In February 2016, the Internet went into a momentary tizzy when model Shaun Ross appeared in a video for a song called “Dust.” The stylish black-and-white clip that featured him slowly emerging from an ocean was already an enticing visual — but its ending shot of full-frontal nudity is what drew more than 2 million views on YouTube, along with sites like TMZ and Perez Hilton chiming in about Ross’ physique.
Stirring up chatter was the intent of Braves, the songwriter-producer act behind the haunting “Dust.” “In terms of the visuals, our biggest aspiration is kind of to get people talking, and not just talking about us or talking between other people, but talking with themselves,” says Braves member Johnny What. “We really like making people feel uncomfortable and [have them] ask themselves why they’re feeling uncomfortable.”
That discomfort isn’t reserved for the audience. “We’re super uncomfortable when we’re writing these songs and singing,” says fellow member JERICHO. “So it’s kind of like an extension of where we are coming from in our process of writing [songs] together and then performing them.”
Braves formed nearly three years ago after JERICHO and his brother Thorald of the Wood — aka The Brothers Koren, who previously created soulful, sophisticated rock as The Kin for 15 years before retiring the act — met What at a Los Angeles songwriting session for singer Anna de Ferran. “The three of us just fell in love. Like, as soon as I saw them and talked to them for a moment, it was like, ‘Wow, I’ve met my match,’” recalls What. The trio decided to collaborate on its own, and What says he instantly had a vision for the project and its voice: “We did a song together, and it kind of turned out exactly how I imagined it.”
“We thought [we were going] to write for other people, and Johnny had an idea about our voices. We did one song together, and the rest is kind of history,” says Thorald. “I think we’re partially intrigued by how easy it was to come together and how people are responding to the first song that we created [“Never”], even though the project didn’t have a name and it didn’t necessarily have even a path or an intention at the time.”
The union has resulted in three EPs and a self-titled full-length of brooding and reflective alternative music that FKA Twigs fans would also enjoy. Describing its sound as “a post-apocalyptic Beach Boys,” producer What feels that the Rostrum Records-signed group’s most unique quality is how he puts the brothers’ vocals to use, which is by creating synthesized samples out of them and then applying heavy effects. “I just like to sample their voices, get in there, fuck shit up and try to create something that is emotional and dynamic,” he says.
JERICHO adds that the benefit of having a producer in the outfit frees up himself and Thorald as vocalists: “We get to trust someone enough to go into an innocent space that’s good for singing and creating, coming up with lines and ending melodies, because he’s got the rudder.”
Braves’ new focus track, the fierce, uptempo “Joan of Arc,” was inspired by, according to JERICHO, the muses of “love and woman and the goddess and her almighty power.” Thorald notes that Braves’ members “kind of have a little obsession with Joan of Arc in different ways. [She’s] just such a beautiful archetype to speak of the power of what it takes to be a badass.”
The song’s video features a troupe of exotic dancers turning the tables on the voyeurs who watch them. Today, Billboard is exclusively premiering the video, which can be seen below:
The timing of “Joan of Arc” premiering is ironic, as the entertainment industry is seeing multiple stories of alleged sexual harassment emerge after the downfall of Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein — especially since the video was shot months ago. What says of the video treatment, “[Director Sean Flynn] wrote this about what is happening now in Hollywood, with all this assault and all these fucking creeps that have gotten away with things for so long, and now it’s time for that patriarchy to end. [The video is] about exposure, it’s about bringing things to light, it’s about revenge, it’s about people getting what’s coming to them.”
Although Braves formed as a songwriting outlet, the group also works with other artists as producers and/or mentors. For example, it produced the 2017 album Metamorphosis by R&B singer Justin Michael Williams, whose “Here With Me” and “He & I” were recently highlighted in Billboard’s 30 Gay Love Songs and an edition of the Gay Agenda. The group also produced actress/singer Nikki Reed’s as-yet unreleased album and plans on having her and her husband, Ian Somerhalder, sing on a Braves track about climate change. Meanwhile, Braves’ first mentee, Raffaella, has released the alt-pop track “Sororicide,” and the threesome say they have songs in the works with Fitz & The Tantrums’ Noelle Scaggs, Walk the Moon’s Nicholas Petricca and The Script’s Danny O’Donoghue.
“We feel like we have this endless amount of space to just make a lot of music and have it out in the world and have a big effect with different projects and different voices and different people. It feels like an exciting time,” says Thorald, adding, “We feel like we’re just beginning as a team.”