Heavy metal cowboy

Fans of local metal-core group Brotherhood might be surpised to learn that frontman Rod Nichols didn’t spend his high-school years honing his stage skills. Instead of rock clubs, the Churchill alum’s venue of choice was the rodeo, and he devoted his teen years to competing as a semi-pro bullrider, achieving local-phenom status by the time he graduated from high school.

“I got on my first bull when I was 16,” Nichols says. “My family didn’t have a long history of rodeo, but I always had a lot of respect for guys who did that.”

It didn’t take long before he was riding top-notch bulls and was up against professional bullriders for heavy titles and large sums of money. But at the age of 24, he broke his arm severely in the arena. It was a compound fracture that required a month-long hospital stay, four surgeries, and two plates in his arm. “At one point I had an infection that set in, and they were talking about amputating half my arm,” he says. “It was really bad, and after all that I just quit.”

The injury halted a promising rodeo career, and it signaled a 180-degree change in lifestyle for Nichols. Putting aside his cowboy persona, he replaced it with a new passion: heavy metal. In a city widely regarded as the metal capital of the world, Brotherhood is no stranger to ripping up a stage in intense, heavy fashion. Characterized by racing guitar riffs, pumping double-bass, chunky breakdowns, and growling vocals, the band contistently packs fans into local shows (their next local gig will be April 12 at White Rabbit). Sweaty crowds erupt into mosh pits and bouts of hardcore dancing.

“You can’t really describe that feeling,” says lead guitarist Alex Cantu. “In my old band I used to see all my friends out there. With these guys I’m playing in front of people I don’t know, which lets us know we’re doing something awesome.”

The band emphasizes the value of winning over new fans at shows, whether they’ve heard the music on the internet or through a CD that’s been passed around. They’ve embarked on more regional shows over the last few months, and drummer Dave McConnell says shows in Houston, Dallas, and Austin have been successful.

“We’re just trying to focus on Texas right now to gain a following,” he says. “We’ve played Dallas twice now, and both times we’ve had an awesome response.”

Brotherhood is also jump-starting its own
label, Switchblade Media.

“First and foremost, the label is to support this band,” Nichols says. “Also, I think we’ll get a little bit more credibility with out-of-town promoters when they see we have a label.” The band has a new EP, Despised, scheduled to drop May 31 with a much-anticipated release show at the White Rabbit. The EP, which has already been completed, was mixed by John Valenzuela at JV4 Studios in Dallas.

Nichols’ first stint on the music scene came when a group called 7 Oz. Crown asked him to manage them. At one of their rehearsals, a band member urged Nichols to get up on the mic for laughs. He did, and the band stopped dead in their collective tracks.

“They said ‘That’s exactly what we’re looking for,’” Nichols says. “From that point on, I was the singer, and the next thing you know I’m playing the White Rabbit. If it hadn’t been for 7 Oz. Crown, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Nichols describes himself as kid who grew up on stage, due to his dad’s work with various bands — albeit the softer type. His first concert experience was Huey Lewis and the News with the Eurythmics.

“I’d never heard metal,” he says. “My cousin introduced me to Metallica’s Master of Puppets, and it was a mind-blowing experience. It was like a revolution going on in my brain, because I’d never thought anything could sound so heavy and so cool at the same time.”

Brotherhood has gone through some member changes over the years, but the current lineup appears to be reliably solid. Nichols and bass player Brent Field are original members, while Cantu and rhythm guitarist Mike Bobadilla replaced guitar players Dave Culbert and Rob Thorton, who left Brotherhood to join Bleed the Sky in late 2006 and early 2007, respectively. Cantu and Bobadilla were playing guitar for a band called One in the Chamber before they auditioned for Brotherhood. “He `Cantu` got into Brotherhood and broke my heart,” Bobadilla jokes. “I never quit playing, and a little down the road I got asked to try out for the other guitar position, and here we are.”

As a veteran, established force on the local club scene, the band relishes its role as a source of wisdom and advice for younger bands. McConnell speaks passionately about promotion and the hard work required to turn shows into actual events. He’s played in a handful of bands over the last few years, but is thrilled that he’s finally settled down with Brotherhood. He relates that years ago, a slot on the main stage at the White Rabbit was something bands had to earn by bringing a full crowd to the small back room of the venue.

“Sometimes I feel like there’s a dying breed of people that actually go out and make flyers for their shows,” he says. “It’s taken me 12 years, playing since I was 11 years old, to find one solid band I’m 100-percent proud of. Finally I’m getting something in return.”


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