The Brother Brothers’ Storytelling Savvy Blooms on ‘Calla Lily’

The Brother Brothers’ Adam and Dave Moss are the kind of songwriters that, despite their ever-growing recognition, move forward with quiet humility—a demeanor that endures on their new LP, Calla Lily. The duo’s latest album was crafted with uncomplicated and innocent consideration of life’s beauty in mind, much like the appearance and symbolism tied to the album’s titular flower. Conversely, the brothers’ inner reflections on their perceptions of beauty in life, among several other elements of their creative process, come to present quite a contrast of abstract experience.

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“[My lady and I], we’re traveling in a camper, just kind of seeing the country [and we’re noticing] there’s a lot of really beautiful things in the world,” says David Moss to American Songwriter over the phone while traveling the coast of California.  

“There have been a few moments that I can actually point out and say that we were to kind of awestruck to a place of silence that I think everybody could relate to. [The kind of moments] when you see something just too beautiful, [that] you don’t have anything to say; you really can’t think about anything. All you can do is see it, or experience it.”

Peel back the layers of Calla Lily and the 10 songs in the album’s cumulative anecdotal mosaic reveal even more fluid energy, along with complex dynamics that balance many moving parts. Songs like “Circles,” as well as the record’s title track, both note the rhythm and expectations of Chicago and New York City respectively, through lyrics like You see in the city everyone’s a walker / And Myrtle takes you down to Knickerbocker. The Brother Brothers depict scenes teeming with imagery both familiar and full of vast potential. 

“There’s a kind of a rule that Adam and I try and follow when we’re writing. And a lot of it is [asking ourselves,] ‘Is [the music] going to come across the first time you hear it? Is it going to catch the ear of the listener—are they going to hear the words?’ Because there’s so many times when you hear a song and it’s this heartfelt piece of poetry but, you might listen to it 10 times and you still don’t know any of the words in the second verse,” Dave explains. 

“So I think that kind of simplicity, where it’s just straightforward [is what] I want. I want people to hear this and understand it the first time I sing it, because they may never hear it again,” he adds. “You want to give somebody a moment where you’re talking about something that you’ve experienced, or something that we all can relate to.” Still, Calla Lily isn’t built around the appeal of name-dropping area landmarks or community vernacular. Nor is it driven to a place of striking uniqueness from a distinct push of excessive virtuosity. If anything, the core of The Brother Brothers’ particular approach to memorable and relatable songwriting lies in the merging of not just what they sing about but how the experiences in each piece of music are conveyed. And with Calla Lily, the sibling songwriters added what they know and do best to the power and musical personality of a full band.

“It was very important for [Adam and I], when we made [Calla Lily] to kind of have a new expression of ourselves in the studio.” says Dave.

“It was important that we have these twin harmonies but [also that] we also have a full band because that’s kind of how we hear things, you know? And that’s kind of the ‘us’ that we want to present to the world [with Calla Lily],” he adds. “I just feel like, ‘twin brothers and their guitar and fiddle’ is a very different vibe than, you know, ‘twin brothers with a full band.’ And it was very––it was incredibly intentional that we [made that choice.]”

The instrumentation, the brothers’ styles of playing, and the mix of mildly poetic and straightforward lyricism, all contribute to these finished pieces of artful storytelling—each of which exemplifies the concept of something being much greater than the sum of its parts. Still, given all these elements at play, one has to wonder when the brothers felt each piece had reached its full potential, as opposed to getting caught in the tempting trap of needing to keep filling any empty space with more, in order for things to feel finished.

“[Knowing when the songs were complete], didn’t come until we finished the recording,” Adam says. 

The Brothers Brother
Photos by Shervin Lainez

“I think when we wrote these songs there were a lot of open ended ideas, and a lot of songs were unfinished. So as we were in the studio, we were kind of putting the band together and the band was learning them. We were figuring out how these songs go, you know, while we were recording them. And it was a delightful process,” he adds.

None of this is to say that the individual components of Calla Lily don’t, or can’t stand on their own in exuding an air of straightforward, easygoing beauty. “A Poquito Doina” does so with minimal parts, conveying a depth of emotion through nothing but cello, fiddle, B3 organ and Romanian-inspired melodic tonality in under a minute’s time. Though a short piece, this midway point of Calla Lily serves as the key reminder: While this album speaks to straightforward joy and forthright human existence, neither the album nor The Brother Brothers themselves are held down by any one musical expectation in order to share such experiences in their music, even though the album’s concept seems very singularly focused.

“The thing that we enjoy most in life is sitting around a campfire and playing music with our friends. When you’re sitting around a campfire with your friends, all you have is the song and the story,” Dave says. 

“You don’t have arrangements. You don’t have the band,” Dave adds. “You don’t have to have all that stuff that you have when you’re playing on stage or in a recording studio. I think the recording studio is where you make the art.”

Despite Calla Lily only being their second full-length, The Brother Brothers have shown a shrewd deftness for controlling the swing of the creative pendulum, which results either in stories steered by their sounds or sounds gathered around a story. In this way, it’s both easy and difficult to pin The Brother Brothers down, just like the deceptive simplicity of Calla Lily. Though the siblings’ natural vocal gifts are the anchor of their art, Calla Lily proves that no matter what musical context Adam and David Moss may come to put themselves in, what the duo want to say through music will always come to show the beauty that exists—even in the deepest cracks—of human living.

“I think it’s a very human and very natural reaction to find beauty in the morose,” explains Adam. 

“We can only dwell in a bad situation for so long before we have to look into something and create something,” he continues. We have to be able to make something of our lives, no matter the constraints that are put on it and, I think that’s incredibly beautiful.”

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