Bwr

Broken Witt Rebels are ready for stadiums. Their forthcoming album, ‘OK Hotel’, released February 21st 2020 via Snakefarm Records / Universal, was written with them in mind…

Since coming together in 2015, the Birmingham quartet – dubbed ‘the Brummie Kings Of Leon’ – have shown potential for this kind of scale, ticking off appearances at a host of major festivals such as Download in the UK and Wacken in Germany. But it was touring the US with Texan rockers Whiskey Myers, and playing to colossal crowds, that truly gave them a taste for it…

“The bigger the crowd, the more hungry you get for an even bigger one,” nods bassist Luke Davis. “It was definitely something we craved once we’d had it.”

Broken Witt Rebels (completed by singer Danny Core, guitarist James Tranter and drummer James Dudley) have always had a cosmopolitan ear. Inspired by the likes of Rival Sons, Kaleo and Alabama Shakes, their knack for earthy yet fresh cocktails of rock, roots and pop strengthened and grew (channelled through a critically acclaimed succession of EPs and 2017’s self-titled debut album, also on Snakefarm).

For some Stateside music fans, however, their presence as Brits was … well, novel…

“They were asking us ‘how’s the Queen?’, ‘what do the red buses look like?’,” Core laughs, recounting one festival in a remote field in Oklahoma. “They were sort of encased by a cattle pen, and they looked at us like we’d just landed from another planet. It was very strange.”

Recorded in Austin, Texas, Broken Witt Rebels latest album is a soaring, game-raising statement, with opening tracks ‘Running With The Wolves’ and ‘Money’ leading the charge musically and visually (both will be worked as singles with accompanying clips, and both will feature on a double A-side vinyl 7”, due out in December). From upbeat, modern Nashville-meets-cutting-edge-pop anthem ‘Running…’ through to the lo-fi intimacy of ‘Birmingham’, ‘OK Hotel’ is packed with the sort of transatlantic anthems that scream ‘radio hit’ and ‘21st century maverick’.

Having written “about 20 or 30 songs”, the band decamped to producer Dwight Baker’s studio in Bear Creek, on the edge of the desert just outside Austin (Baker, whose studio credits include Missio and Blue October, is also a member of recording / touring duo The Wind and The Wave). Hard-working days and high professional standards were rewarded with a healthy quota of play time…

“It was probably the most rock ‘n’ roll thing we’ve ever done,” Core remembers. “We were getting tattoos in the studio while we were doing takes, we were jumping in the pool… it was the biggest party atmosphere we’ve ever had. It was crazy to think a record came out of it.”

Six months previously, it all looked a little bleaker. The band were exhausted. They’d quit their jobs three years previously in order to pursue band life, which meant constant touring in order to keep themselves fed and watered. The same songs were played. They were desperate to make a new record – a different record – and they knew it had to be a game-changer…

“I felt like we had to evolve,” Core says. “We didn’t want to go to Austin and do Broken Witt Rebels 2.0, we wanted to change our parameters.”

Just as the creative process was getting underway, Core’s father died following long-term health issues – a tragic turn of events, and one that drove the band to think deeper and open their emotions more than ever. The rawness of Core’s experience is tangible, manifesting itself in such tender, heart-breaking yet rousing highlights as Broken Pieces and Fearless.

“You just have to crack on,” he reflects. “As a songwriter, you’re always a bit scared of opening that door, ’cos you let yourself into a very vulnerable place. But I felt like it needed to be done. They almost write themselves, songs like that.”

In conversation, Core is approachably down-to-earth, but as a singer he’s something else, and never has this been more apparent than on the new album. His weathered drawl oscillates between alt pop lightness and searing early blues rock fire, informed by a childhood surrounded by his father’s Irish folk records, along with icons like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Muddy Waters.

In one sense, BWRs’ new album voyage – the apotheosis of a life fuelled by constantly evolving musical tastes – seems far removed from their roots. Life-long friends Core and Davis grew up on the same council estate near Birmingham city centre. Life was, for the most part, pretty quiet. Then, as 18-year-olds, they bought guitars and started picking up licks by ear at a local indie night. A quintessentially early noughties diet of the Libertines, Kings of Leon and Arctic Monkeys convinced them that this was their life path…

“We couldn’t play probably five chords between us, but we just picked it up,” Core recalls. “This was before Youtube, or before we even had Wifi in the house… But Luke would learn a couple of new bits and teach them to me, then I’d learn something new, and then we met friends who knew a little bit more than us. And we just constantly practised.”

And yet, for all the evocative nods to the USA, it’s the band’s home city that provides the record’s most powerful undercurrent. Closer ‘Birmingham’ acts as a love song to the place the musicians were born in “and will die in”. An acoustic, quietly spine-tingling swirl of roots, folk and kitchen sink poetry, it calls to mind The Cadillac Three at their sweetest. And it all comes back to the refrain ‘and in Birmingham is where I found my feet, and in Birmingham is where I’ll lose my teeth’.

“I can’t remember there being a song about Birmingham, unless it’s Birmingham Alabama,” Core reasons. “But these are our experiences, this is where we’re from; the line ‘a broken nose is poetry in motion, and all the villains have broken bones’, that’s a nod to the football clubs Aston Villa and Birmingham City, they were always fighting… Football has been a part of our culture growing up, so we wanted to make reference to it. This was a way of achieving that, hopefully in a poetic way.”

This new album is the textured sound of a band honouring their roots and reaching well beyond them. A deeply intimate record, and a confident step up to the big time.