A haunting but captivating coterie of sound folds into the beauty of DJ Brown’s soft, intoxicating lyricism and scat-chants on his first full release “Michael Boyd.” His Pennsylvanian band, Our Griffins, released their debut LP in the fall of 2013. It’s a feat for 21-year-old Brown, whose musicality is not just smart and soothing, but rooted in familial discovery and self-identity. In fact, “Michael Boyd” is the name of his uncle, and the artwork for the release is an old picture Brown found of his ancestor.
“It’s fascinating to me, thinking about how my family came about,” Brown says. “Not looking at ancestry as some distance happenstance but observing it as if I could reach out and touch individuals that had a massive part of my existence—whether they made good decisions or bad ones.”
Brown’s mother and grandmother often painted stories of their family’s colorfully harried past. It’s the stuff families are made of: hardships, obstacles overcome, prevailing against the odds—whether burying secrets or airing grievances. Brown’s contemplative nature and perhaps sensitivity toward understanding his past helped shape an identity he questioned. He used music to push through his own growing pangs.
“It’s a part of growing up, realizing how the world works, or how inaccurately you thought the world works,” he explains. “There’s some type of victory in knowing that from a lot of shitty problems a few of us are still living and living positively. I mean just being black in this country and knowing I barely have had to deal with racism because of how my dad handled his circumstances and how his dad did and so forth and so on. Not to say there wasn’t an amount of hurtful behavior and decisions members of my family made along the way. But I’m here, and so is my sister, and my mom and dad and so forth and so on. Reverence is a part of the whole homage [in my music,] but really it’s more about awareness and knowing.”
Brown began playing guitar at 14, taking lessons from a parent’s friend. Yet, after endless research and combing through the vast library that is the Internet, he shaped a sound all his own. Listening, reading, learning along the way became the impetus to create music.
“Around the age a teenager finds individuality through music, cloths, and cigarettes, as a lot of us do, I just spent hours listening to things I would find,” Brown explains. “After a while it shaped me and opened me up to feelings and thoughts I may have not had without listening. I have a lot of thanks to give to music, and music culture in a sense; that’s a part of the reason I’ve decided to give my time and, to a certain extent, my life to it.”
Inspired by blues guitarists, Brown began playing around Pennsylvania in 2008, when he met producer Todd Schied. Schied invited Brown to his home-recording studio to lay down a few tracks. They churned out 2011’s EP, “Conversations,” and in September 2013, the LP “Michael Boyd” was released with the official Our Griffins lineup in place: Travis Hobbie (guitar, vox), Alex Luquet (bass), and John Kimock (drums).
Our Griffins’ soundscape gently maintains a pulsating spaciousness—dreamy, sometimes dark, other times completely hypnotic. It’s fresh and captivating on the ambient, New Wave, and indie-rock scene. Brown’s breathy whispers roll into a soft falsetto full of power, especially when he forewarns “holy hands have come to find us” in “The Halo.” His penchant toward storytelling impresses—some are his own, others inspired or borrowed. “Michael Boyd” sounds like vignettes, with characters vacillating through their own turn of events, such as Oren in “Not Here Entirely” or Donna in “The Rest Of The World Doesn’t Know You’re A Hero.”
“I carry over feelings from songs I’ve heard throughout the years, mostly inadvertently,” Brown notes. “It’s so intangible, it’s hard to trace those feelings and explain them in a conversational context. When putting a song together, I mostly think about accurately representing the characters’ feelings and thoughts within a song.”
Schied has worked with Brown for five years now. It’s a relationship Brown cherishes independently and creatively. “Still funny to apply titles like ‘manager’ or ‘producer’ since I see him as my friend who has more years under his belt then I do,” Brown humbly states.
Our Griffins played for the first time together just last summer. They’ve been touring since, and have new songs already in the works. They’ll be opening for Brooklyn’s garage rockers Spires this Wednesday at Bourgie Nights in downtown Wilmington.
“We’re super excited to keep making music together as a band,” Brown says. “Art can have a large amount of power coming from an individual for sure, but music in particular as an artistic medium has a special power when more than one individual is putting in their energy toward a project . . . Music helps me get my head around things, along with books, paintings, movies, and good people.”DETAILS
Bourgie Nights • 127 Princess Dr.
March 5th, 8 p.m.
$5 at the door