NEW YORK pop-rockers Wheatus had a monster of a debut. Their first single, ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ was an iconic, catchy ditty that’s actually about distancing frontman Brendan B. Brown’s love of rock music from bizarre 80s allegations of satanic ritual. It went straight in at number one in the UK and Australia, while follow up ‘A Little Respect’, an Erasure cover, also grew wings.
Since those heady days back in 2000, something of a rotation of musicians have taken up roles alongside the frontman also known as BBB (“It’s Batman today,” Brown jokes of his long-mysterious middle initial). The same heights have never been reached, though Wheatus now have six albums, and are working hard on a seventh.
From the mid-00s, though when the band’s relationship with major label Columbia fell apart, Wheatus’ road has been one of resilience, independence, and survival.
“From 2010 to about 2016, we’d have to liquidate after every tour,” Brown explains. “That meant selling off most of the instruments, starting again. I lost some important stuff, like the snare from Teenage Dirtbag, but I needed the $400. It was in part because of technological improvements, too, but it was a way to get by.”
Brown’s passion for the project, then, is clear: struggling independence is a price worth paying, and it’s slowly starting to come good. Wheatus have always been successful in the UK and Ireland, but it’s internet funding through Patreon that’s really pulling them back from the brink.
“Patreon’s been great for us,” Brown says, revealing a few of the stranger requests that have come along with the fan-funded platform. “It’s a lot of fun, they mess with us but in a really fun way. They had us playing a country version of a ballad, and a kind of Britpop dance version of ‘A Fisherman with a Clock’, which is really not that kind of song.”
“We’ve been putting out a lot of stuff that way. It’s a real fly on the wall kind of thing. We also do a Q&A with the fans every month. Once, they asked each of us to name our favourite other member of Wheatus, which was pretty awkward. They’ll be a new album soon. It’s taken time, but it’s never been about rushing through it for me. The album keeps getting delayed because we keep getting asked to go on tour, which we’re happy about, of course.”
The style isn’t quite what it used to be, though. In fact, Brown cites some surprising influences for the forthcoming album, three tracks for which already feature in the live shows on the current tour. “Pantera, Metallica, Iron Maiden, the stuff I was into as a kid is all in there,” he explains.
“No one in the band back at the start could play the music we write now, and I include myself in that. We’re a lot more technical, much stronger musicians.”
Brown laughs when I point out the irony of his band’s musical progression coming well after their biggest hits. “I guess that’s the thing with music, it’s not always about how well you can play. I’m not really interested in chasing the zeitgeist. When I’ve tried to do that kind of thing in the past it’s never worked. It’s much better we just do what we like.”
“What we do depends on where we are. We can do the nostalgia set. Sometimes we play a set that’s taken mostly from album six, too. There’s a Rush cover we like to do. We’re good for it all.”
Wheatus play The Grand Social, Dublin on November 29 as part of a six-date Irish tour.
This article is one of my weekly music columns for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations.
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