Memphis rockers With Bravado just released a new single and music video, “Let’s Start a Fire.” The song is all energy and layered guitars and vocals, and it has already landed on a Spotify spotlight playlist. The music video, shot by Hotkey Studios, is rock-and-roll stripped down to its most basic elements — cranked amps, hair everywhere, and flashing lights. It’s bombastic and loud, and I spoke with With Bravado frontman Julian Stanz about the song, the video, and the band that made them.
JS: This main lineup really started about four years ago, right before we wrote and released our sophomore EP, Silent Film. The lineup consists of Jules (guitars and vocals), Kayla (bass and vocals), CJ (guitar), Tom (drums) and our newest member, Ryan (guitar, and vocals), who we played with years ago in a former band.
When we formed With Bravado, we knew we wanted strong vocal melodies, male and female harmonies, and bombastic music to layer it against. The music takes on characteristics of alternative rock, grunge, and even post-hardcore music. It occasionally fully pumps the brakes, entering the realm of slow, chilled-out dream pop. We also wanted the music to have a good bit of self-aware (and at times self-deprecating) satire woven into it. For example, just when you think a song is about to really kick down the door, Jules grabs a laser blaster, holds it up to his guitar and performs his now signature “laser blaster solo.” This is always good for a laugh live. The band is serious, but it doesn’t take itself so seriously that it can’t take a step back and laugh at the whole thing too.
Oddly enough, several of the members have been in bands together before, and are in each other’s bands now. For instance, Kayla, Ryan, and Jules were all in The Hostage, a local Memphis band circa 2009. Jules, Tom, and CJ are all in Sleeping Seasons, a pop-punk/emo band fronted by CJ. Finally, Jules, Kayla, and Tom are all in CJ’s Solo project: CJ Starnes. We kind of feel like family, so sticking together musically feels pretty natural. True story: It’s not uncommon for our members to show up to a venue and for someone to ask, “So which project is playing tonight.” Once, we were playing a show as CJ Starnes (CJ’s solo project) and someone from the crowd remarked, “Wait … that’s just with Bravado, but with CJ singing …” All joking aside, it’s truly an honor to be in each other’s bands, and we love that part of our dynamic.
MF: What’s “Let’s Start a Fire” about?
JS: “Let’s Start a Fire” is a song about introspection. It is purely coincidence that it is coming out at a time where actual fires are burning in cities. That was not intentional on our part. We wrote this song years ago. The song is about being willing to look inside to fix things that are wrong. The “fire” is a metaphor for purifying yourself. I believe that most meaningful change will happen when I change myself. I frankly can’t change you. But I can change me. That’s not natural, though. There is a natural resistance to introspection and self-critique. I think we are afraid of what we’ll find. I get it. The human heart can be a scary place to inspect.
Still, I think if we can muster the courage to look inside of ourselves, we might find things that we can improve. If we are willing to make those moves, I think we stand a good chance of offering the world a better version of ourselves. In this song I wanted to communicate the importance of looking inside yourself, and that you’re not alone if that scares you. We are in this together. We’re all just trying to improve. For some reason, that process can result in feeling pretty isolated, but we have to remember that we’re not alone. The song uses a lot of hyperbole, but the point is introspection, self-improvement, and the reassurance that you’re not on this path by yourself.
MF: You do a great job keeping the intensity up for the whole song without letting it become too much. Is that just natural, or do you plan it?
JS: Honestly, we haven’t been able to release music in a few years, so we had a bit of a quagmire on our hands. We weren’t sure if we should release such a bombastic single. It’s kind of a “full send” with Bravado song. We knew the half-life of such a gonzo song would naturally manifest in an abbreviated song. It also doesn’t have a traditional structure, so we knew that we had to make sure to keep the intensity high, but at the same time, make sure we didn’t let any of the riffs grow too old on the listeners’ ears. That’s a difficult call. It takes a degree of self-awareness to know how much is too much. Sometimes we get that right and sometimes we don’t. For Let’s Start a Fire, we hope we balanced the whole crazy song, proper length, good energy, and not too polarizing thing well. We always plan our songs meticulously, so it was very important to us that a song as crazy as Let’s Start a Fire didn’t go on for too long, especially if it was going to be a single.
MF: Can you talk a little bit about the layering in your band? You've got multiple guitars and vocalists going, along with other instruments. Is it an intricate thing working all that out?
JS: Oh, for sure. My favorite band is Smashing Pumpkins, so I have an unhealthy obsession with layers. We write tons of layers. We even record them. Then we tend to peel them away until we only have what the song needs. But yeah, having tons of guitars, as well as tons of vocals is a tough mess to sort out. It can be a nightmare to mix. We want to make sure that we carve out enough room for the vocals, but we also want to make sure that we have great supporting guitars. Figuring out how to do that has taken years, but at this point we have developed a bit of a feel for how much is too much. We also treat the song like it’s alive, and only do what it seems to be asking for. We don’t shove ideas into a song where they don’t fit. Everything we do is intentional, and serves the song. Even if that means I don’t get to play my guitar solo. Even if it means that the bass plays more straight for this part. Even if it means that the drums chill a bit here or there. We don’t even question it anymore. Whatever is best for the song happens. Heck, sometimes I have asked if Kayla would sing a song instead of me because my voice just wasn’t doing the job.
Nothing is off the table when we write music. We even have that philosophy about recording music. Whoever can play the lick the best records it. That might mean I record something, it might mean CJ does. There are things Kayla plays much better than the rest of us, so she records those parts. We just try to serve the song at every opportunity. At the end of a song, it’s not uncommon for me to have no idea who recorded what.
MF: When and where did you record the song?
JS: This song was recorded over about a year and a half at various studio locations, but was engineered, recorded, and produced by Cody Landers.
MF: What inspiration did you draw on for the music video?
JS: Honestly, when we do a music video, my goal is always “don’t ruin the song.” We’ve all heard a song we liked, and then watched the music video for it, only to discover that the video was so bad that it ruined the song for us. We just wanted a powerful performance video that captured the energy of the song. The song is short, so we knew the video could be pretty simple. My only stipulation was that I didn’t want the video to be very dark, and I didn’t want any fire in the video. I didn’t want to incorporate literal symbolism in the song.
MF: Who shot it?
JS: The video was shot by Hotkey Studios.
MF: Tell me a little bit about the visuals. I like the almost primal simplicity of just lights and amps and musicians.
JS: You’re so right. We really felt like the song was so nuts that it really gave us license to keep it simple. There is a simplicity to the theme of the song: the isolation one feels from looking inside yourself. That translated really well to the video. There are a lot of single shots of members. That was intentional. Those shots mimic the theme of isolation. The moments of triumph show the band as a whole, all cooperating as one. That’s very much a theme from the song as well. We really felt like the more we added to this video the more we would lose. We felt like there was an elegance to stripping away all extravagance, and exposing the members without frill or props. It seemed like the most honest way of portraying the music, the theme, and the message of the song. We wanted the music video to be simple but galvanizing.
MF: What’s it like releasing music in times like these?
JS: It’s frankly terribly expensive, and I’m not sure any of us fully know how to accommodate for such an unprecedented pandemic, but we refuse to let these times kill our band. From what I’ve been hearing, our situation isn’t unique. Like every other band in town, we’ve been forced to shift gears. Since we can’t play shows right now, we’ve packed up and moved into the studio. We will be releasing music as often as we can (and as often as I can afford). For now, we are having to do most of our promotion online. Thankfully, people have been very receptive to our music online. We know that we’re not exactly playing top 100 radio hits, so we appreciate every play, share, mention, comment, or kind message. We don’t take any of it for granted, and we appreciate it more than people know.
MF: Do you have any future plans for the band you'd like to talk about? Can we expect more new music soon?
JS: We do have plans to release songs as often as possible throughout the fall, and spring. We feel like this next gambit of music will be some of the “most with Bravado” with Bravado songs we’ve ever recorded, and we can’t wait for you to hear them.
MF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JS: Please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Spotify, etc. Thanks!