Black & White photo courtesy of Matt Bernknopf
Jersey City-Based Band Rediscovers the Essence of Punk Rock
By Timothy Herrick
The xylophone may be a unique rock instrument, but for Crazy & The Brains it was essential to the high-energy, textured punk rock the band played from its start. That start was about eight years ago, when band founders, Christoph Jesus and Jeffrey Rubin, were still in high school. As Christoph tells it, they were puttering around and the xylophone just happened to be in the room, and Jeff used it to accompany Jesus’s guitar playing. Their first gigs were at open mikes at places like the Sidewalk Café and Bowery Poetry Club. The band gradually evolved from a stripped-down, folky take on punk to the full-blown punk ensemble that now includes Brett Maverick on bass/vocals, Ernest Young on guitar and Jon Lango on Drums. Jeffery, who also sings backup, added glockenspiel to his repertoire and Christoph stayed in the spotlight as front man and lead singer, now only occasionally playing guitar in concert. Open mikes soon led to house parties and Jersey City gigs at Groove on Grove, as well as such now shuttered, but memorable venues as The Citizen, the Funhouse and the Lamp Post. By 2012, the band was on its first U.S. tour – they’ve crisscrossed the country on five separate tours, as well as two routes in Canada and a run through Southeastern Europe. Their recordings include: Let Me Go (2013), Good Lord (2014), and The Summer Soiree Mixtape (2017). For 2018, the band will release a new EP – Out In The Weedz – with a full length album to follow entitled, Into The Ugly, both recorded and produced by Pete Steinkopf, of The Bouncing Souls. Crazy & The Brains will support the releases with a national tour, including a high-profile spot on Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival in Las Vegas on May 27th.
Timothy: What song did you last hear before we talked?
Christoph: What was it… oh, Humble by Kendrick Lamar. It was on the radio. I love that song, it came out last year. I remember its debut on HOT-97. I haven’t heard it in a while.
Timothy: What’s your favorite color?
Christoph: When I used to rock hair, I used to dye it green.
Timothy: Do you have a Favorite book or writer?
Christoph: Right now I’m reading Mohammed Ali’s autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story. My favorite poet is probably Saul Williams. I love to read, I always have books that I am sort of working on. I didn’t really read much growing up but now I do. I also like comic books, mainly Marvel, but I also like Spawn. I don’t have an allegiance to one company.
Timothy: What’s your favorite movie?
Christoph: Do the Right Thing, and also Blue is the Warmest Color.
Timothy: Who is Crazy and who is the Brains?
Christoph: People dubbed me as Crazy, and Jeff as the Brains, but Brains expanded to include the rest of the band. Other people decided that, we didn’t really choose. We just picked the name; we didn’t have who was who in mind when we did.
Timothy: What is punk?
Christoph: For me, it is just the freedom of expression, not one specific sound or style or opinion or anything. It also means some sort of resistance to everything that is oppressive, like racism, sexism and homophobia.
Timothy: What city is the most punk and why?
Christoph: New York City for all its changes, still sort of gets that real punk crowd, but that is where punk originated. There’s a bunch of cities in California that have awesome punk ideals. But really, Zagreb Croatia is one of the most punk rock places on the planet. There’s a whole squatter and anarchist community there, it’s an alternative world they live in. They stay in abandoned buildings, and they steal electricity from generators, it’s really a complex, super huge scene. They put on their own punk shows, grow their own food. That was the most punk city we’ve played.
Timothy: Are you rebelling against something and if so what?
Christoph: There’s always something new to rebel against. We’ve started rebelling against punk itself because it’s become to unoriginal and too restrictive. We still follow the punk template, but we put on that template new songs that have new topics. We want the songs to be relatable and authentic.
Timothy: What topics or themes do you write about?
Christoph: Love songs, a lot of lot of love songs lately.
Timothy: Love songs are not exactly new.
Christoph: No, there’s always been love songs. But our love songs are coming from a place of confusion. I write about vulnerability and rebellion against sexual norms. Our love songs are conflicted, because we don’t fit into the normal role of what a guy is supposed to be. We also write political songs, but that is always sort of an undertone, you are always aware of the struggle, but we don’t have faith in either side, Democratic or Republican. It’s about the struggle, and we’ve kind of never been able to fit into one movement. We subscribe to more radical movements, like the Black Panthers. We do have protest songs, but we’re about living the way you really want to live, not to force anyone to follow any specific rule or guide. Sometimes the songs have an aggressive edge, but my songs come from a more emotional place. We’re trying to figure out things, question things. People can make what they want of the meaning of the songs; it’s the art of interpretation.
Timothy: As the front man, what are you responsible for that the other guys are not and what pisses you off the most about that responsibility?
Christoph: I’m responsible for sort of keeping the show moving. The other guys in the band, they start bullshitting and telling jokes, and they can spend the whole set telling jokes. We all love to talk, but it’s my job to keep them in line and talk to the audience. Otherwise, our responsibilities are more or less equal.
Timothy: I love your cover of Sweet Jane. You even added some new lyrics of your own. Where you intimated to ‘reimagine’ Sweet Jane?
Christoph: No, not really, outside of the fact the song is an amazing song, it is really easy to make it corny, and we were afraid we would sound like some cheesy barbecue cook out band. We covered it because all the police brutality and shit happening, we decided to do it when there were two or three shootings in a row. We kind of felt emotional, and we wrote a verse, referencing what was going on and that seemed to fit perfectly in that song to have this new verse. We always listened to the Velvet Underground, we didn’t want to just cover the song, so we added one original verse, and that twist made it cooler than just covering it.
Timothy: You have an impressive knowledge of music. How did you educate yourself in terms of the history of music?
Christoph: We got into music backwards. We first got into the 90s punk, because that was more close to us growing up, bands like Green Day, and Nirvana and Rancid. There was a lot of pop punk we listened to, like Blink 182, which we were aware of. But then we started to work backwards, when you listened to Green Day, you found what was close to them, like the Clash and the Ramones, which then brings you to the Velvet Underground.
Timothy: What was the first record you bought and how old were you?
Christoph: Busta Rhymes, When Disaster Strikes. I was in the 4th Grade. A friend of my mother’s brought us to the mall and I had to peel off the Parental Advisory label or else she probably wouldn’t have let me buy it.
Timothy: What were your favorite records that your parents owned?
Christoph: My mom had a bunch of Bob Dylan records. I never liked him, I never cared about him, but she finally said just listen to it and if you don’t see why he’s the greatest lyricist, then fine. I really listened and I like the records a lot. We saw Dylan together in 2008, and he was the best. My favorite record is the one with That’s All Right Ma’ on it, is that Bringing It All Back Home?
Christoph: That’s my favorite, then there’s Blonde on Blonde. My dad had that Meat Loaf album, he played it relentlessly, Bat Out of Hell. I use to hate it, but I wound up seriously liking it.
Timothy: You’ve listened to and have been influenced by a lot of rap and hip-hop. What rap and/or hip hop artists do you consider the most punk?
Christoph: Almost all the rap I connect with is punk and antiestablishment. Some of the most original rap music is the most punk – NWA, Public Enemy and the Fugees.
Timothy: How about the reverse of that question, which punk artists do you consider the most rap or hip hop?
Christoph: I don’t know if punk musicians ever quite get rap right, they do try to dabble in that world, like the Beastie Boys. If I had to say one it would be Patti Smith, she’s not a rapper but she is a poet and rap is poetry. There are a lot of connections with what she did and some of the early hip hop if you look in the right places.
Timothy: What celebrity, or famous non-musician, is the most punk?
Christoph: Whoopi Goldberg. I know that sounds weird, because everybody thinks of her as being on some daytime talk show, but her stand up career and what she stood up for, she’s totally punk rock. Brett actually met her at an art gallery and he said she was one of the nicest famous people he’s ever met, which is also punk rock.
Timothy: You’ve crisscrossed the country several times in a van. What’s the weirdest thing that happened in the tour van?
Christoph: A lot of them are pretty disgusting, I do not know if you want to keep body functions out of this or not.
Timothy: I’d rather not hear anything too gross.
Christoph: Good idea. But probably the craziest thing was that we had a few shows cancel and we were running out of money, so we drove 23 hours from California to home, to Jersey City. There weren’t many breaks, we kept switching off driving responsibilities. Brett had ridiculous sunburn too, he has really fair skin and he had like third degree sunburn. It was insane, but looking back it was fun.
Timothy: So, when you’ve played your last gig of a tour and you drive the van back to New Jersey, who gets dropped off first?
Christoph: That depends, it changes. When we drove back cross country in 23 hours, we dropped Jeff off first. At the time, he was the only one of us with a girlfriend and we were all like, let’s get this kid to his girlfriend. It was an easy call, she needed to see him.
Timothy: You and Brett sometimes work box office at White Eagle Hall, what impresses you the most about our audiences?
Christoph: They’re super diverse. What I love about Jersey City is the diversity, and I’m very appreciative to playing in front of everybody. That’s what I love the most about the crowds at White Eagle Hell, they are different, they all come different walks of life, and they are enthusiastic crowds. As a songwriter you want your music to affect all types of people and there’s an awesome mix at all the shows I’ve been to at White Eagle Hall.
Timothy: What are you most looking forward to about playing white eagle hall?
Christoph: It’s a hometown, show. It’s the first time playing our hometown in such a big place, we are really happy about playing in a huge room. We already know the sound system is awesome. We are really stoked to play that sound system.
This Saturday Crazy & The Brains takes the opening spot for The Defending Champions/ The World / Inferno Friendship Society. Doors open at 7:00pm, Crazy & The Brains come on 8:00pm.
For more information Crazy & The Brains, visit: https://crazyandthebrains.bandcamp.com/music