siblings in arms

An interview by Tom Knapp,
July 2002

I can't shake the image of two young Australian brothers sitting in the shade on a hot afternoon. One of them suddenly bolts upright, turns to his brother and exclaims, "Bagpipes and didgeridoo! That's our future!"

But Angus Richardson, the Australian bagpiper who formed the band Brother with his didg-playing sibling Hamish, says it didn't really happen that way. "It was more of an evolution than a sudden decision," said Angus, who broke from an afternoon recording session in a Los Angeles studio for this interview.

"We always had those instruments there," he said. "It wasn't until we came to America that we started really exploring how to use those together."

The brothers, who learned the art of bagpiping in their high school's bagpipe band, came to the U.S. with high hopes for a musical career. But their dreams of instant fame weren't immediately realized.

"We were forced into street performing, just to pay the rent," Angus recalled. "Meanwhile, Hamish had taught himself to play the didgeridoo. Then we adapted what we learned on the streets into a rock 'n' roll show."

Somewhere along the way, their sound caught on, and Brother took off.

"We've always wanted to take it to as many people as possible," Angus said. "The aim is to get it out, so it was always our hope. But we feel blessed to have done it."

Their burgeoning career was very nearly derailed in June 1999, when the band's van rolled several times in the desert outside Needles, Calif. The band, which had been heading back to L.A. after the first leg of a U.S. tour, was sidelined for quite some time while the three musicians (their drummer, Dalbo, wasn't on the bus at the time) and their manager recovered from serious injuries. Angus, for instance, shattered a disc in his upper neck and fractured two vertebrae.

The ordeal, while traumatic, forged Brother into a superior band, he said.

"Life experience, particularly when it's drastic, affects your outlook," he explained. "We were off the road for the better part of a year. But we came back stronger than ever, more determined and with a different approach to the sound. Ultimately, it was for the better."

They recruited Roel Kuiper from Holland to replace Dalbo, who had found other work in the interim. Later, original guitarist Steve Luxemberg left and was replaced by Rick Kurek from Chicago. When they started writing and performing again, the Richardson brothers realized their perspective had changed.

"Our approach to the writing was a lot more different," Angus explained. "We were a lot harder-edged, actually. Probably a lot more energetic. We'd always been energetic, and people loved that about the show, but we were just thrilled to be up on stage and doing it again."

Bagpipes, Angus noted, are more common in Australia than they are in the States. High school pipe bands are as widespread there as brass marching bands are in American schools. Still, Angus said, the bagpipe is not Brother's defining sound.

"We've never considered ourselves a Celtic band or a bagpipe band," he said. "We've been big on the vocals. My brother and I sing together a lot and always have done. The harmonies are a big part of our sound."

Their lyrics and song choices have defined Brother as something of an eccentric band, and Angus said they enjoy the label. "We like to be different, as much us as we can be," he said. Brother promotes an optimistic world view through its songwriting, Angus said, and they're genuinely pleased that, volume notwithstanding, the audiences seem to listen to the words.

"We get a lot of people coming up and asking us about different lyrics and giving us their interpretations, which is wonderful," he said. "That's great because the meaning often evolves, even for me. The meaning changes each time we perform."

The band is currently recording a new album, a follow-up to Brother's 2001 five-track disc I You You Me. Angus said they're still unsure how this, their ninth CD, will sound when it's released next year.

"We're trying a lot of different things, so it's hard to predict what the finished product is going to be," he said. "We're just looking for different ways to incorporate what makes us unique. That's always the challenge for us. And, as I say, we're always experimenting."

Previous albums include Pipe Dreams (1994), Black Stone Tramp (1996), Your Backyard (1998) and This Way Up (2000).

Mixing the diverse dynamics of vocals, pipes and didgeridoo on stage and in the studio isn't easy, Angus noted. "It's always a challenge. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes."

As for touring, Angus said he doesn't plan to stop any time soon.

"You get tired, but you don't get tired of it," he said. "The schedule can be pretty grueling, but we haven't gotten sick of it yet. ... This is what we do best. As much as you can predict that sort of thing, this is what we want to do."

Angus said there are usually a few surprises in their live performances, too.

"We don't like to have things too strict," he said. "Every show carries with it its own peaks and highlights, and that changes from show to show." For instance, he said, the band planned to debut some new songs that weekend at the Celtic Fling, a three-day music festival in southcentral Pennsylvania. "We haven't had a lot of time to learn the new songs yet, but we'll learn them this weekend," Angus said. "We look forward to seeing what the people think of them."

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 20 July 2002