Wheatus: “If I’d asked a producer to make songs like ours in 1996, they’d have kicked me out”

by James Hendicott
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Pop-rock legends Wheatus are, believe it or not, a proper indie band. The New Yorkers have been without the backing of a major label since their early-00s hits ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, and even back then, it felt like their work was a pure, unadulterated product of the band’s rehearsal space.

“The record came out in America in the summer of 2000, and started okay, but by the time November came around we were playing small shows in Kansas to people who thought we were Smashmouth,” frontman Brandon B Brown tells the Gazette. “We did about six months of hard touring that way, then we blew up in Australia, then a few months after that in the UK and the rest of Europe. We never properly got used to being successful, it always felt fleeting.”

“We had to go home to New York, where nobody knew who we were. It was very grounding, and kind of weird, actually. Our project was indie from the start. I wrote the songs by myself in my apartment, then put a band together, slowly. It took a while to find my voice. It was self produced, too. We were squeezing Paul Simon, Metallica and New York hip-hop into one song. If I’d asked a producer to make a song sound like that in 1996 they’d have kicked me out, so I had to do it myself.”

“Through the years there were other songs that sounded like they belonged on our first album, so we never recorded them. The new version of that record will have the 10 songs people know, and another 10 that through the years felt too ‘first album’ to put out. So we’re making an ‘alternative universe’ version of the record.”

Ever popular, ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ has undergone yet another revival recently, through TikTok. “We like to think the best thing about it is that people continue to see themselves in the narrative,” Brown says. “They make it their own, so it belongs to whoever needs it.”

While Wheatus have continued to go strong, Brown has also found himself engaged with the McBusted project, a mash-up of McFly and Busted. “One day James [Bourne] rocked up at my door in New York and just goes ‘can I just crash here tonight mate,’ Brown laughs. “He had to write a song before the morning, so we wrote a song called ‘Zelda’, which we are playing on this tour. It’s a fun, uptempo basher of a song. James is a good old friend, and we write every time we see each other. I wrote some stuff for his ‘Son Or Dork’ record, and I’d like to do that one day.”

As for this tour, Wheatus have gone big on dates, preferring a long trip with small venues. “They always ask us if we want to do ten dates in big venues or 30 in small ones, and we always choose the 30,” Brown says. “Smaller venues, more shows, is part of what we want to do. To see more people, and go to more places. We don’t make as much money, but we don’t care, we have a better time, and that’s what it’s all about.”

“We learn as many songs as we possibly can ahead of these tours,” Brown says. “We learnt 63 tunes for this tour, and we’re doing all request shows, no setlist, to keep it fresh and new every night.”

“We don’t have a manager, as they’d tell us not to do longer tours and play longer sets, stuff like that. We don’t want to be told to cut back. That’s who we are.”

Wheatus play Whelan’s in Dublin on October 29th, as well as several other Irish dates over surrounding days.

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