When Orange County folk-rock band The Brevet was first starting out in 2013, the goal of frontman Aric Chase Damm and his bandmates was strictly to write songs that could be licensed to television and film.
Touring and making records took a backseat to getting spots on 90210, NCIS, ESPN and The Good Lie. The quartet, which blends alt-rock with Americana, hit the sweet spot again and again, drawing comparisons to everyone from Springsteen to the Lumineers, Mumford and Sons and Kings of Leon along the way.
Licensing remains a key staple for The Brevet, which is still unsigned and has no other representation in the industry other than its licensing agency, but last fall Damm said with the growth of the band, much of it unexpected, the goal changed.
“As we progressed more and more into playing live shows, it just evolved into a different direction,” he said in a call from southern Colorado, where The Brevet had just begun its tour that will conclude later this month at BottleRock. “I wanted to write in a way that necessarily wasn’t just in that vein [of writing something that the band thought large audiences would want to hear], or wasn’t just for that purpose—[Something that] spoke a little more truth to who I am.”
That decision also led to the departure of cofounding pianist Michael Jones, who could not make the commitment to tour heavily. Jones and Damm grew up together in Irvine, and the two started writing songs in grade school. Jones stayed in SoCal for school while Damm, whose father’s side of the family was in Nebraska, rolled the dice and became a Cornhusker, where he studied theatre.
“I grew up in Orange County where I just was born into that lifestyle, and going to school in the Midwest was very, very humbling,” he said. “I don’t personally believe that [I] would learn just by continuing on the same path as going to school at a USC or a UCLA; the majority of what my high school went to. I wanted something different, I wanted to learn different aspects of life. … It was more [about] the people: very humble, very kind, openhearted people in the Midwest. I feel like that hopefully taught me a lot of lessons of how to be a good person.”
The two friends continued to make music whenever they could, writing scores and songs for student films. That’s where they built up their palette with a cinematic tone to their work. Eventually their work began getting noticed, and they started the band by adding drummer David Aguiar, guitarist John Kingsley and bassist Ben Ross.
The band’s name comes from a now-defunct military rank given to soldiers for meritorious conduct—sans any financial reward or authority. Those who received it acknowledged they were doing their jobs for honor rather than reward. In the case of the band, it signified they only cared about the music, rather than potential fame or riches.
The Brevet self-released an LP called Battle of the Heartin 2013, and a series of EPs as chapters of a book called American Novelbetween 2014 and 2016. The band remains completely independent, recording in its own studio in Orange County. Though Damm said he and his bandmates would always listen to offers of a label deal, they like being able to control their destiny.
For now, their licensing partnership with Mutiny Records is enough.
“Licensing is an interesting facet of the music industry,” Damm said. “You never know really what moves the needle, I don’t think. But licensing definitely helps a great amount getting your name out there and legitimizing you. … If you get on a television show a lot of people like … you’re associated with that. I’m not sure if that accounts for ticket sales or anything like that [but] we owe a lot to licensing. It’s how we started out as a band and how we have progressed and have been able to grow as a band.
“You want someone to connect to your music.”
The band’s ability to connect with others is strengthened by its lyricism; stories of encouragement, overcoming obstacles and faith. Another band The Brevet sometimes draws comparisons to is Needtobreathe, which pulls from gospel music. Damm also pulls from his faith for his songwriting and believes that some people can connect to his band on that level.
“If they don’t, and they connect to it in a different way, and it means something in their lives, I think that’s a great thing, too,” he said.
The growth of the band empowered it to grow a fanbase, and to tour. It also inspired Damm to write more truthfully, rather than what he thought TV executives might want to hear.
“We’re just writing music that we love to write and create,” Damm said. “This is a much more inclusive writing process with David and John involved.”
Jones left the band around October 2017. Since then, the direction of The Brevet’s songs has sifted from overtly cinematic to harder-edged, guitar-based rock. Expectedly, there are less keyboards.
The new direction has less to do with the departure of Jones and more with the energy the band has picked up from playing more live shows, Damm said. The frontman, who still loves acting, also uses his on-stage education from Nebraska in the band’s performances.
“As an actor, you need it to come from … an honest place when you’re saying your lines,” he said. “You need to have it be sparking an emotion that’s honest and real or [fans] won’t believe it. I think for The Brevet, allowing [myself] access to that honest spot, playing live and kind of putting it on the table plays in our benefit.”
The Brevet is now gearing up for the release of its sophomore LP later this summer. If the first single, “Locked & Loaded,” is any sign, Damm and his band will be hitting overdrive. The tune, a cross between a garage rocker and a Western square dance, shows rougher edges, but may still find a place on a screen near you.
But now, the focus isn’t on song placement but on giving it their all on tour.
“As a newer band, we need to make an impact,” Damm said. “We’re just gonna come out swinging [with] our most energetic, big songs; really try to grab the audience right away.”
Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.