Stupid Like a Fox 

Boise band Stepbrothers get (not so) serious with new album, WTFWANEH

"That's the one thing we want to leave people with: We're just assholes."

"That's the one thing we want to leave people with: We're just assholes."

Boise band Stepbrothers may have dipped into the same well Fall Out Boy and Panic At the Disco favored for the title of its latest album, Why the Fuck Would Anything Nice Ever Happen? (WavePOP Records, 2015), not to mention the titles of tracks like "Officer Matt and His Garbage Dog"--a song that is neither about an officer nor a dog--and "It's Me Yr Fckn Boi Dude."

"All of our songs have stupid names," said Stepbrothers drummer Charlie Ritch, "because we're just like, 'What're we gonna name these songs?' one. And two, it's gonna be the best if anybody ever interviews us, and they ask us a question about the song, but they have to say, 'So, the song 'It's Me Yr Fckn Boi Dude'... It makes them feel like an idiot."

"I still don't know the names of our songs," bassist Ralph Mugot admitted.

Though the idea may be adolescent, the intent is anything but. Lyrically, songs on WTFWANEH? deal with loss, loneliness and anomie. The absurd titles do serve a valuable purpose, though: They help the local melodic hardcore band avoid pomposity.

"We write serious music, and we're serious about playing music," Ritch said, "but everything else is kind of like, 'Whatever.'"

The irreverent approach has worked well for Stepbrothers so far. Mixing acerbic angst with goofy humor and pairing fiery performances with tuneful, sophisticated songwriting, WTFWANEH? is one of this year's standout local releases. It is available now on CD and for download via the band's Bandcamp page (stepbrothersfornow.bandcamp.com).

The name "Stepbrothers" itself reflects the band members' determination not to take themselves too seriously.

"I was sitting on my couch just looking at all my Will Ferrell movies and texting these guys everything I have," Mugot said. "I had Elf, Semi-Pro, Stranger Than Fiction. And Step Brothers was the next one."

The band formed in 2012 as a trio composed of Mugot, Ritch and guitarist Pat Buckley. Ritch met Mugot and Buckley while running the PA system for shows at The Venue.

"They were in a band called Hungry for More," Ritch said. "And I remember just being like, 'This is funny.' All their songs were about food. They had songs called, like, 'Every Time I Dine.'"

About a year later, Stepbrothers recruited guitarist Taylor Tomita. The new member helped the band's live sets sound more like its first full-length album, Rapid Change//Breeds Growth (self-released, 2013), which featured a lot of double-tracked guitar.

"We would listen to the record, and we'd be like, 'Man, this sounds really thick and awesome,'" Ritch said. "That second guitar was more crucial than we thought."

Both Rapid and WTFWANEH? were produced by Ryan Morgan, who lives and records in Boise but also plays guitar in Canadian-American post-hardcore band Misery Signals. The band regards Morgan as a genuine collaborator, praising his recommendations for improving songs.

"He understands what direction we're going towards," Mugot said, "so he can accompany that with his recording style [and] make it our project with Ryan. It's not just him recording it; it's him being a part of it as well."

For his part, Morgan appreciates how Stepbrothers has retained its raw power while improving its musicianship.

"The cool thing about [WTFWANEH?] was that we didn't go too far to perfect it," he said. "We left as much human element to it as we could. The guys performed all the songs live on the floor. And then we went back and opened up the vocals, but that's basically it. ... They are kind of an energy band--kind of a 'live feel' band--and the fact that they've tightened up even since the last time I've worked with them made it a lot cooler of a thing to do."

So far, WTFWANEH? has met with a lukewarm critical response. Dying Scene gave the album three stars out of five, noting that the music "rocks a good amount of the time" but calling Stepbrothers "a band stuck between two states, unable to fully decide where to lay themselves down." Pure M Magazine Editor Jonathan Monahan wrote a review of WTFWANEH? with the headline, "Why the Fuck Can't I Write Anything Nice About This?"

The band tries to take the negative comments in stride.

"There's been a lot of times when people will write a thing about a band and they're like, 'This was the worst band,'" Ritch said. "You listen and you're like, 'This isn't that bad.' Then you end up liking it. Next thing you know, you see them next time they come to your town."

Ritch may get to test his hypothesis soon. Stepbrothers hopes to tour later this year and will play some local shows this summer.

No matter what kind of feedback Ritch and company get, their sense of humor about it will likely remain intact.

"That's the one thing we want people to leave with: We're just assholes," Ritch said, laughing. "No, I mean, we're pretty nice, but we're also assholes."

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