Los Angeles quintet He’s My Brother She’s My Sister was birthed from the city’s fertile psych-folk scene around the same time as bigger acts like Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. But unlike that quasi-religious 13-member collective, the relatively stripped-down HMBSMB — brother-and-sister duo Rob and Rachel Kolar, Lauren Brown, Oliver Newell and Aaron Robinson — adds punk-inspired flair to its Americana table. The band’s debut album, “Nobody Dances in This Town,” stomps and shimmies through 11 irresistibly dusty freak-folk, roots-rock and jangle-pop tunes. But there’s also streetwise self-sufficiency, socially conscious lyrics and even a streak of experimental theater inherent in the band’s spirited output.
Folio Weekly: He’s My Brother She’s My Sister is equally celebrated for its recordings and live performances. When you started the band, did you have that balance in mind?
Lauren Brown: You never go into a project thinking about being hyper-aware of what you’re putting out — you want to think about giving your fans a good time. A lot of our success has to do with us being up onstage, playing our hearts out the best we can and having fun with each other. The more we do that, the more that people will respond to that energy.
F.W.: Lauren, your tap-dancing and full-body percussion has awed some critics and turned others off. Where did you learn the technique?
L.B.: It definitely comes from my theater background. Rob’s sister Rachel and I met at NYU years ago, when I was studying experimental performance, clown work and other weird shit, and Rachel was studying playwriting. We became quick friends and developed a theater company that put out music-, dance- and art-based productions, and Rob did acting work himself, so he’s always been interested in infusing the band with that stuff. But I was definitely not a drummer before this project. I never had any intention of being in a band at all, much less tap-dance drumming in a band. It just evolved out of necessity because our drummer quit.
F.W.: So it’s not a gimmick of any sort.
Rob Kolar: In the past, we have had some negative reviews that construe us a certain way or assume we’ve created a gimmick, which isn’t the case at all. Everything happened so naturally — almost by accident. We are stoked that many reviewers see the depth of what we’re trying to do. Our lyrics reflect social and even political commentary, and there are definitely some introspective elements to the band.
F.W.: Rob, you were in a mildly successful band, Lemon Sun, before He’s My Brother. Did your and your sister’s effort start as a side project?
R.K.: Right. It’s one of those situations where you have all these goals and dreams for what was your day job — and then a side project becomes the main project. It’s funny how you can fight for success so hard and then, when you give what you’re doing on the side a little bit of attention, it takes on a life of its own. I’ve been swept up in the progression of He’s My Brother, which is exciting, because it’s really free and fun without any stress behind it.
F.W.: Do you feel indebted to the psychedelic folk and rock movement that was entrenched in Los Angeles for several decades and is still active today?
L.B.: There’s definitely a community of artists in L.A. that we embrace, and we all come from a bit of a free-loving hippie movement. But at the same time, we’re trying to create something new and put a lot of emphasis on live performance.
R.K.: Bands like us and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes are both influenced by The Mamas & The Papas, The Doors, The Lovin’ Spoonful and especially Devendra Banhart, who opened the door for a more experimental folk sound. But we have more of a punk influence than the … I don’t want to say saccharine, but maybe religious nature of the current folk movement. We’re embracing a darkness that’s raw, bluesy, garage-y, psychedelic and even a little dirty.
F.W.: Do you have much experience performing in Florida? A lot of West Coast bands skip over us completely.
R.K.: We love Florida. We call it a vaca-tour: Hang out at the beach, play six or seven shows, and spend a good week or more down there. Everyone’s so appreciative, too, because Florida is like this extra limb on the United States — that’s why tour routing doesn’t always work out. But Florida is actually one of our favorite states.
L.B.: We camped at Little Talbot Island last time we were in Jacksonville, too. That long stretch of white-sand beach was an incredible discovery.