Interview: Ryan O’Nan & Michael Weston of Brooklyn Brothers
What do you get when you give a younger, more hipster Simon & Garfunkel an arsenal of baby toy instruments? You get the Brooklyn Brothers, a brand new band formed just for the new film, ‘Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best’. Featuring writer/director/musician Ryan O’Nan and ‘House’, ‘Scrubs’, and ‘Six Feet Under’ actor Michael Weston, this movie debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and just opened in Philadelphia this weekend.
‘Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best’ follows the unlikely musical duo of Alex (O’Nan) and Jim (Weston) as they embark on an unusual tour where they peddle an extremely unique sound from city to city while trying to achieve their life-long dreams of musical success.
Recently, the two stars came through the City of Brotherly Love to play a show to promote their new album and new movie. While in town, they were gracious enough to take some time to sit down with me for a chat. After discussing the appeal of cover songs, The Cure, and what the name ‘Michael’ means, we got into some details about their new movie and the awesome music it inspired.
All right, so what came first: the music or the movie? Like was it a Tenacious D sort of thing where you guys played together for a little while and then made a movie? Or was the music inspired by the movie?
Ryan O’Nan: Weston, Mike Weston is my employee. Like, he has never done any music prior to this. He was hired by me.
Michael Weston: [laughter] You are so retarded man. That is crazy.
RO: But that is true though. What came first? The script came first. And then I wrote some of the songs before the script and then I wrote some of the songs while I was writing the script, and then I wrote some literally right before we started shooting. And then a couple of the songs on it are friends of mine: Brendan Leach and Keith Freudenberger who actually inspired the way with the children’s toys and all that stuff. They had a band just like that that I kind of…when I was playing music back in Jersey for a while, we played in similar shows and I just thought they were the coolest shit in the world. And they’re good friends of mine. And then, we made this movie. Michael had to learn all the shit. He had never ever played in a band ever, and I didn’t know if he played music, personally. I was like, I just loved him so much as an actor and I thought he’d be so perfect for the role, and then when we met up and he was like “yeah, I’ll do the part”, and I was like, “and do you, let me just ask you a question”, I had already written the role, “do you play music at all? Do you play guitar?” Cause I always thought that I’d be playing and somebody would be, like, off-screen, playing all the music and Mike would be just like acting like he was playing. And he was like “yeah, I’ve played piano my whole life”, and I stood up in the restaurant and hugged him.
MW: Yeah, but there’s, like, a big fucking difference man between playing the piano, sort of, not well, your whole life, and then playing like twenty-five [laughter]. There’s a big fucking difference man. So failed to grasp how hard that shit is! It’s like juggling.
RO: I get pissed and I’m like, “Why can’t you just play the shit right?”
MW: Cause my fingers are too big for the fucking keys!
RO: I’m playing, like, two chords, back and forth the whole time.
MW: Two chords of songs that you, like, wrote and know really well. I don’t understand that that’s [laughter] He’s like “why can’t you grasp this?” Fucking pain in the ass. Because the shoot is so fast and all the stuff we perform live, so when we were shooting, we actually, we had to perform the next day in front of extras, but all live sound.
RO: Yeah, nothing in the movie is pre-recorded. It’s all, what you see in the movie is as we’re playing it, like, live. The song in the car, the song into the steps, everything is like, as we’re actually playing it.
MW: So the stakes of it were way higher than I realized. He was like “You play? Good” and he’s hugging like yeah, that’s cool. Squeeze my bones! And then we got on set and literally we would shoot a full day and then we’d go back to the hotel and then we’d start to practice the song for the next day and we’d have the shoot and it had to be perfect and we had to sound good, and so that shit was really stressful and then, out of that, then suddenly it turned out pretty damn good and I’m proud of it, and I love it, but then we got a record deal from Warner Records, so now, we went into the studio, we made an album,
RO: Comes out September 18th.
RO: On vinyl! One of the dreams of my life was to have a vinyl LP. Pretty badass vinyl, I have to say.
MW: But now we have to play live shows and it fucking terrifies me. I didn’t realize this was part of the deal, and it is like you have to push me onstage. I really enjoy it but it does scare the shit out of me.
So it’s scares you more than acting?
MW: Oh yeah. I’ll do anything in front of a thousand people. To play in front of six people at The Jazzhaus in Philadelphia terrifies me. [laughter]
RO: It’s a fascinating thing because I played music for so long. I toured around. Music was before I was an actor or anything, that was my whole life. So I feel a little bit comfortable onstage doing that stuff, but the stuff that is really nerve-wracking is the setup and I’m like so nervous before we go on because I know all the…there’s so many technical things. All those little instruments have their own EQ and how they need to be plugged in. There’s adapters for all this crazy shit. You can’t just play the Casio; it needs a little one-eighth adapter that goes into a quarter-inch and all this different stuff, and Mike doesn’t have to worry about any of that stuff.
MW: I’m literally like a child. I’m like in a child’s seat because I don’t know anything about any of that stuff.
RO: He’ll be like “Ryan, I put the keyboard on the table. I just put it out there. Plug it in”
MW: I don’t have any fucking idea what the hell I’m doing.
RO: So I’m setting up all this stuff, worrying about it. It’s so nerve-wracking for me, brims me with fucking anxiety and Mike’s just all “What’s you’re problem man? Just relax. You need to just take it easy.” And I’m like “Fine”. And then we start playing and then I’m like “Okay, all right, I can feel that we’re good.” And I look over at Mike and Mike’s shaking like blood coming out of his nose like terrified like–
MW: Flop sweats
RO: Eyes are crossed, so nervous
MW: Arthritis in my hand. No, but I do. As soon as the first note plays I go “Oh my god I can’t believe we’re doing this.” [laughter]
RO: He forgets everything we’ve been doing
MW: It’s true. I do. I forget. I get stage fright. Everything just washes out. [laughter]
So you mentioned the sound a little bit was inspired by your friends’ band. How much of it is your guys’ twist on that? Where did you get the inspiration for that tinker toy little piano?
RO: Man, I’ll tell you. My friend’s band. When I was writing this movie I was like “You know, the sound, it’s like a late coming-of-age. The idea is can you bring your childish dreams into your adult life. Do they exist or do they die? What happens?” And I thought back to my friend’s band who, first time we played with them I was in a much harder band. We were in this harder kind of Volte-y indie rock band and they opened the show for us. It was my friend’s band. One guy singing and playing guitar the other guy played children’s instruments. And fucking nobody was watching them. Nobody. Nobody. It was like people at the bar were talking louder than the people could play and I was like watching them going “How in the world is not everybody in this bar not watching this thing” because it’s like little melodic, beautiful songs. It seems like it’d be a joke that it comes up so I thought the music that should be in this film about this kind of coming-of-age and like it be really great the tools of children to be like what they try to hammer out these decision points with. So I went back and we used a few of their songs in the film, two of their songs and then one we wrote together, and then the rest of the songs I wrote, and my friend Keith kinda helped me transpose some of them onto the children’s toys and my friend Rob helped with other stuff and it was like a collaborative effort of like taking songs that I’d written and I’d written all this stuff and then kind of translating them onto these instruments. And a lot of them were their instruments from back in the day. They had all these old vintage instruments and them some that we found, but yes, it was a combo effort.
What are some of the things that you’re doing to promote the album that you guys made along with the movie?
RO: I’m going to sacrifice Michael in front of a lot of people
MW: Yes, me and a goat
RO: No goat.
MW: No goat?
RO: No goat.
Not in the budget?
RO: Not in the budget.
MW: We’re going on tour man! We’re doing this tour of… we’re going to be here, then we go to New York, then we go to Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles
RO: I’m so siked for the record man! It came out in a lovely way, it’s like, for better or worse, exactly how I could have ever imagined it, and Warner Brothers were so supportive and it’s a studio record, we went into the studio, but it doesn’t sound super produced. It actually sounds very similar to how it sounds in the movie. And there’s the six songs we play in the movie, and there’s two songs are original Brooklyn Brothers versions of songs that I wrote that other people cover in the movie, and then there’s two new songs that are not part of the movie, that are kind of like this is, maybe what Brooklyn Brothers would have done if they had kept going.
Cool! So, how much of the movie is really like you guys? After seeing you guys perform last night it kind of seems like the dynamic is there from the movie carrying over.
MW: We hit it off like almost immediately. I think part of the reason is because everything moves so quickly on days we shoot and you just jump in and you throw caution to the winds and you just go for it because that’s the only way to make these kinds of films.
RO: I’ll also say something to that. Michael is just, he’s a wonderful, wonderful man. He’s a great, great human being, and I’ve done a lot of eighteen-day shoots at this point and some people you’re friends with for a long time and some you aren’t. It’s a true testament: Mike is just awesome. He’s an awesome guy, you know. I got married recently, Mike read something at my wedding, it was like that instant bond of friendship that you don’t get as much as an adult. Maybe you get it as kids when you meet someone and you’re both misfits or something like that and you just find this common bond. I think it’s harder as you get older.
MW: Or in my case, two really popular kids. [laughter] Popular all the time. Just two popular kids.
RO: You have the two kings, the homecoming king and the prom king.
MW: Yeah, totally two kings. [laughter]
So now, Ryan, since you have the musical talent, the directing talent, the writing talent, and the acting credit, do you think we’ll be seeing you on Glee?
RO: [laughter] I have some friends on Glee. No, I don’t have that kind of a voice.
MW: You’re too alternative, man!
RO: No, I don’t know. I don’t know where you’ll see me. You’ll see me making more indie films. My next movie that we just made, I wrote it, I’m one of the actors in it, and I produced it. It’s called ‘Chu and Blossom’. I’m so, so proud of it, and it’s a wonderful group of people that are in it too. Alan Cumming’s in it, Melanie Lynskey, Annie Pots, and Richard Kind, Chris Marquette, Mercedes Ruehl, and Charles Chu, who wrote with me. He’s my best friend in the whole world. He co-directed it with my DP Gavin Kelly, who we were talking about earlier, that we all know each other from the punk scene, and he’s a lovely man, the main character. He’s wonderful.
Mike, what are you up to next?
MW: I’m doing a movie that I’m going to direct and it’s starring Jason Ritter, our common friend, he was in Brooklyn Brothers as well,
RO: Bryan Cranston!
MW: It’s all sort of come together now. Hopefully we will be shooting this fall in New York .
That’s so awesome! Bryan Cranston!
MW: I know! I love that guy so much. It’s not official yet, so I have to get him the schedule and stuff.
Unfortunately, the only theater that’s showing ‘Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best’ around Philadelphia is Cinema 16:9 in Lansdowne, but if you want to check out an enjoyable film with an amazing soundtrack, I’d say it’s well worth the trip.