Sometimes when writing about the end of a band’s existence it’s hard to know whether to start at the beginning or begin at the end.
“I guess the end is now?” suggests The Brow’s vocalist/keyboards/arranger, Nic Owen.
And so, we shall begin at the end as it’s a very fine place to start.
“We actually debated for a while whether to just go quiet and do the odd gig here and there or go out with a bang,” Owen says. “In April we had multiple meetings and it was back-and-forth and for quite a while we were almost at a standstill because half the band wanted to go quiet and play the odd gig here and there and the other half wanted to go out with a bang.”
Indeed, it seems that these days breaking up is harder to do. Established bands, fearing/nearing the end, are quite likely, in the modern era, to rest gently rather than go loudly into that goodnight(!).
“We were weighing up the pros and cons,” says Owen, “but some of the older guard, myself included, maybe felt for a while that time was up for the band. Not from the point of being sick of the music or the people, but more from the perspective of others. I think I was feeling that we’d had our moment in the spotlight and maybe it was time to try something new.
“Which is actually what we’re doing, a bunch of us are actually moving on to a new project. So it’s in no way the end of a working relationship with a lot of the guys in the band, we’re just looking for a future direction and trying something new. I guess because of that it’s not as sad an ending as it would be if we were all going our separate ways and not speaking again apart from the odd Christmas card.”
Owen and Karri Harper-Meredith (trombone/synth/percussion) began as a busking duo in Fremantle in 2008, performing Christmas carols (it was Christmas) and improvised jazz jams. They eventually started writing their own tunes (after Christmas) and incorporated them into their performances. Upon meeting rapper Alex Vaughan (MC Rezide) and guitarist/bassist, Rhian Todhunter (later of Childsaint/Calmly) they formed a band, called it The Brow and entered the National Camp Band Competition.
As things firmed up the band was rechristened The Brow Horn Orchestra, though in time it would re-settle as The Brow – losing the horn but not necessarily the horns. Either way, things moved into a steady momentum. It seemed that once you’d heard of The Brow, you would then hear of them often.
“I think that was probably the secret to the moderate amount of success we had,” Owen notes, “the fact that we were just relentlessly on every bill we could get on. There was a period where we did three-to-four shows a weekend, which was crazy and probably every promoter’s nightmare nowadays when you think about it. Bands that are active now might play once a month and promote that show, but we were young and naïve thought it would be great to play as much as possible. I think it actually worked in our favour because people got to see us, and it made us play tighter and get better as a band through experience.”
It certainly did seem to work in the many and varied gig settings where The Brow either brought the party or indeed were the party. The line-up evolved many times over time, well over 20 members across, essentially, three phases, with the band ranging in time from a trio, then quartet, to seven to 10 members on a stage and back to a quintet. All the while members would go – most of them to raise babies – and new ones would join. A slew of singles and three EPs (2011’s Can’t Afford This Way Of Life, 2012’s Two Fires and 2017’s Third Trimester) gathered fans and airplay, showcasing deft stylistic touches over a hip hop, jazz, contemporary and electronica-infused palette.
“I like it because each EP ties in with each phase of members,” Owen says. “They’re all quite different, in a sense. It meant that we were changing both physically and musically. It kept things interesting and kept us together for 10 years. I probably would’ve have gotten bored, otherwise, had we just been making the same music all the time.”
The highlights are numerous: big-name supports and headline shows, festival slots and a tour to Singapore among them.
“A lot of the live shows have been the highlights,” Owen reflects. “We’ve always been best as a live band and that’s not always translated as well as we would’ve liked on to record. The feedback we’ve gotten is that there’s always been something quite special with the shows.”
A performance at the 2011 Big Day Out saw The Brow infamously accompanied by a half-unexpected (last minute notice, let’s say), totally naked onstage guest. “I had to censor his penis for the whole four-minute video when I uploaded it to YouTube,” Owen laughs. “It wasn’t the most fun thing I’ve done in my life.”
Even so, amid the misty, flesh-coloured memories, a support slot for Public Enemy at the Chevron Festival Gardens in February remains a special highlight.
“That was a quite a big moment,” Owen states, “because as a political hip hop band, to support the dons of political hip hop, or even the dons of hip hop, or to be more accurate, the forefathers, was huge for us.
“Chuck D watched our entire set and got our contact details and started playing our music on some of his online radio stations, of which one is in New York. So to have him play our music, one of our idols that we’ve looked up to since we were young kids, that was definitely up there.”
As The Brow’s door closes, Feel Estate, a producer-oriented project, will be a new door opened by Owen, Harper-Meredith and bassist, Josh Terlick. For now though, there’s one last hurrah for The Brow (with plenty of familiar faces to boot) and the feels that will follow upon the end of the last song.
And so, we will end at the end, because it’s a very fine place to finish.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about,” Owen admits. “The fact that we’re getting up a lot of old members from the different phases of the band, even though it’ll be fun for the audience, it’s definitely something we’ve done more for us.
“It’s been 10 years, a long part of our lives. So all of that tied together will be quite emotional.”
The Brow’s farewell performance is at the Rosemount Hotel on Friday, September 28, with help from Sam Perry, Colab (featuring Marksman Lloyd, Mathas, Kruger James, Beckon and Natalie Mae), Premiss (featuring Hyclass and Mama Teesh), Pimps Of Sound and DJ Genga. Full details via www.facebook.com/events/389190784939554/