Taz Bentley and Vaden Todd Lewis found themselves in a bit of a bind in 2002. They had a hit single, but they didn't have a band.
"I had been with [Reverend] Horton Heat and [Vaden] had been with the Toadies," says Bentley, who, like Lewis, lives in Dallas. "We used to do a lot of touring together, so we would sometimes talk about jamming together. We [eventually] did these demos and one of the demos, "Beautiful Night," somehow made its way to a radio station in Austin and they just started playing it. It got a lot of requests, and it ended up going to A-list rotation, which means that they were playing it up there with all the hit songs. Then Dallas added the song, then Tulsa, Minneapolis, and so it kind of took off without us. We had a demo on A-list rotation, even though we didn't have a band."
Bentley (a drummer) and Lewis (a singer/guitarist) had originally planned to release their music as singles or EPs over the Internet. "The music was just kind of falling out of us. We didn't have to do anything to please anybody," says Bentley. "We were just doing it for ourselves, writing just to write."
With the success of "Beautiful Night" and a second single, "Shadow," the Burden Brothers began recording more material and even touring despite the fact that at that point the Burden Brothers consisted of Bentley, Lewis and whatever friends they could round up to sit in. The pair realized they needed to put together a proper album in order to take the project to the next level, but that was going to require a stable lineup. That's where Casey Hess (guitar), Corey Rozzoni (guitar) and Zack Busby (bass) came in. And just in time, too, because the band began opening for groups like Velvet Revolver and Papa Roach.
As a drummer Bentley had never been the primary songwriter for the bands he had previously worked with, but the Burden Brothers is definitely a writing vehicle for him. "I write on guitar mostly, so being a drummer has never stopped me from writing," he says. "I've been lucky because I've gotten to work with some phenomenal songwriters over the years. But then sometimes I've thought, 'Well, I just don't need to do anything because everyone else is just so great.' Granted, there are a few songs that I co-wrote, but I never really felt the need to do much. Then I got a call from Izzy Stradlin [from Guns N' Roses], and so all of a sudden I was playing with Izzy and Duff [McKagan] and Slash. Getting to be around those guys and seeing how they work as songwriters, how they structure their ideas, was great."
Playing with Stradlin and the others, along with words of encouragement from friend Frank Black, reignited Bentley's desire to write. He found a perfect writing partner in Lewis, who is a better lyricist. As the driving force behind the Burden Brothers, Bentley and Lewis consciously work at pushing the group to get out of its comfort zone. "It's very easy to get into a cookie-cutter role, it's very easy to say, 'Let's have an intro that starts like this, then verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, solo,' you know? I try to do things differently," says Bentley.
"I wrote the first song on Mercy, 'It's Time,' and there's nothing on that that you can say is a verse or a chorus. So, you'll hear us really taking chances and going out on limbs. Anywhere else that would be uncomfortable, but in this group, we can do that. I trust all the guys in our band, and that's the difference, right there. We have enough trust to be able to put something out there, to try something new. Whether it's stupid or whatever, we just put it out there and trust that it will get better through the collaboration."
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The group took its name from the fact that both Bentley and Lewis came to the partnership with noticeable emotional baggage from their experiences with previous bands -- both of them, in essence, burdened. Bentley even jokes that the Burden Brothers feels a little like a second marriage to him, more comfortable than a fiery first love, but with its own quiet passion.
"Each of our prior engagements revolved around a notated sound," he says. "Now we've been around long enough that we have our own sound, a style that lets everyone know that that's us playing, sure. But knowing that lets us push the envelope further, it lets us try things that we never would have done in our other bands because we were limited by 'our' sound.
"This new album, Mercy, it's not a concept record, but it's as close to a concept record as we are going to get. Basically from front to back, the album is a journey. This one is more mature, and that's because we're allowing ourselves to grow. We're comfortable with where we are, musically, personally, everything. That shows in the music.
"I think the major element within our band is fun," he says. "We've done the business, we've sold the tickets, we've sold the records. We made our money doing what we wanted to do when we were kids. With this I don't think that we're interested in sending any messages or starting some completely new style of music. We're happy writing the music that we want to write. When fans come to see us, they get that we are enjoying it. Anyone else who enjoys it can tag along, too." The Burden Brothers perform Thursday, November 2, at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. Call 713-225-5483 for more info. Dot Three and Paris Green also perform.