Interview / Wheatus, Over Twenty Wonderful Teenage Dirtbag Years

It’s been over twenty years since Wheatus released their debut album, recorded in Brendan B. Brown’s mothers basement. The first single, released in 2020, was the seminal rock anthem Teenage Dirtbag, which still sets incredible figures today. The official video has 566 Million plays on YouTube, while a recent TikTok trend smashed two billion views in less than a month.

With a UK Tour well underway, MetalTalk’s Lawrence Potter spoke to Brendan B. Brown as Wheatus prepare to release an expanded twenty-song version of the debut album that contained a song which quickly became a cultural touchstone.

It’s been a fascinating journey for a band which has remained busy over the years. Brendan is happy to talk about gunfights, luck with record labels and how touring used to be like going on a holiday.

Wheatus - Wheatus - 15 August 2000
Wheatus – Wheatus – 15 August 2000

The plan for the expanded Wheatus album has meant that their next studio album will have to wait a bit longer. “Album seven is in the works,” Brendan told us. “There are three songs already out Tipsy, Lullaby and our live album, a song called Michelle. Those tracks are sort of the direction. Much heavier, a little bit jazz but still accessible, and still sing along. Album Seven is completely written.”

The concept of the expanded issue of the breakthrough debut album is a re-recording of the ten songs plus ten new tracks. Brendan says the new songs are “others that we had from over the years that kind of sounded like they belonged on the first album, and that’s why we didn’t do them. Here they all are, and it comes together like an alternate universe version of our first album.”

Work on the twenty songs began some time ago. “It was weird,” Brendan says. “We had the pandemic come and stop us, and then the strangest thing was we got invited out to do a bunch of touring in the United States, and that stopped us from recording and finishing it up. We were on the road with Everclear, Hoobastank and Living Colour [Summerland Tour] for most of 2021. We just couldn’t get into the studio to finish it up. So, inevitably, it took a few years.”

Wheatus are active on Patreon, where you can hear two recent songs, Pretty Girl and Dark Day, along with the others released in pairs. “Those two songs came out a few days ago,” Brendan says. “I’m done mixing them. I have to remaster the whole set for vinyl, which is gonna be in the next few months. On 21 December, we’re relaunching the package as one single thing and not several pairs of singles.

“It’s been really cool. It’s been an adventure trying to put together a 20-song album, ten of which you’ve done once already. So, that side of it is entirely forensic. Then 10 of which you’ve never ever touched, which are brand new. It’s been a journey.”

In discussions about streaming, the idea behind the decision to re-record the debut album becomes clear. “I don’t think streaming services pay artists enough,” Brendan says, “but I will say this. Amongst those artists, we’re incredibly lucky because we’ve re-recorded our first album. We now own the only multi-track master in existence. The original was lost.

“We also got lucky when we left the record label, as we kept all of our masters from album two, album three and album four. So we own all that still.

“It’s an interesting situation that we find ourselves in because we actually wind up earning our own money on streaming, which is not the case for many other artists from our generation.

“For a very long time, we were in the wilderness, and there was nothing going on. But it suddenly became obvious that we had lucked out because of the way things went. 

“It was interesting. But that said, the streaming services are typically pretty poor for what they deliver for artists. They could pay more, and eventually, I think that they should.”

Wheatus have released their Just A Dirtbag Christmas EP, but you will not hear Christmas Dirtbag on the current UK Tour. “We messed around with in a sound check the other day,” Brendan says. “I actually find it a little bit easier than the real Dirtbag because the vocal where the girl part is in the original has actually dropped down two octaves to do the Santa Claus.”

Brendan proceeds to demonstrate the “I’ve got two tickets for AC/DC, baby” Santa part. “We haven’t started performing it yet just because it’s not time yet, really.”

For Christmas Dirtbag, the tickets for Iron Maiden have been replaced by tickets for AC/DC, a band who were Brendan’s introduction to Metal. “My first musical identity moment was discovering Angus Young,” he says. “I saw AC/DC for the first time at Madison Square Garden in 1988 when I was 14 without my parents. 

“I saw Metallica the following spring on the And Justice For All tour. I saw AC/DC at the Roseland Ballroom, which is a 2500-capacity club in New York City that they played when they were signed to Sony. We were on the label at the same time, and I snatched a pair of tickets from the A&R guy, as you do. I see them every time they come around if I’m able.”

Wheatus - Chinnerys, Southend - 18 October 2023
Wheatus – Chinnerys, Southend – 18 October 2023. Photo: Lawrence Potter/MetalTalk

Brendan says the UK tour is going well. It’s a 47-date tour, so it’s very important to take care of yourself. This means no alcohol, no smoking and early to bed, “and very careful administration of caffeine. [laughs]. I don’t stay up and watch any movies or anything like that. I really am kind of boring. A lot of water and trying to eat a lot of vegetables and a good breakfast. Lots of stretching and a bit of yoga. I warm up with my partner Gabrielle [Aimée Sterbenz], who’s in the band, for about an hour. Vocal warmups before we go on stage. That’s the recipe. I think no alcohol is primary.”

There have been plenty of visits to the UK over the years. Brendan says he loves it over here. “We have a great time in London, one of our favourite spots. But Ireland, Scotland and Wales are really where the energy is the high energy. There’s a different energy. They hold you up better. You’re better off being tired in those places because they make you not tired.”

Touring over the years has had some crazy moments. “I was in the middle of a gunfight in Canada one time,” Brendan says. Wheatus were on a 20-person tour bus, where there was not much room and a change into clean clothes was needed. Brendan stepped off the bus.

“We were in this sort of alley,” he says, “and I thought I’ll just take my pants [Trousers, for UK folk] off real quick here and change them because you had to go under the bus to get your clean clothes. 

“So I thought, I’ll do it quick right here. No one will notice. I pulled my pants down around my ankles, and I heard pop, pop, pop and gunshots going off. There’s a cop-looking guy, plain clothes maybe, shooting at another dude who’s on the other side of a playground. They’re trying to kill each other, and the whole thing is swinging toward me. So I rolled into the bus bay and shut the door and narrowly escaped.”

Canada is the last place you’d expect that to happen, I suggest. “Yeah,” Brendan agrees. “I grew up in New York City, and I never saw any of that shit.”

With the expanded Wheatus debut album set for release on 1 December, America will view it differently now. The first time around, it was the UK, Europe and Australia that led the Wheatus fanbase charge. 

“We weren’t famous at home,” Brendan says. “We were notable over here and in a lot of other places around the world, Australia, Europe. But back home, we just went back to our normal lives. 

“I don’t know how else to describe it other than to say that what it meant was that we never got used to any sort of rarified air. It’s almost like being on television and being a notable act with fans was something that we went on vacation to do.

“That has changed now. We can essentially do the same touring over in the States that we do here now.”

Wheatus - Chinnerys, Southend - 18 October 2023
Wheatus – Chinnerys, Southend – 18 October 2023. Photo: Lawrence Potter/MetalTalk

For now, the plan is to finish the UK tour and enjoy the run-up to Christmas. “We’re gonna take some time off in December. We have one hometown show in New York on Long Island at a place called Spotlight At The Paramount, which is in Huntington, Long Island.”

2024 will then look like Festivals. “We’re gonna maybe do some Australian work,” Brendan says. MetalTalk are sure some news on Album Number Seven will then follow.

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