|(Photo credit: Michael Schmelling)|
Sam Endicott is new enough to the game of rock stardom that he doesn’t realize he should never be seen eating pizza. Killing time in the echo-chamber hallways of a Williamsburg warehouse, the lead singer of the New York band the Bravery is reduced to wiping crumbs from his Sgt. Pepper–style military coat with a flash of jet-black fingernails and knuckles across which he’s written LIONIZED. “It’s just a word I like,” he says, without looking up from his crust, “and sort of apropos of what’s been going on lately.”
But with his New Wave–y rock quintet on the verge of breakout success, Endicott has figured out a few techniques for projecting the proper front-man image. He chooses his words with deliberate intensity and does his best to temper his cockiness with an air of modesty. As he makes his way through the customary progression of bands that inspired him, from the Stones to the Ramones to the Clash, he breaks character only when he’s interrupted in the delivery of his stump speech. “There’s a whole story, dude,” he says with mild annoyance, “and I’m just on Chapter One here.”
Actually, there are two stories unfolding: On this wintry night in late January, the Bravery is opening the book on its career, with a sold-out show at Northsix just a few hours away and a self-titled debut album on Island Records coming out March 29—not bad for a group that didn’t exist two years ago. But within the larger narrative of rock and roll, the Bravery is the latest in a long line of next big things. More than that, the band is New York’s most serious bid for music dominance in a decade.
It’s not an easy time to be a next big thing—especially in New York, where the phrase conjures up smoky images of an era when every Checker cab was dropping another Blondie or Talking Heads on the doorstep of CBGB. Only two years ago, the city seemed poised for a rock renaissance, as backward-looking bands like those jean-jacketed pinup boys the Strokes and their gloomy-Gus contemporaries in Interpol came out with wildly hyped records. Yet neither band became a national phenomenon: After redundant sophomore albums, their spotlights dimmed.
But that doesn’t mean no one was paying attention to their missteps. The members of the Bravery are clearly very talented, very lucky guys, but they’re also the beneficiaries of one of the most carefully managed launch campaigns in recent history. “We try to control every aspect of the band,” Endicott says, “but not in a control-freak kind of way.” He laughs and corrects himself. “Actually, yeah, in a control-freak kind of way.”
Endicott doesn’t look like the next Joey Ramone. His sculpted facial features render him too traditionally handsome for the role—shave off his faux-hawk and he could pass for Paul Rudd. But growing up in Bethesda, Maryland, he became fixated on the Washington, D.C., area’s post-punk scene and its temperamental founding father, Ian MacKaye, of the hardcore band Fugazi. “I’d say hi to him after shows,” Endicott recalls, “and he’d be like, ‘Fuck off.’”
After graduating from Vassar in 1999, Endicott moved to New York to play bass in numerous dead-end bands. The city was stuck in a sort of Cretaceous period at the time, still faddishly obsessed with electroclash, the synth-heavy dance music more memorable for its Weimar-decadent stage shows than any actual music. Though Endicott was not a fan, these acts inspired him. “I was like, ‘These bands suck,’ ” he says. “ ‘They have no idea what they’re doing, but the idea is really cool.’ ” Motivated by their success, he was determined to manufacture his own movement, “something that celebrates synthetic sounds and modern technology but also has that visceral kick you get from seeing an honest-to-God live, organic, rock-and-roll band.”
In 2003, he and keyboardist John Conway, a fellow Vassar alum, started collaborating on what would become the Bravery’s first songs, producing them piecemeal in their apartments and mixing them on an iMac. “We drew up a budget,” says Conway, 26, a Santa Barbara émigré with a Lennon-esque look and a vaguely Mancunian accent. “It was $7,000 for the whole album.”
The songs, which appear on The Bravery as they were originally recorded, sound nothing like the canonical classic rock bands that Endicott claims as influences: the Stones, the Ramones, the Clash. Instead the first single, “An Honest Mistake,” is a Frankenstein’s monster of early-eighties British rock, assembled from the rapid-fire electronic beats of New Order, the swagger of Duran Duran, and the lyrical irony of the Smiths; you can even hear echoes of the youthful, earnest Bono in the way Endicott wraps his vocal cords around a pleading line like “Don’t look at me that wa-aaaay.” As a carefully constructed patchwork of excavated body parts, it succeeds through a combination of surgical precision and brute force.
With their early recordings complete, Endicott and Conway recruited the remaining members of the Bravery that fall: drummer Anthony Burulcich, 25, and guitarist Michael Zakarin, 23, a pair of bed-headed New Yorkers, and 24-year-old Mike Hindert, a pompadoured Virginian and college pal of Zakarin’s, who was tapped to be the bass guitarist despite the fact that he’d never played the instrument before. On their joining up, Zakarin says with a shrug, “I just wanted to see what would happen.”
But nothing just happens in Endicott’s universe. “People create their own limitations,” he says. “You can do whatever you want. The thing that stops people is their own psychology.” It may be glib for a personal philosophy, but the mere fact that he has one sets him apart from his wide-eyed recruits. Although his newest bandmates are capable musicians, it’s unclear how much of a stake they have in the Bravery’s songcraft. They openly acknowledge that Endicott is the leader: They’re just happy to be riding this wave with him.