It’s been a while since I crashed a band practice.
but after crossing paths with indie rock band, The Britanys, numerous times as part of the independent music scene in Brooklyn, I couldn’t imagine how else I’d want to spend a Friday night. You often don’t get an insight into a band’s creative process while at a show, but seeing a band rehearse is a peak behind the proverbial curtain.
I met up with the foursome at their apartment in Bushwick, which acts not only has the living space for all four of them but also their practice and recording space.
After inviting me in, they were quick to let me know that they had to be finished with practice by nine o’clock or else the neighbours would complain. I joined them in their mostly sound-proofed basement as they made last minute changes to a song in preparation for a series of shows at South by Southwest the following week. The Britanys exude a style that is unmistakeable.
If it weren’t for the decade between them, they could easily be contemporaries of bands like The Strokes, The Libertines, and Palma Violets. Their affable banter and constant ribbing was a mainstay throughout the night, but when it came to their music, they had a laser-lock focus.
It was now nine o’clock, and in order to appease their neighbours, we settled in for what turned into a long discussion on the current state and future of rock music paired with a modicum of Steve Jobs references. “We talk about Steve Jobs a lot,” said frontman Lucas Long. “He talks about Steve Jobs a lot,” quips their drummer Steele Kratt.
Long and Kratt met in college. “Who’s that cool kid?” Long recalls thinking. “Who’s this fucking guy?” Kratt echoed as they retold the story.
“He always looked like the vampire who smoked rolled cigarettes outside of school. I liked him instantly,” he added before guitarist Jake Williams interjected likening their story to those people tell after meeting on a dating app. Williams joined the band in an even more 21st century fashion – he slid into Long’s DMs. “You sent me a picture of a fan saying you were the biggest fan,” the frontman shot back. Williams, still standing by his pun, was in another band at the time before joining The Britanys. Bassist Lucas Carpenter joined after months of flying back and forth between New York and Savannah, Georgia, where he lived at the time before making the big move to play with The Britanys. “I was always super worried to move to New York because I thought it was oversaturated,” confessed Carpenter.
Coming up in the New York music scene is not for the faint of heart. “You’re facing an audience that is a bit harder,” Long explains as we congregate on couches in the basement. “I think any level that you’re at, there’s a bit of scepticism.” The dilemma plaguing the New York music scene is this: the city has long been a hub for artists of all mediums which leads to many of the opportunities for bands being in the city…which leads to more bands forming and moving there. It can take years of hard work for a band to carve out a space for themselves. “Everyone’s trying to make a dent. It comes down to whether people care about your music,” Carpenter contributed. Long, who moved to the city from the west coast likened the iconic metropolis to Mount Everest. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘If I ever make anything of myself in New York City, then that is the greatest accomplishment,’” he explained.
A cursory scan of this year’s festival lineups reveal a trend that has been happening in the music industry for years now. While it is hard to believe rock will ever disappear entirely, its representation in the popular music charts pales in comparison to the many hip-hop and pop artists. “Right now, it’s harder for rock bands than say a pop artist or a rapper. It’s money. There’s no faith in a guitar band being able to amount to streams currently,” says Long, though their drummer is quick to offer a touch of optimism. “I feel like that’s mostly just a thing in America. There’s so many other places in the world that appreciate guitar music and rock,” suggests Kratt. The Britanys have found an avid audience over in the United Kingdom.
This is a benefit of the streaming culture that often elicits a mixed response from artists. You can feasibly build a fanbase from anywhere in the world. “Also, we’re not catching a movement,” comments Williams. “When guitar bands were breaking through, there was a movement where people were interested in all that was on offer. It’s much harder to break through as a guitar band that is just one band rather than a collection of them. If you look at the festival line ups, the idea holds true, it’s just that the movement is in a different place. Rock is waiting for a next wave.”
The conversation shifts to the future of music and how rock could be apart of it. “I don’t think that many guitar bands have been producing on the same level that rap and R&B have. Once a guitar band is able to do that, it might change a little bit,” postulates their frontman.
One thing Long believes is that genres as a whole do more to narrow than widen possibilities for bands. “I don’t know if any of the current genres are what the future of music is going to be. I think that genres can pigeon-hole music in a lot of ways. It’s forgetting about that and focusing on the song, whatever genre it may be. It’s about the song.”
That is where the priorities of The Britanys lies – perfecting each song. With the unrestricted access having a recording space in their basement affords them, the Brooklyn band puts meticulous effort into everything they share. “What we’re putting out is emblematic of how we all are a huge part of how the song evolves. We’ll sit and just think about each other’s parts because everything we put out is us as a group. It’s always worked on by all of us,” explains Williams. “I think with all art, there is a sense of questioning what you’re doing.”
Summing up their approach to music in one word, Long describes himself and his three bandmates as hopeful. “Hopeful of everything that’s going on and hopeful in the sense that, like Jake was saying, we scrutinise everything and still produce music we want people to hear.”
I left their apartment feeling like mixed between the banter, the band practice, and the unconventional photoshoot, we touched on something really beautiful. Amid the risk and self-scrutiny that comes with pursuing music in a city as seemingly insurmountable as New York, that The Britanys are hopeful for the future of rock music and their place in it.
Words by Sarah Midkiff