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Brothers in Transition 

The Architects hone their sound on their sophomore album

Brandon Phillips is proud to say his rock band, the Architects, got back to basics on its forthcoming sophomore album, Revenge, and the new direction has infused his songwriting with a strident, vitriolic edge.

"I guess our philosophy, or our specific methodology, was very old-school on this one," Phillips says by phone from his hometown of Kansas City, Mo. "I would like to go my entire life making records like Little Richard did."

But well before Revenge hits record stores Feb. 21, the Architects already will be out on the road, rattling cages in anticipation of the CD's release. The jaunt will bring the band to Tucson for a gig Friday, Jan. 13, at the Surly Wench Pub.

Revenge comes closer to re-creating the live sound of the Architects than does the combo's 2004 debut, Keys to the Building, which included elaborately orchestrated rock 'n' soul numbers, complete with a gospel choir.

Recording the new album took just four days. The tracks were recorded mostly live in the studio, with no more than one or two takes per song and almost no overdubs. "And I sang everything three times--no more, no less," says the singer, songwriter and guitarist.

The Architects' sound is a dynamic, explosive combination of traditional punk, maximum R&B, Midwestern alternative rock, blues-based metal and pop melodies all delivered at top speed. Echoes can be heard of The Clash, The Who, Social Distortion, Soul Asylum, The Replacements, AC/DC, The Jam and The Kinks.

Although the Architects have only two albums under their collective belt, the members have been playing together much longer than that would indicate.

Phillips and his two younger brothers, bassist Adam and drummer Zach, are founding members of The Gadjits, which for more than a decade toured the country and made several albums of lively ska-punk. For the last two Gadjits albums, lead guitarist Mike Alexander was a member, and he carries on with the Architects.

"In fact, the first Architects record was really the last Gadjits record. Our sound was still in transition, and we managed to get (former Gadjits member) Ehren Starks to play keyboards on that one.

"I like that record a lot. It meant a lot," Phillips says "And that was definitely a turning point for us, regardless of how well it sold or didn't sell.

"This time, though, we didn't want to make this expansive multi-layered recording if that's not what we can do live. What we do live is way better, I think, than anything we do on records," Phillips says.

The new band name also hinted at a new direction. The Architects "is sort of representative of the ongoing creative process. To be an architect of something means more than being the carpenter or the guy who does the welding. Architecture is a very broad field that has to take everything into account."

And the Architects' songs take into account just everything except the typical rock 'n' roll subjects of automobiles and getting laid.

"There's a lot of great songs about cars. I wouldn't be so modest to say I couldn't write a great song about a car or chick, but I think I would just choke singing it. It has to be something you sing and feel good about at the end of the day," Phillips says.

Among the subjects the band tackles on Revenge are brutal cops ("Badge"), urban strife ("Body Armor"), corrupt politicians ("Don't Call It a Ghetto") and a variety of jilted, disenfranchised and just plain fucked-over characters.

The storytelling qualities and themes of social upheaval on the Architects new album occasionally bring to mind the music of Bruce Springsteen.

"We're all definitely Springsteen fans," Phillips says. "And I am a big fan of the first Meat Loaf first record that Jim Steinman wrote and produced. There's a certain artistry and drama about that style of music. I think it's sweeping, dramatic and theatrical, and it has definitely had an influence on us."

After the Gadjits bounced around on different record companies for years, the Architects have found a happy home on the Kansas City-based independent label Anodyne Records. Other acts on the label include Overstep, Dirt Nap, The String and Return, The Hearers and Pornhuskers.

Working as the label manager at Anodyne allows Phillips a sense of control over his band's business and the marketing of its CDs, he says.

Anodyne is "basically a two-man operation. The owner is my friend John. He offered me the position of partner and label manger, initially just to handle these records, but I really love working with all the bands."

Phillips is taking a stronger hand in guiding the Architects' career, something that the once-teenage Gadjits often delegated to other people.

"I spent 10 years in the Gadjits watching from the sidelines as various independent and major labels mismanaged my affairs. Watching the business suffer because of a lack of organization and a failure to communicate really affected me lot. I kind of came away from all that with the Gadjits feeling like I'd never had a fair shot."

Phillips says it's not as if he's a control freak. "I don't really want to be in control of it. I want to wake up on a tour bus, roll out of bed in a new town, play a show, roll back on the bus and go to bed. That's the artistic life I want for myself, to live as simply as possible.

"But I know that if I don't have a business life, I will not have an artistic life."

The Phillips brothers have been playing together in one band or another since grade school. "Our first real show in a bar, my baby brother, the drummer, was 9. He's 23 now. So we've been playing together a long time," says Phillips, who is 27--and disproving the myth about antagonistic relations among brothers in rock bands.

"I've always heard the Oasis and the Black Crowes comparisons. I never understood any of that. I could not be happier than when playing music with my brothers. There's nothing I'd rather be doing."

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