From touring with Public Enemy to becoming a headliner in the subways of Seoul Korea (that’s right you read that correctly) Jeff Brodnax has seemingly seen it all and then some. He is probably best known as the second lead singer in the pioneering Black punk rock band 24-7 Spyz. Brodnax is now currently in Chicago working on the next phase of his musical career and he was able to chat with me on how things went down back in the day and what things are looking like now.
Interview by David Carr
David: How did you become the lead singer for 24-7 Spyz back in 1991?
Jeff: I had been living in Virginia at the time and I had really listened to the Spyz a lot. I grew up in Virginia and I was one of the few Black kids living there listening to a lot of rock. When I discovered 24-7 Spyz and Bad Brains I listened to them all the time. I got the chance to see the Spyz open for Jane’s Addiction. That night during their set their lead singer P. Fluid announced from the stage that he was leaving the band! A friend of mine who was in the band Egypt turned to me and said that I needed to get that spot. He sent my demo to Jimi Hazel. The next thing you know I am in New York trying out for the band and I got the gig!
David: It must have been a whirlwind of an experience.
Jeff: Yeah there was a lot going on. Mackie Jayson from The Cro Mags and Bad Brains rehearsed with us for a bit but when it came time to record and go on tour the guys called Joel Maitoza. I didn’t ask too many questions since I was the new guy. I was just happy to be there!
David: What were some of the highlights of being a member of 24-7 Spyz?
Jeff: Wow, there are a lot. First and foremost it was an honor to play with Rick Skatore and Jimi Hazel. I was a big fan! They just blew me away. It was just really humbling for me to get a chance to play with those guys. I guess the 2nd highlight for me was to be able to go to New York to record and play music. I got a chance to travel and see the country and play music. I learned a lot very quickly. That experience made me grow. We would be rehearsing at a studio and next door to us would be Sting or Mariah Carey! HA! Again it was a very humbling experience. I remember being in Connecticut. We had a gig there and Bad Brains were doing a matinee there. I remember Dr. Know asking me if I would be interested in singing for Bad Brains! Hmm…I think one of the biggest highlights for me was being able to record at Electric Ladyland Studios. That was Hendrix’s studio. That’s Jimi’s place! I almost cried when we got there and set up to record. That was huge.
David: So as quickly as it happened it soon seemed to fade. What happened?
Jeff: Basically the label stuff broke us up. They were excited about us at first but in the end they didn’t know what to do with us. They just kept saying our music was all over the place and that we needed to be more focused; no ska, no reggae, stick to metal! To be honest the disc we released (Strength in Numbers) was the most focused Spyz disc. It was pretty metal but we released it and the label put the disc on the shelf.
David: Is that when the band decided to break up?
Jeff: Jimi and Rick just decided to close it down for a while. While all this was going on I was getting along really well with the guys in the band Egypt. They needed a singer so I decided to join them. We recorded and released two albums, Drowning in the Promised Land and Soul Hammer on an indie label.
David: Sounds like you rebounded well.
Jeff: Yeah, we toured the Midwest and the east coast, mainly. We sold out some big rooms on the east coast and we made a pretty good living for a while. Things however started to change around us musically!
David: Let me guess, the Seattle sound?
Jeff: HA! Yeah man! “Grunge” rolled in so we decided to call it a day.
David: What did you end up doing after that?
Jeff: Well I realized at that point that I was probably going to be on my own for a while so I decided to teach myself how to play guitar to accompany my voice. I started playing the subways of New York.
David: How long did you do that?
Jeff: I played the subways of New York for about six years. After that I ended up playing the subways of Seoul Korea.
David: Um, so let me get this straight, you played the subways of New York for six years and then, you ended up in Seoul Korea playing the subway stations over there? Were you able to make a living doing this?
Jeff: Yes i was making a living but barely. Ha! Playing the Seoul subways is a big deal because unlike the NY subways where you had rats running under your feet, the Seoul subways had full stages and were like a concert. It was a huge deal over there. I was able to sell about 10,000 copies of my solo disc and I met a gentleman by the name of Bob Ebeling while playing in the subways. He heard me and liked my sound and he ended up producing my next disc. I ended up playing in Prague, Germany and Japan.
David: You became quite the world traveler!
Jeff: Yeah, I ended up in France on a small label and I recorded another disc there.
David: Now that you are back in the states do you have plans to record here?
Jeff: I would like to make a new record. I am gonna start with demos and let folks here them, then hopefully record an EP and see what happens…you know the biz nowadays, it’s rough! HA!
David: Are you still in touch with your bandmates in 24-7 Spyz and if so do you all every talk about reuniting?
Jeff: We are still good friends. As far as a reunion goes, I am sure it will happen sooner or later. I am sure we could do a small tour or something. Once I hear from Jimi I am in!
Be on the lookout for some new material by Jeff Brodnax in the near future. Who knows, he may be jamming in a subway station near you!