“Brendan had long hair, was covered in tattoos, and was a ferocious frontman,” says drummer Rebecca “Speck” Brown, bassist Brendan Majewski’s former bandmate and self-described biggest fan, “but his heart was totally different from his outward appearance.” Likewise, their band together, Orphan, was a lumbering Sasquatch of Karp-bred sludge that masked a vulnerable core, which would occasionally surface through Majewski’s wounded-animal wail and predilection for Unwound covers.
This past January 20, at the age of 37, Majewski took his own life. And while his recorded legacy may be acidic gunk-metal muck, his friends are banding together to honor the guy they remember as gentle, funny, smart, opinionated, generous, talented, and even shy. “When we first started playing, Brendan wouldn’t even face the audience,” Brown says. “He’d look at me the whole time. That’s why we ended up playing side by side. Dude, if you’re not going to turn around to the crowd, I’m gonna turn around so when you’re looking at me, the crowd can see you.”
While driving back from Majewski’s funeral in Highland Mills, New York, Brown got the idea to throw a “happier farewell” at the metal dive Union Pool. The bill is only united by the fact that each band on it called Majewski a friend: feral garage-punkers Obits; White Magic’s avant-indie songstress Mira Billotte; black metal mutants Krallice; and noise-metal terror Dope Body. Majewski’s youngest brother, 16-year-old Brian (a/k/a “Bri Guy”), is planning to play a song he wrote about Brendan after his passing.
Majewski collected an eclectic roster of friends by crossing scenes and boundaries. Coming up in the D.C. indie-rock scene, he played with Billotte in Quix*o*tic, supplying sparse, rubbery basslines to their fragile, doo-wop-centric gloom-rock. Upon moving to New York in 2003, he immersed himself in the art world, working at the Team Gallery, assisting metal-informed installation artist Banks Violette, and even playing an Orphan set at the 2010 Whitney Biennial. At Team, he installed a show for show organizer and art writer Bob Nickas, and the pair became fast friends. Nickas released both of Orphan’s full-lengths on his From the Nursery imprint, where the band was teamed with visual artists like Norwegian button-pusher Gardar Eide Einarsson and Los Angeles bleakmaster David Ratcliff. “I started the label for him,” says Nickas. “He was at a very low point. This person is my friend and I just thought there’s only one thing I could do—I’ll put a record out of his music. But as soon as I did it, I realized I wanted to do it for a long time.”
At the tribute show, Nickas will spin garage rock like the Dirtbombs and the Gories—music Majewski would dance to if he were there. “When he discovered he loved to dance, he was this insane dancing machine,” says Nickas. “Give the guy five or six beers, and he would just be out on the middle of that floor, dancing on top of people who maybe didn’t want it. That was a way of getting rid of those barriers where you just stand and nod your head at a show.”
Nickas adds: “The whole idea of an audience is very small. It’s not more than five people that you actually are excited about putting stuff in front of. I feel like half my audience is gone.”
The Brendan Majewski tribute is at Union Pool on April 20 at 8 p.m. All proceeds go to Majewski’s family for expenses.