BRIAN BELL (middle left) and NATE SHAW (middle right) are not your typical dream team.
Bell, the long-locked guitar mystic of Weezer fame, first met Shaw as a teenager, where the latter promptly introduced him to West Coast punk and the raw ethos of “the church of rock ‘n’ roll.” Shaw is best known for his tenure in raucous punk outfits Die Hunns and U.S. Bombs. They meld their respective influences quite harmoniously with the Relationship, a band that owes equal debt to ’70s guitar work, punk verve and Big Star confessionalism. In many ways, their band name is a reference to their relationship, a songwriting partnership that spawned the group’s first eponymous LP in 2010. Now they’re back, fronted by Bell, with an expanded lineup (bassist Jon LaRue and Anthony Burulcich, drummer for Morrissey and the Bravery) and a new 7-inch, Oh Allen, released April 8 on Burger Records. AP caught up with Bell and Shaw after their performance at the Burgerama Festival to talk touring, album release dates, and their unlikely similarities to Rodgers and Hammerstein.
What appealed to you about releasing a 7-inch first?
BRIAN BELL: The process of it wasn’t as daunting as a full-length album, which we [were also] working on at the time. Then, everything has to be just perfect, down to the font. [Laughs.] I didn’t even really know what Burger Records was. All I knew was that they were hip and they liked young bands, and I was like, “Wow, wonder why they like us. But that’s cool! They have a built-in audience and that sounds like a good thing.” We had the song “Oh Allen” so dialed-in, that it was a no-brainer that we should put that one on, and Burger Records really liked it. So we were looking for the perfect B-side for it, which was a song ["Young Temptations”] that we had back in the era when we wrote “Oh Allen,” but it was left in the archives. We had to reopen it and look at it again, because I was never that happy with the lyrics they way they were. I had to adjust them to 2015 and it turned out really good. Two songs are just easier to complete and be happy with. It’s something to promote and talk about and do interview stuff about while we finish another eight songs.
Going into the song “Oh Allen,” you’ve said that “Allen” is a kind of a stand-in for you and Nate, and the narrators could be your family and friends. Why did you create the character of Allen to tell that story?
BELL: Well, Allen is an actual person that Nate grew up with. Nate and I have written songs together before this, but it was written when we decided, “Let’s treat songwriting like a job. A 9-to-5 job…well, except we start at 11.” He had a couple song titles. Songwriting is all about a concept—if you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. He had this song title, and I was like, “Oh Allen? What’s that?” so he told me about him. Nate’s a great talker. So I said, “Let’s go with that.” We started writing things down and we wrote it pretty much on paper, first, lyrically. Almost simultaneously, I had the melody and harmony—as soon as I picked up the instrument—because the visual was so strong, and the idea was so defined in the writing process that it kind of wrote itself. When I started to analyze it, I thought, “Wait a minute, we’re talking about Allen, but we’re also talking about the way people see us.”
NATE SHAW: I had a clear idea of the style of guitar that I wanted to accompany the song. I wanted it to be from the collection of music that Allen and I had grown up being into, which was like Magazine, early Ultravox. So if you listen to “Oh Allen,” the leads in between the verses are kind of inspired by that kind of vibe, even though the arrangement is more rock ‘n’ roll.
BELL: I’m from Tennessee, so I didn’t grow up with the cool Southern California music that Nate introduced me to when I was a teenager. But it was my interpretation of what that music was, and I immediately went there with the chord progression. It was weird. It was one of the few times I felt like the music, the melody and the harmony came together simultaneously.
So Allen was a friend of yours that was also a musician?
SHAW: He was a visual artist. He’s also into music. He can do it all. He’s a very creative guy.
How has the creative dynamic changed in the Relationship now that you have two new full-time members?
BELL: That’s a great question. They have become part of this. Jon, like Nate, was another best friend. I didn’t even know that he played an instrument, other than he had guitars in his house, because he never boasted or anything. I knew he was friends with [t[the Strokes’]lbert Hammond Jr., but I didn’t know he actually wrote songs with him. But one night he was over at my house, and we were playing with some ideas, and it was at that moment that I realized he had amazing musical ability for arranging. [L[Later]e came to one of our shows and he said, “I’ll start playing bass for you guys. You can stop paying these hired hands, these studio musicians.” Studio musicians, they’re so good, they don’t really try. They don’t put the effort past the time that you pay them.
Having Jon there to learn the bass parts was a really interesting and exciting period. Actually, we took a whole year off for that to happen. He plays bass in such a neat way, and Nate plays guitar in such a neat way. Anthony was a fill-in drummer for Weezer when Pat [W[Wilson]asn’t around, and was also just off a tour with Morrissey. I didn’t even think he would want to play with us. So I just said, “You wanna come jam with my other band?” And it started off with us not really knowing if this guy was into it or not, and then he said, “What are you talking about? I love this music!” And now we’re starting to play his songs in the band, and he’s very vocal with coming up with ideas. It really feels good.
BELL: We really used to work more like Rodgers and Hammerstein. [<[Laughs.] would sit back with an acoustic, Bell would come in with a concept, and we’d knock it out. We worked almost Monday through Friday, like a job, 11 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. Now we really work like a band, all together in a practice space. It’s changed.
You met in music school after high school. Is it safe to assume that the Relationship refers essentially to your relationship, Nate and Brian? Or is it just a name?
BELL: It started as a songwriting partnership. “The Relationship” was a name Nate had for a partnership and a band name. Nate’s always been one to come up with band names. I was like, “Dude, nobody has a band name like that!”
SHAW: We couldn’t believe it wasn’t taken already.
BELL: There was a time we were both dealing with some heavy stuff: Nate was going through a divorce and I was going through a breakup, and the word “relationship” was so heavy to us!
SHAW: It hurt.
BELL: On the first album, there’s a picture of a sea monster taking down a ship—the “Relation-ship.” I mean, there’s also happiness in relationships. When I work on music, it’s the relationship between notes that creates the tension and the release and the emotion. So, it’s a very expandable, malleable word.
In another interview, you talked about being a “servant of music” and that kind of reflects what you’re saying about the band. So how does that manifest itself, either in how you approach music or how you want to present it to people?
BELL: Well, I know that I’ll never conquer it. I studied classical piano as well, the works of Schumann, Mozart, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. I tried to learn pieces by them, even more intermediate pieces. I went to UCLA, and from all the studying I’ve done, you see how much you don’t know. You learn so much by looking at their works. I will never conquer this, is what I meant by that [s[statement]I will always be a student of it, and I’ll always have that same curiosity and wonderment that music brings me. That’s the payoff I get from it, and in the writing process, [t[the payoff comes]hen you’re creating something that’s never been created before.
A lot of people talk about music in terms of things they already know, like a sound they already know, like an era of music they already know. I’ve never looked at it like that. I’m trying to create something new, and if somebody says, “That’s ‘60s sounding,” that’s cool, I didn’t mean to do that. Now, [t[this record]s more ‘70s sounding to people. People have to categorize things. But that’s not how I look at it. I’m trying to create something new and get that feeling of what Nate has termed “gripping the power line.” When we have this idea, as many people grab onto that “power line,” it’s going to create something even better.
SHAW: It’s like a spiritual moment, when you have that song idea. It’s what Bob Dylan and Hank Williams referred to—if they didn’t have it in five or 10 minutes, then they didn’t have a song. Well, it takes us a little longer perhaps, but when you know that you have that idea, it’s really great.
So when can we expect a full release? You guys have said sometime before the end of the year—is that still true?
BELL: That’s what I’m hoping anyway! I mean it’s 90 percent done, but it’s that last 10 percent. The song I want to record next is an absolute epic song that might require a few months to get right.
SHAW: We’ve got to find the right fit for the release of this record.
BELL: We’ve got to find the right team that wants to put it out, and has a plan. We can’t give a concrete answer for that yet. But it’s nearly there, and I’m excited as hell to get it out.
SHAW: The first record was when Bell and I were writing together, and then working with studio musicians when we recorded it and played it live. It’s a band now. So, it’s a bigger idea. It’s a bigger presentation now. I have some writing that I’m releasing in a series of blogs throughout this tour. We have visual ideas for videos. The other two guys in the band have many ideas. Jon and Anthony are both very creative guys. They’re longhorns that have been around and done a lot of great stuff. There’s no rookies in this band. Everybody has been around, so finding the right fit for this record is going to be part of it too.
What kind of writing are you putting out on blog while you tour?
SHAW: I’m kind of working of a rock ‘n’ roll manifesto, actually. It’s important to me at this point to preserve rock ‘n’ roll as the most important contribution to the art world by Western civilization. I really believe that. It saved my life. It saved my relationship with my father and my family growing up. There was a time I couldn’t even be in the same room with my dad unless we were talking about Chuck Berry. It’s important to me. It’s been important to me and Brian’s relationship since we met in music school. Pretty much, most of the people that are in my life that are important to me are there because of music. I don’t have the academic skills that Brian does. I’m a live rock ‘n’ roll guitar player. And that’s my job in the band and in our musical writing relationship. So that what my writing is about basically—the church of rock ‘n’ roll, if you will. alt
Catch the Relationship at the following venues:
April 15 – Redlands, CA @ Hanger 24
April 16 – Santa Cruz, CA @ Moe’s Alley
April 17 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom Of The Hill
April 18 – Medford, OR @ Howiee’s On Front
April 19 – Seattle, WA @ Barboza
April 21 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Loading Dock
April 22 – Denver, CO @ Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom
April 23 – Lincoln, NE @ Vega
April 24 – Kansas City, MO @ Middle Of The Map Fest
April 25 – St. Louis, MO @ The Demo
April 26 – Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
April 27 – Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
April 29 – New York, NY @ The Studio at Webster Hall
April 30 – Hamden, CT @ The Ballroom at The Outer Space
May 1 – Pawtucket, RI @ The Met
May 2 – Philadelphia, PA @ Ortlieb’s Lounge
May 3 – Charlotte, NC @ Visulite Theatre
May 5 – Pensacola, FL @ Vinyl Music Hall
May 6 – Tampa, FL @ Crowbar
May 7- Gainesville, FL @ High Dive
May 8 – Tallahassee, FL @ Pug’s Live
May 9 – New Orleans, FL @ Siberia
May 10 – Houston, TX @ Bronze Peacock Room at House of Blues
May 11 – Fort Worth, TX @ The Live Oak Music Hall
May 12 – Tulsa, OK @ Vanguard
May 14 – Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress
May 15 – San Diego, CA @ Voodoo Room at House of Blues
May 23 – Stateline, NV @ Harrah’s Lake Tahoe South Shore Room
May 29 – Maricopa, AZ @ Harrah’s Ak-Chin The Lounge (Free Show)