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Skabba the what?
The Bravery’s battle with the Killers
Related Links

The Bravery’s official Web site

The Killers' official Web site

Sharon Steel reviews the Killers' Hot Fuss

The rock press awoke late last month to Christmas in spring: in a season overrun with fashionably coiffed, dour yet frivolous bands, most of them from Britain, the two most heavily hyped homegrown ones, without warning, began throwing haymakers at each other. Former Las Vegas bellhop Brandon Flowers, the stylish, glammy frontman of the Killers, carped to MTV that Brooklyn transplant Sam Endicott, the stylish, glammy leader of the Bravery, had once been the dreadlocked bassist in a ska band called Skabba the Hut. "Look at a band like the Bravery. They’re signed because we’re a band. I’ve heard rumors about [members of] that band being in a different kind of band, and how do you defend that . . . if you used to be in a ska band?" Never mind that Flowers had recruited the Killers’ drummer from a Las Vegas ska-metal band called Atta Boy Skip. The diminutive, ’80s-styled new-wave revival had produced something remotely analogous to 50 Cent/The Game–grade beef. ("Nobody go shooting up KROQ, okay?" chided thefader.com bloggist Nick Barat. "Keep it on wax, duders.")

The tabloids quickly picked up the Skabba story, with the New York Post quoting several pop-culture experts to back its amusing contention that the Killers are the "more credible" band. Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield, who called the Bravery "great," nonetheless noted that "they look like they could’ve been assembled by a ‘make-your-own-hipster-dance-rock-band-kit.’ " Since this didn’t seem like much of a slam given the Killers’ image, MTV correspondent Gideon Yago offered the Post’s readers a "reason to hate" the Bravery: "They’re a parody of what the New York rock scene was." Still, added Yago, who often makes Mo Rocca sound like Tom Brokaw, "Skabba the Hut remains the most disturbing thing about them."

One person who took note of the scrap was actor Jonathan Togo, a Rockland native who plays officer Ryan Wolfe on CSI: Miami. Before his acting career took off, Togo handled sax and guitar in Skabba. He’s amused by the uproar: "What was nice about that music was that people didn’t take themselves very seriously. It was actually a prize to have a stupid band name." But Togo is also mystified by Flowers’s attack. "I don’t hear a lot of criticism of the Bravery’s actual songs. I’m sure everyone, the first time they saw the Killers, was like, ‘Well, there’s a Strokes ripoff band.’ In order to be the guy who calls the Bravery poseurs, don’t you have to be the one who started it?"

What galled Ethan Kreitzer about Flowers’s diss was the implication that the Bravery are ripping off the Killers. "We were sound-checking [the Bravery’s current hit] ‘An Honest Mistake’ at Jewish summer camps in July 2003," he says — that is, before the Killers were even a blip on the radar. Kreitzer became friends with Endicott when they played in competing bands at Vassar in the mid ’90s. After Skabba changed their name to Conquistador, Endicott told Kreitzer he had a completely different kind of band in mind. While filling in on bass on a brief tour with Kreitzer’s Boston-based trio the Lincoln Conspiracy in 2003, Endicott taught drummer Steven Lourie a batch of these new songs. Later, Lourie played on the seven-song demo that became the backbone of the Bravery’s homonymous Island/Def Jam debut — he’s credited alongside the band’s now permanent drummer Anthony Burulich, formerly of the Boston pop band Mappari.

Last week, The Bravery landed in the Top 10 on the British charts. Lourie described those sessions as "the most exciting long weekend of my life." For months, he’d been dying to tell someone about the sessions, but no one had yet heard of the Bravery. When "An Honest Mistake" became a hit and the war of words began, Lourie decided to write Flowers a letter. He explained that the songs predated 2003 and went on to say, "Sam has made it because of hard work and dedication and I could not be happier for him. Get a life and realize that you are lucky as hell to be where you are today."

Underlying the Killers/Bravery flap is the odd notion that anyone who played ska in the ’90s did it for fame and/or money — a claim most ska bands not known as Bosstones might take issue with. Anthony Modano’s band Kicked in the Head often played with Skabba; Endicott, he says, "never was a guy, like, wearing two-tone suits or anything." And he can feel Endicott’s pain. Although Kicked in the Head began as a ska-punk band, over the years they dropped the ska and then the horns — but they’re still haunted by their ska past. "It is really weird," Modano says. "It’s like it’s on your permanent record. If you’re in a ska band, you can’t do anything else, ever." On reflection, he says, maybe ska and new wave aren’t that dissimilar: "They’re both ridiculous, actually."

The Bravery perform this Friday, April 15, at Axis, 13 Lansdowne Street in Boston; call (617) 262-237.

Issue Date: April 15 - 21, 2005
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