Johnny Whitney of the Blood Brothers and journalist Justin Chapman in San Diego, April 2007

‘Riders of the Rat’

‘Young Machetes’ explores the Blood Brothers’ musical consciousness

By Justin Chapman, 10/5/2006

He’s been called the David Bowie of his generation, but perhaps he comes at a more critical time for music—one where “it’s all just degenerated into the same, watered down radio crap,” said Johnny Whitney, co-lead singer of the Blood Brothers.

The 24 year old’s two bands, the Blood Brothers and Neon Blonde, produce some of the most refreshing and original tunes in recent times. 

The Blood Brothers’ latest and most ambitious project to date, their new album “Young Machetes,” produced by former Fugazi guitarist Guy Picciotto of Blonde Redhead and John Goodmanson of Sleater-Kinney and the Gossip, is set to come out October 10, the same day the band will be playing a free show at Amoeba on Sunset. 

Along with …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead, the Blood Brothers are kicking off another U.S. tour this fall with two shows at the Henry Fonda in Hollywood and one at the Glass House in Pomona.

The fifteen new tracks on their fifth record, making it their longest, are “more melodically based, harking back to our first two records,” Whitney said, adding, “it’s the crown achievement of this band thus far.”

The album tries to go in different directions at once, with songs like “Rat Rider” and “Johnny Ripper/Stevie Ray Henderson” veering more towards a Mean Reds vibe while “We Ride Skeletal Lightning” and “Nausea Shreds Your Head” delve back into the structured chaos of their first two records. The band really shines when Whitney and the other lead singer, Jordan Blilie, wail out incredibly beautiful solo verses. “Lift the Veil, Kiss the Tank” is a hopeful anti-war track with a feel good ending: “A death’s just death no matter how you dress it up!”

The Seattle band took five weeks to record at Robert Lang Studios, or as they put it, “in a spirit cave north of Seattle,” in April and May.

Hear two new songs, “Laser Life” and “Set Fire to the Face on Fire,” at

In an exclusive phone interview from Seattle, while finishing up the new album, Whitney spoke to journalist Justin Chapman about music, writing, and exploring human consciousness.

-Justin Chapman

Justin Chapman:  Were you surprised that the blood brothers took off like they did?

Johnny Whitney: Yeah, I was, actually. When things sort of started happening for the Blood Brothers was right around 2001. I was in school for creative writing and I was in another band. I was really into being in the Blood Brothers but I was also doing a lot of other things, and so was everybody else in the band. When we got the offer to do the record with Ross Robinson, we were all pretty surprised.

How was it working with Ross Robinson?

It was really great. I was pretty much fresh out of high school and we got to hang out in Venice Beach for two months and record a record with someone who has a lot of resources. It was an experience that I never thought I would really have.

What do you think it says about where traditionally underground music is going?

I really don’t know. I guess I stopped listening to a lot of underground music. I ask myself why the things that are popular and are on TV are popular everyday and I just, I don’t know. Right around when we were recording Burn, Piano Island, Burn, bands like Thursday and sort of the first wave of emo first started getting big. Before that point you could pretty much only hear Papa Roach and Korn and bands like that. So it seemed like there was a glimmer of hope around the time that we started getting big but over the past four years it seems like it’s all just degenerated into the same, watered down radio crap. 

What can we expect from the new Blood Brothers album?

Nobody really knew what to expect in our own band from this record. It’s hard to describe it. All the songs are a lot shorter and a lot more chaotic than the songs on Crimes, sort of harking back to our first two records. There are also some songs that are more song oriented, like more melodically based. We’ve almost been a band for ten years, so with this record and laying down all the tracks, to me it became really apparent that everybody relates to each other musically better than on any other record. I feel the instrumentation is the most on point it’s ever been. I wrote one song on guitar.

Can we expect a Neon Blonde album any time in the future?

Yeah, sometime in the future. Mark and I are going to start working on a new Neon Blonde record shortly after we finish laying the tracks for the Blood Brothers. Basically the Blood Brothers’ tour cycle is going to begin in October when the record comes out and it will probably last at least a year to a year and a half. So our hope is to record another record before that begins. We recorded (Chandeliers in the Savannah) almost a year and a half ago, so since that point we’ve written a lot of songs that are just kind of floating around. 

Has reggae been an influence with you?

Yeah, definitely. I think rhythmically. Well, I know for a fact that Morgan is very heavily influenced by a lot of reggae bass players. Obviously it doesn’t come out in the vocals as much but I listen to reggae all the time.

Do you write nonmusical writings, short stories, poems, that sort of thing?

I don’t right now. My loose plan is that I want to write something, either a large piece of fiction or several short pieces of fiction, in the time that the Blood Brothers start touring again. All of my physical energy has been devoted towards getting this record as good as possible for the last six months. But that’s something that I’ve always really wanted to do, music sort of just took the place of that.

I noticed you were nominated Sexiest Vegetarian 2006. Is vegetarianism a personal thing for you, or do you think it would benefit society as a whole to cut out meat altogether?

I think it’s both. I definitely think that the effects of having this insane meat factory farming system in our country are really detrimental to the environment. That would help society as a whole but I don’t expect that to happen any time soon. I’ve been vegetarian just as a personal thing since I was 12, so it’s always been something that was pretty important to me. 

Tell me about your clothing company, Crystal City Clothing.

We started doing it around April of last year. I’ve designed t-shirts for Blood Brothers for about three years and it just seemed like a cool thing to do to make this company that makes shirts that sort of look like band shirts but it’s not a band. I personally have a hard time walking around with a band shirt. I’d be way more likely to wear a really cool design t-shirt that’s a clothing company rather than a band. That was the idea behind it and it’s been really fun.

Have drugs been an influence?

No, not really. I did drugs when I was about 13-14. I got suspended from junior high for doing acid in my math class. And after that I pretty much didn’t do drugs ever again. And that was before the Blood Brothers even really existed. There are people in the band that smoke pot but I don’t really smoke pot. We’re always looking; I think music is a really powerful tool to harness altered states of consciousness in a way without having to resort to substances.