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Myk Porter and his mates in Brandtson have grown accustomed to going largely unrecognized in their hometown of Cleveland. That's true despite the many technicolor tattoos that checker Porter's thin frame.
"The only thing that's ever helped is telling people that Brandtson rhymes with Hanson, because people remember Hanson," bassist John Sayre quips.
But if Brandtson has been slow to get love on Lake Erie, the same can't be said in Jacksonville, Florida, or Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the past seven years, the band has toured the United States 14 times and Europe twice and even played Singapore and Hong Kong. It released four full-lengths on Deep Elm Records before signing with the Militia Group, a rising indie that's already had two bands on its roster jump to the majors. Brandtson's first album for Militia, Send Us a Signal, released last month, scored the highest first-week sales tally in the label's history. On the well-traveled music website Purevolume.com, the band has garnered 30,000 downloads in recent months.
"We had this outlook about us like, 'We're a band; we want to tour and get out there.' It was like, we can try to do a lot in Cleveland, but it wasn't our focus," Porter explains. "We were gone so much that we started building up a fan base in different, weird parts of the country -- just random places."
Being on Deep Elm didn't help much either. The label, known as an emo stronghold, certainly helped hype the band for its first couple of albums, beginning with 1998's Letterbox, but as Brandtson's standing and sales began to rise around the country, the recording and promotional budgets didn't grow accordingly. Though one of Deep Elm's signature acts, the band got no more advertising money or tour support than the label's newest signees.
"While we were on Deep Elm, there was really a kind of pressure that we needed to put out a release every year to keep things going, because it didn't seem like the label was doing a lot to remind people that we were still there," Porter says. "We felt like we needed to keep turning out records and stay on the road or else what we had built up to that point would just kind of go by the wayside."
"It was just sucking the life out of us," guitarist Matt Traxler adds with a sigh as he hangs up his cell phone. It's Wednesday, the day SoundScan sales numbers are announced, and he's been on the horn checking out how Send Us a Signal is doing. Freed from its obligations to Deep Elm after 2002's Dial in Sounds, Brandtson quickly signed with Militia, which is run by long-time friend Chad Pearson. The label invested $30,000 in Brandtson before Send Us a Signal's first note was recorded; that allowed the band to book a month in the studio with esteemed indie producer Ed Rose (Get Up Kids, Coalesce).
The increased budget is palpable on Signal, easily the band's finest, most sonically diverse album. Ranging from bristling, melodic punk to pleading pop, its moods are as varied as its time signatures. Porter sings in a plaintive coo that rockets into a bittersweet bark as slobbering guitars provide the band's bite. When he yelps, "You are a tidal wave with sympathy/A tsunami ripping through me with sweet sentimentality" on "Margot," he could be describing his own band. Brandtson sounds like it's having the time of its life.
"It's honestly night and day, 100 percent. It feels like a new lease on life," Sayre says. "That sounds like hyperbole, but it's not. The last couple of years, we just felt like we were kind of on a treadmill, working, working, working and never getting any further."
The band's now touring with South Florida's Further Seems Forever. It could be their biggest break yet, putting them in front of hundreds of kids a night. Sales for Signal remain brisk, even though most of its advertising budget has been saved for the next tour. Another European trek will follow that.
"It's really only a matter of days before we're as big as U2," Jolley cracks. "We're gonna turn Cleveland into the next Seattle, and then everyone is fucked."