You can’t go wrong with watching The Britanys jam out on a Friday night–– $15 rock-and-roll that goes great with an IPA and a spliff.
When describing their sound, many writers have recycled a fairly reasonable comparison: they take the sad boy lyricism of The Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and blend it with the gated guitar riffs of The Strokes, crafting clean, angular indie rock reminiscent of the alternative scene in the mid- 2000’s. But what do we even mean when we call something “indie rock” in 2018? Are genres useful to us anymore, and where does a band like The Britanys fit into the wild of the Bushwick music scene?
The Knockturnal chatted with drummer Steele Kratt about these larger questions, their upcoming mixtape, and why gentrification is ruining everything.
The Knockturnal: Can you tell me more about the Eliza Britany Bot on your website? It’s pretty brilliant.
Steele Kratt: Oh, thanks man. When we were writing the song, it was all about being attached to your phone and social media and the loneliness that comes with that obsession. Lucas got interested in reading about older iterations of computer technology and he found Eliza and was like, “Holy shit, this is sick. I want to make a bot of my own.” So then we just decided to combine what we had with the actual Eliza Bot. It was basically built for the song and doubles as this online therapy too.
The Knockturnal: Yeah, I spent a while on your site talking to her. It was really consuming.
Steele Kratt: It’s definitely fun. We are just trying to integrate all that tech. We made a video game for our most recent release. We hyperlinking our album art for all the other stuff.
The Knockturnal: I remember that I was really intrigued by those short minute long tracks on your mixtape. Can you tell me what was the thinking behind those, and why you spaced them out the way you did?
Steele Kratt: I think that we were always into the idea of having the songs connect really well. A lot of mixtapes tend to have interludes, and we didn’t want this project to be called a EP or album, so the interludes sort of helped complete that aim and complemented this theme of how technology affects us all.
The Knockturnal: While we are on the topic of technology, do you think that the internet has been a positive thing for music or something whose cons outweigh the pros?
Steele Kratt: It broadens your reach, especially to remote places in the world. But it has also totally changed the game. No one knows how the industry is really running right now. No one is buying records. We are always trying figuring how do you make money off of streams. I don’t know. It’s really a toss-up. It could be something that’s really beneficial in a couple years, or totally fuck everything up. We have always been in a transition phase, like how we went from vinyl to tape to CD to digital. We are in that in-between stage now again. Spotify is sort of showing us where everything is going. Honestly, right now it appears to be a curse, but there are definitely a lot positives. We wouldn’t know that we have a market in the England, Europe, and Central American without the web…You don’t have to rely on local radio anymore. Radio is still obviously helpful, but now you can follow a playlist from Siberia from Iowa which is amazing. I think it’s T.B.D. whether or not it is a positive. No one really ever knows what the fuck is going on with anything.
The Knockturnal: It definitely feels like we are in a constant state of limbo.
Steele Kratt: In all aspects of life, man. It all becomes clear after the fact.
The Knockturnal: Totally. I know that you guys had your release party at the Silent Barn, which shut down pretty recently. Were you guys bereaved by that closing?
Steele Kratt: Bereaved?
The Knockturnal: Yeah.
Steele Kratt: Yeah! It is always sad when a DIY venue closes, a place like that that was home to a lot of different kinds of artists. Literally home–– they had an apartment space above the venue where people could live and work in. It’s a bummer, but that’s kind of the state of New York City. So many good venues close once they get a reputation for being good for the community. It happened with Shea as well. Palisades and other hotspots too. It seems like the more important these venues become the quicker they get shut down. They get exposed for not having proper zoning and shit like that. It’s the nature of the city, I guess.
The Knockturnal: Do you feel like Silent Barn’s closing reflects a harsh reality: that New York no longer is the capital of art and culture? That New York’s price point is perhaps precluding creativity and new talent from entering the city?
Steele Kratt: It definitely is. If you look at a place like Philadelphia, which is also in the North East, you can rent a decent place for $200. Artists can focus on their music and go out on weeknights and not have to worry about work next morning; or making rent as much because there is a lot more freedom. A place like New York is hard because you need that constant stream of income to allow you to do anything, which limits the amount of nights you can play, the places you can live. It is really tricky. It’s definitely not the New York of the 70s, or 90s, or even early 2000s. You got to be pretty on it to survive.
The Knockturnal: This punk band BODEGA has called themselves the sound of Bushwick––this is really interesting to me because about 10 years ago, that would be quite an outlandish thing to say. After the 70s, you had this huge influx of Latinos enter Bushwick, which ultimately resulted in an incredibly rich and diverse Latin music scene. Now in 2018, that is sort of dying and being replaced by a hipster music culture–– gentrification has obviously played a part in this reality. Of course, I’m certainly a part of this hipster movement as well as someone who is white and goes to venues like Elsewhere, etc. I just want to know what you feel about a band like BODEGA claiming something like that.
Steele Kratt: Uhh…I don’t know. It’s one of those things where gentrification fucks up neighborhoods. Everybody is guilty of it if you live in one of those neighborhoods. I would say that, in the 2000s, if a band was claimed as the sound of Lower East Side, it is the same deal, you know. Lower East Side was a neighborhood that was primarily Latin American, and then there was an influx of whitewashing…no one is the sound of Bushwick yet–– that shit gets coined later. I would say no comment and gentrification is wack.
The Knockturnal: I know you studied jazz back in the day, and when I think of jazz drummers, Baby Dodds might come to mind, perhaps Art Blakey, Roach, Tony Williams, the list goes on and on. Across the spectrum, these famous drummers were extremely diverse in their approach to rhythm–– you could even say that each had their own drumming philosophy. As the backbone of The Britanys, what is your philosophy when you play?
Steele Kratt: Oh, fun. Keep it as melodic as possible. One problem I have, which I don’t really think of as a problem, is that I hit really hard. When I was growing up, and specifically when I was in Jazz combo and all that shit, my teachers would reprimand me hitting too loudly. I can’t physically quiet down. It’s just how I know how to do it. I like to think musically and how I can throw in interesting fills into the meter and stretching the meter out. If I am doing a fill, instead of ending it on the one, I’ll see if I can end it on the two without changing the entire rhythm and feel without dropping the beat. I like to think of it…heavy, but melodic––not sluggish. I’m not a big jazz guy totally. I’m more of a rock guy, but out of the jazz drummers, Art Blakey is my favorite. He is a guy that also sort of just pounds away. In the rock sphere––guys like Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell who were originally jazz drummers but eventually cross over.
The Knockturnal: Critics, journalists, fans––they all love to pigeonhole artists into neat, little genres. Some call you indie rock. I don’t even know what the fuck indie rock is now, let alone rock and roll. You know, I find definitions sometimes helpful, but often very reductive. So I’m curious, if someone asked you what kind of music you make, what would you tell them?
Steele Kratt: I usually say “Rock Shit.”
The Knockturnal: Care to elaborate?
Steele Kratt: Anyone can throw any blanket statement on anything and you’ll still have no idea what the fuck they are talking about. Indie is such broad spectrum. There are bands that sound like Parquet Courts, and others that sound like Tame Impala and shit like that and it all falls under the same umbrella. So…rock shit.
The Knockturnal: Haha. I like that. Maybe it can be a new genre itself.
Steele Kratt: Yeah, right!
The Knockturnal: According to DIYMag and some other publications, your upcoming mixtape is going to pull away from our old sound, which was heavily shaped by your influences. How did you go about creating a unique sound you could truly call yours.
Steele Kratt: I think it comes down to trusting our instincts and what feels right to us, especially not worrying about whether or not our music fits into a style or a connecting theme. When we used to write, we were concerned about achieving a certain vibe. Now, when we write as a group, we were let it go to wherever it takes us and try to keep it organic. We all moderately listen to different music too. We have stuff that we align on, but also have tastes that diverge. I think throwing together those influences when we write makes it its own thing. We’ve been trusting our instincts instead of what other people want to hear.
The Knockturnal: Thanks for carving out some time for me, Steele.
Steele Kratt: Yeah, thanks dude.
The Britanys mixtape comes out this week on October 5th.