When word leaked last week of Malcolm Young's hiatus from AC/DC, it signalled the first time in 40 years that his younger brother Angus would be playing alone. Anyone who knows AC/DC at all knows that the band won't be nearly as good without the two of them together.
Sharing tour buses and hotel rooms are one thing, but there's something particularly tricky about sharing parents with a bandmate. The kind of intimacy that comes from being raised in the same house and discovering music and life together is impossible to replicate — it's an intimacy that, coupled with ego and artistic one-upsmanship, can drive even the most grounded bands mad.
But it's also a bond that enables the greatest creative partnerships and loyalty that even a rock 'n' roll lifestyle can't shake. It's the sort of relationship that can be artistically productive for 40 years. It's the sort that you stick to even when your brother has, hypothetically, slept with your ex-wife or gotten you banned from Australia. It's the sort of relationship that great music is made of.
It's brotherhood, and here are the nine rock bands that show it at its best:
Arcade Fire prominently features a marriage between its two lead singers, but at the band's core is Win and Will Butler. The brothers recently expounded on how growing up together made for incomparable musical understanding:
"I left the house when I was 15 to go to boarding school and would come back in the summers, and I started to realize he's the only person I related to in the whole everywhere," Win Butler, 33, said. "There's not too many people in the world where you literally have the exact same influences, so we kind of developed this language to work together where it's really easy."
"That doesn't mean we see everything identically," Will Butler, 31, said. "But it means that, certainly in artistic endeavors, there's a bit more empathy and compassion for each other because we see where they're coming from. And we tend to agree more than two random musicians would."
Given their contentious relationship, it seems like a miracle that the Gallagher brothers remained in the same band for almost 20 years. Possibly the most (in)famous brother duo in rock, Liam and Noel of Oasis have been feuding off and on almost since the band's inception.
Somehow, no matter how nasty they get with each other, it seems they always end up getting back together in brotherly fashion.
Earlier this year it was reported that brotherly love (or at least tolerance) had triumphed once again, with the pair ending a years-long feud and hinting at a possible Oasis reunion in the near future. Fun fact: They're apparently also opening an "indie rock-themed"restaurant together called Champagne Supernova.
Fans worldwide are praying that it's not as tacky as it sounds.
Malcolm and Angus Young found their musical feet playing in older brother George's Marcus Hook Roll Band in the early 1970's.
George recalls: "We had Harry [Vanda], myself and my kid brothers, Malcolm and Angus. We all got rotten, except for Angus, who was too young, and we spent a month in there boozing it up every night. That was the first thing Malcolm and Angus did before AC/DC. We didn’t take [the band] very seriously, so we thought we'd include them to give them an idea of what recording was all about."
Years later Malcolm and Angus would repay the favor, inviting George to produce some of AC/DC's biggest hits.
The Followill brothers were raised on the road between Pentecostal churches in the deep South. Their father was a preacher, and they spent endless amounts of time in the back seat of a car together.
At points in their career, though, they traveled separately. Cousins Matthew and Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon quarrelled over the band's direction in the wake of their first big success in the United States. The band struggled to provide a follow-up hit to 2009’s smash "Sex on Fire." "Matthew would say the word 'radio,' and Caleb would get so pissed off," said Jared Followill, the band's bassist, as well as Caleb's brother and Matthew's cousin, adding that for a period the bandmates traveled in separate tour buses.
Kings of Leon survived, however, and years later their bond was stronger than ever, even though they still haven't managed to replicate the success of "Sex on Fire." "It feels good to be the fucking underdog," says bassist Jared Followill. "We're a comeback team."
Twenty years after the release of their debut album, Radiohead remains one of the most important bands in rock 'n' roll. Brothers Jonny and Colin Greenwood have formed the sonic backbone of the band since the start, with Colin's rock solid bass and Jonny’s idiosyncratic guitar garnering widespread acclaim. That's not to say that the brothers always share the same artistic vision, however.
Jonny is "banjo-mad," according to his brother, and has often tried to include the folk instrument on Radiohead recordings, despite the objections of his brother. "There's a ban on [banjos]," Colin says. Whenever Jonny tries anyway he complains that he gets dirty "level looks" from his bandmates. Still, sometimes brotherhood is about censorship.
Lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen may be the driving force of the band, but he's quick to point out that he couldn't do what he does without brother Al. For almost 40 years now, he and his brother have been at the forefront of hard rock.
When asked about their chemistry, Eddie explained: "I just think it's in our blood … I need drums, I need Al, otherwise I can't play. And I've jammed with other drummers and it just doesn't feel right.
"We were always two peas in a pod. I was the only younger kid who was allowed to hang out with the older guys. You know, thanks to my brother. It's like all the seniors, and I was in like in ninth or 10th grade, and, you know, he always took me under his wing and watched over me."
There are few stranger sibling stories in rock music than that of Frightened Rabbit's Grant and Scott Hutchinson. Where almost all bands of brothers in rock started out playing together from day one, Grant and Scott formed separate bands in their teen years.
"We played together a couple of times earlier in school, but being in high school and having your little brother in your band, it's not necessarily that cool," Grant confessed.
When asked why they eventually started playing together again years later, Scott explained: "Grant moved to Glasgow, and I was just getting started playing shows on my own as Frightened Rabbit and I didn't know any other drummers. I mean, he's a good one, but it was just like, it seemed to make sense. It just seemed natural."
Grant's clattering, epic drums are now the foundation of Frightened Rabbit's sonic signature, right along with Scott's mournful howl.
The National is a band built on brotherhood. Lead guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner are actually twins, and Bryan and Scott Devendorf are almost comically similar in their heavy rhythmic intentions.
Until a few years ago, those pairings left lead singer Matt Berninger as the odd man out.
That's when Matt's ne'er do well younger brother Tom directed a recently released documentary exploring his complex relationship with his older brother, filmed primarily while working as a (really bad) roadie for the band. Mistaken For Strangers reveals the great shadow cast on Tom's life in the wake of his brother's success and documents the pair coming closer together through the process of making the film.
When asked about what he learned about brotherhood as a result of Mistaken for Strangers, Matt replied that he and his brother were "trying to figure out how to … see each other as very different peers." Peers or not, this film is as heartfelt as documentaries come.
Since The Kinks broke up in 1996, Dave Davies has never been shy about his feelings toward his songsmith brother Ray. "How could I not love my own brother? I just can't stand to be with him. About an hour with Ray's my limit …" he said in a 2011 interview.
Impressive, then, that he remained bandmates with his brother for over three decades, helping to create one of the most impressive catalogues in rock history.
Earlier this year, Ray revealed that a Kinks reunion was "as close as it's ever been," surprising Kinks fans all over the world. Added Dave: "I don't want to see the legacy of The Kinks soured by two miserable old men doing it for the money," but also, "I said to Ray I thought that it'd be a great shame if we don’t try and do something. I don't think our love has diminished."