In the 1960s and 1970s, groups like The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers explored the common ground between rock and country. Their best work in this hybrid genre showed that pedal-steel guitars and country-based song structures could find a home with rock audiences.
The groups featured players with a sense of history. They wanted to create something fresh and new, yet they were unafraid to mine the best of what had come before them for ideas.
And so it is with Austin-based Brothers and Sisters. This group’s original songs call to mind many of rock’s heroes, great vocal groups and any assortment of country-influenced acts.
“We’re all about the harmonies and the 1960s and ‘70s aesthetic: a lot of guitars, and even psychedelia,” says guitarist Daniel Wilcox. “There are so many people in the band, but we have a lot of common threads.”
Wilcox and Brothers and Sisters’ drummer Greg McArthur met in Asheville some seven years ago—both played in the garage glam band the Sexpatriates during the lead singer’s striptease phase. They both ended up in Austin and reunited.
Brothers and Sisters’ music is a little more sunshine-sounding and has more vocal harmony than the music of Wilcox’s former Asheville bands. Wilcox describes The Luvsix. as “trashy” rock ‘n’country, while the Ether Bunnies were a moody, instrumental group that often played at the now-defunct Lexington Avenue fixture, Vincent’s Ear.
“Austin is a happy place, very similar to Asheville—just a little bit bigger,” Wilcox says. “Not to sound cliché, but people like to take it easy and hang out and have fun. Like Asheville.”
McArthur introduced Wilcox to bandleader Will Courtney, and their influences and record collections seemed to match, from Gene Clark to George Jones to The Smoke.
That variety is reflected by the songs on their second album, Fortunately, released last month. There’s plenty of up-tempo rock and a fair share of high-lonesome singer/songwriter material as well.
It’s often difficult to present such a varied set of songs—even when they’re of uniformly high quality—in a live setting.
“In the past, a lot of the ‘quieter’ songs didn’t make it into the set,” Wilcox admits. “You want to grab people’s attention, so you go with the more rocking stuff, the more band-oriented songs. But recently, we’ve been trying to work in some of the folkier, more singer/songwriter type songs.”
Wilcox puts a lot of thought into getting the right guitar tone for each song. Will Courtney pens the music and lyrics, but arrangements are by the collective. Wilcox’s guitar parts unfailingly strike the right vibe for Courtney’s lyrics; for his part, Wilcox says that his guitar work is “all in service to Will’s songs.”
Despite the ace playing of Wilcox and the other multi-instrumentalists (live, you’ll see and hear pedal-steel guitar, electric piano and much more), Brothers and Sisters are no jam band. “Live, we try to keep ‘em short and sweet,” Wilcox notes. “We’re more into the song craft, more into the pop aspect rather than the jamming.”
Fans of classic pop might find themselves sporting a wide grin when listening to Fortunately: Co-lead vocalist Lily Courtney (Will’s sister) isn’t afraid to “ba ba ba,” evoking the “sunshine pop” of groups like The Turtles and The Fifth Dimension.
Those sounds come from a natural place, Wilcox says.
“I think what you have to do is not think too much about it,” he offers. “The ‘ba ba bas’ in our songs are a natural thing—that’s what we listen to, and that’s what we want to hear. We just naturally think, ‘What belongs here?’ But if you overthink it, it gets too self-conscious.”
[Bill Kopp is an Asheville-based music journalist whose features and reviews can be found at www.musoscribe.com. ]
who: Brothers and Sisters with Wayne Robbins & the Hellsayers and Kovacs and the Polar Bear
where: The Emerald Lounge
when: Sept. 16.(www.myspace.com/emeraldlounge)