The Architects from Kansas City – due to hit their ten-year mark as a band at this time next year – are three brothers formerly of the band The Gadjits and badass guitar player Keenan Nichols. I’ve been following their career since they left Anodyne to sign with Skeleton Crew Records, putting out what I still consider to be one of the best albums of the decade, “The Hard Way” through them in 2009.
After successfully conquering some personal issues, the band is set to self-release their long-awaited follow-up to that album, “Border Wars” next Saturday, July 13, 2013. “Border Wars” will be released in a series of five EPs with a comic book to accompany each one. The first release next week, “Episode One” was made possible by a successful IndieGogo crowdfunding project.
These are talented musicians and awesome dudes who I am proud to call my friends. Brandon was good enough to sit down with me last week and talk about the project.
Deborah J. Draisin: I am on the phone with Mr. Brandon Phillips of The Architects. Hi, Brandon, how is the weather there?
Brandon Phillips: Hey, Deb, how are you doing? It is hot and humid here.
Deborah J. Draisin: Yes, it’s hot and humid here as well, and I’m inside! So you’re recording today? That’s exciting! What is it that you guys are doing, because I thought it was done, the CD?
Brandon Phillips: Oh, I’m working on somebody else’s thing right now.
Deborah J. Draisin: Cool; who are you working with, can you say, or not yet?
Brandon Phillips: I can’t say yet.
Deborah J. Draisin: Okay, something to look forward to in the future, then – sweet. Speaking of which, can we have a sneak peak at what’s in store for those lucky enough to attend the CD release of “Border Wars” next week, without giving anything away?
Brandon Phillips: I think we’re just going to do a big, sweaty rock show with a bunch of other sweaty bands, and I hope it will be packed to the gills. Everybody who buys a ticket gets a copy of Episode One.
Deborah J. Draisin: Episode One is actually going out in the mail soonish, right?
Brandon Phillips: Yes, I’m excited.
Deborah J. Draisin: I am as well. Regarding the (Rachel) Maddow fic, which I’m not sure that everyone knows exists, there is a fic that Brandon provided the Indiegogo donors with and is now on their Tumblr, which, I don’t know, is this a one-off from the comic or is it its own thing?
Brandon Phillips: The Maddow fanfics are just their own thing, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the comic. People seem to enjoy it when I do my creepy fanfics.
Deborah J. Draisin: I actually love the idea of Rush and Glenn being kingpins; it would be cool to see the artwork on that. Can you get Keenan to do a piece on that? That’d be sick.
Brandon Phillips: I’m pretty sure that someone can definitely do that. I really love the idea of Chris Matthews and Ezra Klein as sourcers for the Maddow Mob.
Deborah J. Draisin: Does Rachel know that it exists? Have you mailed her an ear yet?
Brandon Phillips: I don’t know; I haven’t bothered her with it. It was one of those things where I was like “Okay, if I’m going to write a fanfic, I’m going to write it about something that I would legitimately fanboy out over. I’ve done little fanfics on twitter about The Wire and Deadwood, and those are things that I would legitimately fanboy out on, but I was thinking “Well, what other kind of fanfic could I do that’s sincere?” I would sincerely fanboy out on Rachel Maddow, so I said “Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Deborah J. Draisin: I wonder if the subjects would be stoked about how they’re portrayed in the story. If I was the thug, I would be stoked – who doesn’t want to be a villain?
Brandon Phillips: I hope that Chris Matthews and Ezra Klein – if they ever saw it – would be happy, and the same goes for Olbermann. I hope that they would be happy and understand that it was really done out of love, and I have a deep appreciation for who they are, so I tried to make them the exact opposite of that. You know, there’s no way that Rachel Maddow’s actually a mob boss.
Deborah J. Draisin: I guess you probably realize that Rachel actually coined the term “Architects of Disaster.” We’ll just pretend that’s in your honor – why not? Also, not to cheapen the sentiment, because I know that she was referring to something really serious, but I just thought I’d point out that “The Architects of Disaster” would actually make a great death metal album, just saying (both laugh.)
Brandon Phillips: We’ll pretend that’s all in my honor.
Deborah J. Draisin: You guys well exceeded your goal on Indiegogo, so congratulations on that.
Brandon Phillips: Thank you, thank you.
Deborah J. Draisin: You actually crowdfunded in a very unique manner – your goal being to cover only the cost of the first episode, and then have the profits cover the others, rather than trying to cover the entire project. Due to the overwhelming success of the original campaign, I’m sure you’re going to have no trouble doing so, but do you have a backup plan in case you do fall short?
Brandon Phillips: Oh! You know…sort of? The unfortunate thing is that I can’t be a thousand percent certain that it’s going to work, but, because we’re doing this on our own, we can adjust to stuff on the fly. We can say “Okay, it looks like we’re going to have to do another campaign,” or, if we need to find some other way of selling it, we can do that – we’re not a giant global corporation.
Deborah J. Draisin: I actually want focus on the comic aspect for a little bit. Your illustrator is Mallory Dorn, who is known to add a bleak spin to what is usually, initially, a beautiful piece of art. Was this what made you select her for the project?
Brandon Phillips: She was into it! I looked at her Tumblr and saw her animation, her illustration work and thought “Yeah, this looks really cool.” I sent her the script and she liked the script and was like “Yeah, I love this – let’s do this.” So I started telling her about the characters and how I saw them. She sent me character sketches that were right on target. Like the first sketch I got, I was like “Whoa, that is precisely it!”
Deborah J. Draisin: I love it when things work out like that! So, the project took off from there then?
Brandon Phillips: Yes, and I wanted to make sure that we didn’t meddle with the illustration process. I told her “This is yours now. If this is a movie, you’re the director.”
Deborah J. Draisin: Which is exactly how it should be.
Brandon Phillips: Yeah; I mean, if I have something specific that I want to see, all I’ve got to do is send her a text, but mostly it’s just like “Nah, you know? Just…make it good.”
Deborah J. Draisin: And I’m sure it’ll be kickass – I’m really excited about it. Keenan states in the introductory video to the project that the comic – written by yourself – first took shape as a stream of consciousness based upon your observations as band driver out on the open desert roads. Can you expound upon that?
Brandon Phillips: Sometimes, in the van, I’d just start talking about whatever was out the window. I was trying desperately to put together descriptions that were as cool as Thomas Hardy’s. I started writing the observations on Facebook. It was just a way to pass the time over a fourteen hour drive. It ended up being sort of like a log after that – I kept doing it.
Eventually, we were all talking in the van, and we agreed that it would be cool to do an album as a series, and to actually have characters, and it just kind of ended up being the case. I said “Well, I’m going to have it take place in the location that we’re always writing about anyway.”
Deborah J. Draisin: That’s awesome – so the characters are actually going to be featured in the songs then; they’ll be sung from their perspective?
Brandon Phillips: A little bit, not a lot; I didn’t write “Tommy.” There are songs that are written from the perspective of one character – or you can see it being part of the perspective of a couple of characters- and there are certain songs that are written off specific plot points, but I tried to not “Tommy” it up. I know everyone loves “Tommy.”
Deborah J. Draisin: That’s just because Ann-Margret wasn’t available; it just wasn’t going to be the same.
Brandon Phillips: Yeah, I couldn’t get Ann-Margret, I couldn’t get Elton John, and I’m no Roger Daltrey.
Deborah J. Draisin: Oh yes you are!
Brandon Phillips: I tried to keep it as something that we could do DIY. If we make it too epic and it involves too many characters, then it just becomes impossible to do.
Deborah J. Draisin: You might be jumping the shark then; you bit off more than you can chew. Although, that being said, I remember when Queensryche launched “Operation: Mindcrime,” they were pretty underground still (despite being signed to a major label,) and they were bringing this epic performance, blowing everybody off the stage and nobody wanted to play with them. Which, if you guys had just a longer set, that might happen to you, but five songs was not enough, opening for Frank Turner – it went by too fast!
Brandon Phillips: (laughing) That’s the thing: I could build our show up so much bigger, but not as long as we’re in a van and a trailer, you know?
Deborah J. Draisin: I know. Did the songs form off the idea of the comic, or vice-versa? Were some of them written before?
Brandon Phillips: Some – like a handful – were written before, and the rest just happened as the comic book was happening.
Deborah J. Draisin: How does having a concept change the songwriting process once you know that you have one?
Brandon Phillips: The funny thing is that it doesn’t – not that much. Over the last three albums, I’ve always kept a central theme in mind. Even if it wasn’t a concept album, it sort of was a concept album. This one was like “Well, okay, now we’re just going to be obvious about it.”
Deborah J. Draisin: Those who have followed your guys’ career will know that no two Architects albums are even remotely alike – the band is always reinventing themselves completely (and to the point of exhaustion,) but none of them have been spaced this largely apart before. With fresh perspective arriving with such regularity, how do you then feel about your former works? Does it feel strange to play those songs out on the road when you are so far removed from that mindset now?
Brandon Phillips: Well, the songs from “Revenge” feel a little bit more distant than the songs from “Vice,” which are only a tiny bit more distant than the songs from “The Hard Way,” but I don’t really differentiate between them all that much. For some reason, I never feel like we’re reinventing ourselves – I feel like we try to find a fresh perspective on every record. Undoubtedly, it never sounds to other people the way it sounds to us.
Deborah J. Draisin: What do you mean?
Brandon Phillips: We always have some ridiculous idea in our head, like “Oh, this song is so Cheap Trick!” or whatever.
Deborah J. Draisin: And nobody catches it?
Brandon Phillips: Nobody! (both laugh)
Deborah J. Draisin: I’ll pretend I didn’t notice the gigantic Who influence, then – but that’s not really fair, because I was obsessed with The Who for years, so.
Brandon Phillips: Oh yeah, well I can’t get away from that one.
Deborah J. Draisin: That’s gonna happen, but to your credit, the younger fans probably won’t ever catch it, so you’re okay there.
Brandon Phillips: Well, you know? I look forward to the day when some of them do – I think that would actually be really cool. I remember I loved figuring out what records The Clash thought were cool. You find those records and you go “Oh, this is what they were listening to!”
Deborah J. Draisin: You think like a musician; my kid does that. Musicians dive all the way into the origins of a genre, you dig that deep. I don’t think everybody does that.
Brandon Phillips: No, very few people do. A bunch of people that I’ve worked with so far on this project weren’t “Quadrophenia” fans. My touchstone for this has been “Quadrophenia,” because the original module of “Quadrophenia” came with the photo book.
Deborah J. Draisin: Oh that’s right, it did!
Brandon Phillips: So this was like a “Punkphenia,” an original, do-it-yourself “Quadrophenia.” I can’t make the movie – all I have is a book.
Deborah J. Draisin: At least not yet, right? So, do you want to namecheck a few of the people who have been helping you out with the project?
Brandon Phillips: Definitely! Mallory, number one, has been awesome. She’s a class act illustrator and has probably put up with more dumbass questions and stuff from us then anybody should ever have to, but Mallory’s been awesome. The whole band – I can’t say enough nice things about my band. I feel like I owe them big-time on this.
Deborah J. Draisin: Because they took your insane concept and just ran with it, instead of going “What the hell are you talking about? Listen, stop smoking crack, we’re not doing that.”
Brandon Phillips: Yeah, I mean: the band meeting could have gone so differently. They could’ve said “Dude, you’re out of your fucking mind, we’re not going to get all invested in this insanity.”
Deborah J. Draisin: But they trust you, and that’s a good thing, right?
Brandon Phillips: Yeah, it’s a good feeling, but it’s also like…
Deborah J. Draisin: Scary?
Brandon Phillips: Like, I’m responsible, I’m going to feel really responsible if it doesn’t work out, but everybody embraced it, so I’m great with it. The people who have helped us out along the way: I’ll namecheck “Quadrophenia” to them a lot and they’ll say “Oh, you know what? I don’t think I’ve ever really paid attention to that record.” And I’ll go “Oh, you know what? Go listen to it.”
Deborah J. Draisin: Yeah, and they will now, and you got to turn them onto it, which is cool.
Brandon Phillips: The guy who was shooting a bunch of video stuff for us, he was like “Oh man, I sat down with ‘Quadrophenia’ and it’s amazing!” I said “Yeah, it’s incredible, right?”
Deborah J. Draisin: When my son was little, we did that with him, and now he turns me onto stuff all the time, because he took the idea and ran with it. So where are we at with production?
Brandon Phillips: Episode Two is in production and I think all we have to do is a little mix and master on the music and we’re ready to go with Two.
Deborah J. Draisin: It’s going to be kind of strange when you do inevitably get a tour together hopefully. You’re going to be in different phases of the project’s existence while you’re touring. What are you planning on doing about that? Because the person won’t have the product yet; they’ll be on Episode Two and you’ll be doing Episode Three stuff.
Brandon Phillips: I don’t know how it’s going to go exactly. I think what we’ll probably try to do is just play stuff off the first episode when we go out with that and maybe only one song from another.
Deborah J. Draisin: So what we heard in Philly, that was all Episode One stuff?
Brandon Phillips: There was one Episode Two song in there, but mostly it was Episode One stuff, yeah.
Deborah J. Draisin: The single sounds amazing – I’m definitely excited about it.
Brandon Phillips: Oh, thanks!
Deborah J. Draisin: Do you know yet, approximately, when you think you will bring this thing out on the road?
Brandon Phillips: Out on tour, or just out in general?
Deborah J. Draisin: Well, I guess out on the road, because people who aren’t local are going to want to know that.
Brandon Phillips: We’re trying to get back out this fall – the summer is kind of screwed, but we’re trying to get back out – especially to the East Coast – in the fall.
Deborah J. Draisin: Sweet!
Brandon Phillips: As far as the rest of the world goes, we’re kind of waiting to find out.
Deborah J. Draisin: You have a lot of fans in very far-reaching places. I don’t know how practical it is to get to them, but they want you there. Do you think you need just street team involvement here?
Brandon Phillips: Yeah, I’d love that.
Deborah J. Draisin: Guys, get on it!
Brandon Phillips: It’s really difficult. I’ve looked into things like South America, and it’s so hard.
Deborah J. Draisin: It is, and you have a huge following in South America, but if NOFX can’t even do a proper tour in South America, how are you guys supposed to? I don’t know why their laws are so ridiculous.
Brandon Phillips: Yeah, I don’t know why it’s so much more difficult; it should just be a flight.
Deborah J. Draisin: It should be. They have a lot of zoning issues; it’s really annoying, but street teamers, if you want these guys there, you’ve got to get involved, you’ve got to help out.
Brandon Phillips: Yeah, seriously!
Deborah J. Draisin: We will be closely monitoring the progress of Border Wars. Go back to recording this mystery thing that you ‘re doing that I hope you blog about soon, I’m curious!
Brandon Phillips: Fair enough!
Deborah J. Draisin: Alright, have a good day, Brandon.
Brandon Phillips: Thanks very much, Deb!
Deborah J. Draisin: Thank you.
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