Blood Brothers bassist Morgan Henderson isn't quite sure he wants to label them a "Seattle band."
"It's weird . . . I feel like I'd feel we were more a 'Seattle band' if I had moved here. But, yeah, we're a Seattle band. Go, Sonics."
Whatever you think of when you think of Seattle music, stop-start screamo bristling with fishhook twists and melodic blind alleys probably isn't it. That's more of a California thing. San Diego's Gravity Records looms like a skinny ghost in an undersized ringer tee over indie rock at the moment. (Just ask Black Dice and the Rapture.) The Blood Brothers and the Mars Volta were part of a second-generation twin-headed prog-hardcore major-label assault on mall emo in 2003. Both were formerly on post-Gravity San Diego labels (the BB's on Three-One-G, Volta on GSL), but only the Brothers' sound connects with that golden age of screamo Gravity pioneered.
Just don't mention it to Henderson. "I never considered us a hardcore band. We play what we play because it's what we want to hear, and what we react to physically." But he does concede that hardcore was the starting point, the arpeggiated Rosetta stone, heavy on the floor toms. "I got into hardcore through the straight-edge thing, which is kind of funny to me now. By the time I met [the other members of the Blood Brothers], I wasn't really listening to hardcore anymore—more [to] stuff like Shellac, the Jesus Lizard, and weird Touch & Go rock stuff."
"Weird rock stuff" is a pretty good description for the Blood Brothers, actually, the type of thing a casual observer and hardcore fan might both concede to. The press release for their new album, Crimes (V2), may be the only one in history that mentions the words "Born Against" and "Basement Jaxx" in the same sentence. Crimes contains moments of invention rare for a genre where shifting to a major key makes you a rule breaker. "Peacock with Crooked Wings" has a house-music piano played on a cheap organ under mock-Arabic guitar that sounds like rave pioneer Todd Terry producing Bauhaus. (In fact, all the piano parts on Crimes hint at some heretofore-unnamed genre. Death-ragtime? Supertramp-thrash?)
"I love Basement Jaxx," says Henderson, proving that sometimes press releases aren't total bullshit. "Their last album is so dense. I think there's a line between what they do and what we're doing." He even tantalizingly reveals stalled plans for a Basement Jaxx remix of an unnamed Crimes track, but quickly notes that its their cut-and-paste density that appeals to the Blood Brothers rather than any sense of da funk. That density might have been what caused them to ditch mook-rock/ nü-metal producer Ross Robinson this time around in favor of Pacific Northwest native John Goodmanson, who's recorded Sleater-Kinney, the Gossip, and Blonde Redhead. "We didn't have any problems with Ross as a person. Ross just tries to make everything as sonically hard as possible, and when you do that, you lose some of the subtleties."
Subtleties, maybe, but much of Crimes has a more straightforward, almost anthemic quality. Henderson invokes the dreaded "M" word, so I don't have to. "My interest in mathiness has waned, basically," he says, referring to the dense "math-rock" bands the Brothers frequently share column space with. "I'm just not listening to that much math-y stuff anymore. All the songs on Crimes can be performed live; that was really important. Songs were written more together [as a band]. The vocals were more patterned out [rather than overdubbed later]." So they're more interested in writing songs now? "I've become kind of obsessed with the Beach Boys," he says. "And some of Crimes was influenced by John Lennon's first solo album. I'm interested in songwriting, but I'm also interested in weird stuff."
Still, their tilt at V2's windmill suggests they haven't quite given up on Middle America, a good thing in a Hoobastank world. The Blood Brothers' vocals—the high-pitched ones sound like the Jesus Lizard's David Yow suffering 90 simultaneous hernias—might be their biggest impediment to stardom. Still, there should at least be a home for Brothers on the revitalized Headbanger's Ball, which features all sorts of throw-uppy mouth noises and ugly tunings, right?
"We made this video [for 'Ambulance vs. Ambulance' from 2003's Burn Piano Island, Burn] that hardly got shown anywhere. MTV told us it was too aggressive, and I find it to be quite midtempo. But then we go out on tour and see this Korn video where the guy is screaming the whole time."
By the time you read this, the band will already be on a national tour, still polarizing audiences like in the early days, just on a slightly larger scale. Still, despite being on a major (not major) label ("V2 in some ways have more to what they do, [but] they're still very up front about needing to sell records"), Henderson is sanguine about the recent feeding frenzy over indie rock. "It's limiting because it's like whenever the time span for what's hot is over, then you're over." He can relax, because, fashionable or not, Crimes is a minor masterpiece that actually does manage to skip over genre cracks. And if it manages to drown out that Muppet from New Found Glory, all the better.
Blood Brothers play Neumo's with Against Me! and True North at 8 p.m. Tues., Oct. 12. $10 adv.