BRAT: Gritty in Pink


With a taste of your lips, I’m on a ride…” The chorus to “Toxic” by Britney Spears blares over the P.A. as BRAT vocalist Liz Selfish dances on stage, waving around her pink microphone and miming along to the lyrics mid-set. Suddenly, the sample cuts out, only to be answered immediately by a barrage of loud guitar riffage played at a furious pace. Without missing a beat, Selfish switches from her fun dance routine to fiercely barking out the lyrics to “Chain Pain”: “Submerged / Suffocating / Sickening shit / A home without hope.” BRAT somewhat ironically describes their aesthetic, defined by an uncompromising fusion of extreme subgenres with a hyper-femme packaging, as “bimboviolence.” Picture a bunch of powerviolence, grindcore, and death metal CDs shoved into a blender along with old beauty pageant sashes, early 2000s Now That’s What I Call Music! CDs, and a whole can of neon pink paint. After playing their first show in July 2021 and self-releasing two EPs, the band hit the road hard and has slowly been turning this peculiar mixture into a beloved signature recipe.

On March 15, BRAT released their long-awaited debut album Social Grace, a ripping 20 minutes jam-packed full of gnarly riffs, precisely executed breakneck drumming, and vicious, growled vocals. The band’s exhilarating combination of harsh underground styles challenges the overly restrictive notion of the “New Orleans sound” in metal, which became embedded in the global imagination following the far-reaching influence of sludgy downer bands like Eyehategod and Crowbar during the ‘90s. Social Grace is out via Prosthetic Records, the prominent American metal label that has put out albums by the likes of Lamb of God, Gojira, and former Megadeth shredder Marty Friedman. On a dark Tuesday night leading up to the album’s release, Selfish, guitarist Brenner Moate, bassist Ian Hennessey, and drummer Dustin Eagan crammed into the band’s van for a phone call with me. From within the van’s brightly lit interior, they opened up about filming a video at Morning Call, their love for late, great Fat Stupid Ugly People vocalist Hollise Murphy, and the never-ending grind.


Y’all got off tour a few days ago. How was this last run you did?
Liz Selfish: It was the best one yet.
Ian Hennessey: The best and the worst.
[Brenner Moate laughs]
LS: The worst?
Dustin Eagan: The worst for Henny.
LS: Wait, why? Oh, because you lost your shit. You can tell him your story.
Brenner Moate: He had an unfortunate mishap, losing his suitcase with all his clothes.
LS: He’s traumatized. [awkward silence followed by laughs] I guess he doesn’t want to talk about it.

Y’all coined the term “bimboviolence” for the band’s aesthetic. What inspired bimboviolence and how do you describe that aesthetic?
LS: Well—
DE: You’re the bimbo. [laughs]
LS: Just with the pop samples that we use and the band name and everything—and obviously with it being a play on powerviolence, I thought it was funny and it fit well for what we are doing.

You’ve been doing more tours as a support act for bands like Cro-Mags, who play to tough guys, and Eyehategod, who have a crowd of down-and-out people. How do those audiences react to there suddenly being a lot of bright pink and a loud Britney Spears sample?
LS: So far, it’s been really good. We’ve certainly had some people that aren’t into it but the majority is pretty positive and have been into it. But you don’t know going into those situations if people are going to be digging it or not. So far, we’ve been pretty lucky.

I’m glad to hear that because being a support act is definitely different than doing a headlining run.
LS: Yeah. It is. And while most of the shows we did with Cro-Mags and Eyehategod were awesome, there were definitely a couple where you could tell the crowd was head scratching to what we were playing. It happens.
BM: Even those shows though, there were always at least a few people who would come up to us after and tell us how much they enjoyed it. It’s never universally bad.

Y’all made the music video for Hesitation Wound at Morning Call. Whose idea was that and how did you pull off making a video at such an iconic New Orleans spot?
IH: It might’ve been my dad’s idea. It’s my family’s spot and I’ve been working there my whole life behind the cash register and stuff, so it just felt natural.

What was it like logistically, trying to pull that off?
IH: We just did it on a Monday or a Tuesday when it was kind of slow. They were still open. We filmed everything we could with them being open and we just waited until they closed down and did it in the middle of the night.
DE: We were definitely getting some looks from the guests while hauling in instruments.
BM: All of the shots in the beginning, the setup shots and stuff and us doing staff duties and stuff like that were all while it was open. But we had to do the shots with the whole band playing after it closed. So we set all of that up after they closed for the night.
LS: It’s funny. In the beginning of the video, when we all go to the walk-in freezer, there’s an employee that’s just walking by. He’s at work and he’s just in the video, which is funny. I’m like, please don’t sue us. [laughs]


Still from the “Hesitation Wound” video


Henny, you had touched on your dad being supportive. How have your parents reacted in general to y’all being in BRAT?
IH: My parents are cool.
BM: My parents are pretty into it. They came to our first show. They were very drunk but they really enjoyed it.
DE: I think now that we’re signed and we have a record in hand and it’s more concrete, a little more real to them now, they’re definitely more supportive.
[Everyone laughs as it approaches Liz’s turn]
LS: My parents are definitely the least supportive of the band. My mother is very Christian and it’s not a style of music that they care for, which is fair. They’re maybe getting a little bit more supportive, maybe, now that, like Dustin said, we’re signed and they’re seeing that it’s a little bit more legitimate. I would not say they’re stoked on it.

Weren’t there a couple of biblical themes in the lyrics?
BM: Yeah. That was me. [laughs]

Has that been a source of tension with your folks?
BM: No and also I don’t know how much they delve into the music or the lyrics or anything.
LS: Yeah. Not at all. My parents aren’t sitting there googling the lyrics or anything.
IH: There’s biblical themes?
BM: There’s a couple. A few little things.
IH: We’re a Christian rock band? [laughs]
BM: Isn’t this what happened with Creed?
LS: We’re basically Creed. [laughs]
BM: Scott Stepp was writing all the lyrics for Creed and the members of the band did not know that the lyrics were heavily Christian themed. Then people started talking about it and the members of the band were asking about it like, “What the fuck? We’re a Christian band? We just wanted to rock!”
LS: For the record, our lyrics are not Christian. The band is unaffiliated with any religion!
BM: I’m just a big Stephen King fan. There’s a lot of religious symbolism in a lot of his stuff. I feel like it just kind of came through there, but it’s not necessarily because we’re Creed.
LS: I wish.
BM: That would be pretty cool though.

Aren’t they doing a reunion tour and playing somewhere in northern Louisiana?
IH: Yeah. We’re going.
LS: They’re playing two shows in Mississippi and we’re definitely going to one of them. [to BM] I’m going to put you on blast. Brenner was contemplating, like, “Should I pay for the meet and greet?”
BM: I’m really thinking about it. I get to take a picture with them and I get a signed poster and a bunch of merch.

Slap that on Instagram and you’re going to get so much engagement, it pays for itself. [laughs]
BM: Yeah. We’ll do numbers. [laughs]

I want to talk about the music video for Social Grace,” in which you kill Carl [Elvers, underground scene legend and past AG contributor]. Tell me about the inspiration behind that and putting it together.
LS: I pretty much had a vision that I wanted to do something with a Clue vibe to it. We took inspiration from that with this whole rich people in this big house, murder-mystery vibe where we killed Carl. Rest in peace.

It was nice to see Carl in the video.
DE: We love Carl.
BM: We wanted him in our first video [for Grime Boss” and “Total Rust] but he couldn’t do it that day and we ended up getting [Thou vocalist] Bryan Funck instead.
DE: Yeah. We had to settle for Bryan Funck. [laughs]

This is your first full album. How would you contrast making this to the two prior EPs?
BM: The first two EPs, I pretty much wrote during lockdown. Then it was almost a year later that we got the whole band together and made a few minor tweaks. For the most part, those songs are as I wrote them, but the full-length record, we wrote it as having a whole band together so it comes out a lot more dynamic because everyone has a part in it. I still wrote the rough drafts of the songs, but the final songs are a good bit different than the rough drafts that I presented at first. It’s definitely a little bit more collaborative. Also, the EPs, we recorded both of those at the same time. Even though they were released months apart, all of those songs were recorded together. We wanted to space it out as two releases since we were just starting, because we knew it would probably be a long time before the first album would come out. And that’s what happened. The record was recorded in batches, so we would do two or three songs at a time in between tours because we were touring a lot. We didn’t want to take a bunch of time off to write and record all of these songs all at once, so we did it when we could, essentially. It was over the course of about a year.
DE: It worked out better that way, because when you go to record eight songs in a row on drums, you tend to lose focus of the details because you don’t have as much time to spend on them. But if you do two or three songs at a time, you can really hone in on every little thing and it’s a lot less pressure. I think it definitely helped make a better outcome that way.

Brenner, you mentioned that you recorded the first two EPs at the same time so Henny wouldn’t have even played on those, right?
BM: Yup. It was [Missing vocalist and original BRAT bassist] James [White] on the first two EPs.

How has playing live and touring a lot impacted your approach to what you’re writing?
LS: I have a little bit of an answer to that. After touring with Eyehategod, you [pointing to BM] wrote that riff at the end of “Social Grace,” which is a very Eyehategod inspired riff. That’s one example I can think of where we definitely pulled inspiration from that tour.
BM: Definitely. That song was written for the most part before the Eyehategod tour. It wasn’t completely finished, but it was originally a fast two-steppy part. It was the same exact chord progression and everything. It was all like you hear it, but it was like a fast [starts scatting speedy riff] part. After the Eyehategod tour, I had the idea of, “What if we just slowed it down and played it really slow?”
LS: “What if we went Eyehategod mode for a second?” [laughs]
DE: It’s definitely an homage in a way. But when you tour with so many bands of so many different styles, you come back with so much creative juice. Then you go straight into writing and straight into recording and it’s like catching lightning in a bottle sometimes. Sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes, you’ll sit on a song for a long time before it’s ready to go or before it makes sense. Touring, especially playing new music with new bands, really fills you with a lot of creative energy when you come back. I think that was definitely a driving force in getting those songs done in such a short amount of time.
BM: Yeah. After our tour in December with ACxDC, within a couple of weeks I had already started writing a couple of songs for the record after this one and there’s definitely a very ACxDC inspired song. You can always listen to a song and be like, “OK. Who did we just get off of tour with?”


Social Grace release show at the Free Store, March 23
Photo by Rodrigo Delgado


All of the band’s output has been recorded with James Whitten over at HighTower Recording. Can you speak a bit about what it’s been like working with him?
DE: It’s the best. It’s the fucking best.
BM: Yeah. I can’t speak highly enough of him.
DE: He’s the man.
BM: He’s super easy to work with and he just knows what he’s doing and he’s just a homie.
DE: He’s also done a lot to mold our sound. There’s a balance between trying to capture what a band sounds like and then pushing that sound in a direction that makes sense in a recording, because the way you sound live and the way you sound on a recording are always totally different, but you still want to capture some of that live essence as far as the energy in the recording and also actual sound, like the guitar tone and drum tones. It’s been a very good, positive working relationship so far. It’s very stress-free when it comes to recording the drums, which is not always the case.

How did y’all wind up linking up with Prosthetic Records?
LS: They actually reached out to us pretty early on during our second tour.
BM: It was the Schmuck tour. It was the day after we played Charlotte, North Carolina for the first time.
LS: It was within the first year of us being a band. We were on our second tour and we were still DIY booking, just us. They reached out to us and, at that point, we weren’t really interested in working with a label yet because we wanted to have a booking agent first and do support tours and get a little bit more established before going to look for labels. We held off on that for like a year and then we wrote the record and decided we wanted to shop it and see if there was a label that we would be interested in working with, that would be interested in working with us. We got a few people, but Prosthetic was definitely the one that was the best for us. We just revisited it a year later.

Y’all went from self-releasing your first two EPs to now being at a point where I can pre-order an import via Tower Records in Japan, which seems wild.
LS: That’s crazy. That was actually a big factor of why we wanted to go with Prosthetic, is because they have international distribution and know that our record is in Japan. That was a big point in our decision making.

The record is dedicated to the late, great Hollise Murphy. I want y’all to speak a little bit about how Hollise impacted you as musicians and as people too.
LS: Hollise was the mayor of New Orleans. He’s what you think of when you think of New Orleans metal and punk. All of us have known him for a long time and knew him as just the most positive and welcoming person that anyone has ever met.
BM: He was there at our first show. It was a special thing. He was the first person to ever get a BRAT shirt as well. A couple weeks before he passed, he hit us up before the first show and was like, “Let me get one of those shirts.” I met him outside of St. Roch [Tavern], I think, and we hung out with him for an hour on the sidewalk, just chatting. He was also like the first BRAT fan, essentially, so we just wanted to show our appreciation for him on the record.
IH: I wouldn’t be who I am without Hollise. He’s my dog.
BM: Just his devotion to the scene is the best way that I could put it.
DE: I probably knew Hollise the least personally just because I used to come to shows in New Orleans when I was young, but I pretty much joined BRAT right after I had moved here during the pandemic. So I didn’t get a lot of hangout time with him at shows, but I remember seeing him at shows, being a big guy, shirt off in the pit. As a big guy, it gave me a lot of confidence that I belong in this space and this is where I should be, and that this is a good community to be in.
BM: Whatever show you were at that Hollise showed up at, you were like, “OK. I’m at the right show.” It was just always that feeling.

Dustin, I can definitely relate to what you’re saying as a slightly bigger guy myself. I remember being in high school, seeing Eyehategod play in Paul Webb’s instrument shop and going, “Who the hell is this guy? He’s going insane!”
[everyone laughs]

I remember seeing Brenner and Henny play in groups for years before BRAT started. How did playing in those groups help lay the groundwork for what you’re doing now?
BM: Playing in bands and being on tour and all of that stuff are just skills and etiquette, all these little nuanced things that you learn over the years. Going into a band knowing how to do all of those little things just helps make everything else so much easier.
IH: I’ve been on tour a bunch since I was 19 or 20. It just gets easier the more you do it, I guess.

Speaking about being on tour all the time, you’re signed to a label but you’re still not to the point where you can live solely on this band. What is it like trying to balance being in BRAT with the real-life responsibilities you have when you come home from tour?
DE: It’s miserable! It sucks!
BM: Nothing compares to being on the road. It’s the best and thankfully it’s getting to a point where whenever we leave and go on the road, we do OK enough that we’re not all starving by the time we get home, but it’s not like we’re living off of it. I have worked for my family for like 15 years and they’re supportive of me doing it, so they make sure I still have a job when I come home. I’m very lucky for that.
IH: I’m lucky because I do AV work so I can kind of take off whenever I need to. My boss is very cool about it and understanding.
BM: Also a rocker.
IH: Shout out Brian [Hrabar]. I work with a bunch of different AV companies. I can say no to whatever I need to and it’s alright because it’s technically independent contractor type stuff. I just tell them I’ve got another gig and it’s all good.
DE: I cook professionally. I’ve been at the same restaurant for coming up on four years. I’m very lucky that they let me go on tour, but it’s not fun to play a bunch of shows and then clock in and get back into that grind of cooking for rich white people who don’t give two shits about you. But it must be done. It’s gotta be done so I’m not going to complain, because I’m very lucky that I can do this even though it’s a bummer. [laughs]
BM: Yeah. It’s always sad coming home.
DE: “I guess seven pieces of green onion looks better than four, chef.” It just seems monotonous after going to chase your dreams for weeks on the road.
LS: I’m maybe not quite as jaded. I like being home. I love touring too, but I really like that we’re able to do both and not be on the road the whole year. I’m also able to work some while we’re on tour in conjunction with taking some vacation, so I’m lucky for that.
DE: I do enjoy being home.
LS: Yeah. I’m stoked to see our cat. That’s the hardest part about being on tour is not seeing our cat.
DE: The bummer is the job, not being home.
LS: I don’t really get the relief when I’m on tour so that doesn’t really factor in.
BM: She’s working the whole time we’re on the road, so it’s not like we’re going on tour and she doesn’t have to worry about work.
DE: We had a drive day and I sat here and watched her computer screen for like twelve hours to the point where we’re like, “OK. You’ve got to stop working. Just give it up.” [everyone laughs]

That reminds me of doing work when it’s hurricane season and the power goes out. The other party does not care that you’re on tour and the internet is shit. They’re just like, “Why didn’t you get your work done?”
LS: Yeah. The world keeps moving and you’ve got to keep moving too.

As you guys do more tours, how do you balance taking care of your mental health and yourselves with playing shows and the real work that goes into it?
DE: That’s very hard.
IH: I just bring the Nintendo Switch on the road. [laughs]
LS: What is Henny’s version of self care? I would love to know. A nice steak? [laughs]
IH: I’m playing some Skyrim. That’s therapy.
LS: [imitating IH] That’s therapy, brother. [laughs]
BM: Thankfully, we’re staying in hotels most nights at this point so I like to hit the hotel gym when I can. That’s always nice. I also bring my Switch and find time for that when I can. Honestly, my mental health is the best it is whenever I’m on the road. It’s when I’m at home when it is a problem. Being on the road is great for that.
DE: We all get sick.
LS: Yeah. Physical health is the hard part on tour.
DE: There’s been a hard learning curve—learning how to tour properly—because there’s no user manual for this shit. I got real sick early last year on tour and I was hospitalized. That was a huge learning tour and still every tour is different, so you have to be prepared: What weather are we going to be in? What are the sleeping conditions going to be like? You have to be prepared for everything. It’s tough, it’s taxing, but as long as you learn and take steps to do it better every time it’s getting easier and easier. But still every time we go on tour, we just get sick, especially in the winter. The summer’s usually not too bad.

Liz, your vocal style feels very intense. How are you able to keep that up night after night when you’re doing a two or three week long run?
LS: The first couple tours we did, I really struggled with it. I realized it was because I wasn’t practicing every day. To be able to do it every day on tour, you have to be able to do it every day at home, so now I practice the set pretty much every day. It’s normal for me now to just do it on tour every day. It’s still a little bit hard because even when you’re practicing by yourself you’re not putting quite as much umph into it as you are when you’re doing it live, but definitely my voice can handle it a lot more now than it could at the beginning.

People who aren’t part of the New Orleans underground scene have commented to me about the band and oftentimes they’ll mention your really intense vocal presence. Could you speak a bit about finding your style and if there were any people in particular who were big inspirations when you were trying to mold your respective style?
LS: That’s awesome to hear. At first, it was kind of whatever came out, came out, and that’s what I was going with. Not to sound up my own ass but I feel like I’m kind of lucky in that the vocal style that comes to me more naturally is a vocal style that I really like and it is a little bit of a grindy punky vocal that is a little Barney Greenway [Napalm Death], a little Chris Barnes [Six Feet Under, ex-Cannibal Corpse]. I really like my vocals personally but I wouldn’t say that I try to sound like anyone in particular. That’s just what comes more naturally to me.

Speaking of vocals, you and Henny got to sing for Eyehategod a few tours back. Brenner wrote about that a little bit in ANTIGRAVITY [December 2022] but I wanted to hear y’all’s perspectives on what it was like getting to sing with Eyehategod.
LS: That was maybe the first winter tour that we did. It was the first tour where I was sick so I wasn’t really sure how to navigate that yet. I wasn’t sure what my voice could handle. When Zac [Ohler, Eyehategod manager] had been like, “Hey, can you fill in for some songs?” I was originally like, “I’m sick so I probably shouldn’t.” But then I was like, “Man, when am I ever going to get the chance to front Eyehategod? I’ve got to just do it.” I did a song and then Hennessey did one song too? Two songs?
IH: That was my first and only time doing vocals and it happened to be with one of my favorite bands of all time, so that’s pretty fucking sick. It was awesome.

I recently watched the band’s latest hate5six clip, which includes a cover of “Jock Powerviolence” by Weekend Nachos. Have you dabbled with any other covers?
LS: We cover “Barracuda” [by Heart]. We did that on this last tour and a mini tour. That’s been my favorite cover for sure so far.
DE: Its sick as fuck. It’s fun.


Community Records’ 15 Year Anniversary Block Party
at Tipitina’s, June 24, 2023
Photo by Steven Hatley


Liz, this is your first band. What was it like going from being someone who was a very long time scene supporter to now playing and touring?
LS: It’s so cool and it’s so much fun. I love it. I’ve always gone to shows. I never thought that I had any sort of talent to be able to actually partake myself, so I was just a fan and a supporter. It’s been really cool to transition into being an artist as well. I’m just thankful that everyone I’ve met through years of going to shows has been supportive of BRAT as well.

I can remember you being at shows for about as long as I have, but you’re originally from Dallas, Texas.
LS: Yeah. I went to shows in Texas too. I’ve been going to shows since I was 16 or 17, a teenager in high school and, upon moving to New Orleans, it took me a minute to find my footing and find shows here and a community here. It was definitely an interesting transition.

What was the scene like when you were in Texas?
LS: When I was in high school, I mostly went to hardcore and metalcore shows so definitely a different style than the shows I usually go to here. It’s funny because I was 18, moving to New Orleans, and that’s when I first heard Eyehategod. I guess it’s also what’s available to you in your area to an extent. I’m thankful for that too because I feel like it’s given me a much broader perspective of music, being involved in different communities and different styles of music.

How did the rest of y’all get into underground music?
BM: When I was four years old, I stole my brother’s Rancid CD and it all came from there. My brother and my sister are 11 and 13 years older than me. My sister liked to date dudes in punk bands when she was like 16. That was the kind of music that she and my brother used to like to listen to, so it just got passed down to me. When I was 12, my brother took me to see the Aquabats and that was it.
IH: I saw Slayer and Megadeth and Anthrax in ninth grade and I was like, “Yeah! I want to do this forever!” I had a physics tutor, my dog Nick; he showed me Eyehategod. I remember the first time I ever heard Eyehategod and the Melvins and Kyuss, Goatwhore, Acid Bath, all these bands that he showed me. I failed that class but I think I won in the long run. [everyone laughs]
LS: You aced it in rock’n’roll!
DE: I was into Metallica and Dream Theater and all these things when I was much younger. I had moved to Thibodaux from San Antonio when I was about 15. At the same time, this kid moved there from California from Riverside. We instantly became best buds because we were the odd ones out in band class because we didn’t grow up there. It was very small-town kind of vibes. We instantly bonded over music and then actually my first show was the Aquabats show that Brenner was at, at the Parish room at House of Blues.
BM: Years before we ever met!
DE: That was my gateway and then going to see bands at the Dark Room in Baton Rouge and the High Ground. The rest is history.

I was going to try to pry out your checkered past in ska, but I love that it just came out naturally.
DE: There’s no shame.
BM: None at all.

Brenner, can you tell me about the tattoo you have?
LS: Which one?
BM: I have multiple ska tattoos.

You have multiple? I thought they were all in one group.
BM: No. They’re on both legs. For my first tattoo ever, I got the Specials’ dancing guy like two days after I turned 18, then the next one was the Op Ivy guy. Years later, I got this New Orleans ska scene tribute tattoo that has Angry Banana, Squirt Gun Warriors, Joystick, and, even though they’re not a ska band, the Lollies. I’ve got a bunch.

So are y’all going to start dropping ska samples in between songs?
DE: Hell yeah.
BM: When we played at Block Party, which was very sick—that was a childhood dream come true—we did cover “Spiderwebs” by No Doubt but in our style. She didn’t sing it.
LS: I can’t sing in that vocal style.
BM: She did it in her vocal style and she did the opening horn part with a kazoo.
LS: It went horribly, but I tried. [laughs] One of our worst ideas for sure.


Social Grace is out now on Prosthetic Records. For more information, check out  brat504.bandcamp.com.


Top Photo by Tammie Quintana
Left to Right: Ian Hennessey, Brenner Moate, Liz Selfish, Dustin Eagan

 

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