Photography by Nico Young
BROCKHAMPTON arrive in instalments. It takes four cars to transport them all to the San Fernando Valley backyard pool that is provides the location for today’s shoot. Just a couple of days prior, the 14-piece self-styled boyband announced that their expected next studio release, TEAM EFFORT, had been indefinitely shelved. “We spoke to God and she told us to save the album for another time,” they explained via Twitter. Just a few hours later, another tweet announced a new project, PUPPY, due to be released in Summer 2018.
As the band’s devoted fanbase assembled in various corners of the internet to discuss the news, the thought of waiting another few months to hear hotly anticipated new music seemed unbearable to some. The SATURATION trilogy of albums arrived within the space of six months, providing listeners with a constant stream of essential, joyful, revolutionary new tracks in which they self-assuredly swashbuckled through the confines of genre. The fact that the closing track of SATURATION III, “TEAM” closes with the same sounds that appear on the beginning of SATURATION I’s furious opener, “HEAT”, compels a repeat listen.
Once the boys all assemble at the house, the first priority is locating the aux. They swap the cable between phones as they collaboratively curate the soundtrack to the afternoon, a progression of Sheck Wes, Q-Tip and the BLACK PANTHER album playing out through tinny speakers. They take it in turns to gingerly dip a toe into the water. It’s apparently heated, but certainly not to a degree that could be described as comfortable. Just as I start to worry that choosing to shoot the “best boyband since One Direction” in a cold pool on an overcast day might not have been the best idea, producer Romil Hemnani leads the charge, executing a textbook bomb into the deep end.
A few days later, BROCKHAMPTON will sign their first record deal with RCA Records. It’s a big move for a group who have already managed to achieve so much while remaining independent. “But nothing really has changed,” explained Merlyn Woods when I caught up with the group at their recording studio later that week. “I feel like we’re empowered immensely by the deal, which should be a given, otherwise we wouldn’t partner with these people. Besides that, nothing has changed - we’re still just working.” Sat on a large corner sofa strewn with various art books, guitars, duvets and laptops, the group’s founder Kevin Abstract expanded on Merlyn’s point. “It just gives us more power to reach our goals - we want to be a worldwide boyband success. We want to be bigger than everybody.”
Stepping back in time and back to the pool, everyone in is shivering, BRICK’s photographer included. Our underwater photoshoot over, all are happy to climb out and towel off in time for the arrival of an industrial quantity of pizza. Whoever is now in charge of the playlist has just put on “Walk It Talk It”, prompting Romil to take a spontaneous survey of who is the better group: Migos or The Beatles. As the votes are taken and with The Fab Four soundly beaten, Joba rolls his eyes at his laughing bandmates before reaching for another slice. Discussion moves on to childhood musical memories as Joba explains how he once peeled the Parental Advisory sticker from Korn’s ISSUES in the aisles of Best Buy, in order to trick his mom into buying it for him. “I was a little kid - I got my hands on that album way too young man. That shit changed me!”, he laughs. Bearface remembers playing a Limp Bizkit CD in the car with his parents, “and my dad was like “What the fuck is this? This is outrageous!” Joba chimes back in “That happened to me too! With Insane Clown Posse. I played it in the car and then my mom took the CD away. I’m not mad at her that though, that was trash.” As the now empty pizza boxes are cleared away, I hit record on my iPhone and sit down to capture the rest of the afternoon’s conversation.
BRICK: It’s been a momentous past year for all of you. What were some of your personal highlights?
ROMIL HEMNANI: Just getting to the point where my only obligation in life is to make the best art possible. I don’t have to worry about my family because they’re good, I don’t have to worry about rent, we don’t have to worry about working to establish our name or whatever. Now we’re at the point where people are watching, and it feels good.
HK: As a group, we’ve figured out where we want to go and especially now that we’re in a better position that alleviates a lot of the stresses that we had before, we can focus on making all the gears move.
MATT CHAMPION: For me, it’s been touring. I really enjoy seeing how our music translates in a live setting. I’ve learned a lot from that and having that opportunity. It’s fun, the shows have been wild.
HK: And we want to make them better too, touring is a learning experience each time, but now that we’ve got enough of that under our belt, we want to make the best experience possible. I feel like things are way more realised.
ROBERT ONTENIENT: The tours were really eye-opening, it was the first time we got to see the impact of what we had done.
DOM McLENNON: Yeah, we got to put a face to the idea of what’s behind propelling us forward. That was really crazy. It’s very rare in the world that you make something, and then directly get to see how it impacts people, and then get to travel the world connecting with them. So that in itself is really special. Something that stands out to me is the idea of personal freedom being something that’s attainable for myself and the people I really care about.
JON NUNES: That ties into what I was going to say too. A year ago, no one knew who we were outside of our core fans, so we didn’t have any resources or any help; we were still trying to establish and prove ourselves. Now we’re at a point where we’ve done that and people know we exist and we’re in this position to do whatever we want and take that next step and know that people are watching us, it’s just a whole new ball game.
ROMIL: We’ve experienced a lot of life in the past year. We’ve grown up a lot, very quickly. We can use the information we learned and apply that to what we’re gonna do next.
ASHLAN GREY: It’s nice to see everyone, for lack of a better term, flexed up the way they are. A year ago, a lot of us were starving. We didn’t have money. Now we can go spend a couple grand on new equipment that goes toward making this the powerhouse that it needs to be.
ROMIL: I did that two days ago. We were moving to a new house to record and I spent a couple grand on new gear. It felt so good being able to do that, to really invest in ourselves.
ASHLAN: Knowing that it all goes towards improving the machine and making everything better, that’s the best feeling ever. And knowing that everybody has enough to eat. Back in the day I used to eat half a thing of ramen - I’d break it in half and that was my dinner.
HK: And now Ashlan is spending 40 dollars on spaghetti! I want that on the record.
ROMIL: He did that last night! Then he didn’t even finish it.
ASHLAN: I took like four bites of it and I did not fuck with it. But I’m still humble!
HK: But for real, worrying about food and all this stuff, that was at the forefront of our mind. Now that worrying about money is more of a backburner thing now, we can focus on what we really need to focus on.
ROMIL: There was a period in time when people would get sick, I remember Ameer had a really bad toothache but he couldn’t afford to go to the dentist. Now we’re good, all we have to worry about is making the best art possible.
JABARI MANWA: Making SATURATION I and III were highlights for me, especially “BLEACH”. That was a really fucking good experience because when we made it we all knew that it was special. It turned out to be one of the most popular songs on the album that people love. It feels good to make music that impacts people a lot.
JOBA: Camp Flognaw was definitely a big deal.
KIKO MERLEY: Yeah, Flognaw was pretty awesome. That was amazing.
AMEER VANN: Moving into our new house, from South Central to the Valley, because it made the results of our hard work feel tangible. It felt like we had really created something. I don’t think we thought of it as significant then, but its definitely super significant now. It’ll be a year coming up since we moved into the new house, we moved in July.
JOBA: We haven’t even lived there a year yet?!
KEVIN ABSTRACT: That’s crazy.
JOBA: That’s definitely a highlight of mine too then, I’m sure we’re going to share a lot of highlights.
AMEER: It’s been a year since the day I recorded the “HEAT” verse, that was our first day working on Saturation songs. So much has changed since then, but that’s got to be the most significant thing. Just going from a house with no air conditioning to a house with air conditioning was huge.
JOBA: Low key, another moment is when we moved to North Hollywood and I rode a bike down the street and I felt safe.
AMEER: A lot of people think that we moved to South Central by choice, because it would have been an interesting place to live – that was not the case. That was all we could afford, and we could hardly afford it at that.
ROBERT: I was sleeping on the living room floor.
DOM: I was sleeping in the laundry room.
AMEER: We all struggled, we slept on the floor, we had to eat whatever, I don’t want to make it a sob story but we did what we had to do.
This is an excerpt of BROCKHAMPTON's cover story in BRICK Edition 05, published in 2018.
A small number of back issues are available in print here.