Make a record. Do a video. Go on tour. Make a record. Do a video. Go on tour. Wait a second! Isn’t that the lifecycle of most mainstream pop acts? Why are so many punk bands trying to jam themselves into this mold?
I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure this is not the guaranteed equation for success.
There are a bajillion other ways that punk rock bands can approach the business of being in a band. For example, they could record a live action, Adult Swim-style comedy series about their adventures on tour, camping out at their grandma’s grave, and fleeing from ghost cops and stuff. That’s what Minneapolis pop punk band Braver did. The band recently had the release party for the pilot episode and screened it for a packed house at a comedy club, of all places.
The Braver Show is not some hokey band tie-in that’s seventy-five percent live footage. It’s not a long-form music video. It’s a hilarious series that stands on its own, whether you like the band or not. I happen to like the band. They play pop punk with an emphasis on the punk. It’s no-frills, no contrivances music. They don’t shoehorn emotions into their songs with affected vocal mannerisms or other bullshit. They do it the old fashioned way, by writing really good lyrics and playing their hearts out.
But what kind of weirdos make such honest music and also do a goofy comedy series? I had to find out for myself…
MP: Based on the pilot episode, it seems like Lupe is the straight man, Ryan is the one with all the crazy schemes, and Parker is the psycho with a knife. How accurate is that?
Lupe: In the script, the characters made similar decisions and spoke the same. There was no distinction in who we were. It wasn’t until we were editing that we realized this and, thankfully, we had the coverage to shape our performances to what you see.
Ryan: If you’d have asked us during the writing and filming of episode one, your guess would have been as good as ours. As Lupe said, we didn’t really have any concrete ideas as to what we wanted the characters to be until it was finished. It made the writing of episodes two through four a lot more fun and interesting, as we were able to establish the characters’ personalities and push them in the direction we needed. It’s a lot like the pilot episode of Saved by the Bell: The New Class, wherein the identities and deep, inner struggles of the characters didn’t develop until subsequent episodes. My favorite is the episode where Screech has to make the decision whether or not to take his pet tarantula off of life support after it ate all of his anti-psychotic meds. Hint: he totally does.
Parker: The next few episodes you’re gonna see more of the characters’ individual personalities come out. Lupe will definitely not be the straight man in episodes two through four.
MP: Okay, but how close are your fictional personas to your real life personas?
Lupe: My character doesn’t come from a real part of me, but I have an affinity towards innocent stupidity. And I become very solidly stupid as the show progresses. Ryan is our anchor, the sounding board for the audience. When we’re in a tough spot, he seems to be the only one responding to it like a normal person would. As for Parker, he comes the closest to mirroring his real life self. Not a lot gets to him—he’s mostly calm, and he goes crazy and kills people.
MP: How did Braver come together?
Parker: Braver started when me and Lupe were at a party and I asked him if he wanted to start a band. At least that’s how I remember it. I was sort of drunk, admittedly. I was itchin’ to play in a new punk band that was more straight up punk than my other band, Dingus. Lupe’s band Liarbirds had ended the year before and Dingus hadn’t been doing a lot, so I think we were both pretty antsy.
Lupe: I was in film school. I hadn’t been in a band for almost a year, so when Parker and I began, we were just playing two songs over and over in his basement. Everyone hated us because I insisted we start at noon and play those songs for four hours. So we did that for two or three months, worked on new songs, and one day Ryan came over to the house for I don’t know what. I didn’t know him, but he came in the basement. He asked what we were doing, and he gave me a good feeling. I asked him to be in the band, introduced myself, and here we are.
Ryan: Pretty sure I was obtaining a sack of beany-ass schwazz. Anyways, I’d known Parker for many years and just happened to be around when they were playing. They asked me to fill in on that particular practice and—I think it may have been that day—asked me to join and that was that. It was a lot of fun from the get-go, even though I have to play bass.
MP: What were the two songs you were playing over and over?
Lupe: Those two songs were “Yea” and “All My Friends,” the first and last songs on our album.
MP: Your album is called Stay Busy. With the band, the web series, and the improv, it seems like a mantra more than an album title. Was that intentional?
Lupe: It really is. I haven’t known Parker and Ryan my whole life, but our friendship and creative chemistry is so relaxed and effective that it was clear from the start that we were to stay busy, as it were. Granted, perspective shifts and sometimes staying busy feels like a chore and not a gift, but hey, that’s just the way it is.
Ryan: Yes. With everyone on the same page, it’s hard not to do as much as possible.
MP: What else do you guys do to stay busy?
Lupe: I read, write, perform improv and stand up comedy, travel to Milwaukee to see family and my girlfriend, Dana, and most recently I have been psyching myself up to continue playing Alien: Isolation. Shit’s scary.
MP: Do you all do improv?
Lupe: I’m the only one who does it for a living, but we all improvised takes while filming Ghost Cop.
Ryan: It was a lot of fun while filming. It also makes for a good time killer while using public transportation. If you’re worried about being hassled by the weirdest person on the bus, be the weirdest person on the bus. The last character I improvised was Zomak, a koala-brained furniture salesman from Nubulon Jighn.
Parker:I improv my life.
Ryan: I work in mental health and that comprises most of my non-Braver time or “NBT.” Otherwise I’m playing video games, reading, listening to music, and hanging out with my dog.
Parker: I deliver pizza, play video games, get drunk, eat pizza, play more video games, and then get drunk again.
MP: Lupe, how much punk rock do you bring to your improv and how much improv do you bring to your punk rock?
Lupe: The punk rock I bring to improv is something I cultivated over eight years of stage time and hundreds of hours of experience. It’s, “I think this works. Don’t think, say it. Did they like it? Who cares? What’s next?” The improve-to-punk transfer is something we all participate in, and I see it like this: I write a song, bring it to the band, and from there it’s no longer mine. Just like a scene: Who’s going to take my offer and build on it? In performance, it’s the same. We have a plan, but if we go out of tune or someone from the audience shouts at us, we take it as it comes.
MP: Who is Fitzpatrick Williams?
Lupe: Fitzpatrick Williams is the host of “Fitzpatrick William’s Presents: Beautiful!” I don’t know a lot about him, but I like his message.
PT: Fitzpatrick Williams is my dad’s second oldest brother on my grandpa’s side whose sister is his third cousin twice removed. He’s pretty smart.
Ryan: I just became aware of Fitz this year, but I guess he’s been dropping knowledge since he shot out the nutsack. I’ve learned a lot from his videos and, like the saying goes, “Every Community Center Entrance B Lobby Needs a Fitzpatrick Williams.” Beautiful.
MP: Why do a comedic web series? Why not just do music videos like a normal band?
Ryan: This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I really lucked out in working with people who are willing to put so much of their time and effort into this stuff. It really lights the fire under your butt to pull your own weight and I think that pressure is part of what makes us go and go.
Lupe: We’re making the show because we want to. It’s as simple as that. We’re a band, yes, and bands make music. But why stop there? We all have similar senses of humor. We like the same movies. I have training in screenwriting and directing, and we’re strong collaborators. In all that, I don’t see a reason not to do a series.
Parker: And it’s fun, dammit.
MP: In the show, you crash at a graveyard. What’s the weirdest place you’ve crashed on tour?
Lupe: Braver stayed in a warehouse with a guy named Spanky in Columbus, Ohio. That was pretty weird, but in a good way. This was a year before beginning Ghost Cop, but it didn’t stop us from filming a trailer for season two. It had strong mafia over and undertones, and we mixed a lot of wine and vodka and shit like that. Pretty sure I cried at one point while staring in the mirror. Anyway, yeah.
Ryan: I gotta go with Spanky’s here, as well. We filmed a lot of deleted scenes during that tour for projects that didn’t exist.
PT: Probably that one night we spent in that graveyard and then got pulled over by that one ghost cop. You thought that shit was fake? Nah, dog.
MP: For the first episode, you came up with a new urban legend, too. What inspired the Ghost Cop?
Lupe: I honestly cannot remember what inspired the Ghost Cop. It might have been something we saw on TV… or something. Ryan?
Ryan: We were just sitting at a bar one night after practice and started talking about ideas for a horror short, one that’s funny and a little bit scary. That’s where we created the story of Clebar (the ghost cop). We just kept building on that small idea and, eventually, wrote ourselves into the story. Many of our original ideas for the story were a lot darker than what it became. For example, we had Clebar kill the two cops in the graveyard, mistaking them for intruders. Clebar later kills himself after being unable to live with the guilt. It was a laugh-a-minute romp.
MP: What’s the Dixie Crystal?
Ryan: That’s something that Lupe sort of spewed out one time when I put a camera in his face. We referenced it in Ghost Cop and will probably do it again. God knows why.
Lupe: It’s a reference to something I said in our first ever tour update. It’s a story of two criss-crossed lovers who lose the gumption to do the right thing in the face of what is yet to come. Now that I’m thinking about it, it lives in Braver lore. By Braver lore, I mean we think it’s funny. Maybe we’ll see a fake trailer for it one day.
MP: The show seems like a pretty natural extension of the improv, but not necessarily the music. How does the creative process differ between writing shows and writing songs?
Lupe: It’s not different for me. Through film, music, and improv, I’ve learned that creative collaboration is dependent on knowing your strengths, and just as importantly, your weaknesses. Then, by surrounding yourself with people you A) like and B) know will strengthen your weaknesses, you volley ideas back and forth, give a little, take a little.
Parker: I also think it’s pretty much the same. If you work well together in music, someone will think of something and the other person will go “Yeah!” or “No!” And you move forward. If you work well together in comedy, someone will say something and the other person will laugh or not laugh, and you move forward. We do both those things, so I think it’s pretty natural for us, working together in any format.
MP: Obviously the show is about Braver, but it seemed like, in the pilot episode at least, you focused less on your music, and more on your adventures—not a whole lot of live footage and your music is mixed in with other stuff. Why was that?
Ryan: Although we’re in it, we want it to be an entirely different project from our albums. We want the story to come first while establishing who we are as characters and our roles. There’s a good possibility that future film projects will feature entirely different main characters... still probably played by us.
Parker: We made this show with the intention of just telling a good story that had some laughs and some good scares. We want it to be a comedy series, not just a vehicle for our band, like Tenacious D or Flight Of The Conchords. Those guys are different in that their music is part of the joke, whereas our music is serious to us. This is just another project that we want to work on together, as a band.
MP: Yeah, now that you mention it, your music does have a much more serious tone than the show. Do you worry that people won’t get the distinction and put you in the novelty category with Tenacious D and Flight Of The Conchords?
Lupe:I’m not going to worry about it because it’s their choice. If someone wants to put us in a category, they’re spending time considering what we’re doing, and that’s as much as I can ask for. We’re not setting out to make sure everyone knows our intentions—we’re focused on making choices that are right for us.
MP: It seemed like a lot of family and parents showed up for the screening of the pilot episode, more so than the average punk show at least. Lupe’s mom liked the story I read about a vagina-mouthed demon, so she’s obviously crazy, but how much support do you guys get in your creative endeavors from your family?
Lupe: My mom and I think alike, but she never pursued her creativity like I am now, and she likes seeing me do what I love to do. So yes, I do get a lot of support.
Ryan: My mother and sister were unable to attend the premiere, though I’m fairly certain they account for at least sixty-five percent of the YouTube views. I get a lot of support from them, even though I know they’d prefer me to have a job with decent health benefits in order to get this Requiem-for-a-Dream-style wound on my abdomen checked out. All in all, if I’m happy with what I’m doing, so are they.
Parker: My parents have always supported whatever creative endeavor I’ve done, no matter how silly. I’m pretty lucky that way. It’s pretty unconditional.
MP: What are your hopes and dreams for the Braver show?
Lupe: I’m all about putting one foot in front of the other. My first hope is to get all eight episodes filmed. After that, I want people to see them. After that, I want to make something else. Could be a new album, a feature-length film or a different series, a theater project. We’ll see.
Ryan: I’d like the same team to do a feature-length movie some day. We’ve had some ideas that don’t necessarily fit with the Braver series and I know Tiny Coyote’s always scheming with potential projects. I’d like to have a hand in some of that. It’s all about having fun, creating, and learning.
Parker: I just hope that it’ll make people laugh as much as it made us laugh.
MP: What’s Tiny Coyote?
Lupe:Tiny Coyote Productions is an independent film company I’m a part of. I met my two partners, Kurt Radtke and Dave Wasylik, while I was in college. Dave acted in my first student film and Kurt was a friend he introduced me to. Kurt turned out to be a fucking genius artist. Kurt shot, lit, edited, and scored our first film together. It was called The Teleported Man. In it, I play a scientist who transfers his consciousness into a machine. Sounds cheesy, but it’s bad ass. Dave is our producer—he’s just really good at talking to people and finding ways to get what we need when we probably shouldn’t have been able to find a way. I’m our head writer and director, though those roles are shared on a case-by-case basis. Right now, we’re focused on finishing the series.
MP: When does the Thrill Boss brand clothing line come out?
Ryan: When the Angels win the pennant.