When Brand New released their most recent album, Daisy, in 2009, singer Jesse Lacey sang: “I see God in birds and Satan in long words.” It was an obscure observation that seemed to represent the type of band the group had grown into over the years: vague, questioning, wandering; in short, a group no longer defining themselves with outrageously popular pop-punk tunes. But the album wasn’t as celebrated as it should have been: fans nostalgic for the spring days of Grade 11 seemed to be more concerned with the fact that the album wasn’t just a slightly tweaked rendition of the formulaic Deja Entendu. That’s an awful shame.
Lacey isn’t even certain what those 10 words from the song “Sink” mean, sombrely noting that he always knew there was something deeper in them, but was not quite able to identity what that was. Over the phone, he silently contemplates for some 20 seconds. Eventually, he wades into an explanation: “To me, that lyric means something about there being a natural truth to things in the way the world was created, and there being a paint on it, or a different kind of thing, that humans have put on creation... and that being the thing that kind of screws everything up, I guess, in a way. We kind of bring the bad into the world, I don’t think it’s just there. I think it’s something we create.”
Damn, that was unexpected. Lacey has obviously dealt with introspective and increasingly bleak material over the years (take the song “Millstone,” for example), but he’s never exactly presented himself as a particularly esoteric lyricist, more often choosing to author transparent tracks such as “Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t” and “Jesus.” This one line reveals a shift in the band — a willingness to neglect fans for art. But it doesn’t seem to be just Lacey that’s experienced this artistic metamorphosis. The rest of the band has been just as experimental with each release, dwelling in a complicated, somewhat obscure space. Daisy was the peak of this. Most fans weren’t too stoked on the growth.
“I think we knew we were sacrificing a little bit of the — how do I say this — the accessibility of the record to a lot of people,” he says, labelling Daisy as an “uncomfortable” album throughout the interview. “I think that record was an easy record to put on and listen to a few times, and then decide that you weren’t up to the task of listening to it and giving it the amount of time that I think it needed to become a fan of it. We understood that. We knew that was going to be a problem: it’s a problem for me listening back to it to get through it sometimes. From a writing standpoint, and even a therapeutic standpoint, it was essential for the band to do.”
The noise, the disorder, the anxiety — the good stuff — present in the 2009 release was reflective of the place where the band was at the time: full of confusion about the bigger questions in life. Since then, some things have changed. Answers have been found for many of the questions about life and religion that Lacey and the band had struggled with, and their record deal with Interscope Records was wrapped up. Brand New are now unsigned, and planning to release their fifth studio album through their own label, Procrastinate! Music Traitors. The process is slow and entirely self-motivated now that they don’t have management breathing down their neck, as Lacey puts it.
Here’s hoping the band hasn’t achieved total mental clarity. That may come across as cruel, but the reality remains that Brand New produce their most experimental and meaningful work while residing in emotional and spiritual turmoil. Perhaps their fans will develop enough of an attention span to properly appreciate the results.