Wheatus have just about finished their mammoth UK tour, which they started in early October. We last spoke with founder and lead singer, Brendan B Brown, back in 2016, and he’s managed to find some time in his incredibly busy schedule to set aside a few minutes to chat with us. It was a great catch up, and we talked about their current release, their Christmas EP, ‘Just A Dirtbag Christmas’, their upcoming 20th anniversary edition of their ‘Wheatus’ album, the secret to the staying power of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, and about meeting your heroes.
Heya Brendan! Lovely to speak to you tonight!
How many more dates do you have left of your tour?
Tonight is the first of the last four, so four total left.
Brilliant! You’ve released a new Christmas EP, just in time for the silly season. So when did you decide to do that, and how did it come about, and when did you record it?
Well a Christmas EP is something we’ve wanted to do for years, and because of our schedule and the way that the year typically ended for us, it was usually impossible. But in this one, we figured out how to squeeze it in. It was a group effort, Gabrielle (Sterbenz) wrote the lyrics to ‘Christmas Dirtbag’, Joey Slater, our other vocalist, wrote and recorded ‘You Made Me Believe In Christmas’, I squeezed in a recording of the ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ original with a string quartet…
I liked that one a lot!
…and then I squeezed in another original called ‘Mean Christmas’, so it was very much a group effort, and we somehow pulled it across the finish line – I’m talking, the day that we left (to go on UK/Ireland tour).
Oh wonderful! Don’t leave things to the last minute oh no no no! I suppose it takes your mind off the tour a bit, to have this one last thing you have to fit in before you go.
I listened to it today, and I thought, hmm, the concert tickets in ‘Christmas Dirtbag’ have changed to AC/DC from Iron Maiden…
…and my mind, the way it is, thought, I wonder if this is a shout out to Australia, because that’s where Teenage Dirtbag got it’s start?
It is that!
Is it really!
We’ll always owe an original shout out to Australia, but going even further back than that, we have to shout out to Australia for a couple of reasons. But first and foremost, my favourite guitarist of all times, going back to when I was eight years old, was Angus Young. And we were fortunate enough that my mother rented out a room to a woman named Lou, who was from Australia. And this is in the 80s, and I begged her, when she went home, could she bring back whatever albums weren’t available in the United States. And she did! She brought back the original Australian release of TNT, which has on it, a song called ‘School Days’, which is a Chuck Berry cover. So I was one, of almost no kids, in the United States, in the 1980s, who possessed a copy of ‘School Days’.
Angus does the Chuck Berry dance thing across the stage as part of his act doesn’t he!
Well this is the thing! We’re all going back to Chuck Berry at some point. And the Australian connection is really profound, because, the first time we ever went to Australia, we went to Sydney, and that was the place where we stayed first, and of course, that’s where Angus grew up, and it’s a strange loop that we find ourselves in.
Iron Maiden sings very well, and was also a bit more off the map in 1999, Iron Maiden wasn’t really on the forefront, they were a bit more obscure, of course they have their legacy well and truly secured these days, but there was a moment, where I don’t think Bruce was in the band, and people weren’t paying close attention. But AC/DC have never faltered, and we don’t have a moment like that in their history. It felt cheating to put AC/DC in ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ originally, we wanted something a bit more off the path. But I’m very happy to report that there is an AC/DC cover in our song pool, we’ve been playing ‘Rock And Roll Damnation’, off ‘Powerage’ from 1978, and we toyed with ‘Thunderstruck’ a number of times, but it’s very difficult to sing and play that. It’s a work in progress!
I think you’ve got the vocals for it though haven’t you! You can do the falsetto!
I did sing along with Bon and Brian before puberty, so it’s locked me in the stratosphere where they sing, so I *can* do it. It’s just a thrill to get an AC/DC song right, it requires a lot of focused energy, no-one plays music like them. It’s unbelievable.
Have they ever acknowledged you guys? Have you ever heard anything back?
I don’t think so but that’s fine with me! We were on the same label for about a year, in 2002, and I did see them at their New York City club show, which was a show they payed at the Roseland Ballroom, it’s a 2500 capacity club, and I had the opportunity to meet them backstage, and I have to tell you, when I saw them coming out of the door, to come into the meet and greet, I chickened out!
You have to understand – I was Angus Young for Halloween in 1985, and again, in 1986, and I have them, and him, in a place that is almost mythological, so I prefer to maintain that, I don’t want the mystery to be ruined!
It’s so funny for you to say that, because when I met you at the Brooklyn Bowl in London in 2016, I said to my husband, who was with me, “come and say hi!” and he said “No, you should never meet your heroes!” so he’ll be really chuffed that you had the same experience!
Well there’s also the thing of sometimes artists are doing meet and greets for reasons that they’re obliged to, I don’t want to meet him under those circumstances. I mean, if I were to meet him, I’d prefer it be a musical meeting, but yeah! He taught me how to play guitar – him and his brother Malcolm – whether he knows it or not!
And now, you’ve mentioned them in a song, and you’ve covered another of their songs, it might happen! Anyway! I move on!
As I said before, I really liked the String Quartet version of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ on the EP, it’s got a very Bridgerton quality about it (on the show they do covers of contemporary songs set to a string quartet) – would you be open to that sort of thing, them syncing your track to the show?
I think my mother is into Bridgerton! I’d love to have that, absolutely!
And having different versions of the song prolongs its longevity, and makes it more accessible…
Well sure! We can certainly have fun with it, but what is most important and what keeps it going is if people can see themselves in it, and that’s the real trick. We’re beholden to it becoming a song that people feel like they own, on their own terms. That’s what’s important.
It’s clearly a song that people feel that they own, because it’s just re-entered the top 40 in the UK!
It re-entered at 38 [it’s still there now in its second week – ed]! It’s incredible to us, we can’t believe it!
Why do you think ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ has got such staying power? Because it re-entered in 2012 before, and to come back again, for a 23 year old song, not bad!
Well, it’s a song about finding your own identity, which invariably comes with some sort of loneliness, right, I think nobody really gets away with life without feeling something along those lines, so I’d like to think it’s there for people who are facing that moment of, like, okay, well now the illusions of what I was going to become, or what I could be, are gone, and I’m going to be confident, and accept myself, and become the person I will be, uniquely. And that moment of unique discovery, for everybody, even if it’s sometimes late, is part of having a healthy life, I think? So I think that’s why, because anybody can put themselves into the narrative of discovering your true identity.
Yeah! In terms of being yourself.
You also blew up on TikTok last year with ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ last year!
I saw all your TikToks and Instagram posts about it – you were blown away about it weren’t you!
We didn’t see it coming! I have to admit, that was all a bit mysterious for an older person. It’s interesting that the song can make its point in these tiny little snippets, that surprised me, because it’s a bigger narrative. It’s an odd song for a pop choice, because the original is 4 minutes 20 seconds, it’s too long for a pop single, by about, well, a minute and 20 seconds, so I think the fact that it’s survived is how it’s structured, it works in small pieces and as the longer narrative. So if it can do its thing in 15 seconds on TikTok, I’m surprised, but grateful.
I mean – EVERYONE was doing it! I saw so many BIG, HUGE names, doing it – like Barack Obama even, I think did one?
It was incredible! I think the one that got me, and made me sit down was Quincy Jones!
OH YES I SAW THAT!
That to me, that he would even know who we were and know the song, that was like, WHOA! I mean, arguably the greatest producer of music in HISTORY. It’s hard to get my head around that one.
Now you mentioned about being an older person, you’ve had your birthday recently, so happy birthday! I cannot believe you’ve turned 50! That’s crazy!
Thank you, I certainly don’t feel 50, I feel about 39.
I’m a tiny bit older than you, and I feel about 42, and I think I’ll stop there. Do you ever pinch yourself and think, wow I’ve been doing this for half my life now, how have I managed to make a career of it?
Yeah! It’s true! I have been doing it for half my life! It doesn’t come as a pinch, it comes as waves of gratitude, I feel very very lucky. I feel fortunate to be a person of the very select few that people are willing to spend their money to come and watch me play my stupid electric guitar. It’s a little bit…sometimes, music can seem, in the face of all the struggles and strife that people are going through, to be a little bit frivolous, and to be elevated by people on any sort of level, that’s what I said to myself when I saw Angus when I was 8 years old, and again when I saw him when I was 11, I kind of looked at him again, and said, if I can do that in any way, if I can have any version of that being my life, then I’ll take it. And here we are.
Now you’ve got a new album coming out – it’s the 20th anniversary edition of the ‘Wheatus’ album, next month.
December 1st! Yeah, we finished mixing and recording it all, it’s twice as long as the original, we added 10 songs that were songs from over the years that felt like they belonged on the first album, but we didn’t add them at the time, so this is the perfect opportunity to drop those as, not B-sides, but more like an alternative universe version of our first record.
Did you finish this immediately before tour as well?
I actually finished mixing some of those songs on the tour bus!
OF COURSE YOU DID. What gigs do you have left?
So, Cardiff tonight, Bridgewater tomorrow, Portsmouth on the 11th, Leicester on the 12th, and then the next show we have Huntington Long Island on the 24th, and again on the 25th, so we have 2. So before the end of the year we have 6 more.
And then you have a break.
A long sleep!
So just in time for the album release and starting all over again! Okay well I have one more question and I’ll let you go – what’s next for Wheatus!
Well, we have album 7, which we’ve been working on all this time, the songs are all written, we just have to get into the studio and record it; we have an album of cover tunes that we’re hoping to finish up that we’ve been excited about; I have the DSD and vinyl mastering to do for the 25th anniversary of the first album, that will be finished by 2025, and then we have a 25th anniversary tour to do!
No rest for the wicked!
No! And, sometime during that period, before 2025, I’m REALLY hoping, that AC/DC will play Madison Square Garden or one of the places near me in New York…..
That would be awesome! And maybe this time, Angus will say, “Hey Brendan! Come up here!”
Well, I won’t hold my breath! But just to see him play again would be amazing!
Well thank you you for talking to me tonight, and have a lovely rest of the tour!
‘Just A Christmas Dirtbag’ is out now through Sony Music and can be streamed and downloaded here.
You can find out more about Wheatus and their music online on their official website, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can help support Wheatus and get access to exclusives via Patreon as well.