Over the course of a decade, under the name JEFF the Brotherhood, Nashville brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall released six albums of fuzzy, tone-deaf stoner-pop, full of blistering punk-pop riffs and hungover power-pop melodies. Their goal? Pay the rent and hopefully tuck away some booze money. But even if they weren't aiming high with their commercial dreams, their music managed to turn a lot of famous heads—including the suits at Warner Bros., who released the band's major-label debut, Hypnotic Nights, in 2012.
That album didn't exactly re-invent the Brotherhoods' style. Like the rest of their catalog, it's a musical paradox: well-crafted but seemingly tossed-off, tuneful but sloppy. Cuts like "Sixpack" and "Southern Nights" (which romanticizes the joys of "a place where I can smoke meats") are the perfect soundtrack to a summer frat-house blow-out. But with professional studio polish courtesy the band's producer, Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, it's the sound of the band actually giving a shit about not giving a shit.
It's a well-noted cliché: Cult indie band signs to a major label, fans cry sell-out and jump ship. But, in usual JEFF the Brotherhood style, the Orrall brothers were incredibly laid back about the transition.
"We haven't had anyone be upset so far," says frontman Jake. "I don't think that really happens anymore. I think that was kind of a '90s thing, right? If we weren't excited about it, we wouldn't be doing it. It's the best opportunity we've gotten so far as a band. It's ridiculous—it's a game-changer. We were doing this shit out of our pockets for so long. We were just trying to scrape together rent every month. From where we were five years ago, being on an indie label, to now, things have changed so f--king drastically."
Hypnotic Nights certainly sounds like a major-label release. There's a creamy crunch in the distorted guitars, more punch to the brothers' bratty hooks, and, in general, it's far more expansive—the trippy "Region of Fire" features both saxophone and sitar. It's all about thinking bigger—and working with Auerbach (one of rock music's most notable talent scouts and producers) is a definite step in that direction.
"I think we learned it's better to have a second opinion," Orrall says. "Being in the studio, even something minor—changing just one little vocal thing—just makes the song so much better. It's never as good as it can be, especially [when you're working with] somebody who's been so successful in the pop-music world."
Auerbach, who's also produced albums by Dr. John and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, was mostly hands-off in the studio. He allowed the duo to work through their ideas, offering his own ideas for arrangements and helping them trim the fat.
"Say you write a song, and you think it's really good," Orrall says. "And it is really good, but if you could change two little things about it, way more people would think it's good—whether it's putting one more chorus here or one less weird solo-y part there. We didn't really do too much of that, but I think it really helped us somehow."
Working with an outside producer has changed the band's perspective on music. Instead of just trying to satisfy their own booze-driven rock dreams, they're making a conscious effort to please their fans. It's an approach they're also applying onstage, expanding their two-piece setup to an occasional quartet.
"We've been waiting for it," Orrall says. "We've been playing as a two-piece for, like, 10 years, and it got old. It's a lot more fun to have more people onstage and hang out and stuff. It's been the most fun we've had playing shows in, like, two years. We basically just got totally jaded just trying to find something to satisfy that hunger."
The brothers are also searching for a new co-producer for their next album, which they're currently writing and hope to record in the fall.
"We're going to try to do a lot more of the arranging in the studio with someone who knows how to get people properly on-board with a pop song," Orrall says. "Our last record was just written in between tours and just all the time, kind of just thrown together. With this one, we're taking the whole summer off to write. It's definitely a lot more focused and honed. It's become bigger than our own personal artistic vision. It's our job. It's our job to write great music for our fans, to make great art.
"This band has become something more than just a hobby for us at this point," he says. "And yeah, there's definitely a higher level of professionalism expected when you sign to a major label. So this album is going to be written keeping that in mind. It can be a record that as many people can enjoy as possible."