How isolation helped enhance and develop The Bros. Landreth’s rootsy sound.
Roots music history is littered with bands that include two brothers, a quick sample would include such legends as the Stanley Brothers, the Everly Brothers, the Osbourne Brothers, and The Allman Brothers, and coming to the 21st Century we have The Bros. Landreth from Winnipeg, Canada. Joey and David Landreth were inspired by their parent’s musical tastes which included Little Feat, Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Bonnie Raitt, and the vibrant local music scene of their home city of Winnipeg. The Bros. Landreth’s career got off to a flying start with their debut album ‘Let It Lie’ which helped them win the 2015 Juno award for “Roots & Traditional Album Of The Year – Group” and won them a nomination for “International Artists Of The Year” at the 2016 inaugural UK Americana Awards. The Bros. Landreth have a new album ‘Come Morning’ which was recorded during the pandemic and which brings new textures to The Bros. Landreth’s signature sound. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with Joey and Dave Landreth at Joey’s studio in Winnipeg over Zoom to discuss the challenges posed by their initial early success, and why the new album has an enhanced sound compared to their earlier albums. They explain that Bonnie Raitt has been a constant in their lives and the sense of validation they felt when she covered their ‘Made Up Mind’ in 2022. They also express their gratitude for the part that UK music fans played in helping them establish their career and how UK audiences make them feel like rock & roll stars. Finally, they make it clear that their famed harmony singing is a result of hard work and is not simply due to family biological compatibility.
Following your early momentum, you then took time out from your career before COVID hit. Was the pandemic beneficial for The Bros Landreth?
Joey: We faired pretty well, to be honest. I was keeping busy with my solo stuff before Dave and I kicked back up with ‘87’ together, and in all honesty, I had started to burnout significantly in 2019 and I’d carved out a little bit of time off before we were going to follow up on some tour dates with a rip through Europe and the UK, and then through the US in 2020. Then, of course, we all know what happened next, and I’m definitely one of those people who fit into the pandemic was not all bad camp, but no one is saying the circumstances weren’t awful for a lot of people, but I definitely needed the time off it afforded me, and us. Like a lot of people who work the way we do, and I know a lot of people work really hard, your identity sinks into the travelling and once you take the travelling away you are forced to try and answer the question of who am I. If you are lucky like I am, and I think Dave is as well, you find out you are a couple of different people, and you are not just a guy who stands behind a microphone and sings a few songs. I’m a husband to my wife, I’m a father to my daughter, I’m a friend to my friend, and it is like this is fun to explore. It has been kind of crazy, of course.
How does the new record ‘Come Morning’ compare to 2019’s ‘87’?
Dave: This record is truly the best of us, I think. When you make your first record you have all the time in the world to make it, and you don’t know what you are doing, there is a blissful ignorance that goes into it, and I know that is true for a lot of bands. It was certainly true for us, and then the ball starts rolling on all this and this is our fifth full-length record if you count Joey’s solo projects. ‘Whiskey’, which me and Ryan Voth played on because we are the original rhythm section for the Brothers Landreth, was Joey’s first record and there is a lot of overlap, and by the time you get to this record, this is us really finding our voice, and being able to use it in a very different way. We have always thought of ourselves as a live band, we play on stage and we rock real hard, that is what we are known for, and so when we go into the studio we try and capture that. We get everybody in the room and we play down these songs that moments prior only existed as acoustic guitar and voice rough demos, we work up the arrangements and find the most inspired take and that is that. We will add a couple of layers on top of that, maybe add a guitar solo or some backup vocals, and then you are done, next. With this record, because of the pandemic, we were forced to make it differently, and it wound up opening all these doors for us because suddenly we had over a year to work on nothing but making this record, which has never happened before. After your first record, you always have someone breathing down your neck, your manager, your label, and even your own excitement about getting back to work because you are busy. We weren’t busy, and we poured everything into making this record, we took our time with it and we allowed ourselves to go down these different rabbit holes to explore these different sounds.
Most of it is Joey and me in the studio right here, we flew in some drum parts from Aaron Stirling, one of our hero drummers. We put in this very open call to him asking if there was any chance he might want to work on this record, and he was like, absolutely. There are some different voices on here, the drums, and then just all this time spent really deliberating over what the best parts were, being really orchestral about it in a way. Before it was let’s capture a feeling, let’s capture a vibe, it was very live because of being in the room and reacting to each other, and we discovered we could still do that in a different setting but we made some different choices. So this album is sonically a little bit more expansive because of the different sounds choices, and Joey has become this incredible sonic chef and is making all these wild sounds, and exploring all these new textures. Joey played all the keyboards, all the Hammond, and all the synth and piano parts. And because it was so much just Joey and me, I feel this is the best of us. It is not necessarily a band record, but it is truly what the two of us were aiming for, and we are really, really proud of it.
Where did the new songs come from, and how easy were they to write?
Joey: Some of them existed prior to working on the record, there were a handful of tunes I had fleshed out for my next solo endeavour. There has always been a sort of divide between what The Bros. Landreth is, and what Joey Landreth is as projects. It has been like this song fits in the Bros, this song fits in the solo Joey world. At the end of the day, The Bros. Landreth is a collective sound, it is Dave’s influences and my influences, trying to respect each other as much as possible and allow room for one another. Kind of by virtue of that thought, it kind of dawned on me and us, that if I bring this material which by its nature was intended for a different project, if we just collaborate on it, it will become a Bros. Landreth song. We kind of shut the door on the idea that there are separate projects, we really at the beginning of this project tried to say well what does it sound like when we not only merge each other, but we also merge these projects. So, some of the things I would say I don’t do this with The Bros. Landreth like that sonic exploration stuff I do on my solo projects because people are expecting us to make this rootsy sound as the Bros. It was a bit of a redefinition of those identities.
So the songs really come from that place as well. They are songs that wouldn’t normally find their way onto a Bros. Landreth record that are there, and we had a lot of fun trying to find ways to make them fit, and have them fit in with what we feel like our core values as a band, but still allow the songs to be themselves. There were songs that were older that had never found a place on a record, and we have done that on a couple of records, oh I do have a song I wrote back in 2012 but I never liked the chorus so let’s rewrite the chorus, haha. There are a couple of those, but the fresh tunes come from a pretty vulnerable place, both Dave and I have invested in our mental health during the pandemic and sort out the help of psychologists, and starting to work on that aspect of our lives now we have the time. We found ourselves with new things to write about. I don’t think anybody who listens to this record is going to go I don’t recognise this music, I think they are going to be able to follow the threads, but I think we are diving a little bit deeper into some of the older topics, and also diving into some new topics. There is this overarching theme to the songs, there is a little bit of mourning happening, not morning in the time of day but when you mourn the loss of something. I think we are trying to find a way to create a narrative that with the songs gives you hope. There is hope in the process and the things that are tough to process mean that if you take the time to do the work you come out a better version of yourself on the other end. So that is kind of where the songs are coming from, even the sadder ones.
What is your relationship with producer Murray Pulver?
Joey: We’ve made pretty much every record with Murray, except for one, and he is just such a wonderful collaborator, and though we are talking more about the building process of this record, we have made a lot of records like this where we put together the basic tracks and then we all come together in one central studio and work on vocals, backgrounds, and overdubs. The main difference with this record is that we did more on our own than we normally do in pre-production land here in this room.
Dave: We keep thinking we are going to do a record without Murray, every time we make a new record we are OK, this is the one where we go and work with some new producer who will take us down some new venture, and we will learn some new things and new sounds, but when we get to the point of starting the new record it is like do we just do it with Murray again, haha, because it is such a joyful experience working with him. Murray is not the kind of producer who comes into a session and makes it sound like him. I think of a guy like Tchad Blake, who is one of my favourite producers, but you can hear all of him on all of the records he works on, I can almost pull him out after the first couple of drum beats and I’m like, that’s a Tchad Blake record. You hear him all over everything he does, but Murray is not like that he is really transparent, and his strength comes in bringing out the best in people because he is so joyful, and he is such a beautiful human being, and he has a way of transferring that into the music. When we get together we work on these songs and you feel like a better musician, you feel like a better artist, and you feel inspired to try new things and go places. His ability to come in and just gently suggest things, this piece, listen to what it is without that, and the way he cuts the wheat from the chaff is really like a surgical thing, so deft and gentle about it that you never feel like you are losing anything. You could have slaved away on a part and thought it is the best thing you have ever done, and he will find a way to convince you to leave it on the floor, yes, yes, you got it man, haha.
Joey: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gone let’s try this sound, and Murray will go “I don’t know.”, and I will be like, what if I do it like that, and he is “I don’t know.”, haha. He lets me go through the whole process and he will very gently hold his ground, and then he goes “Man, I wonder if you just tried this.” And he starts doing it and you just go yes. Also at this point, we have made so much music with him he knows our skill set really well, he knows what we are capable of, he knows where our strengths are, he knows where the weaknesses are, and he really knows when to steer and when to not to steer. I’m sure Dave can say the same, but I have played on something like a hundred records with Murray now at this point, of other people’s stuff. I’ve worked with him as a guitar player, as a background singer, and now more recently as an organ player, and he just knows what we do, and he is really good at just pulling the best stuff out of you. Maybe one day we will work with another producer.
Dave: And I want to, that is something I want to do really badly.
Joey: We will still find a way to bring Murray in on the session though, haha.
Dave: Especially on this record, because the pandemic hit, and we took a month or so to lick our wounds, and we turned to each other and asked do you want to make another record, and we had been talking loosely about whatever this new record is we will go and do it with a new producer. We were really stretching the bounds of what was acceptable in our province by being three people in a studio, and there were big swats of time that we didn’t come into the studio at all because the restrictions were so strict and we didn’t want to be responsible for killing everybody.
Joey: That is Murray, we like him, haha.
How did you strike up a relationship with Jonathan Singleton?
Dave: We went down to Nashville in 2014 for the first time, we were very green, no record deal, no idea what we were doing with ourselves and we did a bunch of writing sessions, we had some friends who connected us with a bunch of folks, and he was one of them. He was doing his friends a favour by writing with these Canadian guys, we sat down and we wrote a song called ‘Made Up Mind’, one of our favourite songs, recently made famous by the queen herself, Bonnie Raitt, who covered it on her new record. So that worked out well in the end, but he is just one of our favourite songwriters. We don’t do a ton of co-writing, there are a lot of people credited on our songs, but we don’t really do a ton of co-writing it is mostly just Joey and me. We’ve learnt that we don’t like to co-write with everybody, it is not actually our favourite thing, but we do with Jonathan because it is such an education and so much fun. His songwriting is exciting and dynamic, and his ability to reach for words and ideas, and then pull them out of the ether is like, tremendous, so lyrical and beautiful. It is such a trip, he is a blast, such a goofy dude.
Joey: It is like no one else.
Dave: We wrote two songs on this record, ‘What In The World’ and ‘After The Rain’, and I think ‘What In The World’ is one of my favourite songs. We will always make time for Jonathan.
What much does Bonnie Raitt’s endorsement mean to you?
Joey: Oh, the world. Bonnie is legitimately one of our heroes, not just because she has said a couple of nice things about us over the years, but really because we grew up with her music. Both of our parents were massive Bonnie Raitt fans when we were growing up, and when we are interviewed and people talk about us they often will align us with bands like Little Feat, Ry Cooder, and John Hiatt, which is all very true, but Bonnie is as much part of our musical DNA as those other bands. I have distinct memories of watching my Mom vacuuming the house and hearing ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’. That music is just so much a part of us, so back in 2014, and 2014-15 were very good years for us, we connected with her and she gave us a quote we could use in the press, and that was really cool, but to have her cover one of our tunes is like a validation and a validation that is better than anything. I don’t think anything will beat that, a million Grammys wouldn’t touch how good it feels.
Dave: As artists, people talk about imposter syndrome, that nagging voice at the back of your head that you are not any good, and you don’t have any business doing what you are doing, and you should just get out of the way and let somebody else do it. You are always fighting that urge to allow yourself to be influenced by people who are doing so well around you, and maybe you are not stacking up. When you get that kind of affirmation it is something you can lean into, because she is one of our heroes and she is not doing it to be nice.
Joey: It is not charity.
Dave: She has a career and she connected with that song, it is in those moments which are few and far between, and the older you get, you get a little bit more confident and mature, you get a little less interested in that stuff, but in those moments of weakness I know I’m going to pull that one out of my cap and be just like, well right, I’ve got no business getting lost in this stuff because Bonnie Raitt thinks we are alright so we must be alright, haha. That external validation is a dangerous thing, but in times of trouble I will lean on that, and it will bring me comfort, I know it.
How do you get The Bros. Landreth’s vocal sound?
Joey: Oh man, haha. I do all the arrangements and it is a great passion of mine, and I think any skill-building I have done for myself as a singer, has come in a very large part from spending so much time on arranging these vocals. I’m really ambitious, and I try things that don’t even maybe belong in the music we make, and half of the time I will spend an entire day working on an arrangement and then I will go, nah, and start the next day from scratch until I find the right thing. It has been a really big part of discovering who I am and who we are as artists. It is finding this balance, on a lot of the records I have wound up doing most of the vocals, Dave has done a lot more singing on the last couple of records, and so I’m starting to let go of some of the controls, haha. It is definitely a big part of who we are, and interestingly enough, on ‘Come Morning’ there is a lot less singing than on previous records. I think part of it is trying to make room for where the songs want to go, whereas in the past I have sixty-eight tracks of background vocals, so I have to have at least 68 background vocals on this song, and now I’m really leaning into some newfound maturity that says, well maybe the song only needs one vocal, or maybe it only needs one little part here and there. This record has been a really big learning curve, certainly for me and definitely for us two as well, because there is a line between chasing down where something wants to go, and then also listening to your ego which says people want to hear this from you, people want to hear you play guitar solos, people want to hear a lot of background vocals, but on this record I found myself going, well what do I want to hear. When I started asking that question we started asking that question of ourselves, and we started making different sounds.
We love lots of bands, and my hero in terms of background vocals is Vince Gill, not only the way he sings himself as a background singer like if you listen to ‘Let Me Let Go’, oh my God, the background vocal on the chorus of that song deserves its own Grammy category, but on his records, the way the three-part harmony is arranged was a really big influence on me, and that is where my obsession kind of started and it was more in my career as a sideman. I was never necessarily the best guitar player for the gig, but I was the best guitar player who could also sing, haha. A lot of times I got gigs based on that, and I really cut my teeth learning background harmonies that way. That is how it started, and slowly over the years we have developed our own and maybe deviate from some of those systems.
Dave: But as you asked, it is a lot of work. I mean we are in month two of three months of rehearsals where we get together five days a week and we sing and play so we can get the songs to our own internal standards. We love it, it is beautiful work to be able to do, and singing is like a marathon in that you can get up on stage and bash through a song pretty convincingly if you have a certain amount of skill, but the kind of singing that stands out as really good singing you need to put the time in. You can’t show up with sneakers and run a marathon, you have to train for it, and it is all about getting it to our satisfaction, there is a thing that happens when three people open their mouths on stage and don’t sing out of tune, it sounds cool, but for us, it is not good enough. We are always looking at ways of tightening the bolts on that, singing better, listening to each other better, support our voices more, it is satisfying work to do and it makes us feel awesome when we pull it off. A labour of love, haha.
Are there any Canadian influences in The Bros. Landreth’s music?
Joey: Like a real literal Canadian influence, well K.D. Lang is a huge influence, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young is a Canuck.
Dave: I wouldn’t say Neil Young is that much of an influence.
Joey: Our dad was the first musical mentor for both of us, and he is a brilliant songwriter, and we grew up not only listening to his music but also listening to him because he was not only a singer-songwriter he was a sideman as well. There is a very long list of local heroes whose names unfortunately wouldn’t really be familiar to your readers. Winnipeg is a pretty underrated city, I think, and I love talking about it. I jokingly say Winnipeg is the Swindon of Canada, haha, apologies to Swindon though, haha. Geographically Winnipeg is kind of landlocked by thousands of kilometres of prairie land and to the south the American border. There is not much that brings music from abroad here, it is not very often a destination, people will go to Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, maybe Calgary, and Edmonton, but people don’t often come through here unless they are playing the big hockey rink. I lived in Toronto for a time and I couldn’t fathom how many cool bands were always coming through, because everybody goes to Toronto to play. Zero of those bands will ever play Winnipeg unless they play the Folk Festival, but as a result, Winnipeg has built its own really, really, cool eclectic music scene because it needs it. If you want art in Winnipeg you have to make it yourself.
So that longwinded tangent leads to some of our biggest influences, aside from the famous people who always get mentioned. So asking about Canadian influences, it would be the Winnipeg music scene for sure. Both Dave and I grew up playing as sidemen in this community before we started to get more international gigs, and we really owe a lot of our musicianship and whatever skillset we built in the early days was due to the support. As a music scene, it was really, really supportive, you would get people who would very gently take you aside and say, “Hey, you are not pulling enough weight, you are not working hard enough on these songs. I know you can do it, but you have to put the time in. You can’t just listen to the record, drink four beers, and think you are going to do a good job.”. There were a lot of really good lessons learnt.
Dave: Fourteen beers.
Joey: Yeah, fourteen beers, sorry, haha.
Talking internationally, you are coming to Europe later in the year I believe.
Dave: Yeah, we are going to be there in September. Our first show is on 1st September in London, Shepherd’s Bush.
What can people expect to hear?
Joey: They can expect what they know us for.
Dave: Which is our traditional rootsy sound.
Joey: We are also working extremely hard to bring elements of the new record, so there are going to be some new sounds coming out of this band, but also lots, and lots of time spent playing tunes from old records, playing some of them as faithful reproductions of the record, and others are taking a slight departure from what people might know. So, it is a really, really fun show, and if you know our music I think you know what you are in for, and if not, three-part harmony, some rock & roll, some really nice sensitive moments, and a couple of good moments of loud guitar.
At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which artists, albums, or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist?
Dave: I keep telling everybody, and it is not like he is underrated or anything, but I love Nathaniel Rateliff’s ‘And It Is Still Alright’, released in early 2020, and though it has been out two years I keep coming back to it. He is an interesting artist because everybody knows him for his up tempo rockist little bit more rock & roll type thing, but he has actually way more records that are definitely more rootsy singer-songwriter type stuff, and this record is kind of a return to that to my ear, and the one he has just put out, ‘The Future’ is back more to his rock & roll stuff. I’m always a sucker for the mellow shit, haha.
Joey: I love Blake Mills, he put out a record called ‘Heigh Ho’ in 2014, and it is still on the top of my record pile, the song ‘Seven’ is one of my favourite songs. Also, an artist called Ethan Gruska, who is a brilliant piano player and multi-instrumentalist, and he is pretty much very good at anything he touches. He is the grandson of John Williams, the film composer, so he has a background, and his last record, ‘En Garde’, is one of my favourites, and the lead track ‘Maybe I Will Go Nowhere’ is superb, you put your headphones on and you go to space it is so beautiful. Another artist I always come back to is Emily King, and there is a song of hers, off of her second but last record, ‘The Switch’, called ‘Out Of The Clouds’. It is not the most rootsy americana thing, but it is just gorgeous and very luscious.
Finally, do you want to say anything to our UK readers?
Dave: We can’t overstate the gratitude we have for UK audiences because it was one of the first places where we felt a real groundswell of support. We have always been really lucky, everywhere we go we see a few more people, and we build fans that way picking a few more up every time and the rooms are getting fuller and fuller. When we showed up in the UK for the first time, we showed up to a room full of people and it has taken off like wildfire, every time we come back this is not just some more, there are mountains more people. We feel this incredible gratitude and love for these audiences over there because you guys show up with so much enthusiasm and the BBC have been spinning our tunes, Bob Harris has been a big supporter, it is a really special place for us to come to. When we show up we really feel like rock & roll stars, which is really fun. We are kind of living our best life when we show up for our UK tours.
The Bros. Landreth’s ‘Come Morning’ is released on 13th May on Birthday Cake.
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