Summers in Dallas are always hot. But to Todd Lewis, the summer of 2001 was downright hellish. He had unwillingly broken up his band, the Toadies, after a dozen years of lineup woes, record-company stifling and personal difficulties. Bummed out and burned out after a hastily assembled farewell tour, the last thing on his mind then was starting up a new band.
Cut to one year later. Lewis is now part of a work-in-progress and marketing experiment called the Burden Brothers, along with longtime friend, ex-Reverend Horton Heat drummer Taz Bentley. It didn't begin as Lewis' new band: "We started getting together to play for fun just before the Toadies broke up," he remembers.
"It was just a hobby when we started," Bentley says. "Just kind of running around like horses with blinders on."
The Burden Brothers with Doosu and Red Animal War
Soon, however, the pair were the Burden Brothers. The idea was simple: Lewis and Bentley would be the core, while a revolving cast of musician friends would keep things from going stale. (So far, that cast has included Baboon's Mark Hughes and Mike Rudnicki, Guns 'N Roses veterans Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan, bassist Mike Daane and guitarist James Kirkland, among others.) They believed they were onto something, but neither musician was that interested in signing their lives away. Lewis was particularly wary since Interscope had waited six years to release Hell Below/Stars Above, the follow-up to the Toadies' platinum debut, Rubberneck, thus helping to kill any momentum the band created.
Enter Last Beat Records, to whom Lewis and Bentley proposed an unusual marketing plan: They would release an EP every four to six months and sell them--with special giveaway "packages" of band memorabilia--exclusively through their Web site (www.burdenbrothersmusic.com) and at gigs. Then, perhaps once a year, they'd harvest the best tracks for a single disc to be sold in traditional locales. (If you're already intrigued enough to seek out an EP, be careful when surfing: Those who just go to www.burdenbrothers.com will find the Internet home of a 55-year-old mechanical contracting firm that belongs to two real Burden brothers. A freak coincidence, claims Lewis.)
That said, they don't have to put out a full-length every year. And nothing's stopping them from releasing two or three or four in the next 12 months. That's the thing: They decide. Lewis and Bentley are sick of the record game's start-and-stop pace. "Both of us have had experience just waiting and waiting for stuff to be released, and we don't have to do that now," Lewis says, though he admits he hasn't ruled anything out, so long as it makes sense for the band. "We can write a song, record it, put it on disc and have it in people's hands in a matter of days. It's like you're getting copies of demos, except they sound a lot better."
And then there's the stuff. The first Burden Brothers package (or "box o' stuff," as they say) includes the group's second EP, a T-shirt, a sticker, bar coasters and a shot glass all emblazoned with the Burden Brothers name. (A couple of fans were offended by the package's use of a classic pinup girl image, so they mocked up a new version, this time with the less-feminine Bentley in the pose.) The pair wanted to expose the band's name, give a little lagniappe to fans and, hopefully, create a mini-market for BB collectibles; all of the packages will be available for a limited time, and once they're gone, they're gone.
"My thoughts are that as soon as you put out a CD, somebody's going to make copies of it and download it for free anyway," Lewis says. "So I thought, screw it. Why don't we give people something else they'll want to get?" But what if the band takes off? Will they run out of goodies? Lewis laughs. "There's endless numbers of things you can print on." In five years, your Burden Brothers mint-freshened breath might enable you to score at their gigs. Who knows? You might even get to unfurl a Burden Brothers condom.
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Not that they need gewgaws; the Burden Brothers could easily rest on their music alone. Though they claim that the band won't be beholden to any one style of music, their first two EPs are good old-fashioned straight-ahead rock and roll, undiluted by any subgenre. The tracks sound fresh, raw and free of pretension or even ambition. On their first EP, "Beautiful Night" and "Buried in Your Black Heart" create a wall of sonic fury; "Your Fault" slows down the tempo but not the impact. The second EP includes a chaotic cover of Lucinda Williams' "Can't Let Go," the melodic "Do for Me" and the near-metal crunchy thundering of "Dirty Sanchez," named for an aberrant sexual practice. (Sorry, kids, you'll have to Google it if you don't know.)
On record and in person, both men seem genuinely revitalized by the new band, which now includes Zach Blair of Armstrong and Hagfish and Pinkston's Josh Daugherty on guitars and Casey Orr (GWAR) on bass. They're excited about the future as well, which they plan to spend slowly widening their touring circuit (an upcoming 10-day stint with The Supersuckers should help) and making periodic trips into the studio, which is how this all got started in the first place.
To that end, a third EP is on the way, which will feature two new songs, as well as a cover of Reverend Horton Heat's "400 Bucks." (Bentley isn't the only Burden Brother familiar with that tune; the Toadies often covered it live.) And who knows what else might show up on the disc? The second batch of recordings included outtakes from rehearsal, and the group is planning on recording their show at Trees, so maybe a song or two from that will make an appearance. The point is: Anything can happen. In the studio, onstage, wherever.
"Either this is a great idea, or a really bad one," Bentley says with a laugh, leaving no room for moderate success or failure. Still, one hopes the experiment lasts awhile. At least long enough for them to make Burden Brothers action figures.