A Shot Of Southern Tequila: Interview with Brand New Sin Vocalist Joe Altier

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Monday, February 12, 2007 @ 2:55 PM

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It is commonplace in the music business when an artist or band is under the gun by its record label to write new material to fulfill a contractual obligation. To feel an overwhelming sense of urgency to meet a looming deadline, with immense amounts of pressure to top that previous “groundbreaking” release, can cause discord (and sometimes sheer insanity) within a band. While the guys in Brand New Sin were making the record Tequila, the high stakes and pressure weren’t part of the picture. In fact, the Syracuse-based quintet was still running on the energy of 2005’s Recipe For disaster. The lack of an impending deadline from its record label, Century Media, was conducive to a more creative atmosphere for Brand New Sin to do just what they wanted to do with the new album. Therefore, full reign from the record label along with a full Tequila bottle in the studio might have helped, according to vocalist Joe Altier.

“We never seem like we’re ever short on finding material. You write a song sometimes and you’re like ‘Man, that’s a really good song, but it just doesn’t fit in with these other ones.’ So some of these songs kind of fit in with what we were doing. Then we started envisioning the Tequila idea and the concept. It’s not really a concept record, but it can be looked at that way because we wanted a continuity where when the record started it really never had any stopping points. We tried to think of it as one continuous song all the way through. That’s where the interludes come in and they set up moods and ideas and everything else. I guess the third thing I guess I could say about Tequila is that with the record we really wanted show a whole different side of Brand New Sin on some levels—not only with our songwriting and the presentation of the songs but we really wanted a record that didn’t sound like the other two that we did previously, production wise. We went for a very live and very raw sound—vintage almost. When we came off the road with Black Label Society we told the label ‘Hey, we’re just going to start writing another record and see what happens’. As the winters go up here in Syracuse—they’re pretty harsh, they’re pretty brutal, and they’re pretty cold. So, we just got in to our practice room every night and where Tequila came from was that I just started bringing a bottle of Tequila to practice every night. We just started writing and doing shots and if we got stuck at one point we’d say ‘Alright, let’s do a shot.’ By 11 o’clock at night, when we started at 7—it got interesting. We’re not trying to condone that getting fucked up on Tequila is the only way to make music, but it was for this purpose. So it just kind of went hand in hand and we were pretty excited about it.”

Tequila was produced at Method of Groove studios in Brooklyn by Joey Z [Life of Agony/Carnivore]. Altier explains how, through a mutual friendship with Life of Agony, Brand New Sin picked Joey to work on the new album.

Now, somebody can record a record in their fucking living room that sounds just as good as if you went to Los Angeles and spent 10,000 dollars a day.
“I can definitely say that a couple of us, including myself, are very big Life of Agony fans. Over the past couple of years our manager was not only managing us but was managing Life of Agony as well so we ended up doing a lot together. We got to really spend a lot of time with the guys in Life of Agony and really got close to them, so we got to this point where we were really hitting it off with Joey and Joey had a lot of the same vision that we did and Joey said ‘L.O.A.’s on hiatus and I built this studio. I know you guys are shopping around for something different—why don’t you come down?’ So we went down in April for a weekend and sat down and we cut, like three tunes. Within the first day and a half that we were there we all pretty much knew that we were going to come back and do the record there, just because we felt comfortable with Joey. He was totally down with what we wanted to do, not really forcing a lot of his ideas on us. He let us give him what we wanted to do and let him help us in a lot of spots. Joey took the songs that we had and just kind of tweaked a couple things here and there and really made them what we had envisioned.”

“With the induction of ProTools and digital recording, everything has really gotten a nice, glossy sound to it. It’s like perfect now. We kind of wanted to go after having something that just sounded different, because when you listen to the records of the 70’s, whether it was a Led Zeppelin record or Mott the Hoople or E.L.O., each record had a different sonic sound to it, just because analog and the studios were all different. Now, somebody can record a record in their fucking living room that sounds just as good as if you went to Los Angeles and spent 10,000 dollars a day recording at Ocean Way or something like that. So we really, really went after this record just going “Let’s make this very raw sounding. Let’s purposely make it sound dirty and not as polished”. Some people have come to us and said “We like the record. It sounds a little different”. They just forgot what it sounds like to hear something that’s not as perfect. Nowadays, say if you’re seeing a singer who’s constantly ahead of the beat or behind the beat—you couldn’t fix that back in the day. Now, if someone’s off the beat you move ‘em right on beat. So you’re not actually grabbing the actual performance. You’re taking the performance and perfecting it. And we all know rock and roll is not about perfection (laughs). I think Nirvana kind of proved all that to us, you know what I’m saying? You don’t care how good you play your instruments. It comes through. Rock and roll is not about being on time or having the perfect sounding chord. Maybe someone is slightly out of tune. That’s rock and roll, because when you go see a band live you’re not going to hear perfection. You’re going to hear someone say ‘Oh, he missed a cymbal or he dropped a stick or the singer’s behind right here.’ That’s rock and roll. That’s, I guess, in a nutshell, is what we really went for on this record. It’s like “Hey, let’s not try to be so frickin perfect. Let’s see what happens. If they get it, they get it. If they don’t, fuck ‘em”. At the end of the day I’m happy with what we did and with the reaction we’ve gotten so far I don’t think it’s going to be like “Oh my God, what did they do?”

I don’t think we’re ever going to get over this Southern Rock thing. I don’t think we sound as “Southerny” as some people think.
While Brand New Sin has been described as Southern Rock, hard rock band with a swampy, gritty sound, Altier defines it further.

“It’s tough because since day one we’ve had the Southern Rock label kind of put on us. Obviously there are so many influences that show through in our music. We’ve had people compare us to other bands—so many different comparisons from Molly Hatchet to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Pelican to Pantera to Down to Corrosion of Conformity. All of us have very diverse listening tastes. What Kevin [Dean] listens to is very different than what I listen to. We really come from a lot of backgrounds. We do have a few common bonds—Metallica and Pantera. It’s very obvious. I grew up on classic rock in the 70’s. One of my favorite bands growing up was the Eagles, which is very far from anything that Brand New Sin does. I listen to older country. I listen to Alabama, Garth Brooks, and even further back, Otis Redding, and the blues. I spent many years here in Syracuse hanging out at a blues club, watching bands all the time. It’s really cool to have this all kind of meshed together in Brand New Sin. I don’t think we’re ever going to get over this Southern Rock thing. I don’t think we sound as “Southerny” as some people think, but I think people attribute our style of rock and roll more towards the Southern style just because of the blues base and my voice. I’ll never complain about it. As long as people listen and get into it —I don’t care what they say.”

On the album Peter Steele of Type O Negative lends his voice on “Reaper Man.” His dark, haunting vocal lends the right mordant quality to underscore lyrics such as: “…waiting for the Reaper Man to come rip your heart out.”

“Obviously, through Joey, we got to know Peter. This all started because not only are Joey and Pete really close from years back from Life Of Agony and Type-O but Joey being the guitar player in Carnivore—Pete was calling the studio quite a bit. One day I was just joking around with Joey and I asked him if Pete wanted to come in and sing a song with us. So Pete shows up one night, we sat down and wrote a part specifically for him. We brainstormed and idea and then Pete comes in and sounds like the reaper man of the song. If we ever did a video for it he’d be the guy. It’s an interesting combo. A lot of people—in a million years—would never expect Brand New Sin and Pete from Type-O to cross worlds.”

The band wants to continue producing new material as long as the muse inspires them. “It’s always good to keep things fresh. Unless you’re running on a record that’s selling 7 or 8 million copies, obviously you’re going to be supporting that for quite a while. I would love every year to be able to sit down and start writing on our down time. You never know when the creativity might stop. We’ve been a band for 5 years now.”

Altier understands that there is no substitute for a sturdy backbone for the band, and that a good drummer such as Kevin Dean is indispensable.

“We got Kevin four years ago. Without a drummer to pull it all together your band is worthless. I don’t care how great your guitar player is, how great of a singer you are—your drummer is where it all starts. And we’ve been blessed…I call Kevin a machine just because he’s constantly studying theory and he teaches drums to students around here in Syracuse. Its’ been really good to get to know one another, knowing our strengths and weaknesses”.

In many bands there is usually one member who is the dominating, creative force and therefore gets to call the shots. Brand New Sin has a different point of view in how each member of the band contributes to the whole.

“It makes us a stronger unit when we write songs and it becomes so easy to us now. The other thing that we do in the band is that we never hold anyone back from presenting an idea. We will always give everybody at least the opportunity to try an idea. Sometimes they’re really cool. Sometimes four of us are looking at the other person like ‘Dude, it ain’t so good’, but at least we give everybody that opportunity. I think that’s what makes Brand New Sin a little more diverse than some of the other bands we’re compared to.”

2005’s Recipe For disaster introduced a high-octane, neckbreaker song called “Black and Blue” that brought the band a more attention and airplay than its previous singles. Altier shares his thoughts on what will be the breakout single on Tequila.

You gottta be very careful in doing cover songs. You don’t want to do it to have a hit with it, or to not give it proper respect.
“The first song is “Motormeth.” We shot a video for it at one of our hometown shows and that’s going to be our first “out of box, kick you in the face” type of song—right in the vain of “Black and Blue.” It just hits you. It doesn’t stop, there’s no break, there’s no breather in the song.”

On the last track of Tequila, the band covers “House of the Rising Sun” with a tone of respect. Joey Z jumps down from the mixing board and contributes stellar guitar work.

“It was just something that we were jamming at practice and the more we jammed it the more it really kind of fit in. You gottta be very careful in doing cover songs. You don’t want to do it to have a hit with it, or to not give it proper respect. So we were very careful about the way we presented it. It’s one of the songs where nobody really knows who wrote the lyrics. Obviously, the Animals were the ones who took the old traditional arrangement because I believe the first recording of “House of the Rising Sun” was somewhere back in the 1920’s. I think we’re really paying homage to everything that happened down in New Orleans.”

Altier doesn’t deny his roots and makes no apologies for his and his bandmates drinking themselves into a stupor of creativity, which ultimately birthed Tequila.

“Everybody knows Brand New Sin likes to raise hell, drink some beer, and have a good time. Everybody knows that, even when we’re at home. We’re blue collar. We come from blue-collar families and blue-collar neighborhoods and we all work blue-collar jobs. It kind of just works in to it…you know, drinking beer and listening to the music really loud. You can ask anybody, whether it’s a good experience or a bad experience, Tequila does something to you that no other alcohol can do. It either makes you absolutely insane to the point where you can never drink it again, or it makes you feel great. I don’t know, man. Tequila is just one of those types of alcohol that is head and shoulders above the rest in many different ways, whether it’s good or bad. Luckily we had a good experience on it and got a pretty cool record while being under the influence of it (laughs).”

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