When searching for new bands to check out, I often find myself reflecting, wishing I could hear to my favourite albums for the first time again. Sometimes I want to go for the nostalgic feeling of discovering something that’s existed for longer than I have, other times I want to find something no one’s ever heard before. BRKN Love feels like both.
It’s like discovering Led Zeppelin for the first time in your dad’s record collection, and being blown away seeing Royal Blood open for the Foo Fighters all at once. Somewhere in the space between a current band you can push on your friends and an old classic you can share with those who are no longer searching for new additions to their music library. BRKN Love released their self-titled debut today through Spinefarm Records, and I had the opportunity to chat with vocalist/guitarist Justin Benlolo about the creation, the road so far, and uh… how to get a fake ID that works for you.
I’ve been listening to the new album nonstop for the last week. It is… absolutely fantastic. Did you go into this record knowing the sort of sound you were going for, or did it come together along the way?
By the time we got to the point where it was going to be recorded, I definitely had a pretty clear vision of how I wanted it to sound in my mind. There were really no surprises there, but it was definitely facilitated by the work of our producer. I think that you could imagine it sounding a hundred different ways, so I owe a lot to him for actually taking the sounds I heard in my head and bringing them into real life.
I also like the choice to record it all live off the floor. It makes it feel more real, and it gives you a better idea of how it’s going to sound on tour. Is that the way that you prefer to record or was it the producer’s choice?
I personally think that’s the way you should record. That’s the way a lot of great bands have done it in the past and I think if you have the chops, you should do it. Now that you can go back and fix anything with the aid of computers, anybody can sound like an amazing musician. One of the things you hear a lot live is people come to the show and you don’t sound the same, you know, or they come to the show and people are playing with a ton of backing tracks. But, uh, we don’t.
I think that recording the album this way doesn’t disappoint people when they come to see us because we literally sound exactly the same. It’s an approach. You can record things that way, but you don’t have to. I’m not saying it makes you any better of a musician, but you can’t sound like 15 people live.
I’m also used to recording vocals and stuff that way, because I think you really get a sense of a real performance out of it instead of just a couple takes chopped up and placed in different sections. I think that’s important.
I think the approach really worked for this record. And now everyone will hear how exact the sound match is, as you’re about to head out on tour with Royal Tusk & Sights and Sounds. But you’ve also already toured with bands like Demob Happy, Dinosaur Pile-Up, Pop Evil… a ton of huge names as an emerging band. Is that a nerve-wracking experience for you or is it more exciting to tour with these artists?
I think it’s generally pretty exciting. I mean, not to sound unappreciative or anything, but I think what would be really nerve wracking is if we toured with a band that we were huge fans of prior to the experience. Most of the time after these tours, we end up becoming huge fans of the bands because we get to know the guys, we see the show every night, yada yada. But I feel like what would make us really nervous is if we, like, toured with the Foo Fighters or some shit. I’ve been listening to them for a decade.
Honestly, sometimes the first time I hear of the band is when we get the tour offer. Of course, I know Demob, Pile-Up, all those guys. But some of the bands like Royal Tusk, I’d just heard their song on the radio two weeks before we hit the road with Pop Evil and they were the direct support on that tour. So this is our second tour with them. I think what’s more intimidating is knowing that when you’re going out with the band, there’s going to be some serious crowds. Knowing that they’re expecting to see a real show because they’re seeing a band of this stature that has their own lighting, backdrops and an actual set on stage. We’re not following them up though, so that’s good. But it’s a little intimidating just because of the size of what they’re doing and just seeing the presentation of it all. It’s like, okay, these people are going to be a little bit harder to please because of what they’re used to seeing with a band like that. But generally we don’t really get too nervous.
Actually, we’re really excited for this tour in particular because, like I said, we’ve toured with Tusk before and they’re our friends now, so we’re just happy to hang with them every night and hear the music! On the back of the tour too, there’s this band called Ready The Prince that’s jumping on, and I love those guys. We haven’t toured with them before but when we toured with Cleopatrick, their singer Steve came out with them. That’ll be really cool cause it’ll just be a bunch of homies on the road. It’s just a great hang, and that’s kind of the most important thing when you’re touring. If you can’t get along with anyone, tour’s gonna be dreadful.
Absolutely. I think one of my favorite things about the Canadian music scene is that it always feels like a “big hang.” Everybody is friendly, just friends hanging out in vans playing shows. I know you ended up moving to New York & California, but do you have any stories from growing up in the Ontario music scene?
I’m actually back in Toronto! I lived in LA for three years, but I moved back here two years ago. I’m back and forth all the time with New York City now, cause that’s where my band is. It was hard because when I was growing up here playing music, I was too young to really be in the scene at all. I mean, in high school there were a bunch of kids who played. We were our own clique and hung out with other musicians in high school, some guys I’m still best friends with. That’s just what we did on the weekends. We went over to each other’s basements and played as many Rush songs as we knew. I was too young to go to bars or DIY basement shows. And of course I couldn’t drive either, so I couldn’t really see what was going on.
That happened for me more in California. When I moved out there, that’s when I became legal and, or — well I wasn’t legal. I was using a fake ID. You can’t use a fake ID in Toronto because like… am I going to get a Canadian fake ID? They’re gonna know it’s fake.
I had one from California.
Yeah, exactly! So you have to do it the other way around. I got one from Vancouver but it was good in LA because like they look at it and they’re like, “What the hell is this? I dunno, just walk in.” I would say the California scene shaped a lot of what I know now because I was actually there, you know, the whole Sunset Strip thing and all that kind of stuff. I was definitely involved in a scene there. I was old enough to go and see it, and there was a lot going on. It showed me what I didn’t want to do, if that makes sense. They’re still holding on pretty hard to the past and they’re holding onto the eighties glam bands. And a lot of new bands were coming out in that scene too.
That’s kind of what I did too when I was there. I joined a band and we were playing stuff closer to eighties rock. It just made me think like, when the term dad rock started getting thrown around… I was like, wow, this is actually dad rock because everybody here is the same fucking age as my dad or older, you know? It definitely taught me what we shouldn’t be doing in rock & roll nowadays because we’re never gonna move forward like this. This whole Sunset Strip vibe is forever stuck. It hasn’t let go in 40 years. There’s a lot of great bands and fantastic venues over there, but once you get deep into that rock world and your — you know, the Viper Room, the Whiskey, the Rainbow, all that kind of stuff. It’s really just… it’s definitely stuck in the past. So that definitely taught me a lot about what I wanted to be.
I think it’s good to see both sides of the coin. Learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do. Your skills are there so it’s great to know how you want to present it. With this album, you’re very strong as both a musician and a songwriter. Do you consider yourself to be one first before the other?
I mean, I just always figured it went hand in hand, you know? If you’re a musician and you’ve been doing it for a while, it’s kinda hard not to pick up a guitar, a bass, piano, whatever you do… and not become somewhat creative after playing it for a couple of years. And being creative doesn’t mean you’re going to be a genius and, you know, write the next “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I feel like anybody that makes music or plays an instrument or whatever is intrinsically creative. To me, being a songwriter is the same as that. It’s just another way of saying “oh, you’re a creative on your instrument.”
I think there’s a big difference between writing lyrics and writing music though. And a lot of people might shit on me for saying that, but I think it’s a lot harder to write lyrics than the music. I feel like it’s because I’ve played guitar for 12 years, I understand what it’s like. You can only write so many chords. There’s only so many you can play in a rock context. So you’re not really gonna reinvent the wheel when it comes to the typical guitar parts. To me, at the end of the day, it’s like… what does the singer sound like and what are they saying, you know? And that can make or break your band.
There’s some bands that have a virtuoso player that blows everybody’s minds and like, yeah, that’s ridiculous. But not everybody can be Eddie Van Halen. It’s usually the melody and the lyrics that sells it for me. I find that a lot harder to come up with than the music and all that.
But it’s always there. I’m always sort of walking around my house or driving around, singing bullshit runs and all that kind of stuff. So I feel like if you’re just doing it a lot, you naturally want to get better at it. You’re creative and then you come up with stuff. So I feel like that goes hand in hand. I think I’m both a songwriter and a musician at the same time.
That’s a good answer. I like that. Okay, final question: what was the first moment in your career where you first felt like something huge was happening here?
Oh wow, that’s a really good question. This is… hmm. That’s a — fuck, I gotta think. Well, there’s a couple things, you know, like when I got to hear my song on the radio. But I didn’t really do much, I wasn’t like, “wow, it’s happening!!” I think the first thing that ever stood out to me was… we were playing a gig and I wanna say it was in La Crosse, WI. I think that was the first time I ever got recognized. My band is not big as far as I’m concerned. We don’t have tons of followers on social media and we’re not selling out huge venues. So why the hell would anybody know who I am?
We pulled up to the venue and I guess the venue hired a crew to work the show. It was the Pop Evil tour and they have a serious setup, so they hire a crew to come in and help out. When I got out of the car, one of the guys leaned over to the other crew member and said “oh my god, that’s him. Oh my god,” you know, and then I didn’t think anything of it. I just wanted to get a sandwich before the show and I’m walking down the street and I see one of the crew guys. I walked beside him and said “hey man, do you know where to eat?” And he was hyperventilating and freaking out, like… talking to me. And I was like, “what the hell is this? I’m nobody, what’s happening?” I thought that was really cool. Maybe, maybe we’re making more of an impact than I thought, you know? And I called like 10 people after to say “yeah, dude, you won’t believe what just happened to me, some guy actually cared that I exist.” Yeah.
Now that the album’s out, the band has plans to spend most of the next two years on the road touring the hell out of BRKN Love (which you can listen to now on Spotify & Apple Music). Alongside that, they’ve got festival dates coming up this summer, and plans to record more music.