Some fathers build treehouses with their kids. Robert Ellis Orrall built a record label.
Nearly a decade ago, songwriter/musician Orrall founded Infinity Cat Recordings in Nashville with his sons Jake and Jamin, then 16 and 14. Soon after the boys began working to put out other bands’ recordings they started cutting their own, and Jeff the Brotherhood was born. As the label slowly grew, so did the Brotherhood — with Jake on guitars and vocals and Jamin on drums — sharpening its fuzzy guitar blowouts and garage-pop songs on limited editions and splits with bands like Best Coast and the Greenhornes, constituting much of Infinity Cat’s 60-plus releases.
“It’s been a long, slow climb, and our ethic has always been completely DIY,” Orrall says. “But people started to poke in the last few years.”
One of those pokes turned into an 18-month negotiation and, finally, an announcement in May: Jeff the Brotherhood had signed to Warner Bros., which would distribute the duo’s “We Are the Champions” album on June 21.
The Warner deal comes in three steps. First, though Jeff is now a Warner act, “Champions” remains an Infinity Cat release, distributed by the major’s Alternative Distribution Alliance. Jeff’s subsequent releases will come out jointly on Warner and Infinity Cat, and future Infinity Cat releases will also benefit from ADA, which distributes for independent label giants like Merge, Matador and Sub Pop.
The deal represents something “a little different than how we usually work with bands,” Warner Bros. A&R representative Ryan Whalley says, in that the Orrall brothers maintain a foot in both Warner and Infinity Cat. The latter is, after all, their label.
“We realized we didn’t actually need any help from anyone to do what we were already doing,” says Jake, now 25. “But if we have the option to use the resources of Warner Bros., then it’s basically our dream deal.”
Jeff the Brotherhood has always operated on its own terms. Where many bands are haunted by album leaks, Jeff invited its own by printing a special-edition vinyl version of “Champions,” available exclusively at shows months before the album’s release.
“Anyone who’s going to buy the record is going to buy the record, so it wasn’t an issue for the music to come out early,” Jake says. Plus, as deal negotiations pushed back release dates, he says, “people were getting antsy for the next record. We were getting antsy. So when the record was done, we pressed it on our own.”
As the Orrall brothers have already begun writing what will become their official major-label debut, expect upcoming tours to offer a taste of what’s to come. “We like to play every song we write on tour for at least a month before we record it, because it changes so much,” Jake says.