whitney. And that’s after it got the Midas touch from nu-metal impresario Ross Robinson. Before he got his hands on the Piano Island demo, Robinson had disavowed the whole Adidas bounce-rock thing, but that was news to the Blood Brothers at the time. “We’ve never liked Korn or any of those bands, so we had all these ideas about him,” Blilie says. “After he initially approached us, it was about a month of back-and-forth, of his gaining our trust. But ultimately he said he’d let us do whatever we wanted to do, and that he would try and get as much financial backing as possible. I think that’s all you can ask of any producer.” Whitney: “There were times in the studio when it was getting too masturbatory. [Robinson] was very intuitive when the music was losing its spontaneity, so we’d know when to step back.”
A perfect example of whim made art is the album’s final track, “The Shame,” a glistening wind-down that wheezes like a dancehall concertina with lyrics of such purple poetry (“Everything must go, the shadows and the seagulls, when we’re around”) that Freddie Mercury would flash a toothy grin. It’s easily the most affecting and natural coda to grace a hard-rock record in eons. “That was totally unplanned,” says Whitney. “There was a lot of dissension within the band over whether to include that on the album . . . it’s Cody working his guitar pedal. It kept swelling and swelling, so we just went with it.”
By touring like maniacs, the Blood Brothers may eventually indoctrinate the Ozzfest masses with their gospel — but not this summer. “We won’t do those kinds of tours. I went to that Coachella thing and hated how impersonal it was, like they’re just trying to suck every last dollar from you. We were invited to do six dates on Warped, and we flat-out said no. It’s just not fun for us logistically. We’d so much rather build up a fan base at intimate venues rather than these retarded corporate-funded events — they’re the worst setting for art.”
The Blood Brothers play the Troubadour on Sunday, May 18.