Words: Babak Haghighi
Photo: Cassie Palmer
The quintet takes the stage. The lights dim. The music begins. The sea of beanies that makes up the crowd starts to create waves as heads begin to bob. Jason Stevens’ powerful voice rips through the room and the voyage begins.
Stevens is the frontman, accompanied by Kyle Teese on drums, Nick Morawiecki on electric guitar and piano, Steven Binnquist on bass, and Beth Garber providing backup vocals as she plays the organ. Together, they are Before the Brave, an up-and-coming indie-folk band from San Francisco, and they take the audience on a journey of vast sound and emotion.
The band recently released their first EP, Great Spirit, a milestone that they celebrated by throwing a release party at the Barrel House, a hidden gem of a venue buried deep in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood.
Among the crowd, but without a beanie, is Spencer Haar, an San Francisco State University student and fan of the band. He came for the music, but stayed for the free beer and cookies.
“I honestly think that Before the Brave makes great music and has the potential to pursue great things in the future,” says Haar, who is experiencing his second Before the Brave show. “Their sound is just generally appealing.”
What that sound is exactly is another matter entirely.
“The thing that I like so much is that our music doesn’t neatly fit into any one genre or sound,” says Teese, an S.F. State student and drummer for Before the Brave. “I might generally describe our music as folk-rock, but it doesn’t capture the band completely either. I hear traces of the Avett Brothers and Head and the Heart in our music. But then we also sound like Arcade Fire at times, or Ray Lamontagne, or even Ryan Adams in more folky songs like ‘Holy River.’”
The dynamic on-stage presence of this mostly-bearded group of San Francisco residents is not characterized by energetic stage moves or gimmicky crowd pleasers. Rather, the music, as well as the passion the music is seeded in, speaks for itself. The acoustic riffs range in style, which the rest of the instruments complement accordingly. Catchy folk-rock anthems are followed by sentimental ballads, upbeat blues tunes, and everything in between. The music is alternative and honest, and the audience expects the unexpected in a show full of musical surprises, all of which are met with success.
“Before the Brave is not the kind of band that is going to cause a riot,” says Haar. “But their shows can be equally exciting as those of higher energy bands because their music and their performance creates a lot of tension. It’s almost meditative in a sense.”
It is clear that the band emphasizes the importance of a truly well-crafted song. These young musicians are not here to show off their chops on their respective instruments. Instead, they focus on creating engaging melodies and crafting a cohesive musical experience. Every person, every instrument, every sound is there for a reason, and together the pieces fit together perfectly. The only thing that could be argued to stand out on its own is Stevens’ voice, but this is due only to the sheer power of his vocals. Stevens sports a set of vocal cords that would put a majority of successful vocalists to shame. His harsh, deep voice aims for impressive notes and never misses. His lyrical belts are both soulful and enchanting. Depending on the song, his leading vocals can either soothe or excite.
Garber’s background vocals only make things better. Her subtle yet profound vocal presence goes a long way in supporting Stevens’ dominant voice. Garber’s soft vocal touch adds an exciting element of on-target harmonies. Before the Brave’s lyrical prowess truly stands in a league of its own. But this doesn’t detract from the band’s overall sound, nor does it steal the spotlight away from other members of the band. It is just one of several parts that makes Before the Brave’s unique sound the endearing entity that it is.
As the band prepares to wrap up its performance at the Barrel House, Stevens thanks the audience for coming out before leading into a crowd-pleasing encore of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” “This amazing city has brought us all together for a reason,” he says to the crowd.
The band members met each other at RealitySF, a church in the Castro.
“Our songs express different aspects of what it has been like for each of us to live as followers of Jesus here in San Francisco,” says Teese. Lyrical themes include reconciliation and looking for hope amidst suffering, while others lyrics deal with the inward struggle involving purpose and meaning of life. “And other songs are just about joy. Plain and simple, they’re celebrations of the lives we’ve been given.”
The band as it is today, however, formed years after the members met at RealitySF.
“The band started in a bedroom, actually,” says Teese.
He and Stevens were roommates for two years, during which time they jammed casually and wrote songs. “From there, Jason [Stevens] met Nick [Morawiecki] through work and the three of us began to play together,” says Teese. “It took another year or so before Steve [Binnquist] and Beth [Garber] joined us. It wasn’t until last Spring that all the pieces really came together.”
Since the band’s formation in 2011, Before the Brave has made a name for itself thanks to consistent practicing and playing shows. “Those two things are essential in creating a polished live show and developing a following,” says Teese. When the band was away from the music, however, they looked to social media to expand their audience. “Facebok, Twitter, and Instagram are simply the best way to communicate today,” explains Teese. “So that has been essential.”
As a result, Before the Brave has gained a well-deserved following, which has contributed greatly to the atmosphere of their shows.
“The vibe at our shows has been so incredible,” says Teese. “So many of our fans sing along throughout the set, which is probably the coolest feeling ever for a musician. There’s a definite ebb and flow of energy throughout our set, which gives the audience such a variety of experiences. It’s almost cinematic.”
It’s been an undoubtedly great year for Before the Brave. Great Spirit is now available for download on iTunes and can be streamed through Spotify. But the up-and-coming band has high hopes for the future.
“It’s a pretty exciting time for us,” says Teese.
Before the Brave’s 2013 plans include a tour the West Coast during the summer, and the band has already been invited to play at the South by Southwest Conferences and Festivals in Austin, Texas in March.