We're dreaming of a Downtown Brown Christmas

We're dreaming of a Downtown Brown Christmas
Doug Coombe

Downtown Brown frontman Neil "Neebo" Patterson Jr. is as down to earth in person as he is larger than life on stage. There is a willful silliness to his onstage persona — live, his band comes across as a funkier Tenacious D infused with Andrew W.K.'s party-hard aesthetic. Offstage he's thoughtful, intelligent, and insightful — not what you might expect from the auteur of songs like "Mullet Millennium" and "Zz Cock."

Formed in 2001, Downtown Brown soon became a successful touring act playing with the likes of the Dead Kennedys, the Insane Clown Posse, Andrew W.K., the Presidents of the United States of America, and most importantly, Fishbone. Now, Patterson and his band are ready to celebrate their 2nd Annual Brown Christmas at PJ's Lager House on Friday, Dec. 22. We caught up with Patterson on the phone in the middle of a Michigan snowstorm to learn more.

Metro Times: What was the inspiration for Brown Christmas?

Neil Patterson Jr.: The Suicide Machines every year do "Black Christmas." So it's a direct rip-off of that, except we changed black to brown for obvious reasons. So it's pretty much a rip-off of a bigger local event that occurs every year in Detroit [laughs]. I grew up listening to those guys. I have a lot of respect for Jason Navarro and everything that he does.

MT: Why did you move to L.A. last year?

Patterson: I moved to L.A. because we started management in 2012 and I was working remotely with my manager for years. It made sense to go where my connections are, to actually be working hand-in-hand with the people that are trying to help us as opposed to doing everything with a three-hour time difference. Yeah, plus some girl broke my heart. And so I'm like, "I'm getting the hell out of here." But the weird thing about Michigan is if you leave Michigan and you try to move away, it will pull you back. It will continue to suck you back in, even if you don't want to, and I've been experiencing that. I've been bouncing back and forth from Michigan to Los Angeles, like, consistently since 2016. You know, like family stuff. So it's weird.

MT: But then you got pulled right back to Michigan?

Patterson: I fell in love with this girl and she wanted to run away to California and live happily ever after with me. It didn't work out so I drove her and all of her belongings back to Michigan this spring and the day after I arrived in Michigan with all of her stuff in tow we got the news that my mom needed an invasive craniotomy to fix an aneurysm. She had her surgery Oct. 30 and it fixed her. Now I'm going to play some gigs and then I'm going to go back to L.A.

You know, I'm glad I'm afforded with the opportunity for the type of lifestyle that I lead. I go where the gigs are. I travel a lot. I could just drop what I was doing and take care of my mom for a couple months, which is nice because I love my mom.

MT: It also seems like you're treated with a little more respect in L.A. Even though Detroit has some party rock icons like Andrew W.K., the Electric Six, and even the Detroit Party Marching Band, it seems like you guys weren't "arty" enough for certain critics around here?

Patterson: I definitely feel respected these days in Detroit, but there was a long time where we were just considered clowns and the local press would dog us. It was tough for a while there, but that's why we started touring. In 2007 we became a national touring band and did 150 shows on the road a year and we just managed to have some things pop off, like meeting the guys from Fishbone and them taking us under their wing. It kind of made people be like, "Oh, OK. These guys are doing something."

We're kind of aliens but I definitely consider what we do to be "arty." You just have to ask yourself, "What is art," you know? Like is GWAR art? I think so. Is a band like Insane Clown Posse art? I think in a very strange way, yes. It's a spectacle and it's celebratory and it's ridiculous. I'm into arty music as well. It's just that the type of music that I make is larger-than-life, grandiose, hilarious, weird, and a silly kind of mixture of all different types of music. And it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but some people really enjoy it.

When I was a little kid I really got into comic books. I started drawing all the time and I wanted to be a comic book artist. But once I fell in love with rock 'n' roll, I kind of married the two. In high school this girl used to call me "Cartoon Man" because I had a very animated face and I'm a high-energy guy. I'm a walking cartoon. Everything about the band is kind of cartoony.

We did put out an album in 2013 that was all really serious, personal songs. It's weird because it's definitely a mixture of comedy and tragedy. The band is like the silliest, dumbest shit of all time mixed with some really personal deep-seated truth-type stuff. All presented in kind of a "let's dance," kind of way. You know? So it confuses a lot of people. It's easier to digest something when you toe the line between silly and serious.

MT: Tell us about the upcoming record.

Patterson: In 2018 we're going to be putting out a seventh video album. Some of it's going to be recorded in Detroit with the Downtown Brown line-up that consists of Wolf on bass and different guest vocalists and saxophone players. The L.A. version of Downtown Brown is Norwood from Fishbone playing bass on a lot of it and all of the best musicians I know. It's to the point where Downtown Brown is more of a collective than a band. We all write songs together and come up with some zany, cool stuff. So the 2018 album is going to be like a marriage of Detroit-meets-Los Angeles as far as musicians are concerned. And it's pretty much going to tell the story of me leaving Michigan and then dealing with all this real-life crap. And I have some pretty insightful, hilarious moments that occurred along the way that I'm going to share with the world in my own way. So I'm excited about that.

Downtown Brown's Brown Christmas with the Detroit Party Marching Band, Carmel Liburdi, and Almost Free starts at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 22 at PJ's Lager House; 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; pjslagerhouse.com; 313- 961-4668; $12.

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