John McCauley rejects the often-applied label of "supergroup" for his new band, Middle Brother. "We're more of an...exotic band, if you will," he tells Billboard.com.
No matter how it's classified, Middle Brother is generating a lot of buzz with indie and folk fans. The band is a joint venture between the frontmen of three Americana acts: Deer Tick (McCauley), Dawes (Taylor Goldsmith), and Delta Spirit (Matt Vasquez). Though each member's original band has developed its own niche audience, the new trio is approaching the project as not only a songwriting endeavor but also a way to engage each other's fans.
Video: Middle Brother, "Me Me Me"
Middle Brother's self-titled album, out today (Mar. 8) on Partisan Records, first materialized when McCauley approached Goldsmith in 2009 to record together. As Dawes had supported the tours of both Delta Spirit and Deer Tick in the past, Goldsmith also invited Vasquez along, and all Partisan co-founder Ian Wheeler had to do was double-check his bank balance. Wheeler says that the band had an uncommonly straightforward and realistic conception of the project's purpose.
"These records used to be put together by A&R people," Wheeler says of collaborations like Middle Brother's. "The cool thing about this record is that it was really John [McCauley] who put it together. All we had to do was say 'yes' and sign the checks."
Within the span of a week, spent at fellow artist Ferraby Lionheart's Nashville home last year, the trio had laid down 22 tracks. Many were rattled off ad hoc, and a handful of pre-existing songs that never made it onto albums of the members' primary bands found a home on the final 12-song debut.
Partisan Records (which is also the home of Deer Tick) has been relatively hands-off with this project. Though the label has been promoting hard through social media (the Middle Brother Facebook and Myspace pages, Twitter account and iPhone app have offered tour dates, live videos and two free tracks off the album), Partisan representative Dave Godowsky says that giving the artists free rein as songwriters has been key.
"We are really close friends with the guys in [all three bands]," he says. "It's not 100% business. We want to see all three benefit from [Middle Brother]; that was the spirit of this project from the beginning."
Goldsmith, whose band will release a new album this spring, also sees Middle Brother as less of a new group than as a vehicle to support the ones that already exist. "Middle Brother is for our bands, not something that's going to compete with them," he says.
The most recent albums from Delta Spirit ("History From Below"), Deer Tick ("Black Dirt Sessions") and Dawes ("North Hills") respectively sold 16,000, 18,000 and 24,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. All three releases charted on Billboard's Heatseekers Albums list, but the frontmen insist that there's still much to be done.
"We don't really look at these bands to be established enough to be a part of anything anyone calls a 'supergroup,' " Goldsmith says. "We just hope the project will introduce the bands to everybody . . . as a way for people to get a sense of all three of [them] at once."