Words and Images by Timothy Donovan
It’s a Tuesday night in April at the Gallows Haus practice space in Salem, Massachusetts where members of Brix’n Mortar are well into their weekly rehearsal. Despite the practice space being heavily soundproofed, I could hear the familiar rumblings as I approached the door. Once inside the familiar notes washed over me like a wall of sound.
Founded in early 2018, Salem’s own Brix’n Mortar may be one of the most exciting bands to hail from the esteemed Boston music scene in several years. Combining traditional punk and Oi!, the trio has been making a name for themselves, particularly in the past few months, by participating in the vaunted Boston Rock and Roll Rumble where they placed first in the preliminary round.
The trio, Devon Hunt, Joe Osborne, and Troy Schoeller are all seasoned musicians who share a common passion for their music and each other’s talents.
“You can play with other good musicians and you don’t click” states Schoeller who plays bass and vocals for the band, “You can play with other musicians that are good and then you got this (gesturing towards Hunt and Osborne) and you know it’s special.”
With Brix’n Mortar, timing played a crucial role in the formation of the band.
“The idea was there for a while and it just took the right people” said Schoeller.
Joe Osborne, the band’s guitarist and vocalist, echoes Troy’s statement. “It was just perfect timing with this band coming together,” Osborne, age 44, works locally as an educational aid for young adults with autism and has been playing in bands with Schoeller for over 20 years.
Even though we lived in Allston which is right in the middle of the Boston area, it’s like a musician’s ghetto and there were kids with charged hair and tattoos hanging out and there were still all the ‘normal’ people who were like ‘oooh, that’s weird’ but you move to Salem and you are not weird anymore. There is a lot of acceptance without having to prove anything which is cool. It’s a nice breath of fresh air.Troy Schoeller, Brix’n Mortar
“We were all coming from different bands and different background and we were all at a good time to start a project and start playing” says Hunt. Indeed, when asked about who some of their own personal favorite bands were, it was a mixed bag of punk, Oi!, 70’s glam rock, heavy metal and 80’s new wave.
Schoeller, 41, works as a manufacturing manager by day and is a well-known figure in the Boston music scene. Originally from Alston, Troy and his wife Lauren, as well as a number of mutual friends, moved to Salem in 2012 to escape the high costs associated with living so close to the heart of Boston.
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“It’s funny that we came here to escape the gentrification of Alston and now we are in a similar situation (in Salem),” says Devon Hunt, who at age 33 is the youngest member of the trio. A restaurant manager by day at The Blue Ox in Lynn, Hunt has been playing drums since age 7 and has a background playing in death metal bands.
When asked about the local music scene in Salem, Schoeller paused for a moment and then began: “I think the community here has always been open for the different people. Even though we lived in Allston which is right in the middle of the Boston area, it’s like a musician’s ghetto and there were kids with charged hair and tattoos hanging out and there were still all the “normal” people who were like “oooh, that’s weird” but you move to Salem and you are not weird anymore. There is a lot of acceptance without having to prove anything which is cool. It’s a nice breath of fresh air.”
“I look back to the turn of the millennium as far as music scenes in Salem because there really wasn’t anything (at the time) come 98, 99, 2000 there was probably two bands playing a small coffee shop that would hardly every have shows after the first one. Before 2006, the Salem Elks was really the only place to play and that was THE scene for many years, but then they had to close their doors for funding reasons. So for a long time there was a lull in this area for music.” says Osborne
“There has always been something rock-n-roll about Salem” adds Hunt. “I didn’t grow up here but even though I have been here for a long time, I sort of still have the outside perspective so for me the attraction was the dark history and for me that has always kind of gone hand in hand with rock-n-roll so it makes sense there is a scene here.”
The band is looking forward to the imminent release of their debut album, entitled “Poison Words”. I spoke with the band about the two singles, “Freshcut” and “Suburban Murders” already available via Bandcamp.
“Freshcut was just about coming up in the scene and our experiences with how it was” says Schoeller.
“It’s funny because I didn’t necessarily come up in the punk scene” states Hunt “I was coming up more in the metal scene but it’s all transferable…..everything we went through, all the friendships we made and the passion that’s involved where you are doing it because you love it and you are willing to spend everything in your bank account and you are willing to run yourself into the ground just to put on the perfect 30 minute set”
“There has always been something rock-n-roll about Salem.”Devon Hunt, Brix’n Mortar
The band’s second single, the melodic “Suburban Murders” can only be called a punk rock ballad of sorts. The song opens with an electric piano solo and backing vocals by Tai Heatley from Petty Morals and then roars into the opening guitar rift. When asked about what the inspiration was behind the song, Schoeller began: “It’s my take on the white picket, vanilla family that everyone sees on the outside but that’s now really how everything is on the inside, like what’s going on behind closed doors, people don’t know. It’s also my big FU to all those people who keep putting that fake face on when everyone has problems and a lot of times those problems don’t get dealt with because people don’t talk about it.”
“This has locked it up for me” continues Schoeller. “My expression was right, I was told it gives the listener a false sense of security and I was like “my job here is done!” he finishes with a laugh.
“We don’t live in a safe world and those are hard facts.” says Osborne quietly.
When asked about the direction the bands wants to go, Schoeller responded with “My goal is I would like to be touring Europe in the summertime. I’ve done it before and had a really good time. I think with this band once we start supporting the album, we are going to do it smarter. I’m not going to tour like I did before, all over the place, take shows and sleep on floors all over the place. We are going to take all of our experiences and just do it smarter.”
“We’ve all slept in the van and ate cold SpaghettiOs from the can…..it’s a struggle….or you get there and there is no show or everyone is on the guest list for whatever reason” adds Osborne.
“For me”, begins Hunt “It’s all been leading up to this. I had to get my shit together and get sober and that was a big part of why I took a break from music for two years, but this is a new chapter for me. It’s a good time to get back out there and be creative and be able to tour and do all the things that I feel that I should have been doing, but I had to take a little time to get myself together.”
Schoeller continues, “That’s another huge thing…….the writing with these guys? The creativeness……we have the special thing that you don’t always have in music and it’s just awesome to be creative with these guys. I really enjoy it a lot.”
“We’ve all slept in the van and ate cold SpaghettiOs from the can…..it’s a struggle….or you get there and there is no show or everyone is on the guest list for whatever reason.”Joe Osborne, Brix’n Mortar
I asked Osborne about the band dynamics. He paused thoughtfully for a moment and said “We have personalities and dynamics…..all these things come together and I think we all know we have each other’s backs.”
Look for the band’s debut album, “Poison Words” coming soon.