The English hamlet of Slough really isn’t really as dreary as it was depicted in Ricky Gervais’ original UK sitcom “The Office,” says lifelong resident Lee Newell, who recently relocated to London with his ballyhooed quartet Brother.
“I’m telling you, it’s way bleaker. It’s very gray and industrial, there aren’t many young people there, and it’s full of adults, just doing the 9 to 5. And also a lot of drug dealers, so it’s not nice. But that’s where this band was born, and when we met, we were all like, ‘We have to get out of here!’ So that’s what made us write such good songs,” he says.
Vocalist-guitarist Newell, 23, is starting from scratch in San Francisco when Brother debuts at Popscene Thursday.
But overseas, he’s an often quoted, cover-story celebrity, as much for his brainy, Blur-jagged chords — a sound he’s dubbed “gritpop” — as his snarky, cynical putdowns of other artists.
“Who am I listening to at the moment?” he asks, rhetorically, after trashing popular British peers like the XX, James Blake and The Vaccines. “Hmmm. No one! It’s not to say that there isn’t any great music out there. I just haven’t found it yet.”
Anglophiles have heard this shtick before, from Ian ‘Mac the Mouth’ McCulloch and, of course, Noel and Liam Gallagher.
But so far — in hook-laden, heavily-English-inflected singles like “Still Here” and “Darling Buds of May” — Brother has the memorable Union Jack goods.
More credibility: Veteran Blur producer Stephen Street was so excited about them, he produced their upcoming debut disc, humbly titled “Famous First Words.”
And Morrissey — the sole performer Newell idolizes, so much that he self-tattooed his name onto himself — is such a fan, he just invited Brother to open his summer tour.
Newell simply writes about what he knows, such as the hometown ennui he felt while doing data entry for the Yellow Pages, testing games for Microsoft and even seriously considering ditching music to become a professional tattoo artist.
The final hometown insult? “I got mugged,” he says. “I’d just bought some new shoes, and this guy said, ‘I’m gonna have to have those. Or I’ll stab you!’ And I said ‘Hey, these are looking pretty good on you! Great, in fact!’ So again, Slough just drove me to this, and I’m quite thankful.”
When pressed, Newell admits that he’s partial to vintage Blur albums, and that they did slightly influence Brother’s music. “And I can’t say that Slough doesn’t still hold a special place in my heart,” he adds. “But, uh, not special enough for me to live there!”
Where: Popscene, Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.rickshawstop.com