Pop: In the name of the father

The Webb Brothers are great songwriters - just like their dad, Jimmy.
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The Independent Culture
If Sean Lennon and Emma Townshend's experiences are anything to go by, the progeny of celebrated musicians are generally greeted either with suspicion or unfair expectations. Lennon's reception has been muted, while Townshend was promptly dropped by her record company when her debut album Winterland failed to ignite public imagination. Even Jakob Dylan, a celebrity offspring who has managed to pick up Grammy awards for his music, has found himself plagued by his father's fans at gigs, begging him to play the old man's songs.

So when a leading UK style magazine falsely reported in January, "Christiaan and Justin Webb are no relation to Jimmy, but they should be", the twentysomething siblings were overjoyed. "It may have been misinformed, but it was an amazing compliment. Our songwriting gave us the right to claim our name," beams Justin.

Brothers Christiaan and Justin Webb are indeed the sons of legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb, the brain behind such classics as "Wichita Lineman", "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" and "MacArthur Park". And claim their name they have. Having rejected a series of gimmicky titles, they have chosen to go by the simple but effective moniker The Webb Brothers and, judging by their forthcoming debut album, have inherited their father's flair for songwriting.

"Melody is vital," intones Justin. "A lot of bands work from riffs, but if you work from melodies you create the strongest foundations for your songs." Beyond The Biosphere is a languid, quasi-concept album full of luscious melodies, undulating guitars and warm, psychedelic-style pop. There is a thematic coherence throughout the album, from the pitiful heartache of "She Drifts Into My Room" and "I'm Over And I Know It", to the escapist aspirations of the title track and "The Filth Of It All".

The album was partly inspired by an LP by Harry Nilsson called The Point, a conceptual album where the sleeve is a comic book telling the story of the album. The sci-fi-inspired artwork on Beyond The Biosphere's sleeve depicts the Brothers making a dramatic departure from an exploding earth, carried by retro-futurist jet packs.

"At the time of writing the album, we were cleaning bars in Chicago," explains Christiaan. "We were living together in this tiny rehearsal space. Escape was always at the forefront of our minds." But even without their jet-packs, the Webb Brothers might easily have stepped out of a comic book. Their compressed mop-tops, gleaming teeth and fresh faces are enough to make The Monkees look bedraggled, while their bottom lips hang disconsolately like bottom drawers that have been left open. Such youthful good looks belie the inherent maturity of their songs.

The family Webb moved from the bright lights of California to the Midwest when the brothers were still children. Christiaan played guitar in a rock band at college while Justin stayed at home writing songs. One day, Christiaan told the band that if his brother couldn't join them, then he would quit. Justin duly joined and the other band members slowly drifted away.

For the past five years, Christiaan and Justin have been living in each other's pockets, relentlessly writing songs and playing gigs. Their break came two years ago in the form of $5000, a loan from a friend.

"We had all these songs and nothing to do with them. But then our friend took pity on us and were finally able to make the record." While in recent months their surname may have afforded them a certain leverage, the Brothers have received little help from their father over the years.

"We were coming from such a different direction that there was nothing he could do for us. Right before we came to London he called us up and said `I just want you to know that I don't approve of the general direction you are going in.'" But the Brothers are keen to point out that such sentiments stemmed from concern, and Webb Senior has been happy to impart advice, albeit harsh.

"He didn't want us slumming it in the clubs for years and getting nowhere. He was an overnight success - a random Oklahoma kid who just started ruling the radio. But these days it seems you only get signed if you're 13 or 30." After putting out a limited edition EP Excerpts From Beyond The Biosphere, on the indie label Easy! Tiger, at the beginning of the year, the Brothers found themselves at the centre of an A&R scramble in the UK and have recently signed a long-term deal with industry giants, Warner - "the smallest of all records on the biggest of all labels," gasps Christiaan.

But, as Justin points out, their new-found kudos hasn't completely altered their lives: "You can finally get your big break but you still don't get your own bedroom."

`Beyond The Biosphere' is out on Mews 5 on Monday

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