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Brazil: Calm Broke the Silence
Posted August 13, 2019 by Jim Rawlinson
WRITTEN BY
Jim Rawlinson
ON
August 13, 2019

From the first show of the band that would become Brazil, I knew they were on a whole different level. I had a feeling standing in that dungy DIY venue with about 40 other kids I’d be writing something pretty similar to this blog piece. It was 2001 and my band got booked by this guy who managed Juliana Theory (Jonathon Newby) to play with his new band. I had no idea what to expect but wasn’t ready for what we got. They went on and were a lot closer to Rush or Pink Floyd than Juliana Theory. At a time when most of us were chasing Jimmy Eat World, Brazil had actual piano parts and this crazy wizard looking guy on vocals. Even then, their energy and their aesthetic stood out. I remember turning to our bassist and mumbling “Holy shit, I’m glad we don't have to follow these dudes.”

I would be lucky enough to play what felt like a dozen or so more shows with them and follow the early formation of the band. After a name change and several lineup changes, Brazil would go on be one of the most critically acclaimed bands to come out of Indiana in the 00’s, touring with some of the biggest names in the genre like Sparta, My Chemical Romance and Coheed & Cambria, and a brief Mtv dalliance. And yet I always felt like they still didn’t get the local appreciation they deserved. As Jonathon described them "we were like the weird kid at the lunch table that no one paid attention to, but if you talked to him he might actually be pretty interesting".

Coming up on August 30th, Indy gets a new chance to celebrate the band appropriately at the HiFi, for the 15th anniversary of their first full length album with Rooms and Pillars.

Starting in Muncie in 2001 as brothers Johnathon and Nic Newby, initially called London. After a year, original singer Jonny Richardson was out as Jonathon started to focus his vision of what the band would be. The lineup that would see the band through the formational years of the band included Eric Johnson (Sabbabanks) and Aaron Smith on guitars and Benjamin Hunt (later of Maravich) on bass. Every time I’d see the band they’d have leveled up again. There was a brief instrumental period, a number of drummers came and went. The songs got tighter, with the experimental noise pieces still there but in a way that was starting to make sense. The stage presence got more and more theatrical, upping the visual and aesthetics to match the already out there music. Newby had moved from the visionary hiding behind the drums to the lead singer.


In 2002 Brazil signed to Fearless Records and recorded their first EP, Dasein at Azmyth Studios. The release started to showcase Newby as a singer for the first time, and coalesced the band on the forefront of the progressive indie scene. The songs were shorter, focused, still weird but with the occasional pop hook. Following the release, they became road warriors. Hundreds of shows followed where the band was honing their craft and their aesthetic. It seemed like Indiana lost hold of Brazil and they entered the ether of being a national act. The next thing I knew they were recording their first full length in Los Angeles.

The album was A Hostage & the Meaning of Life, a concept-ish album that showcased a band who had fully found their voice and were hitting their stride. Recorded over nine days with Alex Newport, a British producer who was best known for doing a lot of the At the Drive In / Mars Volta albums, (but also Samiam, Death Cab for Cutie & more…), the lyrics painted the picture of a Blade Runner esque techno dystopia, loosely following around a central character who longs to join a pack of replicant-like cyborgs. It’s not over the top, but it’s there.


“Hostage” was met critically with rave reviews, including a 5 star review in Alternative press and near perfect scores from other publications. The single “Escape” got its own dystopian spooky music video that made its way to Mtv. The album launched the band to new heights, touring on the Vans Warped Tour, and hit the road with Minus the Bear, Emory and more. Brazil would go on to sign with Immortal Records and release one more album (The Philosophy of Velocity) that saw them hit new heights commercially before getting complete burnt out by the constant road life and folding shop all together.


Fifteen years later, Jonathon Newby is still producing music in Indianapolis (under various names through Young Tobacco Records ). Sitting down for a coffee with him for this article, he seems at peace with his past and excited to revisit it. “It will be fun to revisit ‘Hostage’ because it’s not exactly where we left off, it’s like re-reading your favorite chapter in a book.” Reflecting on the period and why it stands out “When we performed this last I was a new singer, still learning, and there was so much stress around trying to make it and live on the road and it all just rolled together at the time.” With the trend of reunions leading to new albums I had to ask Newby if this was a one off or a real return. “I thought this would never happen again ten years ago and I was fine with it. I don’t know. I’m ok with just doing this once, everyone is scattered around the country and in different places now, have kids, we can’t tour… I’m excited to just celebrate this period for a night with fans who are also all in different places now.”


 

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