There’s a common perception of today’s youth: disengaged and bored, brimming with apathetic irony—and then there’s the rock band, Brothers Dubé.
Brothers, Quinn (12), Jan (14), and Liam (16), from Gloucester, Ontario, are a rock-blues trio generating buzz not only for their tight tunes but also for their willingness to engage tough issues in modern society. From opening for the Beach Boys, to recording in Nashville, to promoting “artivism” in local high schools, to simply going to high school themselves, life for these lads is incredibly hectic. “We’re only three guys,” Liam, the guitarist, says over the phone. “You can only do so much.”
In the case of these brothers, “so much” just so happens to be tons.
Their story begins in a house filled with instruments and a supportive Dad named Rob, who dabbled in music throughout his youth (including a stint with experimental punk-rock band The Jehovah’s Wetness), and now manages the boys, encouraging that punk attitude to challenge the status quo.
“We always had drums and guitars around the house,” explains Liam in a calm, assured voice. “It was just natural, we’d pick them up once and a while and then eventually started playing more.” The boys learned to play their Mom’s favorite songs for her while she battled cancer. After her passing, they continued on the streets, busking for crowds, raising money for research to help so many others fighting the disease. In 2010, while busking outside of the Ottawa Bluesfest, the brothers caught the attention of members of Arcade Fire, who invited them along on their trip to Montreal’s Osheaga Music Festival. Getting kudos from bona fide rock stars would certainly inflate the egos of many youth, but not in the case of Brothers Dubé.
“They’re just regular people,” they say, of the experience with the Montreal-based band. “They’re very laid back.”
In March 2012, with over $150,000 raised from numerous events, the brothers travelled to Haiti. They donated their money to the relief efforts there, and at the same time, learned as much as they could about the country’s ongoing rebuild since the catastrophic earthquake in 2010.
After returning from the trip, the brothers put together a multi-media performance to share their experiences in Haiti with other teenagers through music and a film they call “A Day In The Life.”
The idea, they tell me, is to talk of their own experiences and to show the reality that Haiti is living. “Everything is exaggerated in the news,” they say. “You just never know, exactly. [Sharing our experience] can be real and direct.”
While “doing good” for a country in-need might ring cliché, the ways in which the brothers have documented and shared their learning experience speaks of something fresh. Their coverage candidly explains with elaborate detail where their funds went and what projects Haitians are engaged in. They are careful to focus on the country and its people, illuminating cultural aspects that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Although some schools, Rob says, are somewhat reluctant to get involved with the project, the schools that do open their doors give very positive feedback. It’s what you’d expect; the perfect recipe to inspire kids to think big and act bigger is providing a model that is easy to relate to. “The whole point is to get them to do what we’re doing,” says Liam.
This initiative—using music as a way to talk about issues and raise support for causes—is one they’ve coined “artivism.” For the brothers, it’s an on-going effort to use music as a means to bring awareness to issues.
In 2011, the band released a video titled “Boom Boom,” (based on Pat Travers’ “Boom Boom Out Go The Lights”). The video garnered attention not only from Canadian news sources but also American Sports Illustrated for its outspoken messages condemning head shots in hockey.
“’Rock’em Sock’em’, so says Don/He’s making millions but my brains are gone,” Jan, the bassist, sings atop a montage of devastating body-checks.
Rob explains that three months after posting the video, it was mysteriously yanked from Youtube for a while, and the band received no explanation why—a sure sign the message was packing a serious punch.
Just last month the Brothers were awarded the Mayor’s City Builder Award in their hometown of Ottawa, for their musical success, charity work, and for inspiring youth.
The band is currently working on their second full album and recording in Nashville. “The first album was experimental,” the three overlapping voices tell me. “We were exploring our style. Now, we’re evolving.” From the sounds of their newest track, “As Good as Pain,” it sounds as though the band is moving in a heavier direction following their influences of classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin and modern rock acts like The Foo Fighters. “We’ve always liked heavy music,” they say eagerly.
There’s an honest naturalness permeating through this band, some kind of intangible energy that comes across as confident, without being arrogant. “Artivism,” performed with passion by Brothers Dubé.
Check out the band’s website for tour dates, and if you can’t see them live in-person, catch their live version of “As Good As Pain” below: