By Sarah L. Myers
New York, NY, USA
Brandy Row: "Dirty Street"
We're sitting in a familiar place - a heavy, wooden bench in the back of 200 Orchard, a single candle illuminating Brandy Row from underneath. In this light, he's the singer-songwriter poet. In publicity shots for The Gaggers, or like-minded gutter punks The Seminals, he's the Hyde to this soft focus Jekyll. Tattoos scatter across his hands and face, bringing to mind those red dots peppering world maps in the backs of airline magazines. Has he been to those places? Looking at Brandy, I'm wondering if he's walked alongside the burning coach house lanterns in New Orleans. Or he could be that last patron at Trash in Brooklyn, when the night's antics wear themselves as a slight buzz in the ears. Maybe he's wandered through gardens in Paris, picking tiny flowers from the bushes. He could have done all of this at the age of only 25. That's why New York City needs him.
(credit: Jason Kuffer)
Erin O'Brien introduced me to this amazing musician on a night he was to enthrall the crowd at Bowery Electric, playing a set backed by Joff Wilson and the incredible Danny Ray. I'd last seen Alan Vega on that very stage, and I remembered wondering if I'd ever see anything quite as special again. Brandy is one of a kind, yet he's an explosive combination of any and every thing I've ever loved about punk rock. There are many more memories to come, as Brandy settles in to our city this summer for a round of solo gigs. Stay Thirsty!
STAY THIRSTY: I've read a lot about your music but I don't know much about you personally. Tell me about how you got started.
BRANDY ROW: I'm from a place called Essex, which is an overspill of London. Not all of Essex but my hometown, Harlow, has only 60 years to its name. It was built in 1947 to house everybody from the war. There's many other places in Essex that have got similar things going on. Yeah, that's where I'm from. It's kind of like 30 minutes from London by car, it's not too far. There's not a lot of stuff going on there either. Hence why I moved to London so quickly. I moved to London when I was 15, no 16. I kind of saw an opportunity and left.
STAY THIRSTY: Talk to me about your musical history in London, starting at age 16.
BRANDY ROW: So I moved to London when I was 16, I was in a band from my hometown called The Seminals, kind of 1980s hardcore (band) I guess. Then I started a new group called the London Guns, which was kind of street punk. That went on for about a year, we recorded four songs. Then after that I started another group. We'd split up, the London Guns, we'd just kind of fallen heavily intro drugs and didn't really care about music anymore, we'd just kind of become addicted to being strung out more than anything. So we broke up, and I then I kind of met these older guys, they were really great musicians and I started a new group with them called The Hateful. And that was really great. We recorded quite a few things and we released them, we toured quite a lot. Unfortunately, we split up when we were on tour. I kind of got drunk and did something stupid. Then I hit a deep depression because I didn't have a band and then I decided to learn (guitar). At this point I was 21, and I decided to learn how to play guitar, and I kind of sat in my room for a year basically. I didn't have a job, and just learned how to play guitar. Then I started The Gaggers, which is happening now, and the Truebadours as well. There were some more groups I think before that. The Blowouts of course, and I played guitar in that, and that was a lot of fun. That was really energetic kind of 1977 punk. It was just great. Really simple, the shows were really fun, then that kind of split up as well. And then I started the Gaggers and then I started the Truebadours. I started writing all of these songs that didn't suit any of my bands, you know? So they turned into a solo thing and that's kind of why I'm doing what I'm doing today, with this overspill of songs that kind of worked well for acoustic. And now I'm kind of here.
STAY THIRSTY: When you were learning to play guitar, what kind of music were you listening to?
BRANDY ROW: I didn't really do that, I just kind of learned myself, it was weird. I had one friend who taught me like one chord and then from there on I just kind of learned it all myself. When I started the Gaggers, I'd only been playing guitar for four months and we released the record. But it's 1977 punk so it needs to sound bad you know! And when I started the Blowouts that kind of is what made me learn guitar a bit more actually, like aptly play guitar because I'd always be watching what the other guitarist was doing. And there was another group in-between that as well, called the Needle Automatics, which a record has just been released. We split up two years ago. We never actually played live, we just rehearsed and came out with some great songs. Back to the guitar thing, I don't know, there wasn't really much that I was listening to. I mean, as far as music.
STAY THIRSTY: When do you remember being turned onto that New York City punk music as a child in London?
BRANDY ROW: As a kid. My mom was a punk. As a kid, it's really weird because, like, we didn't have much money at all. My father was a milkman, and my mother worked in an electronics factory, and the only thing I had in the house musically was records. I listened to my mom and dad's records all day. I had, like, a Mohican when I was like nine. I did! It was crazy. People didn't get it, there was this little kid, I used to wear this Exploited t-shirt, but I had all of these clothes that my mom had, you know? I remember walking around my hometown with the Mohican and I used to wear a kilt to freak people out. My mom used to do my hair for me, yeah. So that's how I got into punk. I guess I'm not really a punk rocker because I didn't need to rebel against anything but my parents did, but you can't really rebel against rebellion. As far as that, I don't know anything different and I've been like this my whole life.
"I love New York though, it's kind of stolen my heart completely."
(credit: Etienne Gilfillan)
STAY THIRSTY: Why did it take you this long to get to New York?
BRANDY ROW: (laughs) Good question! I don't know really. I wasn't really even planning on it you know? I've always loved New York, and I've always wanted to go, and there's always been a romance around New York for everyone, no matter what you're into I guess. Erin (O' Brien) approached me and asked if I wanted to play the Sandy benefit, and I would've loved to but I think she thought I was from New York. And I was like, I would love to but I'm kind of far away. And then we were talking and she said, well why don't you come over and play in the future and that was it. She's a blessing. But yeah, I don't know why it took me so long. Being in England, to go to America it seems very daunting because it's so far away. But before New York I've been to other places like Chicago and stuff, I played a couple of shows. Yeah, I love New York though, it's kind of stolen my heart completely. The first day I flew into New York I was so jet lagged, I just dived into this rehearsal room with all these crazy, amazing New York musicians and it was great. That's how I know everyone, is through Erin.
STAY THIRSTY: New York means something different to everyone. Living in London, did listening to those New York punk bands make you want to move to New York or did it more influence your playing?
BRANDY ROW: I don't know, really. I love, like, the whole Bowery scene, I love all of that beginning of punk, although apparently the English invented it? I don't know, I don't think anyone invented it, I don't know. But I've always had a romance for New York. I would love to live here, I would really love to live here. It's always influenced my playing. The thing I love about the New York music is its rock n' roll you know? There's a lot of the English stuff, especially like stuff in the 80s, it's not rock n' roll, I don't know what it is, but it definitely influenced my playing.
STAY THIRSTY: Did you find that the NYC punk scene spoke to you in ways the English scene didn't?
BRANDY ROW: I completely find that, yeah. Cause that's the thing, you know, like the New York music in that period of time, that's what I'm into. I'm not really into like, of course I love the English punk scene but you kind of get really heavy.
"I truly believe that any place in the whole world is whatever you make it, you know?"
STAY THIRSTY: Do you have your own little New York now? What is your version of New York?
BRANDY ROW: I don't know, really. I truly believe that any place in the whole world is whatever you make it, you know? You can make the most out of any situation. I still haven't experienced enough of New York, because I'm only here for short bursts. Last time I was only here for five days, this time I'm only here for four days. Everything that I've seen, I really believe if I was to be here that I could make stuff happen really fast. The thing is, if I moved to New York I really believe that I could start a little movement, you know? I really enjoy motivating people as well. I really like getting things done and making stuff happen. When I go home actually, me and a friend of mine have come up with this idea. I really want to help kids that suffer with mental illness, like bipolar and stuff, I want to start a music workshop for kids that have bipolar disorder. I want to start this music workshop just for kids that are going through a really hard time, because music is such a great therapy. I've been in some really bad situations in my life, and I've seen no other way out of it. For everyone. Even if you've not got problems, music is always a salvation for a lot of things. I really want to help people and show people that there is an answer and you can be ok, you know? And to deal with what's happening. It's not easy.
STAY THIRSTY: I've always seen music as a life-saving force. Is there a particular song or a particular band that has pulled you out of a dark time or place in life?
BRANDY ROW: There's a lot of songs I like listening to to make me feel worse than I already do. But a song that brings me out? I don't know, I remember there was one song that I used to smash up my apartment to when I was 15. "Revolution Rock" by the Clash. I was listening to that on the plane on the way here and thinking how funny it is and how much things change you know? There's a lot of songs like that. To be honest, I don't really listen to that much music. I listen to a lot of Motown, but apart from that I don't really listen to a lot of stuff.
STAY THIRSTY: What are your favorite songs to play live?
BRANDY ROW: "The Decline of a Better Man" is my favorite song to play live. That's about having mental illness problems, I really like that song. I really like that one, that's nice to play. Feels like I'm getting a lot of stuff out of my system when I play that one.
STAY THIRSTY: What are your plans when you go back to London?
BRANDY ROW: Try and keep as level headed and as busy as possible. When I go home I'm about to shoot two new music videos for two of my brand new solo songs. I've got a new band under construction called The Wild Nerves, which hopefully lasts for longer than a year! It's kind of the same setup as the Truebadours, well, it's less people which will be easier. It's a female vocalist, piano player, trumpet player, bass, drums, and guitar. And then work on coming back to New York in July.