Brand New are an anomaly. The band defy all “standard” business savvy, yet continue to succeed and grow far beyond most contemporaries. Their fifth studio album Science Fiction skyrocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard charts without any press release, marketing campaign, interviews, radio play, music videos or really anything that would resemble a “traditional album rollout.” It was released on their own label, Procrastinate! Music Traitors, and distributed independently. They even leaked their own record by physically mailing out burnt CDs shortly after their vinyl pre-order went live. Most longtime fans of the band hardly balked at the unusual turn of events; they have come to expect the unexpected. From an industry perspective, the release of Science Fiction feels likes an appropriate curtain-call middle finger to the status quo. However, while it is certainly incredible what they achieved last week, their accolades are not isolated.
A lot of people talk about the “Brand New approach” to navigating their music career as if the Holy Gospel According to Jesse Lacey was floating around somewhere, spouting exhortations on how to be cool and elusive while remaining relevant and successful. I've seen a lot of bands take this approach too early in their careers and have it backfire. For young bands, a presence on social media is still a necessity. Constant touring and content creation is still a necessity. Brand New's cryptic aesthetic works for them because they've had the luxury of major exposure, time and the songwriting to back it up. Their trajectory did not occur in a vacuum. The band spent years on the road and have released all four previous studio albums via larger record labels, including a major-label imprint (The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me and Daisy were released on Interscope). Label support no doubt helped provide the band with radio and television opportunities, including appearances on MTV2, Fuse TV, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and the Late Show with David Letterman. The specifics of their accomplishments are less important than the fact that they built their career for years before becoming the enigmatic juggernaut we know today.
Brand New have been able to conjure a fervor surrounding their career that many artists who receive that same amount of exposure cannot muster. Constant touring and radio/television publicity do not guarantee prolonged success or longevity. At some point, the band decided to turn their back on what people expected and instead pushed their art beyond the boundaries of emo into a greater unknown. Some people would argue that happened with Deja Entendu. Others would say everything changed with The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me. Whenever this departure may have happened, it was the decision to constantly rewrite and reinvent themselves that set them apart from the pack. They took a gamble on their own ability and won. The foundation for the whole operation is still built on their ability to write powerful songs that connect with fans on a profound level. When you boil it down, this whole industry is fueled by great songs that connect with people. Brand New just learned how to do it better.
This is not to say an artist can’t embrace their own voice and image while retaining an element of mystery. The distinction between artist and fan is not always a symbiotic one. The definition of success is completely subjective. Most artists strive to reach a point where they can disappear for years at a time, sprinkle the occasional arcane breadcrumb and watch a worldwide fanbase collectively lose their shit. If we are using Brand New in 2017 as a measuring stick for success, it is smart to use all the tools at your disposal while cultivating a dedicated fanbase. The accessibility to music, and to the artists that create it, has made our scene more democratic while simultaneously fostering a shorter attention span. Artists have to find a way to rise above the noise and create a fundamental connection with people. Longevity is the name of the game. Seventeen years after their inception, Brand New have found a way to make people still care a whole hell of a lot. It was not any single television performance, song or record deal that got them here. It is the aggregation of being very deliberate in the creation of their art and how they chose to develop that art within the world they’ve constructed. Most bands cannot operate the way Brand New do. At least, not yet. Science Fiction hitting No. 1 on the Billboard chart is a benchmark for how we can use the business side of music as a supplement to incredible art and songwriting.