By paul

10 years ago Wheatus unleashed ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ on the world. To commemorate the song, Paul spoke to Brendan about the ups and downs of life in the band…

Paul:Hey Brendan, how are things with you right now?
Brendan:Very intense. I’m finishing the recording of Pop, Songs & Death Vol. 2, The Jupiter EP & getting ready for Both our USA & UK Tours. As an independent artist, you have to do everything yourself so I’m up at 6AM every morning and such. I’m OK otherwise, thanks for asking.

Paul: The Wheatus story is a real rollercoaster ride…when you first started the band did you ever think for one minute you’d be around for 15 years or so, that you’d have a number 1 single or that you’d play to thousands in crowds all across the world?
Brendan: No. Honestly, I had always thought to myself that if I were to be successful in music, that I’d prefer it be low key and that the kind of career that Fugazi & Ani Difranco had would be more than enough. I am not very good at label relations so I was thinking small at 1st and was totally shocked by what happened.

Paul: When you first started out in the mid-90s, which bands influenced you as a songwriter? Did you set out to sound like any other bands in the early days?
Brendan: When I started writing & demoing the 1st record I was listening to a lot of Paul Simon, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, The Tragically Hip & The Indigo Girls and a lot of post hardcore, Fugazi, Quicksand, Helmet, Jawbreaker etc… I had always been a huge Rush & AC/DC fan, since childhood so I’m certain they were all part of it on some level. But the reason I decided to try writing, singing, playing & recording my own songs was a band called Walt Mink. Walt Mink certainly had the greatest influence on me in terms of what wheatus became on our 1st record and our other records as well.

Paul: Who came up with the name Wheatus and is there any meaning behind it?
Brendan: Wheatus is a nonsense word. It’s a nickname my father gave us when we were kids. My mother told me it’s a devolution of the word “little”… and that my father would come home from work and say to us kids “little, little, little….” which morphed into “wheatle, wheatle, wheatle…” and then finally, “wheatus, wheatus, wheatus…” At any rate, by the time I was 15 he’d call me wheatus to piss me off….so there you have it.

Paul: You’re originally from the New York area…do you still live in NYC? Are you still active in the scene there? Are there any bands you’d recommend we check out?
Brendan: I do live in Brooklyn but I spend most of my time at our studio on Long Island, which is an odd geographical distinction to make considering that Brooklyn is actually on Long Island. We’ve never been a scene band. But we do know and are friendly with other musicians in NYC, in particular The Nercord Artists like MC Frontalot, Schaffer The Dark Lord…etc.. I strongly recommend you look into The Nerdcore movement. One of my earliest shows in NYC was at CBGB’s when I was 19….8 years after that we opened for Joey Ramone there at CB’s shortly before his death so I guess we could accurately be considered a NYC band but none of us grew up in NYC….we all live in Brooklyn.

Paul: So going back in time a bit, you blew up huge with ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. Did you know as soon as you’d written it that it would be a hit? What or who inspired you to write the song?
Brendan: I knew when I wrote it that it would get out there and do something, or at least I hoped it would BUT… I knew that there were and are, plenty of fantastic songs that never get a chance & that writing a hit and having one are 2 vastly different things…so I kept my day job for 2 years after it was written.

Paul: How did you hook up with Columbia Records? Looking back, would you say working with a major label was the worst thing you could have done?
Brendan: At the time it most certainly was the right thing to do. When a label approaches you, they are sort of like a serial killer… they tell you everything you need to hear, banking on your ignorance, and we were shockingly ignorant….& once they get you in the house, out come the leather restraints & surgical knives. Our label experience was like this: we had this great AnR guy approach us. He guaranteed that we could produce our own records and I took that to mean that our art would be respected and that the way we were presented would all follow from the art & I was hella wrong. But there was also a timing issue… We signed a major label deal 2 years before the shit hit the fan. By shit hit the fan I mean, labels coming to terms with the fact that, back in the 80’s, when they had 1st converted songs into digital files that went on CD’s, that they were now in the software business and not the music business. It took them 17 years to realize what that meant because they’re ignorant old men who know nothing about computers, but when it all came home to roost they called it Napster. I still remember them being disappointed at our 1st week sales in The USA…” …yeah we’re really disappointed that you failed to break 20,000 units your 1st week… you only sold 19,800″ and when I asked them what the Napster numbers were they said: “what’s Napster?” That was in August, 2000… we call that time The Salad Days.

Paul: How did you hook up with Bruce Dickinson? What was it like working at Abbey Road?
Brendan: That was all really impossible to comprehend at the time….we wound up in The Beatles Room, George Martin‘s very own suite. THEEE SGT. PEPPER ROOM!…. and I was producing a record there with Bruce Dickinson singing on it that I wrote….The fact that I had been a printer repairman a year & 1/2 prior to that is the context. It really just made all the bullshit that came after that sort of worth it. Bruce was this Titan in the studio… Not many people know this but we had no manager when Teenage Dirtbag hit. Word got around about that & Iron Maiden’s manager called us up to see if we needed help and we developed a relationship. Bruce rode his bike down to Abbey Road that day, came in all sweaty & awesome and we got to work….I kind of sang to him what I thought the track needed, gave him a few references from the Iron Maiden catalog… he smiled, nodded, went down stairs and stood in front of the mic, we hit record and when he threw his head back, out came the voice of The Trooper….I mean he shreds like a fucking DRAGON BEAST….and pitch perfect. It was beyond description…. I wouldn’t say I was star struck, more like star blasted…I mean if Angus Young had walked in I’d have died right then knowing full well, it wasn’t gonna get any better….but then I’d have missed out on the super nerdy chat I had with Bruce a few months later about the physics of super sonic flight….he is a pilot, Bruce…gotta love him.

Paul: Why did you decide to change your sound a little by adding the female backing vocals and keyboardist?
Brendan: It was something I had always wanted but could never afford….good vintage keys & backing vox…Stevie Wonder & Yes had really inspired me with the sounds on the records they made, ELO & ELP as well….The idea with the keys was to get the lead guitar roll filled with more than just lead guitar & the girls was all about me loving The Andrews Sisters…..also I get really bored making a record if it’s something I’ve heard us do before.

Paul: You decided not to lip-synch on Top of the Pops when most bands, at that time, did it anyway. What made you buck the trend and say no? Is it true that Sony used this as an excuse to not promote your second album? Is this the point where things started to go wrong?
Brendan: Things going wrong had a lot more to do with them not getting us AT ALL. I was actually asked once, by one of the head honchos there in NYC, to re-sing ” A Little Respect ” for a USA single version & to make it sound more like Creed…. So Teenage Dirtbag, a song in which I literally can be mistaken for a girl, had sold a million records and they still thought the best bet was for me to change everything & make a record sounding more dude-ish. There isn’t much you can do to fix a misunderstanding like that. But the Lip Syncing Debacle was down to this: The day of our Smash Hits UK TV performance SONY surprised us with a lip sync demand at the last minute…For that lip sync, someone at the label had decided to make, what THEY thought was an appropriate ” TV remix ” of Teenage Dirtbag without so much as notifying us. Now, according to this SONY person the song was MUCH improved with about 15-17 bars of the original composition MISSING…mind you we had never heard this version and were being asked, with about an hour left until show time, to effectively commit this hatchet job to memory and then give an accurate lip sync to the TV audience. There had been this kind of bullshit happening here and there but this was the last straw. So we told them we would do it and then, well, we destroyed the stage instead…which the shows producer LOVED & found very entertaining. The day after that we informed SONY that we would no longer lip sync under any circumstances and asked that they please stop making dreadful remixes of a song that the public seemed to prefer as is. So you see, it wasn’t from any desire to buck the trend but rather form a desire to avoid looking like a cuntish assfuck on National TV when you botch the arrangement & lyrics to SONY’s favorite, here-to-for-unheard version, of a song you wrote and have just spent the last 2 years performing live every night on stage. They did indeed bring up our unwillingness to lip sync when they told us they were refusing to release our 2nd record in The USA.

Paul: Was ‘Suck Fony’ simply a reaction to the label’s poor handling of you?
Brendan: We were once taunted by a Finnish metalhead with the words “SUCK PHONY”. He was dressed like Axl Rose circa ’86 and had been responsible for pelting me in the chest with a rock the size of a baseball during our set. I stopped the song & challenged him to a fight on stage and when he approached security grabbed him and his last words to me were “SUCK PHONY!”. Back stage that night we decided to put out a live record called Suck Phony as the irony was just too delicious. In 2004, when we regained the rights to Hand Over Your Loved Ones, our 2nd LP, we decided to rename it in honor of one pissed of Nordic man….and yet again, with a small change in the spelling, the irony was too delicious.

Paul: What’s the relevance behind the name ‘Montauk Mantis’?
Brendan: Oh man… I can’t tell you that one…too painful. Sorry.

Paul: You’ve entered into the world of pay-what-you-want for releasing music. Who had the idea to do this and has it worked?
Brendan: I originally suggested this structure to SONY in 2002 for our 2nd record during a meeting with our AnR guy, Kevin Patrick and some marketing people. I told them we would split publishing, touring and merch with SONY if they let us put 1 million and ONLY 1 million copies on the shelves. After the 1st million were made the album would be out of print forever to save on carbon emissions….the idea was that with downloading, no one would be denied access to the music and that the live show would become the special thing to spend your hard earned money on…. they laughed me out of the room. About 4 years later, a “360 deal” was about the only kind of record deal you could get and it still is. Anyway, as soon as we had the ability, we did it ourselves. But our system is unique because of the multi-format & DSD_DISC download options. DSD_DISC is a downloadable Playstation3 music format that exceeds the quality of MP3, AIFF, FLAC, blue ray & DVD Audio. Some people even say it’s better than vinyl but I think that’s a personal preference thing…at any rate the DSD_DISC downloads on wheatus.com make us the 1st band to ever put out a record for the Sony PS3….and the irony just keeps getting tastier.

Paul: How important do you think it has been for Wheatus and for bands in general to embrace new technology to distribute your music and to stay in touch with fans?
Brendan: I don’t see how an artist could survive without embracing new technology…and I wouldn’t be a fan of a band that doesn’t respond to it’s fans so I couldn’t ask that of any wheatus fans….I personally respond to all my wheatus.com mail and our twitter feed, twitter.com/wheatus ….Matthew our bass player takes care of Facebook.

Paul: Is it true you worked on the score for the film ‘April Showers’? Is this something you would like to do more of in the future?
Brendan: Yes it is true, which is special because SONY forced us to censor the word “gun” in Teenage Dirtbag because of the Columbine Massacre. …Scoring a film is weird for me…I have to really feel for the movie…You’re not writing a song in your bedroom for yourself, but rather trying to decorate someone else‘s existing piece of art so there’s much more pressure to get it right ’cause you don’t want to let them down…If someone will have me I’d love to continue doing it, in fact, we’ll be scoring some for a UK based indie Zombie Flick pretty soon… you can read more about that at http://www.theindywoodproject.com/

Paul: If you could go back in time and change anything from the Wheatus experience, what would it be and why?
Brendan: I would have made sure more people at SONY knew what we were about before we signed…we made the mistake of thinking our AnR guy spoke for the whole company and that was not the case. I also would have asked for a 1 album deal but the way it worked out, that’s pretty much what we got anyway, so not much would change….I think everything worked out pretty damn well.

Paul: A few user submitted questions – Does it irritate you that you’re probably best known in the UK by most people for an Erasure cover song?
Brendan: No, Teenage Dirtbag sold a hell of a lot more copies than the Erasure cover did…what are you on about? ;- )

Paul: Do you hold down regular jobs when you’re not on the road or do you live the rockstar dream?
Brendan: There is no such thing as a rockstar dream …this is a myth that old record executives perpetuate so they can steal from young artists who don’t know any better….maybe some hippie lived something like that in the 1970’s but those days have been over for a long time. Keeping this band going is hard work, harder than any of my day jobs but more rewarding when it all comes together. When I’m done answering these questions I have to arrange for 2 tonnes of gear to be flown from NYC to The UK…for that I will have to create what’s known as a carnet. Look that up, it sucks…The I have to mix and master The Jupiter EP an 2 million other things or it all comes apart. We don;t have a manger so I do it all myself….Matthew does all our website work when he’s not working full time at Permanent Records in Brooklyn. Gerard our keys player is the house sound engineer for an awesome NYC venue called Arlene’s Grocery…Kevin our drummer works for 4 or 5 other bands in order to pay the bills, as do the girls….come over here and intern with me for a week & you’ll forget all about this rockstar dream thingy you asked me about.

Paul: In it for the art or in it for the charts?
Brendan: HA!…well, we’ve successfully avoided the charts for the last 9 years so …there’s nothing left but the art.

Paul: What’s the best thing bout touring in foreign places where you have never been before? What’s your favourite country to tour and why?
Brendan: It’s currently a draw between Scotland & Wales…there are some places in The USA that are pretty dope but I’ll keep it UK for now. In the UK my favorite thing is Plain Chocolate McVities…. but if you’re in a place you’ve never been the best thing that can happen is a day off to wander and then get drunk.

Paul: What’s the best touring story you can re-tell?
Brendan: Apparently, and I have no memory of this myself, there was once a shocking degree of drunken nudity in Bath UK…Again, I’m not sure what exactly transpired but I know it began with about 4000 Uni students in togas and ended with The Who blasting out the tourbus… & nudity…and a bass player who had fallen and could not get up….and a merch girl going on & on about Paul Weller. Then there was also The Sunrise Swansea incident where someone ran out the venue and down the road buck ass naked…can’t remember if it was one of us. In the next interview I’ll see if I can remember which pop star puked in our bus toilet.

Paul: Favourite member of the Wu Tang Clan?
Brendan: Ol’ Dirty….hands down….raw as fuck…. miss him!

Paul: What did you think to the movie Loser and did you ever get to meet Jason Biggs?
Brendan: I did meet Jason and he was a cool dude from right around where I’m from so we got along. I met Mena too and still chat with here once in a while on twitter….I am very proud of that film because it features Teenage Dirtbag played during a helicopter fly-in montage of The Twin Towers of The World Trade Center filmed the year before they fell….Growing up in the shadow of NYC they were my favorite buildings and I had been in them several times to visit my best friends dad who worked up there on the 74th floor…thankfully he was retired by the time of the attack. Also, Dan Aykroyd is in that movie. He’s one of my hero’s for his role in The Blues Brothers, which might have the best soundtrack of all time, so having one of my songs playing in the background while he’s on the screen is a personal triumph for me.

Paul: Have you ever bought two tickets to see Iron Maiden?
Brendan: I have bought WAAAAY more than 2 tickets to Iron Maiden baby…but a little while ago my friend Monsen bought ME 2 tickets to Iron Maiden and we watched them tear the guts out of Madison Square Garden together…noice.

Paul: Are you sick of talking about/playing/hearing ‘Teenage Dirtbag’?
Brendan: NOOOOOOOOOO I love that song….it’s still a challenge to get it right on stage and it has never bothered me…re recording the Rockband version on the other hand was a dreadful pain in the ass! That’ll be out sometime this summer along with our new record Pop, Songs & Death Vol. 2…The Jupiter EP.

Thanks for the chat everyone…see you in June!
In the meantime, download our records free or donate at wheatus.com & hit me on twitter.com/wheatus too…

Get tickets for the upcoming UK tour at http://www.artistticket.com/link/?s=wheatus

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]