At a cafe across from the Middle East Restaurant and Club in Cambridge, four exhausted men sat around a table. The most extravagantly dressed of the four, Christoph Jesus, sporting a colorful button-down shirt and backward flat cap, was who I spoke with most directly. Jesus is the founder, singer and lead songwriter of the band Crazy and the Brains.
I caught the band a few hours before show number two of one of their first headlining tours. They have spent the last four or five years opening for an incredible variety of bands. From Romani punks to crust punks to hardcore punks, and they seem to get along with everyone. “We haven’t really run into a group of people that didn’t fuck with us, that sounds cocky as fuck but like maybe it’ll happen one day.” Their music also just fits wherever they play, this makes attempting to define their genre particularly difficult. Jesus stated: “…people categorize us as punk and I’m totally cool with that but I don’t think any of us are super attached to any label or identity, it’s just music.”
Their music is inspired by just about everything Jesus and his bandmates listen to, folk, hip-hop, reggae, ska, the list goes on. And their sound is ever-changing as a result: “It’s just been a consistent expansion of the same core ideas and values … the whole thing is to evolve and change and push ourselves.” This constant expansion and experimentation, which Jesus and the bandmates beside him, Rob Mellinger and Zac Pless, agree is the most exciting aspect of being in the band, is achieved through a communal songwriting process. Jesus explained, “I write … the skeletons of the songs … and I bring them to the band, and we flesh it out from there … I try to always leave room for the people I’m playing with to … lend their skill and their unique voice to songs that I write … it’s all about what’s best for the art, it’s not about who gets credit for what. If you get caught up in that, you’re not here for the art, you’re here for your ego…”
Crazy and the Brains has gained the widest attention through their covers. “All the People Who Died,” the song that initially drew me towards the band and that opens all of their shows, and “Punk Rocker,” approved by Iggy Pop himself and their most popular song, being the most notable. Crazy and the Brains would never call themselves a cover band—they have three original albums with a fourth on the way—but they take a lot of pride in the songs they cover. As Jesus said: “Every song we cover, it has to be something that means something to us … I wanna add to the song’s legacy. I want it to connect with people on a deep level, and it needs to speak to me.” When playing the songs he loves, Jesus must feel he is making substantial and positive additions, often in the form of a genre shift and a new verse, for it to be worth covering.
The band currently releases music independently, though they are hoping that will change soon. Despite getting offers in the past, the band feels it important to hold off for a label “…that vibes with us the right way.” Jesus, who has always wanted to be a musician, expressed the difficulties of not settling on a first offer, “…at the time it was kinda hard to pass on the record deal because, as a kid, you feel like, you need to be on a label so just the thought of someone expressing interest, if you come from where we come from, it’s kinda hard to not jump at the opportunity … but luckily we didn’t do that…” Everyone in the band does music full-time, though they occasionally need to work side gigs to make extra money. But their tour schedule has been picking up recently as their music evolves and releases have become more frequent.
A constant theme in my conversation with Jesus is how much he loves being a musician. He repeatedly emphasized how grateful he is for every aspect of that life. From the ease at which he writes songs, “ I always just have ideas, ideas are always flowing…” to being able to tour as often as he does, “It’s an amazing opportunity that not everyone gets … there are difficulties there but not enough to complain about if you really appreciate it.” And being so appreciative has benefits. Jesus will drop anything to play a show so he gets to play a lot of them; he doesn’t mind writing and editing his music constantly, so he’s proud of what he releases. When I asked about his future ambitions, after settling on getting a Cadillac instead of a Tesla, Jesus said, “…success is something that shows itself in many different ways. I’m proud of what we’ve done, I’m proud of what’s on the horizon for us. As long as I can be proud of the art that we’re making at the end of the day, then I’ll be happy.”
I have been listening to Crazy and the Brains for nearly five years. They are creative and exciting and extremely worth seeing in concert. They are an up-and-coming band that I expect will only continue gaining popularity quickly. Jesus recommends the aforementioned “Punk Rocker” as a good starting point for his band’s music, as for original songs, I would recommend “Ice Cream.” And they really are constantly touring so be sure to check their Instagram (@crazyandthebrains) for future shows.