Chris Banta just might be one of the busiest men in indie rock. In addition to being half of the Indianapolis blue-rock duo Brother O Brother, he also started his own record label Romanus Records, along with the other half of the band, Warner Swopes. Between juggling a daily routine of home life, almost constant touring, records, planning and now running a label, he somehow managed to take the time to chat with me on behalf of 50thirdand3rd.
Aaron Cooper: Your band Brother O Brother, how did it come about?
Chris Banta: The formation was all by chance. Basically, I had the idea musically for Brother O’ Brother already ready in regards to an EP worth of songs. However, I was having a hard time finding a drummer but did at the time have my friend Cody Burkhart up for the project on bass. Both Warner and I played in some so-so bands that allowed us to succeed, fail, etc. for the first time before Brother O’ Brother. We played 3 shows together in some previous bands by total accident and crossed paths. Some 5 years later, Warner is a department manager at Lowe’s, and I went in to get some rope to stretch with. Warner happened to be the person to cut the rope. We recognized each other. I described the project to Warner and asked if we wanted to give it a try. He said yes, and here we are.
AC: What are some of your influences, musically?
CB: For Warner, (I know this to be true because I grabbed it from another interview) the biggest influences for him are probably Buddy Rich, Keith Moon and Mick Fleetwood. Buddy and Keith are two of the most primal, animalistic drummers of all time while still being very tight. Mic’s style of drumming being able to blend so many styles had a huge influence on Warner’s own drumming. Did I ever tell you how much I love being in a band with Warner? For me I really drew to Dan Auerbach, Hendrix, anything Jack White related, and the MC5. Just that style of fuzzed electric blues was everything to me musically when I heard it. Just anything soul power drenched. Also Reverend Gary Davis has had a big influence lyrically.
AC: I was able to see Brother O Brother along with Riverhorse in Joliet IL earlier this year. Not only did your songs translate well in the live setting but the show itself was nothing like I had ever seen! How important is theatrics in your live show?
CB: ITS HUGE. We have a few little sayings we talk about all the time. “5 or 5000” Basically, no matter what, whether its 5 or 5000 people they should get the same show, same energy, same intensity, same risks. People don’t want to see a piano recital. They are called rock shows for a reason and in a lot of ways I think that has been lost on some musicians and bands. Let loose, people eat that stuff up. We put a lot of time into thinking about having lights, smoke, timed jumps, places for me to go solo on bars, Warner to go into the crowd, etc. So much of the actual psychology of it all comes from our love of Wrestling. [laughs] I used to watch old Ac Dc videos and just see Angus do the craziest stuff with Bon Scott and I knew I wanted to have that kind of command.
AC: Okay so tell us a little about Romanus Records. At what point did you guys just say “Hey we need our own label”?
CB: About 3 years ago I created Romanus Records, (which is to
say I grabbed the facebook page for it, ha). But I really felt the need to make it an official thing as I began creating all these custom pieces in the last year. They have drawn so much attention from a lot of people and it’s been incredible. A lot of the attention has come from people I really respect. We have been lucky enough to negotiate some splits with bands and it makes sense for that effort to be given a little bit of a platform. We have 4 full length releases from bands in the works as we speak. Bringing Warner on to be the right hand man made perfect sense.
AC: How about the debut release on Romanus Records?
CB: Essentially our debut was when we pressed the Brother O’ Brother Self Title for the first time. The album was our first and was recorded in 2014. We were not a place to release it on vinyl yet, but now in 2016 we were. The Romanus Records debut really came alive when I made the Glow In The Dark Dino Bone filled records. I was BLOWN away by the response. It got attention from some really cool people and people I have a ton of admiration for their work and place within music. Ben Blackwell of TMR even bought the first one when I took it in the store on a whim when I was in vacation in Nashville.
AC: Everything Brother O Brother has released, has been completely over the top in terms of color variants and limited editions. How important is the visuals when it comes to your releases?
CB:First, you have to love vinyl to go this all in with stuff. But
second to answer your question, its huge. Reason being, we just want to make what would catch our eye or what we would want to buy. I have spent so much time in art departments, girls craft aisles, and talking to vinyl plants about what can and cant be done to vinyl all in the name of making the most unique things we can. If vinyl is a medium that helps us gain more fans, etc its worth all the effort. But I also love it. Couldn’t do it without the help of Nicholas Gagnon at Fonoflo Records. We are on 4 indie labels at the moment but he is really what we at this point call our “parent label.” He took the first leap with us and his heart for creativity matches my own to just make weird cool vinyl. Also, dirty secret…His artwork is the BEST around. We use it for about 95% of the stuff we do.
AC: What can we expect to hear and see coming from Romanus Records in the coming months?
CB: As far as Brother O’ Brother goes we have all of the following
between now and early 2017.
Brother O’ Brother Show Pony Repress (Fonoflo/Romanus)
Brother O’ Brother/The Ghost Wolves 7 inch (just went live
July 30th) (Fonoflo/Romanus)
Brother O’ Brother/mystery band on mystery label ( I can tell
Brother O’ Brother/Veseria 7 inch split (Fonoflo/Romanus)
Brother O’ Brother Live at Radio Radio (Shed House Records)
Among all this there will be a Star Wars themed custom record being made with TONS of glow in the dark trickery. Also, a vintage wrestling themed record will make an appearance as well. And finally, a space out kryptonite style space record that you will just have to see! Also from Romanus Records we are making some Henry & June customs to take to Third Man Records as Brother O’ Brother is playing the Nashville location August 20th. Also making some Greenhornes Hydra customs again.
AC: What’s next for Brother O Brother?
CB: Kind of being on never ending tour and really push to potentially work with an even bigger label in 2017 as we look to put a new album out. Secretly not secret have 8 songs recorded on it already. Also the obvious continued love of cranking out insane vinyl at all times.
AC: What’s the mission statement of Romanus Records?
CB: I don’t think we have one yet. How about “make music that suites the need of both the listener and the collector.” That sounds good. Or “make vinyl so sick you wont care if it sounds like bricks.” Either or….
For more info on Brother O Brother and Romanus Records: http://brother-o-brother.myshopify.com/