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Anybody who’s seen a Counterparts set knows things get exceptionally rowdy. Expecting anything less at their recent show in Lexington, Kentucky -- a city perhaps best known for dragging couches and cars into the middle of the streets and literally lighting them on fire after University of Kentucky basketball games -- would be ridiculously misguided. On this sweltering night, Counterparts bring a unique energy to the venue, the up-close-and-personal nature of the performance harkening back to the days of old school hardcore, with every attendee momentarily unbothered by the 21st century distractions and stress surrounding them.
In the dozen years Counterparts has been active, the band have seen several members come and go. Their distinct melodic hardcore sound has been maintained through it all, however, with vocalist Brendan Murphy at the helm since the beginning. Murphy, the lone original member, says the decision to stick to and improve the band’s established sound is a conscious one. Now, with their new album Nothing Left To Love on the way, the band are poised to become one of the scene's most innovative -- if traditional -- voices.
The band’s stop in the Bluegrass State as part of the Pure Noise Tour with Stick to Your Guns, Terror, Sanction and Year of the Knife is a perfect example of this. Despite multiple van breakdowns inconveniencing Counterparts in their trek across the United States, Murphy labeled it as one of the must-see lineups currently traveling the country.
“This tour’s fuckin’ sick,” says Murphy. “Sometimes when you see a label-branded tour, there’ll be a couple bands on it that are cool, and some other bands will be just starting out or aren’t that well known. Maybe they’re on the opposite side where they’ve been around too long. But doing a Pure Noise tour is sick, because in my opinion they have most of the sickest bands...This is literally the sickest tour happening in the United States right now.”
On stage, you're perpetually interacting with the audience. Do you do that to bring it back to the old days where shows were just raw rather and intimate?
When we play a show, it’s very rare that I measure how good of a show it was by the amount of people in the room. I don’t give a show a rating based on people alone. We’ve done shows where there are like 500 people there, and everybody is just standing there. I get kind of mad and like, ‘Yo, can you just move around a little bit? If you know the lyrics, come up.’ My harshest criticism as a vocalist is that I give the mic to people a lot live. I understand the argument of people paying to see us, and I’m not singing a lot of the set, just holding the mic up for the crowd.
But isn’t that so much cooler? When you go see a show and someone gets on stage and they do a part, to me, that’s cooler, because it brings you closer to your audience. People get mad if it doesn’t sound very good, but it doesn’t matter. I probably made that kids fuckin’ whole night by letting him do 10 seconds of lyrics. That makes more sense. That’s how a show should be, in my opinion. If you want to hear it played perfectly, listen to the fuckin’ record. We’re playing it live, we’re going to make mistakes, and some stuff is going to be different. It’s fun.
There’s this huge divide between your persona on stage and on the Internet, and the lyrics that you write. You seem very easy-going and goofy in person, but you deal with a lot of deep, personal stuff in your songs. How do you strike that balance?
I’m able to have fun and be goofy and try to make the crowd laugh and do my little fuckin’ standup thing in between songs and stuff, even though the lyrics are a lot darker than that. Once every couple of years, I’ll go into the studio and tap into that, and I give it my full, undivided attention for like a month or five weeks or whatever. By doing that, once [the recording process is] over, I got it out. It’s done. I don’t want to feel that way anymore. I know it’s weird, because I’m literally saying the fuckin’ same words every night on stage. I think that the outlet for me comes from writing them down. Because I have a way to get that stuff out, I can go back to being fun and goofy. I can make my jokes.
How I am in person and how I am on the Internet are the same, but lyrically it’s very different. I do like to keep them separate. There’s a time for it, and I’ll actually talk about stuff on stage that’s serious. But when I think about people coming to see us, I just want people to have fun. I don’t want to gather 500 people in a room and bum them out, and have them leaving thinking, ‘I feel like shit,’ because that would suck. I want them to leave being able to connect with the songs. Maybe they were having a bad day, but after that set, they can think, ‘He can be miserable and still have a good time, so maybe I can, too.’ That’s what I’ve always tried to do.
With every record, you guys seem to get bigger and bigger. Does that growth affect your writing or your sound?
I honestly don’t think that in the course of the band, from the beginning to now, much has changed. I think we’ve had more member changes than changes in how we sound. Some bands will change. Their first record will sound nothing like the one that just came out. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. That’s cool if that’s what you want to do and if you want to experiment. In terms of Counterparts, we know what Counterparts is. We’re not in the studio thinking maybe we can do an EDM song or something. That’s not a conversation.
We get it. We know that Counterparts is this metalcore, melodic, whatever -- a band that would’ve been on Trustkill back in the day. That’s what we’ve always wanted to be. It’s open-ended enough to where there’s a lot of things we can do with it. If anyone is expecting this gigantic change in sound, just don’t. I’m fully aware of what my band is. I just want to write better songs. I want to keep the same sound, but I want to get better at music.
You’re finding a pretty decent amount of success with your side project, End. Has playing something a bit heavier with those guys given you any new ideas to take over to Counterparts?
If anything, it complicates it. I’ll be writing lyrics for new Counterparts and be like, ‘Oh shit, I’ve already used something like that for End.’ They both kind of go hand-in-hand when I think about Counterparts and End. It works, because they kind of play off of each other. If I have a line I’m going over, maybe I’ll save it for End or maybe I’ll save it for Counterparts. I’ve even brought that stuff to Will [Putney] when we’re doing records and say, 'I have a line for the breakdown of an End song,' and he’ll be like, ‘Eh, I don’t know if it’s evil enough. Use it for Counterparts.’ If I come up with something crazy and dark and ridiculous, he’ll say that’s kind of more of an End part, which is sick. Live, there’s not really much of a difference between the two bands. With End, just based off the look and sound of the band, I’m definitely not as goofy as I am with Counterparts. If it were me in charge of everything with End, I probably would be, but I don’t want Will to come up to me and be like, ‘Can you stop making jokes? We’re trying to make fight music here. We’ve got to be evil. Can you not talk about EpiPens and stuff on stage?’
I’ve heard a lot of stories about Will and how he works. Did you record with him again?
Oh yeah. At this point, I don’t think I’ll record with anyone else. That wouldn’t make sense. Unless something crazy happens where Will up and stops recording, I don’t think I would ever go with anybody else. It makes so much sense with him. We’re all honed in on the writing aspect. I’ll write a line and walk into the room and be like, ‘You’re going to fuckin’ hate this, but here it is,’ and he’ll be like ‘Yeah, you can do better than that.’ It would be so hard to go to somebody else. Will’s so cool. Now, we’re friends. We’re in another band together. It’s just so easy.
From my understanding, your drummer, Kyle Brownlee, started off doing Rock Band on Youtube, then some covers of your songs. When he popped up on your radar, what went through your mind?
It’s definitely fuckin’ wild. I think the craziest part is how I’m friends with someone who was and is the best on earth at something. That, to me, is crazy. I didn’t actually know that about him until after. When we were in between drummers for a couple months, we had a Canadian headline tour booked. We needed to find someone, so we saw Kyle’s drum covers. The kid was pretty fuckin’ good. He filled in, and that was in like 2012. He and I stayed really good friends for a time after that. When we needed a new drummer again, I was like, ‘Yo, you want to do it, right?’
It’s always funny watching him write drums. He’s straight looking at his screen, the piano roll, staring at it while he’s learning these fills. It’s like he’s literally doing professional Rock Band drumming. It’s fuckin’ crazy. I’m not that good at anything, but he’s incredible. To be number one on earth, that’s crazy. I’m sure he’s proud and stoked about it, but when the attention is on him, he’s like, ‘Oh God, yeah it’s me, the Rock Band guy.’ He’s not the guy that walks into a room and is like, ‘Hey, who wants to play Rock Band? I’m pretty good. Just kidding, I’m the best.’
I heard you guys love karaoke.
Without question. The whole Private Room thing, it’s called that because of private room karaoke. That photo on the cover is from when we were in Japan at a private room karaoke. We were walking by and saw a room with a dude just passed out asleep in there. This guy rented a room just to have a nap. That’s crazy, and it just looked nuts. We snapped the photo. We had it forever, and we had those B-sides that we wanted to put out. We didn’t know what we call it. They were just B-sides, so we never thought they’d see the light of day, so I was like, ‘Let’s just call it Private Room.’ We had the photo, so the album cover was right there.
What are some of your go-to songs?
We do a lot of ‘90s or 2000s pop stuff. I usually start off with like Jesse McCartney’s Beautiful Soul or something, then a Goo Goo Dolls song or Pink. Something along those lines. As the night progresses and you get more and more drunk, we start looking for My Chemical Romance songs or Buried Myself Alive by the Used. I do it, and I’m just screaming in a karaoke room. We’ll do Eiffel 65 just to get a reaction out of the room. It’s funny that I play a show, then go do the same thing for like three hours straight in a tiny room with only my friends. Plus, I have to pay money to do it instead of getting paid. I love it.
Counterparts' Nothing Left To Love comes out November 1 via Pure Noise Records.
w/ Silent Planet
05 - Shinjuku, Japan @ Antiknock
06 - Higashi-Osaka, Japan @ Club Drop
07 - Kyoto, Japan @ Growly
08 - Yokohama, Japan @ BB Street
09 - Shibuya, Japan @ Club Asia
w/ Northlane, Silent Planet and Void of Vision
11 - Kensington, Australia @ Roundhouse
12 - Newstead, Australia @ Triffid
18 - Melbourne, Australia @ 170 Russell
19 - Adelaide, Australia @ Lion Arts Factory
20 - Perth, Australia @ Capitol
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