Whatever Brains
by Kevin J. Elliott

Raleigh, North Carolina’s Whatever Brains don’t make serious music for serious people. Just look at that name. Dig into the four 7-inches they’ve released in the past year and you’ll find a sharp sense of humor among titles like “Rapper’s Delight II” and “Soft Dick City.” But that says nothing of an even sharper dynamic shared between guitarists William Evans and Rich Ivey, bassist Matt Watson, drummer Evan Williams and keyboardist Hank Shore. Crude and unfashionable as their inside jokes might read on paper, their records offer a deft balance of sprawling post-punk, aggro-metal, and oddball pop. “Pop” should be in bold, because as impenetrable as their mass of riffs comes across on first listen, at the heart of each song is a shining melody, an anthem-driven chorus, and a sense that, when all is said and done, Whatever Brains prefer Face to Face to the lumbering, low-end crust-rock out of which they seem to be molded. For now, one can only glean from their singles what an album full of this caterwauling approach to pop music might sound like. Whatever Brains make difficult music for sure, but in talking with Ivey via email, I’m assured that’s not the intention. Spread among a full-length, a clearer vision of what Whatever Brains can surely accomplish is sure to get more people listening and more people trying to crack the code.

Were you all in other bands before forming Whatever Brains? What led to the formation of Whatever Brains and where does that name come from?

Rich Ivey: Matt and I were in two bands together, Street Sharks and Crossed Eyes. The latter released a 7-inch on Sorry State Records, who are doing the Whatever Brains LP. I’m also in a band called Order with some guys from Virginia and one other guy in Raleigh. Think Trumans Water meets Depeche Mode. Will has played in Serpents (shit-your-pants doom), Black Castle (put out a killer LP called Male Pattern Bondage and sounded like the VSS) and Witchcraft By a Picture. Evan has played in countless bands around Raleigh, including a sick ’60s cover band, the Delrounds (I’m not sure that’s how it’s spelled) and Grass Widow (not the California one, Dinosaur meets the Sonics). Hank has a sweet band called Nantan Lupan with some other dudes he goes to high school with. Shit sounds like Orange Juice plus the Pop Group or something infinitely cooler than I did in high school. Or in college, or now. Matt, Will and Evan are also in a very cool and gross goth-punk band called Shards, which recently released its LP on Sorry State Records. This is the tip of the iceberg. Whatever Brains started when I was getting tired of Crossed Eyes and demanded that Evan play with me. He’s real good and a real cool dude. We spent many, many hours in the practice space together, mostly talking about rap music and YouTube videos and imbibing. Whatever Brains came out of that. We chose the name because Bad Brains was already taken.

The first thing I notice about a song like “Rapper’s Delight II” is the giant shifts between jangly melody and brutal, almost psychedelic riffs that litter the second half of the song. How does this balance play out when you are writing songs?

RI: Shit just happens, I suppose.

Then you move onto “Village Sewer,” and I start thinking you sound like the early Wrens’ spastic new wave, but signed to Amphetamine Reptile. I think you lean more towards the latter, so were any of those mid-90s bands, like the Cherubs or Karp, an influence on the music?

RI: I’ve never heard the Wrens. I must give them a listen. I can certainly hang with some AmRep, though. The first conversation I even remember having with Evan was about Karp, whom we both love. I could see that subconsciously coming through in the music.

What else influences the dynamic of the band?

RI: Brains songs come very naturally, far more so than any other band in which I’ve written. There is no grand intention. Occasionally I’ll say, “I want this part to sound more like Of Montreal,” which is fine, because it never ends up sounding like Of Montreal. I guess I think of our songs as pop music more than anything, and it doesn’t stray far from the dynamics of the Zombies or the Kinks, just far, far dumber and perhaps a little bit louder.

So far, “Love Taps” is my favorite. It’s a pretty frantic and noisy punk anthem, but then you really deconstruct it at the end. It’s something truly different, something not a lot of people are doing now, so it’s hard to put you into a line-up. Do you find yourselves the odd men out a lot when you play live shows because of your diversity?

RI: We play mostly local shows with friends’ bands, so we never feel too off the grid. Others may think we don’t fit a bill, but chances are if we’re playing a show we like, we’ll fit with at least one of the bands we’re playing with, whatever style it may be. Out-of-town shows may be a little different, but we just do what we do and hope for the best. Or worst. Whatever works

How’s the music scene in Raleigh? It seems a lot like Columbus, where there are a lot of things happening locally, but no one else hears about it because of the size.

RI: Raleigh is great. King’s Barcade may be my favorite venue on the planet. There are killer bands: Double Negative, Birds of Avalon, Megafaun, Devour, Love Language, etc. Chapel Hill has Spider Bags, Americans in France, Shithorse, Gross Ghost, and a ton of great shit. There are more good bands in the area than most, I’d imagine, like bands I may not love, but don’t offend me in any way. There’s a great punk scene in Raleigh, too. It has gotten pretty young and it flies just below the radar, which are both probably for the best.

There’s a lot of inside humor in the titles and songs. How important is a sense of humor to Whatever Brains?

RI: Our band is called Whatever Brains.

What are your plans for an album? Do you think in terms of making a full record or are these singles how you like to operate? How will it differ from what we hear now?

RI: We hope to have the LP done by mid-April. It will be 18 songs long, if all goes according to plan. We could not have done this before now. Well, I couldn’t have. I’ve been in bands since I was 15 (I’m 26 now) and I’ve never recorded a full-length album. Four 7-inches were the baby steps I needed to grasp this monster. (That’s what she said.) The LP will hopefully sound better. We just bought some fancy microphones.

Last question, fill in the blanks:
In 10th grade, I was listening to ____, doing ____ in the ____ with ____, wishing I was ____.

RI: In 10th grade I was listening to Belle & Sebastian and the Sleepytime Trio, doing allergy shots in the arm with a nurse, wishing I was not.