SAM ENDICOTT, lead singer of the most buzzed-about New York band since the Strokes and Interpol, is calling from Norway, where he has just gotten offstage after performing at the five-day Quart Festival, the biggest rock event in Scandinavia.
Even before the band's eponymous debut was released at the end of March, the Village Voice crowned the Bravery "New York's Official Next Big Thing." MTV, Spin and Rolling Stone put the band on various hot lists as "artists to watch," while England's New Musical Express gave the group a cover stating "WASTED AND LOVING IT The Bravery: How New York's Party Monsters Trashed Britain." And the BBC News Web site's poll of music critics and DJs named the Bravery "2005's most promising act." (The previous winners were Keane and 50 Cent.)
Folks in Montgomery County might look at all this and think, "I can't believe it's Sam Endicott!"
Oddly enough, the Bethesda-born and -bred Endicott might well agree.
Given his current rock star assuredness, from the jet-black faux-hawk and vintage military jackets to his canny command of the stage, you'd think Endicott had apprenticed in the early '90s in local bands, and certainly he'd have spent numerous nights at the 9:30 club (where the Bravery plays Friday) or the Black Cat, soaking up the sounds and sights of bands passing through town.
Except, Endicott says, in high school, "I was so not cool that I never went to shows."
The exception, Endicott notes, was Fugazi. "They used to play for free outside at Fort Reno, and I would go there whenever I could. I loved them, used to see them all the time.
"But I was just a total kind of loner," Endicott adds. "I always liked music but never associated with any scene whatsoever. [At school], there were the mainstream kids that wanted nothing to do with me; they were really conservative, and I couldn't really relate to them at all. And there were the hipster kids, who were basically nerds that the mainstream kids wouldn't hang out with. It was like a 'Lord of the Flies' community, and I didn't relate to those people, either, because it seemed so elitist and in its own way just as conservative. I felt as excluded by those people as I did by the mainstream people, and I still do."
According to Endicott, 28, only later in life did he realize "that most people were associated with some kind of scene. They're really into the punk-rock scene or they're really into Dave Matthews, hanging out and smoking herbs, or they're really into sports or something, and I had nothing. I wasn't even a skater. There was no group that I could associate with."
Though there is now a new scene -- those Bravery fans who have bonded over two sold-out tours of England and other European countries, as well as full houses on the stateside club circuit -- Endicott has a message for it: "You don't have to categorize yourself to be anything."
That, he says, was something learned at Fort Reno and from Fugazi records.
"A lot of Fugazi songs are about not giving in to your own limitations, the ones you create in your head. The song, 'Burning Too,' [that goes] 'anytime but now, anywhere but here, anyone but me, I've got to think about my own life,' it's about those sorts of excuses that people make. I always created things in my head that stopped me from doing things. I was always insecure and afraid of everything -- and still am -- but that message really spoke to me. But it wasn't until after college that I was able to really put into practice in my life the message that I got from those songs."
In fact, there had been some bands in high school, though no particular definition of sound: punk, country, heavy metal. "I just did everything because it was fun, and I wanted to get better at playing music," says Endicott, who describes himself as "a pretty good bass player from an early age."
"I always wanted to do something in music," he explains. After graduating from Georgetown Day School, Endicott went to Vassar College in Upstate New York, where he met keyboardist John Conway in an electronic music course. They played together in several loose-knit bands but didn't really chase music as a career. When Endicott graduated in 1999, he moved to New York and picked up work playing bass in an assortment of bands that managed to avoid all buzz. Two years ago, Endicott and Conway hooked up again and started writing and recording.
Once again, Endicott turned for inspiration to Fugazi, Jawbox and other bands that recorded for the local Dischord label.
"Those guys really spoke to me: 'Look, you don't need all kinds of money to do this. You don't need other people telling you that you're cool or have to be associated with some cool scene. You don't need permission, and you don't have to wait around until you get the awesomest equipment. You can just go out and make this [expletive] in your basement and it can sound real good.' "
It wasn't a basement -- the location was Endicott's Williamsburg walk-up -- and he and Conway didn't wait for "the awesomest equipment." Using Radio Shack microphones, they recorded and mixed what became the bulk of their debut album on an iMac, at a cost of about $7,000.
"When people visit me and see the situation in which we recorded the album, they're blown away," Endicott says proudly. "People never believe it, but in this day and age, you can do a lot of cool-sounding stuff with the free equipment that comes with your iMac or that you burn off your friends' for free."
Tired of singers mangling his efforts, Endicott decided it was time to assume that responsibility. To do so, he took up thrice-weekly lessons over the phone with his mother, Abigail, a voice teacher who appears in local oratorio, opera and cabaret productions (and who will be giving a solo recital July 24 at Washington's Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church). Sam's father, Bill Endicott, is a well-known political consultant and motivational speaker, as well as a former Olympic kayak coach.
After the album was written, Endicott and Conway realized it was time to put a band together, and with Endicott moving to guitar, they recruited drummer Anthony Burulcich, guitarist Michael Zakarin and bassist Mike Hindert. Their first gig, at Brooklyn's Stinger Club in mid-2003, was followed by a residency at Arlene's Grocery in the Lower East Side, at which point the buzz began building, partly in the context of the post-punk-influenced, synth-fueled dance-rock scene that was all the rage in New York City.
Initially, the Bravery was lumped in with the city's electroclash community, and, Endicott admits, "that was sort of where we started getting ideas, hearing all this cool electronic music that was made in a super cheap, garage-y way -- I really liked that idea. However, I felt like no one was writing songs with it. So it was an inspiration, but we wanted to put in a much more human aspect to it."
And add a little fun to the mix. "A lot of creative music is too pretentious," Endicott says. "Our philosophy is you can have a band that is really fun but is also doing something interesting musically, trying to make dance music that also works on its own, not just when you're wasted in a club. You can listen to it at home the next day and get into it, and you can play the songs on acoustic guitar and they're still good."
Yet it still took the DIY approach to get the Bravery signed to Def Jam, after it posted MP3s on its Web site at MySpace.com.
"I would tell every other young band to do it that way -- get the stuff out there yourself, put it online and people can download it," Endicott enthuses. "We even got airplay from it: Radio1 in U.K. was playing our song and stations in San Francisco and Boston. They downloaded the MP3 from our Web site. We didn't have a label, didn't have a publicist, anything. That drew a lot of attention to us and led to us being able to sign a good record deal and retain control over things."
And while Def Jam offered the band the opportunity to rerecord its album, "we were like, no, there's no reason to do it, it sounds good.
"And they said, 'You're right!' "
Endicott, who points out that the album's two most recent songs were written on laptops in hotel rooms and the backs of buses as the Bravery toured, is "assuming that we will want to do it the same way for the next album."
The label did help with videos for debut single "An Honest Mistake" (incorporating a wonderful Rube Goldberg-style contraption) and "Fearless" (featuring band members individually strapped to the front of speedboats). Reviews have been mostly positive (Spin: "Synth rock that floats like the Cure but stings like the Clash"), and the Bravery has been added to the lineup of new bands recontextualizing '80s-rooted danceable pop rock, Franz Ferdinand, the Futureheads, the Kaiser Chiefs and Bloc Party, and Las Vegas-rooted label mates the Killers.
There was a brief-lived brouhaha when those Killers accused the Bravery of copying their style and not being committed to their music, a low-key variation on the Oasis vs. Blur Britpop battles of the '90s, but it seems to have cooled. Endicott recently told a London paper: "I think their success has nothing to do with us and vice versa. There's no need to take sides; you are allowed to own both albums."
And to buy a lot of other folks' albums, Endicott encourages.
"I'm naively optimistic about things. I believe what you're seeing are bands doing something unusual, unformulaic, yet starting to get popular. The Strokes, the White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, bands that in the past were too unusual to be embraced by the mainstream and now they are. That is a trend I hope continues, and I hope that we'll be a part of it."
THE BRAVERY -- Appearing Friday at the 9:30 club.