Sweet Sweet Music talked to Jeff Whalen and Os Tyler about The Monkees, Springsteen, catchy melodies and singing harmonies.
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Don Valentine writes:
Tsar stalwarts Jeff Whalen, Jeff Solomon and Steve Coulter are joined by Os Tyler and Dylan Champion in the Los Angeles five piece. In stating that the album is as good as that Tsar debut, it must be said that it’s not the same.
There is a much different tempo here. the band are in much less of a hurry to get to the licks. #1 has far more in common with The Monkees and great late 60’s Pop. The album is built on the wonderful vocal harmonies and singalong choruses.
Was that indeed the sound you were looking for or does that sound comes naturally to you?
Jeff Whalen: Thank you for the Monkees comment! (ed. Take that as a compliment Don) They’ve always been a top-five band for me. I mean, it comes and goes, but I’ve had several periods in my life in which I was so absolutely obsessed with the Monkees that it caused concern among some loved ones.
Some friends and I got super-duper into the Monkees movie Head when we in high school. The way only guys in high school can—you know, where you watch the same movie over and virtually everything you say to each other is in some way a line or reference to the movie.
But yeah, the Brothers Steve record to me is like a ‘60s meets ‘90s kind of record. Most of the things I do—solo or in Tsar or whatever—have a 1970s glitter component, but this record doesn’t really have that. I don’t think the ‘60s thing here was super-intentional. It’s more like when Os and I get together to sing and write, especially with our crack guitar player Dylan singing with us, too—he’s got a super-cool voice— we very often end up in this early-Bee Gees/Association/Nilsson territory. I mean there’s a million other things going on, too, but yeah, it’s a sound that comes very naturally to us when we’re making music together.
Os Tyler: Singing harmonies is about the most fun you can have. It’s tantalizingly delightful.
Jeff: Tantaliciously delightful—possibly even cee- or even be-lightful.
Os: Indeed-lightful! If you haven’t sung harmony with someone recently, make it happen. Or just sing a harmony along with whatever song you listen to next! #1 is infused with our shared love of intertwining voices and I would say the sound you hear is primarily an organic one.
When they speak about the new Springsteen record ‘that great 60’s Pop’ is also mentioned. Same influences, different outcome? Or different influences?
Os: The Boss is a magical force of nature, a musical genius masquerading as a majestic miner. I hope we are dipping our toes in the same waters.
Jeff: I haven’t heard the Springsteen album. I assume we share some of the same influences—like, I bet he likes the Shangri-Las or the Dave Clark 5 or whatever—but how that inspiration gets processed is probably very different. And then I bet we have some different influences, too. Like, I’m not sure when Springy last cranked some Archies deep cuts, windows down, sunny day, cruising down Sunset Blvd.
Os: Are we all influenced by transportational love, suffering, and desire? Probably, but you’d be crazy to talk about it. I would never bring it up in an interview.
You wrote so many great choruses, when do you decide it’s good enough to record?
Jeff: Thanks! I dunno! Great question! Os and I definitely have a tendency to keep working on songs to a controversial degree. Years, sometimes. But usually, it’s not in the writing stage that we have trouble deciding if it’s good enough yet—usually we have trouble calling it finished when were in the recording phase. We just keep adding stuff. I think it’s a combination of enjoying the process and a semi-neurotic reluctance to finish something. If not for the firm, patient-yet-scary insistence of the other band members, I’m sure we’d be overdubbing even now.
Os: Recording is such an evolution-in-the-process thing now. The most critical element is deciding to do it and picking a start date. Dive in and make it happen. Anyway, that’s what I tell myself: “Self, Dive in!”
How did The Brothers Steve start?
Jeff: We met in college, at UC Santa Barbara. We got together last year to play for fun at a party and decided to record an album.
And, in the end, how will they be remembered?
Jeff: With people’s brains.
Os: There’s something inherently moving about music that is comprised entirely of amplified strings vibrating, drums reverberating and human voices intertwining.
Jeff: Simple lines intertwining.
Os: People are going to keep returning to that sound, and the Brothers Steve, #1, is a pretty good dose of it!
When is the last time you heard from Kathy Fong?
Jeff: Ha! I’m not talking to her at the moment. She knows why.
Os: Listen, between you and me, I talked to Kathy recently, and she’s doing OK. But she can be a little private about her feelings, just give her time.