The Architects are a re-envisioned version of the ill-fated The Gadjits composed of Phillips brothers Brandon, Adam and Zach along with Keenan Nichols. Based out of Kansas City, Mo., The Architects have been building from the rubble of The Gadjits, touring and releasing numerous records before embarking on an ambitious project titled “Border Wars.” I had a chance to speak with the band’s frontrunner, Brandon Phillips, about the band’s history and future with “Border Wars.”
The Triangle: So you got a start in the music scene at a young age with your two brothers, Zach and Adam. I was hoping you could tell me a bit about how you got started performing and what — or rather, who — influenced you guys at the beginning?
Brandon Phillips: Wow. OK, … it was kind of because we all learned to play guitar at summer camp. Our mom used to run a fine-arts camp, and we all learned to play guitar there, and it was a very performance-based camp. … We all learned to really enjoy performing, and [some way] or another we ended up going guitar, bass, drums so that we could play together.
[I]n junior high and in high school, I was playing in crappy bands with my friends, and I think Zach and Adam were pissed at me because they weren’t part of my crappy band. They got a friend of theirs and they started their own crappy band, and then I liked their crappy band, so I wrote a couple of songs for them and then ended up joining. [T]he friend of theirs, who they had started the band with, his mom let him play in bars, and we were kind of hell-bent on going and playing real shows where real rockers were. So he left the band, and it was just the three of us. I think my youngest brother, Adam, was just 9 years old the first time we played a real show in a bar with rock bands. We were f—ing horrendous, but I think people liked us because they thought it was adorable, precocious or whatever. We were just playing wretched L7 covers and AC/DC covers and stuff like that. … It was like the laziest of the lazy garage rock because at that point the entire mission was just to get onstage and play rock ‘n’ roll.
Then our tastes kind of changed and evolved, … and eventually that turned into The Gadjits. Then The Gadjits broke up, and within 90 seconds we had started The Architects. [O]ur first tour [was] playing shows in transvestite bars in Texas and the places where punk shows used to have to happen because there was no place to do shows like that, you know? So yeah, that was kind of the very beginning for us, all that.
TT: Yeah, that’s actually what my next question was going to be about, The Gadjits. I was going to ask about the release of your first LP, “Da Gravy on Yo’ Grits,” on your own JoCo Ska label back in 1997, and what went into actually forming a band and releasing an independent album.
BP: [B]ecause it was all sort of an ad-hoc universe to us at that time, … you were never going to see the inside of a recording studio. … So we were making a record in my mom’s basement. We set up this crappy [public address] mixer and cassette recording stuff in the furnace room and turned a cedar closet into a vocal booth. I have no idea why we made those choices, but that’s what we did, and so we recorded.
We would make our recordings down there, and my high school debate partner’s band, we made their recordings down there. We made a bunch of other bands’ recordings, and we sort of started a little label.
TT: Yeah, so after you guys released the fourth and final Gadjits album, “Today is My Day,” the band broke up. So what led to The Gadjits breaking up, and why did you basically re-create yourselves as The Architects?
BP: Well, we actually nixed The Gadjits. After “Today is My Day,” The Gadjits signed to RCA, … [but] the week we started recording [was] the same week that RCA and Jive merged, and Clive Davis took over RCA. [They] fired everybody, including our artists and repertoire guy and the president, who were the two dudes who signed us, and so once the people that sign you are fired, you’re pretty much dead.
So we managed to get dropped and were able to just walk away from it relatively unscarred, but we were tired of dragging around the baggage that comes with still being called The Gadjits after many years. So we just killed The Gadjits and became a new thing; that’s it.
TT: So did this change [from The Gadjits to The Architects] really change much for you guys? Did you tour more or play new songs that you’d created?
BP: We basically had to start at zero. … All the touring we’d done as The Gadjits suddenly just didn’t matter at all, and all the records we sold didn’t matter; nothing we’d ever done before mattered. We were basically just a group of dudes with guitars, so we had to start completely fresh and rebuild everything. It was not a short process at all; it took a long, long time to get to a place where it even felt like there was some kind of parity between what The Gadjits had done and what The Architects were doing.
TT: With The Architects you’ve released five albums and a live recording on a couple different labels leading up to your new project, “Border Wars.” I was hoping you could explain the format of the project and why you left the classic LP release format.
BP: [I]t’s a concept album and comic book in five episodes. It means we get to release our album in five parts, and each part is packaged inside a full-size comic. The way we arrived at that was, [we felt] like we should up the ante a bit. We’re not really beholden to anyone, we [didn’t] owe anyone an album, … so why don’t we just make up the rules as we go along and find something bigger, cooler to do? I sat down and started writing the screenplay that turned into the script for the comic.
TT: Going forward with “Border Wars,” your goal was to shake things up, release the comic book and album in the five stages. Was that what you were trying to get out of it — just a new way of doing things?
BP: Yeah, I mean, it would shake things up for us creatively, so we’d have to step things up and meet the challenge. It has created an opportunity for people who do actually care for our band. It’s a much more fun, deep and engaging experience than just a CD that has a couple of songs worthwhile and a couple of songs they don’t care for; I think it enhances that relationship [between us and our fans and friends].
A little bit of it is definitely bragging rights, like … let me demonstrate why we deserve to be on a stage, what we did to earn it.
TT: Episode 1 of 5 in the “Border Wars” series dropped in June. When are you hoping for episodes 2 and 3 to come out? Will there be a long wait like there was with episode 1?
BP: Yeah, I think episode 2 will be in the new year and episode 3 out before the end of summer. We wanted to keep the schedule sort of flexible, but it’s taking way too long to get episode 2 ready. When it finally does come [together], it [will] be fine, well worth it, and hopefully we’ll accelerate the schedule so we can get 2 or 3 out next year. It’s just a monstrous amount of work for people.
TT: You guys are on tour right now, and you’re coming to Philadelphia Nov. 20. I saw that you’re touring with Death Spells. Could you tell me how you guys know them?
BP: We know Death Spells [because of] Frank [Iero] from My Chemical Romance [who started the band]. We toured with them, and [before that, Iero] put out our last full-length record on his label, Skeleton Crew. James [Dewees] from Death Spells also toured with My Chemical Romance playing keyboards, but we know him because he’s from Kansas City, and he was in a ton of bands around here.
TT: Your tour sounds like it’s going to be a blast. Do you think it will interrupt the process behind making the second or third episodes of “Border Wars”?
BP: No, I think it’ll be fine. At this point we’ve kind of learned to multitask as best as we can, and now it’s just about keeping our illustrator fed and watered, warm and safe; that’s really our No. 1 priority. Other than that, the music stuff is done for the most part.
Catch The Architects Nov. 20 at MilkBoy Philadelphia.