Photo by Jeff Howlett
The Mediterranean restaurant across the street from the venue had a 45 minute wait – not too surprising considering it was a Friday night and the location was within walking distance of UNLV's main campus. Eating out is a normal thing for any touring band, but a new experience for Richmond, Virginia's Brief Lives who, despite having been together long enough to record four EPs have never had the opportunity to tour thanks to a steady stream of bandmates dropping out for various reasons. One Craigslist ad later and I'm sitting in a Filipino restaurant with the band complete with new lead singer Valient Himself from the legendary Valient Thorr trying to figure out what the hell Milkfish is.
Noisey: How did this holy communion come about?
Chris Compton: I started the band with my roommate six years ago and it was just supposed to be a one-off project. Soon after I moved to Richmond (and) he stayed in West Virginia. Then, close to two years later we said let's give this a shot again and see what happens. Then our drummer and bass player dropped out and we just constantly searching for people to play with us. Over the course of a couple of years I found Patrick and Aaron and finally we had something that was ready to tour (and) our singer was like, “Yeah, I got a job. I can't really do anything.” So after us wanting to tour for so long and things kind of getting tense between us we were like, “We gotta split because we don't share the same goals.” We had been searching (for a new singer) for a while but then I decided to just throw an ad up on Craigslist.
What did the ad say?
Chris: We wanted to make it as broad as possible... I think we put like “Vocalist wanted for hard rock band”.
Aaron Boles: And we listed touring is a must.
Chris: Yeah, touring is a must and then we listed some influences like Quicksand, Fugazi, The Verve, Soundgarden...
Valient: Jesus Lizard
Chris: Jesus Lizard, did I have that in there?
Why were you looking for another band?
Valient: (Valient Thorr) had had births, deaths and marriages so we were gonna be taking some time off. I moved to Richmond after playing the Gwar-B-Q with Valient Thorr, and I really liked it. A couple buddies from different bands came up there and we were like, “well let's start another band,” but every time I would be on tour with Valient Thorr, they would be on tour with their other bands when I got back. So I was like, well, I guess I'm just gonna have to put one together myself or look for one. I used to, back in college, look on Craigslist and see if people would send demos and they would send just the shittiest-slash-awesome demos, and I thought at least I'll get some kind of laugh out of it or maybe I'll find something cool. And the only people who responded were these guys, and the demos were great! I was working on a lot of art at the time and I just put it in my iTunes, and one day about three weeks later I was listening to my iTunes on shuffle and the demos that they sent came up and I was, “What is this?” because it didn't have any vocals on it and I thought it was like a friend's band or something. I looked it up and I was like, “Oh, I should call them back,” and then I met up with them for brunch and we started working on some stuff.
Were there any other Craigslist bands that caught your attention?
Valient: I wrote to, like, seven to ten, but only one wrote back. And I just gave the same information to each one, copy and paste. I just said, “Hey, I'm in Richmond. I sing for another band that's not doing anything right at this moment. Send me some tunes.”
Chris: When he first responded to the ad, he said, “Hey I was interested in your ad. I've been a touring musician for the last thirteen years and have toured internationally,” and so forth. When I got that I was like, oh this guy plays in a fucking cover band and he's been to Canada once.
Patrick Dewit: I remember, and Chris read the email and we were just like, bullshit. We were expecting some fifty-eight-year-old dude who's been to Europe one time.
So this is a permanent thing?
Valient: Yeah. VT is still active... I guess it's at the point where that band's maturing into a 'we don't need to tour all the time' kind of band. We'll work on a new record but as far as it being full time, we have to wait until everyone gets their lives together. I'm around now and this is going and growing, and that's what you always want to do as an artist – you want to grow and you want to learn how to do new things. With Chris writing a lot of the lyrics, I don't have to focus on writing every single thing. I can focus on how to be a better singer and trying to do different things and be comfortable in that and not have to worry so much about what it's about and I can go for it, you know what I mean?
So this was more than just family members having babies. This was also an opportunity to do something different.
Valient: And I wanted to for a long time, but I didn't necessarily want it to be like this. I've always known that my voice doesn't really lend itself to heavy metal. That's why I'm not in a punk band or I'm not in a metal band, I'm in a rock 'n' roll band. I'm not a singer, I'm not a screamer; I'm always joking that I'm more of a yeller.
Was Valient's particular vocal style something you were looking for?
Patrick: I think we were kind of desperate at the time [laughs], and we kind of just wanted someone to fill the shoes. We did have someone fill in for one show that we had booked and it just didn't work out, so I personally didn't really know what we were looking for
Chris: The vocalist I had in mind was like a mix between Walter Schreifels from Quicksand and Richard Ashcroft from The Verve.
That's a pretty big range.
Chris:Yeah, that's a pretty broad range! You could say I had no idea what I wanted, at least it was super specific and broad at the same time, but I was just totally open to the idea of anything.
Are there any plans for an actual full-length?
Chris: Yes, and we have the time to record when we get back we just gotta figure out where we want to make it happen. I actually recorded almost all of our stuff and I just want to be able to step outside of the engineer role and have someone else helm it. I just want to be able to play and have someone else record it.
Any chance of a Valient Thorr/Brief Lives tour or would that just be too much?
Valient: It would be fun, although scheduling it might be a nightmare, but it could happen for sure.
What kind of visual showmanship will you be bringing to Brief Lives compared to VT?
Valient: This is a bit more spacey. There's less people, but every person takes care of their portion of the stage. I would say rather than one guy fronting a band, it's four people doing their thing. Aaron's going off and Chris is going off and Patrick's going fucking apeshit back there—the dynamic is different, it's not just full-on rock 'n' roll all the time, there's a lot of air in it. It's nice to be able to breathe. It's a lot more groovin' too, so I don't have to go out into the crowd and get everybody to sit down, it's not like that. I don't want people to come expecting a Valient Thorr show. Brief Lives has its own deal that it does and I'm sure the more we write and the more we grow the more those things will come to the surface as well.
Do you keep your shirt on?
Valient: No, I can't sing with my shirt on for very long! I mean I can for about four or five songs, but it has to come off.
Chris: Even when we record he takes his shirt off.