“I was playing football with my son and just as we were about to start he said ‘I am Brazil’. It reminded me of when I was a kid and would say the exact same thing. Everyone wanted to be Brazil when they played football, so they would say ‘I’m Brazil!’ before anyone else could say it.”
This is Niall Byrne, guitarist of The Redneck Manifesto, explaining to me the meaning behind the name of their magnum opus album.
It is fitting. For over 20 years The Redneck Manifesto have been ‘Brazil’, reputable leaders that steadily garnered a legion of math rock fans and creating a legacy for countless bands to follow.
I am sure the album name isn’t meant in any hubristic sense. A kid saying ‘I am Brazil’ imparts some semblance of innocence, looking up at the top dogs and frantically trying to emulate them at all costs.
The Redneck Manifesto was a young band back then. Their first show was in December 1998 at the Funnel Bar in Dublin, supporting The Sorts from Washington. Elliot Smith had played there six months earlier.
“Ireland was too small to have a record industry as such but it always felt like there was a fairly healthy scene,” says Niall, “there was always a load of local bands that played regularly, most of these bands only lasted a few years and would then split up without releasing anything.”
You’ve probably heard of a few bands that, like The Redneck Manifesto, were able to break through: And So I Watch You From Afar, Enemies, Adebisi Shank. Before their generation it was bands like The Idiots, The Golden Mile, Pet Lamb, The Mexican Pets, Pincher Martin, Female Hercules, Brawl, Estel, and The Jimmy Cake.
It was a small scene but with it came big opportunities. “Bands would usually just book their own gigs but there were a few promoters that would regularly bring overseas bands to Ireland… this was great as we got to play with bands like Fugazi, Shellac, US Maple, The Sorts, The Farewell Bend and many others.”
The Redneck Manifesto was started in the earlier years of this small Dublin scene, a handful of musicians reconstituting after the demise of other bands. Matt Bulger had been in The Waltons, Mervyn Craig in Hylton Wier, Richie Egan in Black Belt Jones, and Niall in Jackbeast.
The delicate instrumental style that has defined The Redneck Manifesto for so many years, it wasn’t a conscious choice.
“It just happened that three of us had been singing in our previous bands but none of us were particularly interested in doing that at the time we started this band,” says Niall, “I think the last three or four Jackbeast songs had all been instrumental so it was my intention to just continue to focus on trying to be a better guitarist and not think about vocals”.
If you dig deep enough into The Redneck Manifesto’s discography, you can find some great vocal-led tracks that retain all the elegance of their softly melodic style.
“We operated pretty quickly when we started so before we knew it we had a bunch of songs that we were really happy with that just happened to be instrumental and we just wanted to record them and move onto new material.”
In a scene that was small and seemingly inconsequential, The Redneck Manifesto was a band that hit the ground running, and seldom stopped to look behind. The first 7” was recorded in the same venue as their first show, which led to a steady production line of releases over the next several years: TRM1, TRM2, TRM3 and on and on. The albums Thirtysixstrings (2001) and Cut Your Heart off from Your Head (2002), of course, were part of this release blitz.
“Each of those albums were recorded over two days in a shed in Matt’s folks’ back garden in Crumlin, Dublin,” says Niall, “we operated very quickly and didn’t give too much thought beyond just writing a song and then writing another song and so on until we had a certain number of songs written that would amount to an album”.
The name was also an impetuous ‘quick fix’, for that matter. “We got offered a gig but didn’t have a band name. Richie was reading The Redneck Manifesto at the time and we thought that it was a good name and it stuck.”
It was until 2006, the year of I Am Brazil, that the band really took a breather, to recalibrate and review. They gave themselves more time to write and think about what they’d written. Matt and Niall spent more time weaving their different guitar styles together, producing the beguiling counter melodies that also define The Redneck Manifesto’s core style.
“We were giving a lot more thought to the sound of the instruments and the moods and textures that we could create, and the introduction of keys on this record was [also] a big help in this regard”.
The album was recorded at Black Box Studios in rural France by Dave Odium, who has since built quite the resume. The studio was set up by Iain Burgess, who had been based in Chicago and had worked with bands like Big Black, Ministry, and Jawbox. Legend has it that his mixing desk was used to record ‘Eye of the Tiger’.
I Am Brazil still stands as an important math rock album all these years later. The delicate interwoven guitar pickings and groovy percussion typify the math rock and post rock sound of the 2000-2010’s, one that was transmogrified into the frenetic ‘noodly’ style we know today.
They were the young band who were pent-up with energy and ready to take on everyone and everything. They are also the exemplars. To this end, The Redneck Manifesto are ‘Brazil’ in both senses.
The 20th anniversary vinyl re-issue of I Am Brazil, part of a collab between Strange Daisy Records and Luxembourg based math rock revival label Muaaah Records, will be out October ##th.