Locals: Brat Curse keeps it simple

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From the May 22, 2014 edition

Brat Curse, much like an innocent swept into witness protection and forced to take on a new identity, is virtually unrecognizable from its earliest form.

Singer/guitarist Brian Baker initially launched the band, which will perform as a trio when it hits Kobo for a concert on Tuesday, May 27, as a solo project under the name Pharaohs, recording electronic-leaning tunes miles removed from the noisy garage-punk jams the crew kicked out at 4th St. Bar & Grill this past February.

“I’m way more inspired by things that aren’t electronic. I love the Pixies and I love loud rock ’n’ roll music like Sonic Youth and things like that, so I always wanted to do a stripped-down, simple rock band,” said Baker, 26, seated with drummer Chris Mengerink at a Clintonville coffee shop in mid-May (Baker’s brother Justin rounds out the trio on bass). “Working with other people, we could do more of that stuff I’m into and be crushingly loud.”

It helps, of course, that the three mates have an almost innate chemistry, honed over the decade-plus they’ve played in various bands together, including Yakuza Heart Attack and Astro Fang. But while these previous groups had comparatively prog-leaning tendencies, informed by teenage years spent absorbing albums by musically complex artists like Yes and Mars Volta, Brat Curse takes a far more primal, immediate approach.

“It’s more about being tasteful rather than showing off everything you can do,” Baker said.

In a sense, the players have approached their music like classically trained artists, mastering the basics (photo-realistic technique, shading, etc.) before scaling back in order to splash paint all over the canvas like guitar-wielding Jackson Pollocks. “Although I don’t think we were ever all that skilled,” said a laughing Mengerink when presented the analogy.

“When I listened to prog-rock, it was because I was fascinated with instruments and instrumentation,” Baker said. “It was a good foundation to start with, I guess. It helped teach me how to play.”

These days, however, the band’s best cuts tend to come together quickly, and a bulk of the songs the three labor over tend to be either forgotten (“This is why we need to start recording our practices,” Mengerink said) or scrapped.

“In other bands we would just do whatever. It was like ‘We can do this and we can do that and we can add this and this,’” Baker said. “But that doesn’t appeal to me as much anymore as a really well-written, simple pop song. Now I usually get bored with the more complex stuff.”

Photo by Meghan Ralston