Our Brother The Native - after several line-up shifts over the band's history - has now settled as a core unit centred around Ann Arbour resident Joshua Bertam. Also featuring collaborators on percussion, guitar, trumpet and noise manipulation, the lion's share of the Our Brother The Native songwriting is now firmly on Bertram's shoulders.
FatCat stumbled upon the band towards the end of 2005. Having checked out a link to their site on Myspace.com, and instantly liking what we heard, we got in touch with the band and the debut they were currently writing just fell into our laps.
Josh Bertram was born in Michigan, February 8th, 1989 and started playing guitar in 6th grade. In 2004 he bought a banjo and has been playing it non-stop ever since. In his first year of high school he experienced a “life-changing revelation” when he was introduced to noise music through a couple of friends. They fed him CDs, and inspiration through the noise unit they played in – jamming in a basement and using circuit-bent instruments. After seeing them put on a show, he “became a music nerd” and from then on continually sought out new experimental music that would excite and inspire him.
In his sophomore year, Josh met fellow OBTN founding-member John Michael, who was then a senior. Realising that they had similar musical tastes, they quickly became great friends, went to a lot of shows and listened to music non-stop together, and eventually began playing together. John Michael started making some beats on a drum machine, Josh picked up his banjo and they started to jam and make some rough recordings on an old 4-track machine.
Eventually, the pair started recording / editing on a computer, and got themselves a Myspace site through which to share their work. A friend in Holly, who ran his own D.I.Y label, heard a couple songs, and suggested releasing something, which gave the duo confidence. Weeks later they found another cool D.I.Y label in California (former / part-time member Chaz Knapp’s Delude Records), which they really liked. Josh and John Michael hinted that they’d love to do a release; Chaz jumped at it and put out an EP (‘Cheer Up My Dear, The Sun Will Shine Again’, 2005) and he and Josh quickly became friends, overcoming the geographical distance via frequent phone conversations. A solo release from Josh followed (the more stripped down / minimal, banjo-based ‘Pappa Bones and The Creature Children of The Forrest’ - released as JSP). Having by then become great friends, Chaz and Josh began working together (under the name Moses Grandy), but felt they were missing something in the percussion department. So John and Josh decided to just have Chaz join Our Brother the Native.
That said, the band actually met for the first time only after the album was recorded, at their first live show, a FatCat-curated Festival in Hasselt, Belgium. With Chaz still living in California, and John and Josh living in Michigan, recordings were pieced together by sending parts to each other via e-mail for additions. This process informed and shaped their debut album 'Tooth and Claw', release via FatCat summer 2006. Josh and John Michael began by using acoustic and electric guitar for the basis of most songs, usually recorded straight into the computer through a Boss SP-303 sampler with built in-effects. They also used a Kaos pad, a loop station, and a couple of circuit-bent toys run through effects. They also sought out samples of interesting household sounds, as well as AM radio signals / static - mic-ing up the radio and running the noise through effects. The album was also noticeable for the vocals of Josh’s mum (a music teacher), who came in and sang at the end. For his parts, Chaz used guitar, keyboard, vocals, accordian, percussion elements and also a circuit-bent Furby. John Michael amicably parted ways with Our Brother The natuve in October 2007.
Their follow up LP, ‘Make Amends For We Are Merely Vessels’, released in February 2008, was the product of a more immediate recording process, with the band rehearsing and recording as one. Self-recorded in Josh’s dimly-lit Michigan basement between May – December 2006, they were aided by Kayleen Nilsson on viola, a schoolfriend who then joined the band as an additional member for shows and some recording. Where the previous album was all jagged / ruptured songcraft, ‘Make Amends…’ was a much more fluid, immersive affair, a dense weave of layered sounds and slow building dynamics, recalling at times the likes of Sigur Rós, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Stars Of The Lid or Popol Vuh. Still using an array of atypical ephemera to construct their songs, the album was nevertheless more informed by the bands transition into a live entity, creating a sonic tide moving in and out, with waves of sound building up slowly, coming to a huge crescendo and then calm again.
A five-track digital EP, ‘Parting Marrows’, was released in October 2008, sounding more immediate than previous records - fuelled by shorter, summer-tinged compositions that are timeless, earnest and full of hope. For ‘Parting Marrows’ the band incorporated a reduced line-up comprised of Josh (guitar, bowed banjo, sounds / samples, sax, harmonium, synth, vocals), John Michael Foss (drums / percussion, piano) and Joe Akers (guest vocals on 2 tracks).
The bands last FatCat LP, ‘Sacred Psalms’, released in May 2009, is a gorgeous, mature, hope-catalysing record that saw the band's combined influences and overall scope expand exponentially. Featuring then core members Josh Bertram (vocals, guitar, saxophone, piano, banjo, organ, synth, drums / percussion, programming / samples / noise) and Chaz Knapp (vocals, guitar, banjo), the band's creative process was a mixture of working individually in isolation, sending material and ideas back and forth across the internet, and occasionally coming together to rehearse, record and tour. They completed a UK and European tour in October 2009, toured with Frightened Rabbit and Maps & Atlases in the US in April 2010 and have since been working on new material for a forthcoming full-length.
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