Brother knows best: Local band Brother O’ Brother blazes new territory

Through the ripcord guitars and mile-a-minute drums, the angst is palpable.

When Johnson County-based duo Brother O’ Brother was planning out their newest album, they looked around the world and saw how disjointed everything felt. Between constantly evolving technology, the loss of privacy and the polarization of everything, it felt like culture was like shifting sand underneath their feet.

So as they put together their jagged collection of garage and psych rock, they called it “Skin Walker” a reference to the Native American legend of shapeshifting humanoids.

“For us, we were just trying to write a heavier psych album, and put way more time in production than we normally do,” said Chris Banta, guitarist and vocalist for the band. “We’re a two-piece, so normally everything is super stripped. But we wanted to add a lot of stuff and digital components to feed into the dystopian feel of the album.”

Brother O’ Brother’s music allows them to use their creativity to address the discourse they see unfolding around them. At the same time, they’re not only making mind-bending experimental music, but they’re using their creativity to expand the artistry associated with delivering that music. They founded their own record label, Romanus Records, which has become a leader in way-out-there vinyl designs for their own albums and bands from all over the world.

From filling records with colored liquid to adding sand, razor blades and glow-in-the-dark dinosaur bones, Banta and band are pushing the boundaries of what a vinyl record can be.

Most importantly, they’re doing that all from Johnson County.

“I love Franklin. Most people in creative spaces and related to music say, ‘You have to move. You can’t do anything in Indiana, especially Franklin.’ But this is where I want to be,” Banta said. “If you like your hometown, rep it. Be proud of it.”

“Skin Walker” comes out digitally on Sept. 10. To celebrate its unveiling, the band is hosting RomanusFest IV, a music festival featuring 10 bands at Black Circle Brewing in Indianapolis.

With a bluesy garage rock sound, manic live shows and a devil-may-care attitude, Brother O’ Brother has built a following not just in central Indiana, but across the country over the past eight years. Banta and his bandmate, drummer Warner Swopes, have played more than 400 dates across the country, and sold thousands of LPs,

The pair came together through a chance encounter at the hardware store. Both Banta and Swopes were performing in other bands in the area. After taking a break from music when his wife had a baby, Banta had an idea to form a grungy, high-energy garage band as his next musical project.

He was having trouble finding a drummer, though. He was at Lowe’s buying rope one day and he recognized the employee who helped him Swopes.

Their discussion turned to music, and Swopes shared Banta’s vision for a grungy garage band. Brother O’ Brother took off from there.

The band’s off-the-wall shows and seemingly unending energy has earned them fans throughout the U.S. But their creativity with vinyl, which they can do through the record label, is adding a new layer to their notoriety.

Brother O’ Brother had been signed to a number of different independent labels in its first few years of existence. Romanus Records was born out of the band’s desire to do hand-made, custom vinyl.

At the time, custom vinyl was an emerging artistry, with just a few labels doing liquid-filled records. Banta took that template and ran with it.

“There was this whole other artspace that people weren’t exploring. So I just started experimenting,” he said. “And I wanted people to know that we were making them, and not the label we were on.”

One of his first creations was a pressing of 60 records filled with glow-in-the-dark dino bones. The pressing sold out in about two minutes.

Banta has put everything from matches to Nerds candy to kitty litter inside the records. For Brother O’ Brother’s “Neon Native” album, it created a holographic pattern.

“A lot of it was just experimenting over time. There are some ideas I’ve had for four or five years, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it,” Banta said. “A lot of times, though, it just works its way out.”

Romanus Records started bringing more bands on who were intrigued by what they were doing. They now have 26 artists they work with.

Only recently has Romanus opened a manufacturing side of the business.

“I knew long-term that would be the move, where I’d offer these custom stuff to other bands and labels,” Banta said. “It’s just grown and grown and grown.”

Banta recently did a liquid design for the new Slime Language compilation album. He did one record filled with soda for “Hey Arnold! The Music Vol. 1,” a nod to the fictional Yahoo soda brand popular on the cartoon. For “Mortal Kombat I and II,” he filled the record with fake blood.

The metal band Alcest asked him to put sand from a beach in France that they sing about into their record.

“And it’s all being done here in Franklin. It can be done,” he said.


Brother O’ Brother

Who: Chris Banta, guitarist and vocalist; Warner Swopes, drummer

Style: A Johnson County-based bluesy garage rock band known for their energetic live shows. The duo also run their own label, Romanus Records.

Latest album: “Skin Walker,” which comes out digitally on Sept. 10

Upcoming show: Romanus Fest IV, 5 to 11:55 p.m. Sept. 3, Black Circle Brewing, 2201 E. 46th St., Indianapolis

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